Before his thrillers landed him on The New York Times Bestseller list, Kevin O’Brien was a railroad inspector who worked all the live long day and wrote novels at night.
He grew up on Chicago’s North Shore, the youngest of six children, and studied Journalism at Marquette University in Milwaukee. He moved to Seattle in 1980. His railroad job took him all over the Pacific Northwest, and he wrote most of his first novel in Best Westerns and Red Lions. The result, ACTORS (1987) was translated into three languages. He took the advice of author, Terry Brooks, who told him: “Don’t quit your railroad job until you’ve made enough money on your writing to support yourself for two years.” Kevin’s second book, ONLY SON (1997) was optioned for film rights thanks to interest from Tom Hanks. ONLY SON was also chosen by Reader’s Digest for their Select Editions—alongside John Grisham’s THE PARTNER. That same year, Kevin bid farewell to the railroads and began writing full time. His first thriller, THE NEXT TO DIE (2001) became a USA Today Bestseller. Three more USA Today bestselling thrillers followed, and then came THE LAST VICTIM (2005), which hit the New York Times Bestseller list and won the Spotted Owl Award for Best Pacific Northwest Mystery. Kevin has continued to turn out New York Times best-selling thrillers, and his books have been translated into fourteen languages. Kevin is on the board of Seattle 7 Writers (www.seattle7writers.org) , a collective of bestselling, award-winning authors, dedicated to supporting literacy, writing and education. He’s burning the midnight oil while working on his 21st novel.
SOME FUN – AND PRETTY SERIOUS – FACTS ABOUT KEVIN O’BRIEN:
On the night of November 22, 1963, eight-year-old, Kevin O’Brien watched a police car and another automobile pull into his family’s driveway. The O’Brien’s had moved into the house only a few weeks before. The police – along with someone who may have been FBI – wanted to get in touch with the home’s previous owner, Milton Klein of Klein’s Sporting Goods in Chicago. This was the store where ‘A. Hidell’ (later identified as Lee Harvey Oswald) had sent away for the Italian carbine rifle used to kill the President.
Kevin O’Brien graduated from New Trier East High School in Winnetka, Illinois, which is noted for some famous alumni, including Ann Margret, Rock Hudson, Charlton Heston, Scott Turrow, Lili Taylor, Virginia Madson, Bruce Dern, Senator Charles Percy, Ralph Bellamy and Liz Phair, among others. “Ann Margret and I had the same music teacher,” says O’Brien
A huge Hitchcock fan, O’Brien never missed a TV broadcast of Psycho or North by Northwest back in those pre-VCR/DVD days when he was growing up. His first creative writing teacher, at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was an author, Anne Powers. She was also a writing colleague of Robert Bloch, who wrote PSYCHO (based on the notorious Ed Gein case, also in Wisconsin). “Ms. Powers was very encouraging, and gave me a lot of wonderful feedback about my horror stories,” says O’Brien. “She was a great teacher.”
In college, Kevin O’Brien wrote his first screenplay, and found a New York agent to represent it. The story never sold, but O’Brien made a vow to himself to get published by the time he was thirty. He moved to Seattle in 1980, and sold his first book, ACTORS, on his thirtieth birthday.
Kevin is not the only NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author in his family. His brother-in-law, Mike Leonard, of NBC’s Today Show, wrote the touching, witty, bestselling memoir, THE RIDE OF OUR LIVES (2006).
O’Brien worked as a railroad inspector from 1980 until 1997. In the last five years of the job, his focus was the inspection of hazardous material rail cars and emergency response work. He was offered a buyout the same year he sold ONLY SON to Reader’s Digest. He has been earning a living as a writer ever since.
Kevin is on the board of Seattle 7 Writers, an organization of authors dedicated to promoting literacy, writing in schools, and a passion for the written word.Founded by bestselling authors, Garth Stein and Jennie Shortridge. Seattle 7 Writers has 77 members, including award-winning, bestselling authors, Terry Brooks, Erik Larson, Robert Schenkkan, Tom Robbins, Susan Wiggs, Elizabeth George, Jamie Ford, Timothy Egan, Erica Bauermeister, Robert Dugoni and Maria Semple. Their “Novel Live” marathon with 36 authors, earned over $20,000 for literacy in the Pacific Northwest, and became the bestselling eBook, THE HOTEL ANGELINE, A Novel in 36 Voices. Kevin was one of the 36 authors, and of course, someone got killed in his chapter.
Photo Captions – From the top, a great Marc Von Borstel shot (2008); My parents, Bill & Adele’s engagement photo from 1939; The O’Brien family Christmas card: Adele, Mary Lou, Cathy, Bill, Joan and moi (1958); Me at Christmastime (1960); New Trier High School (which should look familiar to anyone who has seen 16 Candles) and my graduation portrait (1974); Psycho, a big influence on my writing; Marquette University; A family snapshot (1979) a year before I moved to Seattle; the paperback version of my first novel, ACTORS (1986), which is no longer in print, and the ACTORS author photo; that’s me in the back row, praying for a bestseller while Hazardous Material Emergency Response training for the railroads (about 1993); at a book-signing for THE NEXT TO DIE (2001); another shot of the O’Brien clan (2008);At a book launch party for Seattle 7 Writers’ HOTEL ANGELINE with fellow authors, Garth Stein, Sean Beaudoin and Jennie Shortridge (2011); at a signing for FINAL BREATH with grade school friend, Barbara Cegielski, at The Book Stall in Winnetka, IL (2009); with actress and author, Molly Ringwald, at a dinner party in Tacoma, WA (2014); with author, Terry Brooks, at my YOU’LL MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE signing at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle (2016); the former railroad inspector signs books with THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN author, Paula Hawkins, after I interviewed her at Seattle Town Hall for Third Place Books (2017); at Bainbridge Public Library with Eagle Harbor Books bookseller, Victoria Irwin, and fellow Seattle 7 Writers, Carol Cassella and Laurie Frankel (2018).