Saturday, June 21, 2014

Gettin' Literary at the Irish Fair

One of the things I'm doing (when not working on the new book, of course!) is that I'm coordinating the Literary Corner at the Irish Fair of Minnesota. It's the largest free Irish festival in the nation, drawing crowds of 80,000-100,000 for three days in early August. This year the Fair is August 8-10, and it's held on Harriet Island, across the river from downtown Saint Paul.

This year, in keeping with the 1,000th anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf, the Literary Corner is also focusing on 1,000 years of Irish literature. We're working on getting a calligrapher to speak and demonstrate Irish medieval writing, and we'll also feature 14 Minnesota writers who will talk about and read from their own work, and also about the Irish writers and various literary traditions that have influenced them. And there's going to be a Limerick contest, with winners both Saturday and Sunday. Books by participating authors will be available for purchase and signing.

The Literary Corner will be open Saturday and Sunday, August 9-10, from 11 am. We have a great lineup of talented authors including:


Gary Bruggemann teaches history at Century and Inver Hills Community Colleges. A lifelong resident of Saint Paul, he has spent the last 35 years researching, writing and teaching Minnesota history. He is the author of numerous works on Saint Paul history, including at least 40 newspaper and magazine articles. In 2012 Gary published Minnesota's Oldest Murder Mystery: The Case Of Edward Phalen, St. Paul's Unsaintly Pioneer, selected as a Midwest Book Awards finalist.

Carol Connolly, Saint Paul’s Poet Laureate, is the author of All This And More (Nodin Press, 2009). Her first book, Payments Due: Onstage Offstage, Midwest Villages & Voices, now in its fifth printing, was first produced for the stage in Los Angeles and then in Minneapolis, running for two years in each locale. Carol curates a monthly series, Reading by Writers, now in its fourteenth year, to benefit Public Art Saint Paul. She is the recipient of the 2011 Kay Sexton Award, presented annually by the Minnesota Book Awards in recognition of longstanding dedication and outstanding work in fostering books, reading, and literary activity in Minnesota. Carol is a Saint Paul native, has seven children, eleven perfect grandchildren, and one perfect great grandchild.

John Dingley grew up on a hill farm in Mid-Wales and now lives in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. He has been called a renaissance man who has shown a variety of notable talents. John is an animal scientist and his love of nature has involved him in a major role for wildlife reintroduction—he sits on the board of directors for the Raptor Resource Project and the Decorah Eagle Cam. He is also a master glass cutter and engraver as well as being an accomplished stonemason. John’s love of theater has led to performances in a variety of roles, both in Wales and around the Midwest. A noted storyteller and singer, he can occasionally be discovered performing his one-man show, “John Dingley and the Biggest Pack of Lies You Ever Heard.” John also takes a major interest in urban agriculture, sustainable agriculture, and permaculture and has spent time teaching urban young people about the efficient use of gardening and agricultural hand tools. His nonfiction book, Hard Work in Paradise: When All Our Food and Lives Were Organic, will be published soon. The Timeless Cavern: Marged Evans and The Pebbles of Time is John’s first novel, a young-adult fantasy, and he is currently working on the second and third books in the series: Marged Evans and the Pebbles of More Time and Marged Evans and the Pebbles of Distance. For more visit

Mike Faricy is a Saint Paul native who splits his time between the saintly city and Dublin, Ireland. He writes books of no redeeming social value… crime fiction, theoretically with a sense of humor and even some romance. His Dev Haskell series, set in Saint Paul, has earned the #1 Amazon slot a half dozen times, and has been nominated for a Minnesota Book Award. His stories don’t deal with government coups, terrorists or international bank conspiracies, but rather the sort of individuals we all know and wisely prefer to keep at a distance. His characters find themselves in situations due to their own bad decisions—but then bad decisions make for interesting tales! Visit his website at, on Facebook or on Twitter.

Mike Finley, with ancestors in Counties Down and Laois, is author of over one million books, including Skibbereen and A Pox on Your Blessings (with master bread baker Danny Klecko). He grew up in northeast Ohio and is now a Saint Paul writer and poet, videomaker, and performance artist who’s been writing and publishing since 1966. Visit his website at

Erin Hart’s archaeological crime novels are set in the mysterious boglands of Ireland. Her debut, Haunted Ground (2003), won the Friends of American Writers award and Romantic Times' Best First Mystery, was shortlisted for mystery’s prestigious Anthony and Agatha awards, and translated into eleven foreign languages. Lake Of Sorrows (2004) was shortlisted for a Minnesota Book Award, and False Mermaid (2010) was named by ALA/Booklist as one of the Top Ten Crime Novels of 2010. Her latest, The Book Of Killowen (2013), was also a Minnesota Book Award finalist. Erin lives in Saint Paul with her husband, Irish accordion legend Paddy O’Brien, and travels frequently to Ireland, where she leads tours to some of the fascinating places described in her books! For more, visit Erin online, read her blog, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Laurie Hertzel is Senior Editor/Books at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where she has worked since 1996. Previously, she was a writer and editor at Minnesota Monthlymagazine and at the Duluth News-Tribune. She is the author of a memoir, News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist (University of Minnesota Press, 2010), winner of a 2011 Minnesota Book Award, and co-author of They Took My Father: Finnish-Americans In Stalin's Russia (with Mayme Sevander, University of Minnesota Press, 2004). She has received state and national awards for her short fiction, magazine articles and newspaper stories. She lives in Saint Paul. Visit her online at or follow her blog.

All her life Amanda Hughes has been a "Walter Mitty," spending more time in heroic daydreams than in the real world. At last she found an outlet: writing adventures about audacious women in the 18th century. Her best-selling novel, Beyond the Cliffs of Kerry was published in 2002; The Pride of the King released in 2011, and The Sword of the Banshee in 2013. Amanda is a graduate of the University of Minnesota and when she isn't off tilting at windmills, she lives and writes in Saint Paul. Visit her online at and read her blog.

In 2001, Tracie Loeffler Donaghy went on a vacation to Ireland and came home married to an Irishman. Her memoir, An American in Belfast, is a personal journey into a darker side of Ireland, one of paramilitaries, bomb scares, and sectarian violence. She has been a guest speaker on local radio and at various literary events, reading from her memoir and discussing her experiences of life in Northern Ireland. Tracie also regularly organizes and hosts Irish pub-style literary readings in the Twin Cities, featuring writers and poets from the local Irish community. She teaches writing and has a master’s degree in Creative Writing from Hamline University.

Nora Murphy is a fifth generation Irish-American Minnesotan whose great-grandfather cut and laid granite for the Saint Paul Cathedral. Author of essays, poems, and nonfiction books, Nora fell in love with Saint Brigid in the Cathedral’s shrine of nations and pays tribute to the great saint in her memoir, Knitting The Threads Of Time: Casting Back To The Heart Of Our Craft.

Paddy O’Brien is an Irish traditional musician and noted tune collector. In 2012, The Road From Castlebarnagh, his account of growing up as a musician in rural Ireland, was published by Orpen Press in Dublin. He has also published a number of poems in a series about the older generation of Irish traditional musicians, and three volumes of the Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection, comprising 1,500 tunes and stories from his vast repertoire. Paddy's encyclopedic knowledge of Irish music is legendary. In a career spanning more than 50 years, he has collected more than 3,000 compositions—jigs, reels, hornpipes, airs, and marches, including many rare and unusual tunes. Paddy is a master of the two-row button accordion and in addition to several All-Ireland titles, he was named Ireland's Traditional Composer of the Year at the Gradam Ceoil Irish Music Awards in 2012. He lives in Saint Paul with his wife, mystery novelist Erin Hart. Visit his website at, on Facebookor on Twitter.

Originally from Dublin, Patrick O’Donnell is a college teacher, theater director, literary historian, and author. He teaches writing and literature (with a focus on Shakespeare and James Joyce) at Normandale Community College. He has been the Artistic Director of Cracked Lookingglass Theatre, Titanic Players, and the Celtic Players. He has written such plays as Vampire Moonshine, I’m Switzerland, Dickens in Dublin, and has created a stage adaptation of Joyce’s novel, Ulysses. Patrick’s focus at present is creative nonfiction with an emphasis on the career of Sir Tyrone Guthrie. He has published work in the Irish scholarly journal New Hibernia Review, The St. Paul Almanac, the online newspaper The Daily Planet, and The Irish Gazette, and has contributed an essay on the Guthrie’s Theater’s Irish roots to Polly Grose’s anthology The Guthrie Theater: The First Fifty Years. Patrick also writes short fiction based on Dublin city and its imagined alternative ancient histories. He is married and lives in Saint Paul with his wife and three children.

Dave Page has written and edited several books on the Irish-Catholic writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and his connection to Minnesota, including The Thoughtbook of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Secret Boyhood Diary, a journal by the young Saint Paul writer. Dave is a member of the International F. Scott Fitzgerald Society and a board member of Fitzgerald in St. Paul, a nonprofit seeking to promote Fitzgerald in his birthplace. Dave currently teaches writing at Inver Hills Community College. 

Jim Rogers is the author of an essay collection, Northern Orchards: Places Near the Dead (2014) and a poetry chapbook, Sundogs (2006). He’s also published many scholarly articles on Irish America, and edited two books on the topic: After the Flood: Irish America, 1945-1960 (2009) and Extended Family: Essays on Being Irish American (2013). Jim edits New Hibernia Review, a journal of Irish Studies published by the university of Saint Thomas, and is a past president of the American Conference for Irish Studies. He has twice been listed as a “notable” in the annual Best American Essays collections.

Monday, June 2, 2014

My Writing Process — Blog Tour

Thanks a million to Mickie Turk for asking me to take part in the Writing Process Blog Tour. Mickie is a fellow member of the Twin Cities Chapter of Sisters in Crime, and the author of two stand-alone crime novels, The Delilah Case and Made in the Image, and is just completing the first book in her Clemsczak Cleaners Mystery Series, Cleaning Up The Bodies. You can find out more about Mickie and her work at:

What am I working on?

I’m in the messy middle of a fifth novel, which is departing from the Nora Gavin/Cormac Maguire series in that it’s demanding to be set in 1933. So I’m imagining the main character, an Irish policeman-turned-archaeologist just might be Nora Gavin’s grandfather.

The story takes place in the Burren area of County Clare, where in the early 1930s Harvard University dispatched teams of archaeologists, sociologists, and anthropologists. It was also a time of great political upheaval in Ireland, as well as elsewhere in Europe, with the rise of nationalism in many countries—Germany in particular—with all that entailed. Ireland was in an interesting position, after achieving independence in the 1920s: many of their technical experts and high-ranking officials were actually from Germany and Austria, including a fellow called Adolf Mahr, who became the Director of the National Museum. Mahr was born in Austria, and became head of the Nazi Party in Ireland during the 1930s. My story is based on a real-life disappearance, but I’ve changed the details of actual events to fit the setting and characters I'm drawing.

How does your work differ from others in your genre?

Well, I’ve yet to find anyone else who writes a whole series about people buried and preserved for thousands of years in the mysterious Irish boglands! It’s my own little niche, I guess you could say. For years after hearing the true tale of a red-haired beauty whose severed head was found in a bog, I haunted Irish bookshops, looking for someone who had already written about bog people. As it happened, I found none, and it turned out to be a tremendous opportunity. I couldn't believe no one had chosen the bog for a setting. It seemed tailor-made for mystery. When I first envisioned the novel that became HAUNTED GROUND, I wanted it to include not just forensic science and archaeology—though those two elements are very much the focus of my work—but it's also about the many layers of history in a place like Ireland, as well as traditional music, and folklore, and mythology. So it’s that combination of essentials that I think makes my stories just a wee bit different from anyone else’s.

Why do you write what you do?

I’ve always been inspired by true stories, and have always started with real events that lend themselves to mysterious, history-connected stories. I love to develop fully-fleshed characters, and most especially I love writing about the connections between those characters, as well as their troubles, their flaws and their foibles. Part of the reason I write the sorts of stories that I do is in reaction to crime novels that are just intellectual puzzles, where the victim is an unpopular boor, and there are no real moral or psychological consequences. For me, reading and writing fiction is all about empathy, about sharing the experience of the people on the page. So my stories tend to be serious, a bit dark, but they always leave open the possibility of redemption.

How does your writing process work?

I always start with an idea based on something from real life—usually a recent bog find! THE BOOK OF KILLOWEN was based on the discovery of a 9th-century book of psalms in an Irish bog. From there, I begin populating the story with characters, and trying to imagine what might happen next. It’s usually the combination of the setting and the characters that helps fill out the plot. I do a lot of research before really beginning to write, but I continue with the research (including visiting Ireland) as I’m working on each novel, because I have to visit specific places that figure in the story to get them just right. I’m a complete pantser, which means that I have no idea how the story is going to end when I start writing. I write to find out what happens, if that makes sense. There are many drafts, and many walls covered in Post-It notes, and many scribbly pages that go nowhere, but help me find my way through the story. Writing a novel is almost like an excavation. I’m not adding, like a sculptor working in clay; I’m digging through details and backstory about the characters to find out more about them, and what’s most important.

For next Monday, June 9, I’m delighted to recommend a trio of excellent crime writers:

Judith Yates Borger

When the St. Paul Pioneer Press refused to pay for her little red two-seater convertible which was firebombed while she reported on a riot, Judith Yates Borger decided it was time to get a new gig. She began writing fiction and hasn't looked back. Borger draws on her 40+ years experience as a journalist to chronicle the escapades of her protagonist Skeeter Hughes, wife, mom, and reporter. In real life, Borger would never have taken the risks that come naturally to protagonist Skeeter. Her third Skeeter Hughes mystery, WHO BOMBED THE TRAIN?, was released June 1. Judy has also published short stories in three Twin Cities mystery anthologies. Those anthologies and her two other Skeeter Hughes novels, WHERE'S BILLIE? and WHOSE HAND?, were published in paper by Nodin Press. They are now available in ebook format from Learn more about Judy and her work at

The next two wonderful writers were not able to participate in this Writing Process blog tour, but I thought you should know about their work in any case! 

Sujata Massey

Sujata Massey was born in England to parents from India and Germany and grew up mostly in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She holds a B.A. in Writing Seminars from Johns Hopkins University and started her working life as a features reporter for the Baltimore Evening Sun. After leaving the newspaper, she moved to Japan, where she studied Japanese, taught English and began writing her first novel, THE SALARYMAN'S WIFE. This novel became the first of many in the Rei Shimura mystery series, which has won Agatha and Macavity awards and been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, and Mary Higgins Clark awards. Her August 2013 release,THE SLEEPING DICTIONARY, is the first in a series of historical suspense novels featuring Bengali women who each play a role in making modern India. Sujata’s books have been published in more than 18 countries, and if she could redo her youth, she would have double-majored in history and a foreign language and spent a gap year (or two) abroad. Currently, she’s based near Washington, D.C. You can learn more about Sujata and her work at

Ellen Crosby

Ellen Crosby is the author of six books in the Virginia Wine Country mystery series, as  well as MOSCOW NIGHTS, a stand-alone mystery based loosely on her time as Moscow correspondent for ABC Radio News in the late 1980s. Before writing fiction, she also worked as a freelance reporter for The Washington Post and as an economist at the U.S. Senate. Her latest book, MULTIPLE EXPOSURE, was released in August 2013 by Scribner. It’s the first in a new mystery series featuring photojournalist Sophie Medina, the story draws on her insider knowledge of Washington politics, her journalism background, and her stint as a Moscow reporter. After living overseas for many years—England, Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, and the former Soviet Union—Ellen, who has an undergraduate degree in political science and a masters in international affairs, now resides in the D.C. suburbs of northern Virginia. Find out more about Ellen and her work at