What is your latest book about?
“Booking Passage — We Irish and Americans” covers my 35 years of coming and going between small town Michigan and Moveen West, Kilkee, Co. Clare, and the house my great-grandfather came out of and which I now keep, between the coastal resort town of Kilkee and the estuarial village of Carrigaholt. It deals with race, sect, religion, family history, tribe, nation and a sense of place.
It is an effort to find the larger world inside the local ones, the planet in the parish, the world’s ways in an island nation, “the whole of man’s estate” (quoting Montaigne) “in every man” — by examining my own experience of Ireland and the Irish: their poets and priests, the neighbors and friends I’ve made there, the family and people I call my own and the home place my great-grandfather left in 1890 and to which I returned in 1970, the first of my family to reconnect over those generations and decades.
I wanted it to be like a good night’s chat around the fire: full of talk, song, poems, stories, friends and friendly ghosts and celebration.
What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?
I rise early, drink tea or coffee, read, write, pace, take long walks and return to it. Because I’m a full-time funeral director in Michigan, I’ve had to learn to work “portably” among my professional duties. In Moveen, of course, I’m a full-time writer, usually twice a year for a month at a time.
What advice to you have for aspiring writers?
Read and invent. Listen for your own voice. Go out for a walk everyday, alone. Writers are readers who go karaoke, who hear in the voices of others, something that rings true in themselves. They begin by humming along, singing the words that others have made. After a while they begin to sing for themselves, in their own words, in their own voice.
Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure?
“The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats,” “Preoccupations and Collected Poems” by Seamus Heaney, and “The Pursuit of Loneliness” by Philip Slater.
What book are you currently reading?
I’m usually reading a few at once: “On Garbage” by John Scanlan, “Sanctuary” (Poems) by Matthew Sweeney, “A Song I Knew by Heart” by Bret Lott, “The Night Breeze Off the Ocean” by Michael Heffernan, “Guilty at the Rapture” by Keith Taylor.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
Many, many books I wish I had written. But more than that, I’m very grateful I live in an age when so many wonderful books are being written. But if there’s one among all of them I’d have wished to write it might be “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”
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Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by?
“Selected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay.”
If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?
The author of the Book of Job.
What book changed your life?
“The Cry of Oliver Hardy” by Michael Heffernan.
What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
My ancestral home in Moveen West, Kilkee, Co. Clare.
You’re Irish if . . .
You weep at weddings, laugh at funerals and sing for no apparent reason.