Last year I stumbled across a terrific literary find in the form of Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 1.
Written by Irish crime writer Paul O’Brien, it’s a novel based around the world of professional wrestling in the 1970s – but it’s certainly not a book that would only appeal to fans of ‘sports entertainment’. Using grappling merely as the backdrop to the drama, with the first in the series O’Brien conjured up a deliciously dark world of greed, betrayal and violence – so much so that it received a glowing endorsement from WWE star and New York Times bestselling author Mick Foley.
Prior to the second book in the series being published, I had the opportunity to carry out an in-depth sit-down interview with the author himself, to find out about his motivation for writing the book in the first place, reactions from wrestling fans and literary critics, and receiving such a glowing endorsement from the multiple-time WWE World Champion.
So Paul, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green is out right now, and Volume 2 follows very soon. Our glowing review aside, why should anyone take the time to read your book?
O’Brien: I’d say because it’s a crime novel set in a world that few, if any, crime novels have ever been set in. It works on both levels – and for wrestling fans, there are hundreds of little nods, or ‘Easter Eggs’, waiting for them throughout.
I’ve had some great feedback from wrestling fans, and Volume 2 is definitely going to be the ‘Empire Strikes Back’ of the series – there’s lots of pay off.
At its heart, this is a crime novel and wrestling’s just the vehicle; in much the same way that Black Swan wasn’t a movie about ballet. So it appeals to fans of both genres.
Was your plan always for it to be a trilogy?
O’Brien: Yes – and I’d worked out the key elements of the entire series right at the start. Each book sets up what everyone wants and the consequences. It all will click together in the end – you’ll see.
Who would you say the book is aimed at? Writing a book set in the murky world of professional wrestling in the 1960s-1970s, it would seem obvious that wrestling fans, particularly of a certain age, would be the target audience – but did you have a particular audience in mind when you were writing it?
O’Brien: Well I genuinely hate to admit this as a fan, but ‘wrestling’ can be a very toxic word, in as much as it can immediately alienate people.
When the first book came out, I really had to work hard to convince potential readers of its value as a novel: I’m the only guy that has written a ‘crime book set in a wrestling world’, and I think that a lot of wrestling fans were reluctant to read it initially as they didn’t actually think it would be any good!
I didn’t have a particular audience in mind when writing the book to be honest; I just wanted to write an intelligent novel. I come from working in theatre, and the training you get from the stage is to start with characters: strong characters wanting something that they may or may not get in the end. That’s what Blood Red Turns Dollar Green is ultimately all about, as I’m sure readers of the first book will agree with.
You’ve said that you come from a background in theatre – so why did you decide to write a book about wrestling? And what attracted you to the era that you set it in?
O’Brien: Well to be honest with you, I was surprised that nobody had written a book like this before – there’s been numerous autobiographies and books that have ‘lifted the curtain’, so to speak, but no-one had ever considered including the organised crime aspect.
The trigger for me was hearing Jim Ross tell a story, a few years back, about how he was in a territory meeting where promoters were openly discussing “killing Vince [McMahon]”. I thought to myself, in the ‘70s, when there was all of this money flying about, how did it not ever escalate to that? It was quite an easy leap from that initial seed being sowed to putting pen to paper for the novel.
I’ve been a fan of wrestling since the early 1990s; I was never a Hogan fan but I grew up enjoying the matches of Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, The Undertaker and Mick Foley. Those characters really drew me in.
Of course, many readers may already be familiar with your debut novel, thanks in large part to the very public backing and endorsement of one Mick Foley. How did that relationship come about?
O’Brien: Mick Foley is genuinely my favourite wrestler – I’m not just saying that because he’s supported the book!
While I was writing the first book, I approached directly Mick via Twitter, and was surprised at how helpful he was; after all, this is a man that at the time had over 300,000 Twitter followers, and was at a very busy point in his career, having just left TNA and started on the comedy circuit.
Mick read through draft chapters of the book, offered me advice, and later invited me to Scotland to meet him on his comedy tour, where he publicly endorsed the book.
As a non-wrestler and someone that has only ever watched the wrestling business from the outside, I wanted to make sure that a fictional account of the business would be respectful and accurate – an especially tall task, as I was essentially distilling down 25-30 territories into 8, to make it simple for non-wrestling fans to follow. A bit like ‘Boardwalk Empire’, I guess; I’ve taken a real period of time and distilled it down significantly into a logical narrative.
Mick was happy with the amount of research that I put in, and the approach that I had taken to portraying those within the industry – humans first, performers second. He also complimented me on the style and pace of the book, which was a great honour coming from him.
For me, he really is the perfect package – not only a world-class wrestler, but also an accomplished and respected writer. The support that he has shown the book has been a great help. I credit Mick totally with the success so far. His name adds the credibility factor that I was in no position to offer. I can’t say enough good things about him.
You’ve mentioned research already – obviously you weren’t even born at the time that the book was set, so how much research did you have to undertake before writing?
O’Brien: Research has been really important to me throughout; to give you an example, earlier this year I spent two whole days researching the colour of the carpet in the American Airlines lounge at JFK Airport in 1972! Just because I wasn’t around at the time, that doesn’t mean I can’t get the details just right.
It’s essential to me that the novels are credible, and I want them to pass the wrestler test. Mick read through the whole first book and didn’t have any negative comments to make on its factual accuracy, and he’s currently helping me with research for the second book; how amazing is that – a future WWE Hall of Famer helping me to write about what Madison Square Garden was really like in 1972?
Regardless of the genre, I always think that readers in general need to know that they are in the safe hands of the writer – and giving them that safety requires a great amount of time and research.
Without wanting to give anything away about Volume 1, it’s safe to say that a large part of the book focuses on the gradual breakdown of ‘kayfabe’, which we see through Lenny Long’s eyes. Having immersed yourself in that time period, do you that that wrestling was better in the old kayfabe days, as opposed to now, when all of the inner workings of the industry are on display for scrutiny and analysis by so-called ‘smart marks’?
O’Brien: I think there’s definitely a benefit to kayfabe; for me, wrestling is almost like the magician circuit – while a number of the tricks have now been exposed, it would be a real shame if all of the magician’s secrets were ever fully revealed.
For me, the suspension of disbelief is where wrestling lives. Thanks to documentaries like Beyond The Mat and Wrestling With Shadows, we all know broadly how wrestling is put together – but as a fan you simply have to buy in to it. Think about it – if Stone Cold Steve Austin punched and stomped you fifty times, you’d most likely be dead; you certainly wouldn’t be springing back up moments later for a comeback.
Thanks in part to the research I had to do for the books, I’ve really got into the older days of the sport, particularly the ‘70s and ‘80s.Was it better back then? I don’t know, as I still enjoy today’s wrestling – I’m just not as excited about it as I once was.
You’ve just mentioned the two documentaries that really lifted the lid on the backstage politics that are rife in the wrestling business. These politics pay a major part in your books – why?
O’Brien: Ever since watching Beyond The Mat, I’ve been interested in the political manoeuvrings that go on backstage. I remember watching that film and being fascinated by seeing Vince in the Gorilla position, keeping a watchful eye over the action. Growing up as a fan, I always wanted to know who the ‘real’ man was behind the make-up; that’s what interested me. Then came the internet dirt sheets and the phone hotlines, and I was well and truly sucked into the backstage world.
Blood Red Turns Dollar Green is all about the political moves of powerful people who deal in cash money – who can’t afford for the secrets of the industry to get out, and are willing to do whatever it takes to keep them hidden. It’s a great basis for fiction, because it’s grounded in a lot of fact and history. I’m confident that both wrestling and crime fans will enjoy it.
Blood Red Turns Dollar Green is available to buy now in both digital and paperback form from the author’s website: www.paulobrien.info. Keep up to date with latest news on the series by following Paul on Twitter at @tweetpaulobrien and liking the book’s Facebook page.