As a kid, Anderson O’Donnell loved the carefully arranged racks of genre paperbacks at the bookstore. When he self-published his debut novel, Kingdom, he had some reservations—“not because I doubted the future of e-publishing,” he says, “but because I had wanted to do the thing my heroes had done.”

Determined to make his dystopian page-turner “as professional as anything you could buy at Barnes & Noble,” O’Donnell hired an editor and went through multiple revisions before making it available for sale.

His meticulousness, combined with good writing, paid off: Kingdom is a gripping, fast-paced read, intelligent but never dull. Tracing two intersecting stories—one about a renowned scientist who’s been living off the grid since making a shocking discovery about his former colleague and the other of a troubled 20-something son of a U.S. senator who died years before—O’Donnell conjures a terrific and terrifying near-future world in the fictional Tiber City.

In addition to some early attention from the indie book-blogging community (“great people who are reader-first, rather than industry first,” says O’Donnell), a rave write-up on the blog Awesome Indies, a 12-blog tour and an invitation for O’Donnell to speak on the role of theology in biopunk fiction at February’s TempleCon, Kingdom earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews and was then named to Kirkus’ Best Indie Books of 2012 list. The recognition, he acknowledges, was “pretty instrumental in landing an agent.”

Now, represented by Andy Kifer of the Gernet Company, O’Donnell is hard at work retooling the original manuscript so that Kingdom: Reloaded, along with the two other books in his planned Tiber City trilogy, might find a mainstream publisher.

O’Donnell admits he loves an antihero: His unlikely protagonist, the privileged Dylan Fitzgerald, has a drug problem and party-boy lifestyle. The author himself, however, is something of a family man, with an ordinary (if busy) routine: He also works full time as a lawyer. “My profession is completely divorced from my writing, and I kind of like it that way. I wake up in the morning, very early before work, do my writing, then go and do the other things that pay the bills.” 

Writing every morning from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. might sound like a daunting commitment, but O’Donnell says he enjoys the structure and that talent “isn’t enough if you lack discipline.” He also confesses that it was “much easier to blow off writing one day” when he was younger: “Now I feel like I have to get up!”

A boyish enthusiasm creeps into his voice whenever he talks about the imagined worlds of sci-fi novels—whether his own, or those of influences like William Gibson’s cyberpunk Sprawl trilogy. So what is it about dark, futuristic fiction he finds so compelling?

“I can always just see it,” he says. “Even when I was younger, I used to get chills reading about these [dystopian] cities. Friends of mine who are not into the dystopian thing will joke, ‘Oh, you think the world is going to end,’ but I think the genre offers this interesting ability to reflect on the crazy aspects of human nature. Anything goes; you’re almost working in a surreal medium.”

Then he pauses for a moment. “It speaks to something ­in me. I guess I’m still trying to figure out why—so I’ll keep rolling out of bed at 5:30 every morning while everyone else is asleep.”

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