Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

January 9, 2014

Smiling through life

Former local writer shares everyday nuances in book

By Judy Wakefield
jwakefield@andovertownsman.com

---- — The book starts with an introduction starring a doughnut — a glazed jelly cruller that not only oozes with calories (260), but also oozes with a comedic approach to life in short essay style that will keep readers amused to the end.

Titled “Calling New Delhi for Free” ($9 paperback), it’s the handiwork of former Andover Townsman reporter and longtime writer Susan Kramer O’Neill.

O’Neill used to live in Andover with her family — husband Paul and two kids — but now calls Brooklyn, N.Y. home.

“I used to work as a reporter (at the Townsman) back when dinosaurs walked the Earth (1985 or ‘86 or so, during the Bob Finneran era) and was recently startled to see the Little League team from 25 years ago staring at me from my computer on the Townsman website,” O’Neill said in an email. “So, I quickly sent links to my husband and my son, who coached and played for a non-competing team in that era.”

This is O’Neill’s second book and it reminds her very much of her long-ago weekly newspaper gig in Andover. She wrote a weekly humor column for the paper “back in the day.”

“Don’t know that anybody would remember me from that time, but I guess I can say the job gave me my start down the essay trail,” she said.

She continues her trademark style in “Calling New Delhi,” offering humorous takes on family, social media, tech support, travel, war and one presidential inauguration. But today’s technology craze is what clearly gets this author’s goat.

O’Neill said many of her columns are musings on how technology messes with the minds of mere humans. The book title reflects her frustrations.

“It’s kind of a symptom of the age and a symbol of the tech craziness,” she said. “So many times, we idiots start on the path to tend to some faulty product we’ve bought somewhere by making a simple phone call — only to find ourselves talking to New Delhi,” O’Neill said.

She shared her New Delhi experience: “I was having trouble linking the book with the Kindle edition with my author page, so I engaged the `chat’ feature — you know, where you type your message and somebody comes online to type back and try to solve the issue at hand and I noticed the individual on the other end of Amazon support had kind of an odd name. So, when we’d supposedly solved our issue, I asked where she was typing from. She said, of course, New Delhi,” O’Neill recalled.

O’Neill is also a registered nurse who volunteered with the Peace Corps and was an Army nurse in Vietnam. She wrote “Don’t Mean Nothing” (Ballantine 2001, UMass Press 2004, Serving House Books 2010), a collection of short stories based loosely on her experiences in the war.

“I gathered a batch of my blog entries and a few outright essays and decided to publish them as a book with Peace Corps Writers, which is the site where I throw up an essay now and then under the title `Off the Matrix,’” she said.

In addition, for the past 13 years, O’Neill has been the primary editor for Vestal Review, which handles “flash fiction,” stories of no more than 500 words.

O’Neill’s resume is long — and includes stints as an editor, reporter, freelance writer, nurse, storyteller, envelope-stuffer and wedding singer. Through it all, she’s been faithfully writing essays about everyday life, capturing its funny but aggravating side.

“I was born in Indiana when it was not uncommon for young, lower-middle-class women to be told that they should either learn to type or study to be a nurse,” she said. “I did both.”

She says readers seem to enjoy her writing style. One reviewer called her latest offering, “A manual for living today, told in a fresh and vibrant voice.”

While O’Neill admits she wastes a shameful amount of time on Facebook and Twitter (@oneill_susan), she welcomes the communication. You can also contact her at http://peacecorpsworldwide.org/.