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Updated: Mar 7, 2023

“Okay,” you may be thinking, “I get it. You want to write an Irish story in honor of your parents. But why this particular story? How did you develop the idea into a book?”

I’m so glad you asked.

This all started from an email exchange with my BFF (the model for Marianne in the story). We were swapping family stories and it dawned on me that these funny/tragic/unique stories would make an excellent novel. I reasoned that it would be engaging and plausible because these are actual actions by actual people. For instance, my brother-in-law chased down his romantic rival in his Mustang on Pacific Coast Highway in Redondo Beach. Brother-in-law’s best friend fired a starting pistol at the rival’s car. The panicked rival veered off the road and onto the beach, which necessitated an expensive tow. This was the seed of the scene in Ladywell Woods.

My father-in-law was the one who slipped on a soapy floor and went shooting out of the house on his butt. My husband saved a falling man by grabbing the back of his clothing and lifting him to safety one-handed (and burst all the seams in his shirt). My father, a brilliant man, had a massive stroke in his mid-fifties and had all of the symptoms I wrote in for Merit: sometimes he couldn’t remember where he lived and sometimes the old brilliance would resurface in the most unexpected ways.

I would need to distort the actual stories and assign actions of several different people into a single character to make a reasonable plot, but it could be done. I chose Regency England because Jane Austen is my favorite author, and I aspire to write as well as she did. I’m nowhere near, unfortunately. But I keep practicing!

I am not terribly creative in some ways. All of the English names in the story I copied from my mother’s family; all of the Irish names are courtesy of my father and my very Irish husband. Yes, I married an Irishman just like the Irishman that married dear old mum. My BFF is Scottish, so the Scots names are lifted from her family. Some of the names are inside jokes. The drunk in the story is Richard Burton. The farm manager is MacDonald, whose father, Old MacDonald, had a farm…

Sometimes I just can’t help myself. However, nobody ever called me out on it, so I don’t think my inside jokes mar the story.

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

Therapist: Very well, Mr. Darcy; how do you declare your tender feelings to the woman you love?

Mr. Darcy: I like you against my better judgment.

Therapist: {sigh} No.

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

I wrote this book to enlighten my descendants. I am a retired teacher and routinely encountered students (including my own kids) who were convinced that prejudice against the Irish didn’t happen, or didn’t happen in America, or that it wasn’t as crippling as prejudice against people of color. Fun fact: four American presidents have been assassinated. Two had Irish last names (Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy). I don’t think that their names are irrelevant details.

My students were horrified when I showed them want ads in a newspaper from 1970—six years after the Kennedy administration and the Equal Rights Amendment—and they discovered gender-divided want ads with columns of ads ending in “no Negroes, Chinese or Irish need apply.” My kids’ jaws dropped and their eyes bugged out when they realized that I was banned from applying to two-thirds of the jobs on offer because my maiden name is distinctly Irish.

True Ellis Island story: I’m Linda Conaway because great-grandfather claimed he was the “Conway that got away, Conaway,” and insisted on that spelling when being processed through Ellis Island. To the best of my knowledge, every single “Conaway” in America is my fifth cousin or better. The DNA matches offered by the 23 and Me service tend to corroborate that bit of family folklore.

My father was a second-generation Irish immigrant. His father was brother number five and the first child born to the Conaways on American soil. My mother’s English ancestors first stepped foot in American in 1630. When my mother announced her engagement, my grandmother said, “Good grief, Betty, you’re a good-looking girl; you can hold out for better!” Mother’s parents agreed to pay for her wedding on the condition that she get married at her college, 1,700 miles away from their stately Winnetka home, since it would be less embarrassing that way.

So, this book is written in their memory; just as the fictionalized foreword suggests. My parents were two pioneers who dared to love where bigotry had been sown and were a power couple for over fifty years.
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