Tea with Eileen O'Finlan

Know what's amazing in the authoring world? The people you meet! Though Eileen and I have only had virtual tea, we live a few towns apart and have been supporting each other since a mutual friend connected us. It's like finding a kindred spirit when you "meet" another author (be it in person, on Facebook or Twitter, or somewhere in cyber space).

When I heard about Eileen's book, Kelegeen, the premise captured me so I ordered it and read it right away! Disclaimer: You will need tissues. What a heart-wrenching, amazingly-researched tale of the Irish potato blight. I fell in love with the priest (not too many books are told from that POV and I loved that element), as well as the young, strong Meg.

Okay, enough of the preamble; here is a chat with author Eileen O'Finlan:

 Eileen can be found on her  website  or on  Facebook . 

Eileen can be found on her website or on Facebook

Where does your heart fall in the writing world?

I write novels. On rare occasions I’ve written short stories and prose poems.  I find, though, that I really need the big canvas of the novel.  I need to take time to develop my characters and let a story unfold over a few hundred pages.

When did your writing journey begin? What drew you to writing?

Even as a young child, I’d look at a picture, say in a magazine or catalog, and if something about it grabbed my attention, I’d start making up a story in my head to go with it.  It wasn’t something I did consciously.  It just happened.  The same is true if I was bored.  I’d just start imagining stories which would play themselves out in my mind.  I guess I was drawn to writing in order to get the stories out of my head and onto paper.

What was your inspiration for Kelegeen?

I was taking a course in Irish history for my undergraduate degree (BA in History).  While studying the Potato Famine, my professor suggested that, as a creative exercise, I keep a diary as if I were a parish priest in Ireland at the time of the Famine.  I really enjoyed writing that diary.  After the course ended, I thought it would make a great basis for a novel.

Do you find inspiration in your own life for your writing?

Quite often, yes.  I’m a New Englander to my core so most of my writing is set in New England.  Obviously, that’s not the case with Kelegeen which is set in Ireland, but it is with most of my writing.  Also, since I write mainly historical fiction, coming across some interesting historical event or tidbit often triggers the idea for a story.

Tell us about Kelegeen.

Kelegeen is the fictionalized story of what brought countless Irish immigrants to the North American shores.  The little village of Kelegeen is going about its day-to-day life when the potatoes - the only food available to the Irish peasants - is suddenly struck by a horrible blight wiping out the entire potato crop across all of Ireland.  In what would become known as An Gorta Mor (the Great Hunger) over one million Irish would die and another million would emigrate.

Meg O’Connor, a bright, resilient, resourceful, and compassionate young woman must find a way to prevail while keeping alive her relationship with Rory, the young man to whom she is engaged.  Each time a survival tactic fails, she’s forced into a new one.  At the same time, she is beset by worry about Rory who’s own survival strategy is gravely dangerous, her mother whose frightening but vague premonitions bode an unknown evil, and the loss of beloved family and friends.

Father Brian O’Malley is the parish priest of Kelegeen and a dear friend of the O’Connor family.  He becomes unlikely allies with an English doctor.  Together they make the rounds of the countryside to offer what spiritual and physical help they can to the villagers.  It is to the two of them that Meg will turn for help with her final, most desperate plan for survival.

Though told from the points of view of both Meg and Father O’Malley, Kelegeen is really Meg’s story, which, in turn, is a story of what led to the Irish diaspora.

 Kelegeen can be found on  Amazon .

Kelegeen can be found on Amazon.

Did you go traditional route (agent/publisher), small press, or self-publish? 

I am published by BWL Publishing, Inc. a small publisher based in Canada.  I was extremely fortunate in that Eileen Charbonneau, who did the editing on Kelegeen, thought it would be a good fit with her publisher.  Eileen’s two most recent books, I’ll Be Seeing You and Watch Over Me, were published by BWL.  So she contacted the publisher, told her about Kelegeen and got her to agree to read it.  Within an amazingly short time, BWL offered me a contract.

Any new projects on the horizon?

Yes.  I am in the research phase for the sequel to Kelegeen.  I also have several other ideas for novels floating around in my head.  In fact, I was planning on writing a novel set in 1830s Vermont, but I’ve had so many requests for a sequel that I decided I’d better do that next so the Vermont novel will have to wait.

Words of advice for fellow writers in the trenches:

Once your novel is completed to what you think is the best of your ability, hire a top-notch editor.  I don’t mean someone who will simply look for type-o’s, grammatical errors and the like.  I mean someone who does all that, but more importantly reads for and comments on content, story and character arc, continuity and everything else that makes a novel sing.  Then take that person’s advice to heart.  Put in the time and effort of revising even if it means a complete rewrite.  Most of all, make yourself a student of writing.  Absorb like a sponge everything you can about writing.

I wrote the first few drafts of Kelegeen over a six year period more than twenty years ago.  After making the rounds of agents and, with one brief exception, being turned down by all, I gave up.  It was only a few years ago that I found Eileen Charbonneau, took the novel out of mothballs and sent it to her.  Her editing and advice was invaluable.  I had to do a complete rewrite which took a year to complete but it was well worth it.  I learned a tremendous amount from Eileen including why I garnered so many rejections twenty years ago.  The novel is so much better after her input and I am a much better writer.  Hiring her was the smartest and best move I’ve ever made with my writing.

What was the hardest/most unusual/interesting part of the story to write/research?

For me the hardest part was understanding the workings of the mid-19th century Irish economy, which was firmly wrapped up with the British economy.  Economics and political maneuvering are not my strong suits so I had to work hard to get a handle on them.  Though, I didn’t write about them much in the story, I had to understand them enough for what happens in the story to make sense and be historically accurate.  With historical fiction, learning far more about the subject than will ever make it overtly into the story is always part of the process.

Now for some fun questions! 

Oxford comma, yes or no? (Be careful how you answer this! Ha)

Yes, yes, and yes!

Ice cream: vanilla or chocolate?

Vanilla. I love vanilla!  (also love chocolate, but not in ice cream)

What does your desk look like?

My desk is usually a complete mess, but that’s not where I write.  I write on my laptop which is currently on, well, my lap.

What is your writing vice or must-haves (e.g. for me it's post-its, red pen, and coffee)?

I must have my laptop.  I only write longhand in my writing workshop.  What I must NOT have is vocal noise.  I can write with silence, white noise, or instrumental music, but not with the TV on or music with lyrics.

Describe a perfect writing day.

I’m a night owl, so it would actually be a perfect writing night.  I’d sit at the computer merrily transcribing whatever story was playing itself out in my head well into the wee hours of the morning.  I do my best writing at night.  Often I’ll think I’ve only been writing for about an hour or so, but when I look at the clock I realize it’s 2:00 a.m.  How did that happen?!  Considering I’m still working a M-F 9-5 job, this can be a real problem.  I’m living on a huge sleep debt!

In an alternate reality, what would be your dream job (besides author)?

Rock star guitar goddess!

Since I'm a hiker/travel-lover, what's your favorite place you've visited?

Vermont.  It’s my home away from home.  Since you’re a hiker, you’ve probably already been to Quechee Gorge, but if not, give it a try.  I also fell in love with Bermuda when I went there on a cruise several years ago.

What do you like to do when not writing?

My favorite thing to do is read.  I’m a voracious reader.  Not surprising, is it?  Probably most writers would say the same.  Besides reading, I like to spend time with family and friends, hang out with my two adorable cats, listen to classic rock, make beaded jewelry, shop, and entertain at home.  I also love visiting museums and botanical gardens.

Where can we find your book?

Buy links: 

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Kobo 

Smashwords

Thank you, Eileen! I look forward to reading more from you!