Most of us will never have to endure the profound hardships of our ancestors. Surviving a famine, voyaging across the ocean with only the clothes on your back or leaving your entire family behind to seek a better life in another land are not modern, first-world problems. And while these struggles still exist around the globe, most of us are only likely to encounter them in the pages of historical books like local author Terence O’Leary’s latest work, Irish Crossings.
Though fictional, the story of Paddy and Caitlin, a young newlywed couple emigrating from Ireland, is based firmly in fact. Set during the late 1800’s Irish Potato Famine, Irish Crossings speaks for many real-life immigrants who crossed oceans in search of a sustainable life.
For his fourth novel, the UT grad (Class of ‘72) actually ventured to the Emerald Isle to research the real world events and locations that comprise the story. And with his Irish heritage, the former salesman relates that his new book is his most personal.
Why did you start writing?
When I started, back at Central Catholic, I loved reading. I imagined myself like Hemingway, traveling around the world telling stories of my adventures. In college, I started writing my first book and I had an agent, but we couldn’t get it published. Then, I got married and had kids and had to find a real job. It took me 30 years — I wouldn’t call it a midlife crises— but at 50, I realized what I wanted to do and if anything was going to be of lasting value, it was going to be through writing. And that’s when I went into writing full-time. I started writing (my first book) More than a Game in 2000. It took me four years to get it where I wanted it to be.
Why are all your protagonists teenagers?
I think the biggest influence in my (writing) life is Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. It actually changed my life. To be able to look at someone else’s life through their eyes, especially teenagers today. Everything is new and exciting for them. And their depth of emotion is much larger than adults, what was a major crises when you were a teenager, as you get older, you realize was just a bump in the road. I really wanted to let teenagers know that they’re going to face all these adversities in life, but you can overcome them.
Do all your stories take place in Northwest Ohio?
The first three stories were all set in Northwest Ohio. My first, More Than A Game, a baseball story is about the Mud Hens. Bringing Boomer Home was set in Grand Rapids, Ohio. It’s like stepping back in time when you’re out on Main St. there.
What inspired you to write Irish Crossings?
After writing my sports trilogy, I was going through withdrawals, saying, “What am I going to write?” [My family] was sitting around the dinner table and we started talking about our ancestry. I ended picking up a book, At Grandpa’s Knee by Sister Mary Angela Finney and Patrick L. Coleman, and it turned out to be a history of my mom’s side of the family and how they came from Ireland to America. I read it and thought, “This would make the basis for a fantastic story.”
Terence O’Leary will hold a book signing and sale, 5-7pm at The Annual Hibernian St. Patrick’s Day Party. Friday, March 17.
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