I was woken this St. Patrick’s Day morning by the most Irish of my sons studying me in my jammies and challenging, “Are you wearing green?”
My family is not fully Irish — one grandfather is Finnish, a grandmother French, another grandfather English. It’s one grandmother alone who feeds my Irish roots. Her family was Irish as they come. I can’t say that without image coming to mind of any of her wiry-haired brothers with his head tipped back to laugh.
Yet I never felt so Irish until my sons were born. I inadvertently tipped their focus toward their Irish roots when I name my oldest son Liam — less in Irish obsession than in the fact I liked the name (it is actually nod to my Finnish grandfather, William).
His younger brother, Blake, however, is the true throwback. I’ve never met a more Irish person than my youngest son, whose looks and mannerisms perfectly replicate Irish ancestors so long dead he could not be mimicking, and it was Blake (who slept in green shorts) who challenged my commitment to St. Patrick’s Day this morning.
My sons get the double-dose, as my mother-in-law was full Irish, complete with her dark humor. I cracked up over the tweet from Weinstein Books publicity director, Kathleen Schmidt, below, because it so much represents the “catching up” conversations we have with my mother-in-law each visit home:
It’s not an Irish party until you talk about who died or is dying. And then drink.
— Kathleen Schmidt (@Bookgirl96) March 16, 2014
Not only does my mother-in-law catch you up on family news by cataloguing the latest illnesses and disasters (in the most dramatic stage whisper, as if she were nearly — nearly — too shocked to tell you), but she is an avid lover of murder fiction.
She was never so pleased with a trip to visit us in Florida than the night we ended up trapped on South Beach, in Miami, because the FBI had the island cordoned off while they chased Gianni Versace’s killer. We had given her the perfect mystery-lover’s outing as we walked past the still-stained sidewalk in front of Versace’s house and inadvertently walked through the live taping of America’s Most Wanted, on our way to take her to a salsa-dancing club, where the blue-lit helicopter footage of the chase was being broadcast over the bar.
Still, my boys’ and my own Irish identity reached its peak after a family trip to the ole sod in 2006.
The trip planted a seed that later grew into a novella and then a novel draft, which is the novel I have been working on the past 2 years and often write about here (click for all posts on Wake or on novel revision).
The picture of my son on the lawn of an Irish country house, at the top, epitomizes a certain essence of the internal motivation in the novel. While early drafts focused on the love story between Carinne and the paramilitary man she met in Ireland, development of her character and the story have made it clear that it is the need of her son to find his father that becomes the inciting incident for her to unravel all the mysteries in the book. Where she has been paralyzed to act on her own motivation, she is made brave enough to do for her son.
What’s interesting to me, as my boys and I celebrate being Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, is the backwards connections we have to Ireland now. For the deeply passionate connection we feel, my own inspiration is often in reverse to our factual roots.
In tracing family roots, we traveled to the south, although the Cooleys are from north of Dublin. My son poses in front of a country house, although our family left behind roots as humble as a mud-floored cottage. In Kerry, where the Irish Troubles didn’t reach, I first felt the dark spark of my paramilitary character, Michael Roonan, on the shadowy, cool bed of a room in the garden wing of a English peerage hunting lodge. As much as the violence of the north was absent, the dark shadows of the surrounding forest seemed to speak of something in hiding, and Roonan was vivid in my mind from one sleepless night as if he leaned against the wall impatiently waiting for me to write.
But writing is like that. And our Irish love of story is like that: craving surprise, darkness, even shock.
I celebrate this St. Patrick’s day by making the most of the week I have off for spring break by writing. My characters have been speaking loudly to me since the first hour I left work on Friday. I’ve written each of the last few days. I’ve copied new material from the last months into the existing draft (I’m well up to a 6th or 8th draft by now). I’m due for another print-and-read-through, expecting much from early drafts will be deleted now, and there will be big challenges in weaving together the reveal moments of various threads of the internal and external conflicts. Lots to do.
But I think I’ll start with the promise to my son: I’ll go don green.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
* * * * *
How About You?
What are you working on today? Are you celebrating your Irish roots? Or, how does your own ancestry inspire what you write about?
We’d love to hear from you in the comments.
* * * * *
If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, the Bloglovin’ button or via email. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!
- Friday Links for Writers 03.14.14: Quirky Resources for Writers (find all Friday Links in Links & Where to Find Me)
- Writer’s Day Job: Is Teaching a Good Job for Writers?
- Writing in Process: Using Alternative Voice to Understand Internal Conflict
- Motivation to Write: Setting New Goals to Move Beyond a Success
- My Reading List: Winter 2014