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do a book signing at Eason’s in Dublin. “Now, no writer wants to go to an event where no one shows up. I didn’t think I was very well known in Ireland. So I said, ‘Can’t I just stop by the store around eleven on a weekday and sign whatever stock they have?’ But Eason’s had spread the word that I was going to be there, and there was a long line of people waiting for me. Then I felt bad and thought I should have scheduled something more formal. But I talked to each person as they came through the line. Even met the writer John Connelly’s mom. A real shocking and obviously wonderful experience.” It is an experience awaiting Anne O’Brien Rice, though her family history seems lost in a distant past. “My people were working people and history tended to disappear pretty fast. I remember once asking about my great-grandfather John Curry, what had his parents done for a living? There wasn’t a single living relative who had any idea. I heard stories about various things. But I could never pin it down,” she remembers. “I don’t even know what counties they came from. I heard that some of my people sailed on ‘coffin ships’ and they came down through Canada. Others came directly to New Orleans. But these were all people who came to work at hard labor. So a lot of them died young. There was a high infant mortality rate. Their history just disappeared as if it was written in water.” Connelly preserved a bit of his family history by giving one character, Jack McEvoy, his mother’s maiden name. “There are just tons of McEvoy cousins including Jack McEvoys in my family. I also used McCaleb, my wife’s maiden name, and Michael Haller is called Mickey or Mick a lot.” Another Irish-American influence for Connelly was Mickey Spillane. Connelly’s family moved from Philadelphia to Fort Lauderdale, Florida when he was twelve. He discovered that the boys left the baseball field during the hottest part of the afternoon to go to the air conditioned library. The more traditional books did not interest him, but there was a rack of Mickey Spillane crime novels that caught his attention. “I was mesmerized,” he remembers. Both Connelly, who attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, and Rice received their early education in Catholic schools. She has helped restore her

alma mater St. Alphonsus School and Church as a kind of thank you. “I think being a Catholic is a really a deep cultural thing,” she says. “I was born Catholic from a long line of Catholics and I grew up in an intensely Catholic city, in an intensely Catholic neighborhood. We were always talking about Rome and wanting to go to Italy. And people we knew went on pilgrimages. To this day people from New Orleans go to Medjugorje to see the place where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared. And of course when I was little, the mass was still in Latin. I loved having the Latin-English missal, following the mass in Latin and learning the Latin of the main body of the mass. That was a wonderful thing. “The saints that we talked about in school, whose lives we read – were Europeans and because of that, I always felt connected to Europe. Later when I became a writer, I responded to those writers in America who had been influenced by European voices. Writers like Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, say, as opposed to Mark Twain. I responded to that kind of influence. Anne Rice’s books Christ The Lord: Out Of Egypt and Christ The Lord: The Road to Cana directly expressed her interest in religion. Though she says she also imbibed a certain anti-clerical spirit in New Orleans too. “I’m fascinated by Celtic spirituality,” she says. “Another reason why, though I’ve never been to Ireland, I would love to go.” She pauses. “I owe a debt to the cosmos that I was born Irish Catholic in New Orleans. It’s contributed so much to whoever I am, whatever I’ve done and whatever I’ve written,” she concludes. For Connelly going to Ireland had many dimensions. “Beyond whether I’m Irish or not, when I go to Ireland it underlines for me the power and importance of storytelling and how we need it. On the one hand I write entertainment. I write puzzles and mysteries. Nothing too highfalutin. But then if you go to a place thousands of miles across an ocean and you have a room full of people who express concern for your characters or what’s going to happen to Harry Bosch next, it really bangs home the strength and need of storytelling forces as a society and as a world society. And so that’s been part of the most fulfilling stuff that has happened to me. And a lot of it comes from my trips to Ireland.”

Perhaps the last word on the Irish-American/Thriller Fest connection comes from Thomas Patrick Doherty, founder and publisher of Tom Doherty Associates, now part of Macmillan, who publishes books with the Tor/Forge imprints, and Robert Gleason, his senior editor and author. Under his Forge imprint, Doherty publishes Irish-themed books by Andrew Greeley, Morgan Llewelyn, Patrick Taylor and this writer. He chose the Forge name to echo the Irish blacksmith, pounding away, opening a “door in the dark” to quote Seamus Heaney. His Tor books have been publishing science fiction for a generation. “These stories are meant to stir the imagination,” Doherty says. Robert Gleason, whose own books End of Days and Nuclear Terrorist certainly force readers to think about the unthinkable has seen firsthand the effects science fiction can have on the imagination. “We have astronauts and NASA scientists that arrive in our office as if they were pilgrims coming to a sacred site. They tell us a book published by Tor first led them to imagine themselves in space.” Tom Doherty describes how NASA approached him and asked if they could pair a NASA scientist with a Tor writer to produce science fiction that might inspire young people today to make the impossible, possible. “We recently released our first NASAinspired work of fiction, Pillar to the Sky by William Forstchen,” Doherty says. “Two NASA scientists, a married couple, figure out a way to build an elevator to space. The science is there. With such an elevator, we could hook up solar panels that could provide limitless energy to our planet. Possibly end global warming. Maybe some young person will read this book and end up leading the team that launches the space elevator.” I left Thriller Fest convinced that IrishAmerican storytellers not only thrill and entertain but they might just be able to save the planet. Too highfalutin? Maybe not. Never underestimate the power of the Irish imagiIA nation. OCTOBER / NOVEMBER 2014 IRISH AMERICA 103

Profile for Irish America Magazine

Irish America October / November 2014  

The October/November issue of Irish America magazine, featuring the annual Wall Street 50 list with cover story and WS50 Keynote Speaker Kat...

Irish America October / November 2014  

The October/November issue of Irish America magazine, featuring the annual Wall Street 50 list with cover story and WS50 Keynote Speaker Kat...