Susanne O’Leary and I are ready to launch our second (and final) Irish episode in the adventures of Paul Forte and Shannon McGonigle. Half Irish finds Paul, Shannon and Finola McGee drawn into a strange conspiracy involving and Irish American Half Irish Cover MEDIUM WEBbusinessman, a has-been Irish politician, a high ranking diplomat, and a their connection to string of dead Irish immigrant worker. The back cover tells it:

When an immigrant Irish roofer plummets to his death from a South Boston building, lawyer Paul Forte steps in to settle the man’s presumably meager estate, as a favor to his friend, Dublin reporter Finola McGee. A routine probate matter, he thought, until he discovers the penthouse condo, the top-of-the-line Harley and credit card statements reflecting a fondness for Las Vegas. 

In Ireland, Finola’s human interest story about the tragedy prompts several Irish widows to inform her of similar accidents in the States. In each case, the laborers had been beneficiaries of CRAIC, an Irish “charity” run by ex-politician Finbarr Murphy; their lives had been insured for substantial amounts; and their widows did not receive what they were due. 

When insidious political forces (and a little blackmail) impel her editor to silence her, Finola smells another big story. She is convinced CRAIC is another word for scam. 

As Paul and Finola team up once again to plumb the depths of Irish treachery, secrets are divulged, privileges violated, punches thrown, loyalties shredded and bombs ignited; but it takes a meddling amateur to unmask the saboteur.

We’ve had a blast writing Full Irish and Half Irish, and I thank Susanne for her always classy and good humored collaboration. This may be the last of Paul and Shannon. For the moment I am on to something very new and different, which might involve a new female heroine here in Boston.

Half Irish can be pre-ordered for its November 17th release.

The Big Moments


As some subscribers will note, it has been a while. There has been a lot of stuff going on in the Morin family lately, most spectacularly, the marriage on my darling daughter, Kate, to Jonah Brotman, in Kansas City on Saturday, October 10th at 4:00 pm.

So let’s talk about that a little.

Kate is an amazingly self-sufficient lady who has been “away” from home since she was 13 (freshman in boarding school). She graduated from Syracuse (MCL from Newhouse!), moved to Manhattan to work for a start-up, met a man, decided to follow him to Kansas City (I drove, remember?), and there you have it. She and her mother meticulously planned every detail (did I tell you another of my daughter’s admirable qualities is frugality?).

Every detail.

For instance, where would mom and dad stay?

Why, no ordinary hotel would produce the sort of at-home-with-our-friends quality that makes a wedding glisten. So Kate jumped on VRBO and lo, here we were at the 3-story penthouse condominium at the Rieger Hotel building. Way to go, baby!

9bf6cfed-984e-4a26-802e-6066abddecd8.1.10Among all of its sterling qualities, my favorite is that it is where Al Capone stayed when he was in town to visit with his “associates.” Allegedly. Sure looked like a place he’d pick: only one way in, one way out. So that is where eight of us called home – the eight including my brood and two best friends whom I first met in 1970 and 1971.

Kansas City is a very cool town. Everything just has a throw-back quality to it. So where better to throw a wedding reception than a repurposed manufacturing building in the middle of the city? (It’s prior use was a taxi cab repair facility.)

And what better to do than hire the best blues band in Kansas City? (Mind you, this was KATE’s idea.)

Now this sort of planning puts a lot of pressure on an old man. As the summer arrived, the phone calls between Kate and mom grew in frequency and urgency even as the list of “issues” shrank in number and importance. I was, mercifully, kept at a distance.

But I was not far away in my mind. I knew I would want to give a toast of some sort. But could I even hope to hold it together? Could I really say anything at all in praise of my daughter in front of 75 people and remain coherent? I had serious doubts. And her? Heck, she’s worse than me. I didn’t want a lot of wedding pictures with smeared make-up, right?

So I did something funny, and I wrote a song around the theme that children never really leave you. I sent the band the music in July and fretted daily about remembering the words (something I am not good at) for the next three months.

Those days crawled by, it seemed, but one morning, we were up at 5:00 in Scituate and seemingly moments later (which was in fact 3 days) back at home, and life had changed in a profound way I still can’t describe.

In between, we ate, drank and laughed together, met new friends and family, saw new places (check out the Nelson Atkins Museum!), and soon I found myself standing with my daughter, waiting for the music to cue for our walk down the aisle. For both of us, all of the calmness and control of the past months spun at the end of a gossamer thread.

12170386_10207908641664051_2084622963_n It was a creaky walk, but I didn’t trip or throw-up or even get slightly dizzy.

What followed was all a blur, but included a beautiful 4 minute ceremony, a mercifully brief receiving line, and a party that both the bartenders and the band said was their favorite wedding ever. You can see how Kate and her mom kicked off the dancing portion of the festivities!Kate and Mom

My purpose in telling this story is to reflect on the fact that, in the Big Moments in life, you are rarely ever prepared. You might prepare, you might think you’re ready for what comes, but when it plows over you like an avalanche, you’re best to just hold on and go for the ride.

So here I am, three weeks after that whirlwind stretch from early afternoon to late evening of Saturday, October 10th, every day remembering that Walk, that song running on a loop in my brain, the handkerchief in the pocket of my suit that says,


and I know that I don’t want to be prepared for those moments, because being overwhelmed by them is pretty fine indeed.


p.s. (We rolled that song out at the end of all the speechifying, and it was pretty well received.)

When I was a young boy of 12-14, I spent three summers at the Byrnell Manor Hockey Camp, in Fenelon Falls, Ontario. The camp had everything. Located on Cameron Lake (the biggest lake I’d ever seen, but a mere whisper to its neighbors), the camp had a swimming dock, two boats for waterskiing and fishing, ball fields of all kinds, and its own 9 hole golf course.

And two Newfies who didn’t know their own size or strength.

Those were idyllic summers, filled from sunrise to sunset with physical activity of all kinds. I played golf, hockey, softball, soccer every day. I swam, fished, waterskied, and rode Canadian horses that had been captured from the wilds of northern Manitoba (or so I was told).

The memories are still vivid, even the “wedgie competitions” that I was forced into by my senior cottage Czar, a goalie from Norwood named Neil Higgins. Neil was a character, perhaps better known not for his goaltending expertise (he had a so-so college and professional record) as much as for the fact that he wore one of the first form-fitting fiberglass face masks in hockey, thanks to the dedication and genius of his father, Ernie Higgins.

What has this got to do with Hay Island, you ask?

One of the travel routes to our destination took us through the Thousand Islands area, via NY137, which begins where US81 ends, right before Collins Landing. Ever since the day we drove that road over the St. Lawrence River, I have had a picture of it etched in my mind and wanted to go back.

Hay Island is one of those thousand. It is a comparatively large island, on the Canada side of the river off of Gananoque, ON, perhaps 50 miles southwest of the bridge. It is the home of an old, close friend from boarding school days, built almost two centuries ago by a Georgia paper mill owner. He has invited a bunch of his old friends up to join him for a weekend of music and frivolity.

I am bringing my Stratocaster and Yamaha, and he tells me that the water line to my cabin has just been repaired.

I’m getting all giddy already.

All this fuss about Marcy’s Diner in Portland, MA brought back some memories.

My youngest is 24, so they’re old memories, the best kind.

Before he was born, Betsy and I took our infant daughter (here she is all grown up!) kateto Jupiter, FL to visit my parents. Knowing that they prefer to experience their grandchildren “in small bites,” we decided to take Kate out to lunch one day, at the fabulous Joe’s Stone Crab on the Loxahatchee River. At the time, she was no more than 6 months and we carried her in the car seat.

We were ushered to a nice table by a window, next to a group of six elderly women. When they saw the baby, you might have thought they were looking at Rosemary’s Baby. They were horrified, certain that this infant was soon to spoil their nice, quiet, two Manhattan lunch (ending as they all do with a lengthy to-the-penny reconciliation guaranteeing that no one paid a nickel more than owed, including the 5% tip).

Their disdain was palpable, and we actually considered whether this was a good idea. Kate could be fussy at times (still is, in fact). But we decided to tough it out, agreeing that if she started squawking, we’d take a doggy bag and get the hell out of there.

We proceeded to have a delightful lunch ( fish and wine, of course), during which Kate sleep soundlessly from start to finish. That was when we learned the sedative effect of restaurant noise.

Anyway, the ladies finished their lunch and began to trickle away from the table, then each of them paused by Betsy and the baby. One of them complimented Betsy (not me!) for having such a “lovely child.” Her friend was more direct:

“And so quiet!”

This is going to sounds a little weird, but stay with me.

My routine Thursday nights involves taking my guitar to The Next Page Cafe in Weymouth, where an exceptional open mic blues jam happens. The host, Willie J. Laws, and his amazing band mates, Malcolm Stuckey (bass) and Osi Brathwaite (drums), are jaw dropping musicians and the crowd is enthusiastic and devoted.

The beauty of the open mic blues jam is you never know what you’re going to get. From one Thursday to the next, it is a different scene, different vibe, energy, gestalt. My objective is simply to draw from the energy of the moment and do something different, by inspiration alone – something I’ve never seen my fingers do before. It doesn’t happen that often, but it keeps me coming back.

Two Thursdays ago, during my “time” on guitar, there was a moment during a lead break of a slow blues number at which I spontaneously ripped off a string of textbook B.B. King riffs. These are riffs I’ve studied and practiced, but not ones I would typically play. They just happened to come into my fingers at the moment.

On my way home from The Next Page last Thursday night, I reflected back on the jam and wondered what inspired me at that moment to use those B.B. King signature riffs.

I learned the next day (with the rest of the world) that Mr. King had died Thursday night, right about the time those old riffs infiltrated my fingers. That was quite a Thrill!

Anyway, this was a lovely example of how and where we get our inspirations.

It’s no different from reading Cormac McCarthy novels and then dropping dialogue tags, is it?

Mr. King’s iconic guitar work, McCarthy’s ironclad prose. One style so simple, the other deep, both pushing different buttons.

I once had a conversation with Duke Robillard, one of the genuine guitar icons. I told him he was one of my main influences, and “I’ve ripped off so many of your riffs it’s embarrassing.”

He chuckled and said, “That’s the kind of compliment I like to hear. I probably got them from somebody else myself.”

UPDATE: My friend Ron Rudy reminded me of an important coda to this story. The following Thursday (last week), I made the horrendous mistake of trying to play a B.B. King song. I murdered it. It was awful. Which goes to show, inspiration cannot be forced. It either comes or it doesn’t.

“The Woolf: Ranging the cultural landscape” is a fine cultural E-zine coming out of EU, edited by the lovely Jill Marsh, who is also an excellent novelist. Jill’s novel, Behind Closed Doors, is a psychological thriller in a Patricia Highsmith fashion. It is a mesmerizing first of four in the Beatrice Stubbs series.

Jill asked some folks to describe our experiences working “in tandem” with another. It’s an interesting series of essays. Go have a look, and bookmark the site!

Among the many invocations piled upon the aspiring writer, “write what you know” is usually close to the top. Like most of them, this one can be overly interpreted to the absurd (in either direction); but in the main, I think it’s pretty good advice for Big Issues.

I know a lot about the law and courtrooms, politicians, elections and the legislative process. It excites me (I know, that’s sick) to use these as plot devices, because with my knowledge, I can have fun crafting a compelling plotline, without either doing months of research or losing sleep over the fear of a Big Dig-size plot hole.

I suppose I could do the research necessary to write a convincing bio-terrorism thriller, but why would I? I don’t know anything about either biological weapons or international terrorist tactics. And there are apparently hundreds of other authors who do (or think so), so it’s simply not a value proposition for me to go there.

On the other hand, very few of the authors who use international terrorism or intelligence in their plots have any actual experience in that field. They have general experience in the “profession,” perhaps, but I sincerely doubt that Barry Eisler was actually an international assassin.

Another great example is sex. Who doesn’t know about sex? It seems some people get very rich these days writing about all sort of deviant and sordid sex. I take it on faith that most of them are just gifted with wild imaginations. I mean, seriously, edible body paint?Small Fish - ACX

But those are Big Picture things. You can research a lot of technical detail bits with internet research these days. It’s ridiculous how quickly you can learn anything on a browser. Or at least get a reliable answer to a question. Guns, incendiary devices, blood spatter science, even the heritage of Jesus Christ, apparently.

But do you really need to know the actual fact to successfully fake it? Even if the reader expects you to be authoritative on it, your research can carry you. People trust Tom Clancy on military spy stuff, but he was an insurance salesman who couldn’t even get into the service because of nearsightedness.

Of course, there are many instances in which the reader couldn’t care less about technical accuracy. These are just opportunities to let your whimsical self loose.

Here’s an example from a recently published indie novel.

As we near the climax of the story, the hero has been beaten about the face, head and body by thugs. He lies in a hospital room with an IV drip of hydrocodone when his wife rushes to his side. How does a badly beaten man under the influence of hydrocodone behave? What does he see? How does he speak? Does the author need to interview an ER physician before putting finger to key? Of course not. Anyone with a bit of life experience has been zonked on painkillers in a hospital at least once or twice. (Or if he’s over 50, has had a colonoscopy!)

Through a gauzy hydrocodone haze, Paul imagined an angel, disguised as his wife, swiftly descending on him. As the angel got closer, the features of her face clarified, and for a terrifying moment, he saw Shannon as a marionette.

“Your cheek looks like an eggplant,” Shannon the puppet said, gliding to Paul’s side, patting him gently with its tiny hands.

“You look like Pinocchio with tits,” Paul said, totally serious.

The floor nurse poked her head in. “Mrs. Forté, your husband has just had a fresh dose of pain killer, so I would give him a wide berth on whatever he says.”

“What do you mean? He talks to me like that all the time.” She patted Paul’s hand. “Don’t you, sweetie?”

Now the cat’s out of the bag. I’m shilling for PAUL & SHANNON.Full Irish Cover MEDIUM WEB

Susanne and I had a lot of fun with FULL IRISH, and we’re very excited about the plot that’s coming together for the next in the series. A lot of it is what I know, but in the past two days I have spoken with experts in (a) “double indemnity” insurance and (b) mortuary procedure.

So it’s not all about what you know, but what you need to know.


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