Monday, December 22, 2014

My Christmas Tradition

I love Christmas, and I always have. It’s a happy time of year, no matter what your religious beliefs are. I love the bright holiday lights, the comforting sameness of the music, the smiles on everyone’s faces, the smells (pine needles, hot chocolate), and the tastes (fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, roast turkey, pumpkin pies). 
The other thing that makes this holiday special is that it’s the time when I published my first ebook. I published “The Christmas Gift” in 2009, a year when the experts said ebooks were just a passing fad, and that people would never pay to read something on a screen. “Ebooks are meant to be free,” I remember one expert said. “Authors can use them as giveaways to promote their print books, but no author is going to make money by selling ebooks.”

How things have changed, in only five years! Ebooks now account for over $5 billion in revenues in the U.S. alone. When I wrote my little book about a doll named Constance in Depression era America, I had no idea what types of ebooks I’d be publishing five years hence, let alone that “The Christmas Gift” would still be on the market. There are many traditionally published books that came out in 2009 and have long since disappeared from the shelves, but “The Christmas Gift” is still out there in cyberspace, ready to be downloaded. Each year I get a spike in sales around Christmas, and I am happy that my story continues to live on. I don’t really know how to categorize it -- “a children’s story for all ages”, is the best I can come up with. But it gladdens my heart at this time of year to realize that this little ebook is still around to spread its message. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tales Told In Winter Is Here

I’m doing a storytelling performance again at Bucks County Playhouse. This one is called “Tales Told In Winter” and it’s in the tradition of storytelling around the Christmas holiday. 
In the British Isles and certain parts of Europe people used to get together and tell scary stories at Christmastime. Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is just such a story, with a visit from some scary ghosts on Christmas Eve to rattle poor Scrooge and convince him to mend his ways.
I did my first storytelling performance last May, and I enjoyed it so much I signed up to do another. It’s great fun for the storytellers and the audience, and I’m looking forward to it. 
These aren’t all scary stories, actually. There are funny stories, heart-wrenching ones, and stories that will amaze you with their twists and turns. I am in awe once again at the  rich trove of stories everyday people have to tell. We all have our own unique dramas, it seems, and everyone has a tapestry of memories to turn into stories.

If you’re in the area, come out December 10 for a great evening of stories! For more information, click here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Book Five of Rose Of Skibbereen Is Out!

Just in time for Thanksgiving, I have published the latest in my “Rose Of Skibbereen” family saga. This is Book Five in the series, and it takes the story through the 1980s and 90s right up to the dawn of the new millennium. The main character is Rosie Morley, granddaughter of Rose Sullivan Morley, the heroine of the first three books in the series. In this book Rosie moves to New Hope, Pennsylvania, and opens a bar and restaurant where she sings her beloved Big Band numbers. She also meets Jack Caldwell, a futurist, who captures her fancy with his optimism and his rugged good looks. Rosie’s son Pete gets into trouble in Northern Ireland, and for good measure there are some psychic overtones, some echoes of the spiritual music Rosie hears in her dreams. 

This series was based on some genealogical research I did, but at this point I’ve strayed far from that path. The characters are all fictional, of course, and their stories have developed in new and surprising directions. I think you’ll enjoy it!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Freebie For Halloween

Okay, so Halloween is almost here, and I decided I’d do a two day spooky giveaway of my “13 Horror Bundle” ebook of scary stories. I don’t usually do free giveaways like this, but, what the heck, it’s Halloween and I’m feeling a bit crazy today. Here’s how it works. Go to Smashwords, where you can click on “Buy” and when you get to the checkout screen, put in this code: JF82U

When you do that, you’ll be able to download the book for free. That’s a great deal, huh? Well, in return, you have to do something for me. Just write a review on Amazon, Smashwords, or Goodreads, and tell everyone what you thought of the book. I don’t care if you give me a one star or a five star rating, or if you love or hate the book, the review is the important thing. Reviews are very important in the ebook world, so I would appreciate one in return for giving you a free copy of my book. Okay? Good. By the way, the coupon is only good for 48 hours, so use it right away!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The David Bowie Shift

I am not a huge fan of David Bowie’s music, but I’ve always admired his sheer chutzpah. I mean, this is a rocker who abandoned the Ziggy Stardust persona he’d created at the peak of his fame in 1973 and then created a more sophisticated persona for his Diamond Dogs tour in 1974. It was the most expensive rock tour in history at that time, featuring a towering set with a catwalk and a cherry picker that lifted Bowie high in the air, and the sets alone cost $1.3 million in today’s dollars. Then, smack in the middle of that tour, Bowie took time off and completely stripped down the set, doing a 180 degree turn as an R&B singer for the rest of the tour.
I love performers like him (Neil Young is another who comes to mind) who refuse to be put in boxes. They don’t want to spend their entire careers churning out the same style of music, and they look for variety, new vistas, new challenges all the time.
I’d like to think I’m that way myself. From the beginning of my writing career I always wanted to expand my horizons. When I did commercial work I couldn’t stand being categorized as a “medical writer” or an “automotive writer” or “a business writer”. As soon as I started to hear editors and agencies label me like that, I wanted to move on to some other kind of writing. 
It’s the same thing now that I write fiction. You may have noticed that I write romance, horror, humor, poetry, and literary stories. I’m all over the block. Currently I’m almost finished another installment of my “Rose Of Skibbereen” romance series, but after that, who knows? I might want to write a mystery novel. I know that some readers would prefer that I stick to one category, one genre, but I can’t. It would bore me to tears to do that. I didn’t get into this writing game to keep writing the same things over and over. 
So, I ask that you have patience with me, and maybe broaden your reading options a bit, and explore something I’ve written that’s out of your usual taste. If you’ve read my romances, try a horror book. Or, if you like horror, dip into one of my humor collections. After all, it’s the same guy writing all these ebooks, so you’ll probably recognize my style no matter what the content is. 
Don’t worry, I won’t shift gears in the middle of a book the way Bowie did during that 1974 tour. Well, actually, I can’t promise anything. Who knows, maybe if I do I’ll invent a new genre along the way. Anybody for a horror-humor-romance?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What Genealogy Research Has Given Me

Rose Of Skibbereen would never have been written if it weren’t that I got interested in my family’s history. Growing up, I always liked to listen to my mother’s stories about her Irish grandmother, but I never really got bitten by the genealogy bug till my mother passed away and left me her folders of research, and some old photo albums. 
My mother did her research in the days before the Internet, when she had to take a bus downtown and pore through the Philadelphia City Archives. She spent hours at various government offices, she badgered bored city employees for help, she searched miles of microfilm and made copies on those clunky old machines that smelled like chemicals and took long minutes to make a shoddy, blurred copy. 
When I got involved it was much easier. I was able to search online databases and find records in a matter of seconds that my mother had to wait weeks for. I could connect with other people who had information about my family, and exchange photos and stories with them by email.
And it really got to me. Because what happened is I began to realize there were stories about these people, my ancestors, and some of them were quite tragic. There were men who abandoned their wives with small children, there was alcoholism and insanity, there was poverty, there was abortion, there were unwed mothers, there were immigrants who left Ireland as teenagers who never saw their parents or family again for the rest of their lives.
What I found was the gritty truth about my past. I grew up in the cocoon of suburbia, and I never thought anything dramatic happened in my family. I was wrong, though, because the generations before mine had lots of drama, although it was kept a secret from my generation. 
I got lots of material for my novel, although I used my imagination to embellish the facts in many cases. I got a new respect for the hardships faced by the people who came before me. And I got a new love -- genealogy -- that I’m thinking of turning into a second career. I love family history. Every family has its own secrets, its triumphs and tragedies, and every family is worth researching, I am convinced. 
It’s a project worth undertaking, and I highly recommend it. You may be surprised at what you find out when you do genealogical research, but I can guarantee you’ll get a deeper understanding of your family’s roots. 
If you want advice on how to proceed, contact me at and if I can help you, I will. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Lesson Robin Williams and Jonathan Winters Taught Us

The recent death of Robin Williams has me thinking about one thing: the joy of improvisation. Robin Williams made a career out of ad-libbed comedy, and it was a wonderful thing to behold. He was known for his manic, wild, improvisational routines, and you can see it on display in dozens of YouTube clips. 
Improvisation is a good thing to celebrate these days, because it’s unfettered creativity. The improviser uses anything at his disposal to create comedy, and the results can be hilarious. 
Or not. When you make things up on the spot they can fall flat. You’re performing without a safety net, and you can crash and burn just as easily as soar to the clouds. The number one rule is that you can’t be afraid to make a mistake.
What a good lesson that is for the uptight world we live in. Nobody wants to take a chance on making a mistake anymore, it seems to me. Why? Because the all-seeing media captures every false move and broadcasts it to the world. When an actor who’s had one too many drinks at a party spouts an obscenity it appears on a YouTube video before the day is out. When a football player drops a pass it’s analyzed on sports talk radio for hours. The “news” that a politician fixed a traffic ticket 25 years ago gets broadcast all over the Internet, and that person’s career is ruined. 
The result is that people are afraid to take chances these days. Students take easy courses in college so they can maintain a good grade point average. Companies are afraid to innovate, for fear that their profits might go down if the new product fails. Creative people in every field use well-tested templates rather than breaking new ground. 
Robin Williams made a career out of breaking new ground, and he wasn’t afraid to make mistakes. If he told a joke that bombed, he just moved on to the next one. He said he learned a lot from Jonathan Winters, a master of comedy improvisation himself. In the YouTube clip below, Robin says the most important thing Jonathan Winters taught him was that “the world is open for play”. That’s a great philosophy, and one I wish we could all follow more. Play is something children do, and they don’t worry about making mistakes. They simply follow the creative impulse wherever it takes them, and they don’t care about who’s watching or what they think. They let the ideas flow. You can’t create something without making mistakes, lots of them, so we should never be afraid to make a mistake. 

Watch how joyful Robin and Jonathan are in this video clip, and how they follow the creative ideas wherever they lead.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

13 Horror Story Bundle Is Published

Thanks to everyone who voted in my recent cover poll. As you can see below, I chose Cover #2. Not only did it get more votes, but I liked that it had a certain "Aztec" look to it. There's a story in this ebook that has a definite Aztec connection, so the cover art seemed very appropriate.
"13 Horror Story Bundle" is larger than my previous horror collections, and I think horror fans will definitely enjoy it. Some of these tales are on the long side, but that just gave me more room to sink my teeth (or should I say fangs?) into the story.
I know some of my fans think it's weird that I can write historical fiction like "Rose Of Skibbereen" and then switch gears and write about ghosts and vampires. That's just how my mind works, I guess. I just like creating stories, and some of them are romantic and sentimental, but others happen to be on the scary side. As long as it's a good story, I'm happy.
A long time ago, on the "American Bandstand" program, when the host would ask the teenagers to vote on the latest rock 'n roll songs, many of them would say, "I like it, because it's got a good beat." Well, I feel that way about literature. The story is what counts, like the beat in a good rock song. If you tell a good story, it doesn't matter if it's about two Irish lovers in 19th century Philadelphia or a monster in a coffee shop in present day New York -- most people will respond to it.
I hope you like this collection. And for the people who would like me to get back to "Rose Of Skibbereen", don't worry -- I'm going to work on the next book in the series now.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

I Need Your Help Again

Hello readers:

I'd like your help in picking a cover for my next ebook. I did this a few months ago with one of my "Rose Of Skibbereen" books and it helped me to decide between two well-designed covers. This time I need help with cover designs for a new horror ebook. It's going to be called "13 Horror Story Bundle" and it's going to have a combination of new and old horror stories by me. I had a great time putting this collection together, and I want to publish it soon. The cover is important, of course, and I'd like to pick one that really grabs potential readers.
I'm going to run a poll, where you can tell me which cover you like best. It will be in the right column of this page. Please weigh in, let me know which one you like.
The one that gets the most votes is the design I'll use.
Cover 1:
Cover 2:

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Stories Are The Same

Many readers know that I based my “Rose Of Skibbereen” series of novels on some family history research, although I embellished the bare facts quite a bit. I got obsessed with finding out the truth about my great-grandfather Peter O’Farrell’s life and although I never did find out everything about him (like where he came from in Ireland), I found enough to quell my obsession for a time. 
Once the genealogy bug bites you, though, you’re never completely free of the desire to learn more of the story of your family’s past. My project now is to research a different part of my family tree, and I got a shock last week when I logged on to and saw a picture of my mother’s maternal grandmother in someone else’s family tree. Ancestry sends you a link to another family tree if there’s a connection to your tree, and it’s a great help to your research efforts. 
Anyway, this person not only posted pictures from my great-grandmother’s family, she also had a short essay about my great-grandparents that sounded like it could have been written by me. You see, I’m always interested more in the stories than just the bare facts of genealogy, and my mother told me stories about her family that I always remembered. Like, that her great-grandparents were of two religious denominations: Baptist and Roman Catholic. She said that the Baptist father would not allow newspaper reading on Sundays, and he was also opposed to dancing and card playing. He did like ice cream, however, and he and his wife went out for ice cream every night in the summer. 
Those kind of details had to come from someone with a strong connection to the family! I dashed off an email immediately, and sat back and waited. 
And waited. I’ve had no answer yet, but maybe the person just hasn’t checked their email for a while. I do hope they check it soon, because I’m dying of curiosity.

I’ll let you know what happens. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

How To Deal With The Monster Under The Bed

“How can you write a love story and then turn around and write about blood and guts?” a reader recently asked me. “Do you like to be scared?” 
I don’t write horror because I like to be scared. Maybe the answer is that if I’m going to be scared, I’d rather scare myself than have someone else do it. Or, maybe I’m trying to work out some issues buried deep within my subconscious. Or, maybe I just enjoy the adrenaline rush from a good scare. 
All I know is that true horror has nothing to do with blood and guts. True horror hits you where you live, in the subconscious. It’s the reason why you’ll avoid going down in the basement when you’re alone, because you know there is SOMETHING waiting at the bottom of the stairs. Why you won’t look under the bed in the middle of the night because you know there will be a pair of big red eyes staring back at you. Why the closet door HAS to be shut when you go to sleep.
Horror stories have their uses, believe it or not. They can make you feel better about the lousy job you have or that miserable creep who cut you off in traffic today. They make the everyday hassles of life just a little easier to bear. After all, going down in the pit of darkness for a period of time will make you face the light of day with a little more gratitude.
And when the horror is written down, it’s contained and under control. Writing horror lets me face the shadows and the monsters under the bed, to cage them in my words. 

And that’s the best way to deal with monsters.

Friday, June 13, 2014

What To Write Next?

I am in between books right now, and I'm trying to figure out what to write next. I could write another installment of my "Rose of Skibbereen" series, because the last one ended in the mid-1970s, and there are certainly more stories to be told about the descendants of Rose Sullivan McCarthy. I have this perverse character trait, though, that gives me a fear of being stereotyped. I know a lot of writers would keep mining the vein they started, which in my case would be the saga of Rose and her family.
However, the rambunctious imp in me wants to do something different. "How about a horror story?" the imp says. "Or, maybe a one-act play? Now, that would be fun!" Those are the conversations I hear in my head every day when I'm between books. I can't go too long without writing something, so I'll have to choose a project soon. We'll see if the imp convinces me to do what he wants. Anyone want to make a request? I'll consider most requests, unless it involves writing a massive historical novel that would take years to research and write, because, well, I just don't want to be holed up at my writing desk that long. 
Actually, I've got a notebook with some ideas jotted down, and a few of them involve the horror genre. I haven't thought about scary stories in a while, but for some reason the idea of writing a good old-fashioned, hide-under-the-covers yarn strikes me as a worthy project. We'll see what transpires in the next few weeks.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

I Write A Bit Of Horror Too

Yes, it's true, I write the occasional horror story. Actually, I've written quite a few of them. I don't always play that up, because I've been writing a lot of historical fiction in the last year, and people who like those kind of stories don't always enjoy a good scary yarn. In fact, I've had readers of my "Rose Of Skibbereen" series say things like, "Why would you want to write about monsters and ghosts? I would never read anything like that."
So, I don't talk much about my efforts in the Stephen King realm. I guess it's a dirty little secret that I keep to myself. However, I am proud of those stories, and I think they're darned good ones. I developed a skill at writing short, edgy stories that can get a reader's heart racing. They're not very bloody or full of graphic details, and I'd say they're more concerned with psychological horror than anything else. After all, a good scare may start in the stomach, but it's magnified by the mind into something truly overwhelming.
So, if you think there's value in a good toe-curling scare once in awhile, something that will make you think twice about going down into a dark basement, check out my series of horror shorts. They're available on Smashwords here. You can also find them on Amazon, of course.
I also write humorous stories, by the way, but that's for another post.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Don't Have An E-Reader? You Can Still Read My Books!

I meet lots of people who've never read an ebook. Some of them tell me proudly that, "I'll never read a book that way. I'm a traditionalist. I like to hold a book in my hand and turn the pages." I understand that sentiment, but it's a bit like someone in ancient Greece or Rome saying, "I'll never read one of those newfangled scrolls. Give me an oral storyteller any day. Scrolls are cold and impersonal."
You can't stop the march of technology, and people have been inventing new ways to transfer information for a long time now. I can understand the reluctance to try something new, though. I've been a book reader since I was six years old, and it's always been one of the chief pleasures of life for me to curl up with a book. I wasn't sure I'd like e-readers myself, but I quickly learned that they have a lot of advantages. They can hold shelves and shelves of books in a wafer thin package, they allow you to adjust the font sizes and styles to make it easy on your eyes, and the price of ebooks is a lot cheaper than print books. I'm not ever going to give up my cherished books, but I'm happy to do a lot of my reading on my Kindle these days.
If you still haven't read an ebook, I have a proposition for you. Why not read one on your computer? All you need to do is go to a site like Smashwords, where you can purchase ebooks and download them to your computer. As long as you have some type of computer (laptop, desktop, etc.) you can read ebooks. On Smashwords, you just go to the information page for the ebook, scroll down to "Download the full versions of this book" then click on "read online" and you'll be all set. You'll be able to download the ebook and read it. It's so easy, and if you buy an e-reader at some future point you can transfer the book to it in a flash.
Of course, if you do try this method, I recommend that the first ebook you read on your computer is one of mine. I have quite a selection on Smashwords, in many styles and genres, including humor, romance, poetry, and horror.
I think you'll definitely enjoy it.
And who knows, you may like the experience so much you decide to buy an e-reader!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My Adventure In Storytelling

I got into fiction writing because I like to tell stories. I used to love to listen to my parents and other adults tell stories when I was a child, and I will still drop everything to listen to a good story. I recently joined a group called Talk/Story at the Bucks County Playhouse, in New Hope PA, and it's all about storytelling. There are eight of us in the group, led by author and theater director Hester Kamin, and we meet each week to develop stories. These are stories from real life, although there are some embellishments (what good story doesn't have embellishments?). It's been a creative adventure for me to work on my stories and trade ideas with a group of very interesting people. We're having a performance of our stories on Monday, April 28, 8 PM at the Bucks County Playhouse. Here's a video about what we do.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Book Four Is Published

Book Four of "Rose Of Skibbereen" is published! This one took me longer to write, and maybe that's why it has more words than the other three books in the series. The extra words are not because the book covers a longer time period -- in fact, it only covers about 15 years in the 1960s and 70s.
Then again, there was a lot crowded into those years, as anyone knows who lived through them. The 1960s were revolutionary in many ways, and there were major changes in the way we lived and loved and thought about things during that time. That's really why I needed more words to tell the story -- the characters had a lot crammed into those years.
The main character of this book is Rosie Morley, the granddaughter of the original Rose of Skibbereen. Rosie is impulsive, tough, a gifted singer, egotistical, and a dreamer. Her passion and enthusiasm get her into trouble sometimes, and she hurts those around her, although it's usually not intentional.
Other characters who pop in and out of the story are: Pete, Rosie's son; Lucy, Rosie's mother; and Mercy Francis, who is actually Rosie's long-lost stepsister, who comes to Philadelphia on a reluctant quest to find old black and white film of her father, the scoundrel James Francis.
I have lived with this story for months now, and if I don't stop myself I'll babble on forever and give the whole plot away. I think it's a great addition to the "Rose Of Skibbereen" series, and it was fun to write, since I lived through the 1960s and this book brought a lot of memories back.
See for yourself, though. I hope you download the book, which is available on Amazon and Smashwords. And by all means, send me feedback about it! I want to know if you liked it or didn't, and which parts you liked or hated the most. Your comments will make my next book better.
One last thing: for people who don't have an e-reader, you can still read my book on your computer. Just go to Smashwords and you can download a version that you'll be able to read on whatever computer you use.
Oh, one final thing: "Rosie 1" was the cover that won in the voting, so that's what I used.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

You Can Pick My Next Cover!

I'm almost ready to publish Book Four in my "Rose Of Skibbereen" series, but I'm stuck on one last thing: deciding on a cover. I commissioned two covers, and I can't decide which one I like better. So, I figured I'd let my readers weigh in on this issue. I'm going to post both covers and let you tell me which one you like best. I set up a poll (in the column to the right) to collect your votes, and the one that gets the most votes will be the cover of my newest ebook.
Some background information: one of the main characters in Book Four is Rosie Morley, the granddaughter of Rose Sullivan Morley, the woman who came from Skibbereen to Philadelphia back in 1880 and started this whole saga. Book Four begins in the early 1960s and Rosie is making a lot of poor decisions, as she is prone to doing, which cause no end of trouble for her and the people closest to her. Since she plays a major role in this book, I wanted her to be on the cover.
The problem is, I can't decide which of two pictures of the fictional Rosie I prefer. So, I'm asking for your help, readers. I would like to know which one you like the best. Let me know, and I will be happy to use the one that gets the most votes.
Here are the pictures. The first one is "Rosie 1".

The second one is "Rosie 2".

Let me know what you think! Thanks. The voting ends in three days.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Book Four Is Coming

We writers try our best to keep on schedule, but sometimes things take longer than we planned. I had thought I'd have Book Four of "Rose Of Skibbereen" published by now, but my revisions are going a bit slower than I anticipated. Don't worry, though -- I will have Book Four published in ten days, if not sooner.
Book Four starts in 1960, and as you might imagine, there's a lot that happens in that wild and crazy decade. I was around for those years, and it's been fun to write about an era that I actually lived through. Writing about the music, the politics, the conflict between old and young people that took place in that decade has brought back a lot of memories. The Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, rock n' roll, Carnaby Street fashion, and a parade of crazy characters -- they're all in this book. You'll get to meet them in a matter of weeks, so stay tuned for an announcement coming soon on this blog.
In the meantime, here's your hard-working author, slaving away at the novel.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

St. Pat's Day Giveaway

I don't want to be one of those authors who's constantly running promotions to get people to buy his ebooks. I think it's important to market your writing, but you can't be running contests, raffles, and giveaways nonstop just to bump up your numbers on the best-seller lists. I've always believed that if you write a good book, readers will find you. Good writing will win people over more than a contest.
However. . . I decided that if I'm ever going to do a giveaway for my Rose Of Skibbereen ebooks, it should be tied in to St. Patrick's Day. After all, this series starts in Skibbereen, Ireland, and follows some Irish characters as they emigrate to America to find love, heartbreak, and personal drama. It revolves around the Irish people, and so I thought St. Patrick's Day, when everyone around the world celebrates the Irish, would be a good time to run a contest.
So, here it is. I'm giving away books One, Two, and Three of the series for free, and all you have to do to get a chance to win is enter on Facebook through this link. It's a simple contest, and I'll announce a winner after St. Patrick's Day. Best of luck to ye!

Monday, March 10, 2014

"It's My Land!"

I was browsing YouTube the other day and came upon some clips of Richard Harris in "The Field" (1990) which is a wonderful film set in Ireland, and which gives some insight into the Irish psyche. Harris plays a character named Bull McCabe, whose family has rented a field in the west of Ireland for generations. I won't give the plot away, except to say that the field in question is so important to the story that it is almost a character in itself. Because the Irish people did not own their land for so long, the very earth took on a formidable quality -- there was nothing so important as having your own plot of land. When I visited last summer, my cousin in Cork told me that land is still very important, even today.
Anyway, here is a clip of Bull McCabe, played by Richard Harris, explaining why he will never give up his land.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

My New Book Trailer For Rose Of Skibbereen

A video is a useful tool for authors to promote their books. These "book trailers" give a visual synopsis of the book in a minute or two of running time. I just completed a new trailer for "Rose Of Skibbereen", and I think it's pretty good. It's got a few images, some sentimental background music, and a link to where you can buy my book online. It was a fun experience for me to see my book come alive in video form, and I think users of YouTube will enjoy it. The link is below. Let me know what you think of it!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

People, Not Characters

Ernest Hemingway once wrote: "When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature."
In my novels I've tried to create living people, which means they are a mixture of good and bad, of noble and despicable qualities. They have many flaws, but they're also capable of kindness and grace. Like real people.
I've gotten some feedback from readers through emails and reviews on Amazon, but last night I had a chance to speak to some readers face to face, and I got some valuable insights about my characters.
For the first time ever, I went to a book club where the members were discussing one of my books, "Rose Of Skibbereen". I was nervous about going, but the members put me at ease right away, and it ended up being a truly enjoyable experience.
It was a special evening for a fiction writer, to sit there and discuss my characters as if they were real people. The members asked me questions about why Rose did something, or what was Peter thinking when he made yet another foolish decision, and as I gave them my answers it occurred to me that it was like explaining why someone in my family did something.
And that was the best part, because I realized the characters had come alive for these readers. They were not caricatures or cardboard figures, they were living people, warts and all. People whose lives you can get caught up in, which is why we read stories in the first place.
I couldn't be happier about the book club meeting last night. It was a special experience for an author, and I'd love to do it again. So, readers, if you have a book club and you'd like to invite me, contact me at, and we can discuss the logistics. If it's possible for me to come, I'll be there.
I love discussing my people.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Another Good Review, And Some News

I promise I will not use this blog to broadcast every favorable review my books get, but I can't help it, I have to post this one. I sent a review copy of "Rose Of Skibbereen" to Sue-Ellen Welfonder, who is a best-selling author of romances set in the Scottish Highlands. I figured that Skibbereen, Ireland isn't that far from Kintail, Scotland. Their inhabitants share a Celtic soul, and a perspective born of the wild beauty of their lands, I thought, so maybe Sue-Ellen would enjoy my book. 

It turns out she enjoyed "Rose Of Skibbereen"so much that she gave me this quote to use. 

“McDonnell wields his pen as masterfully as the storytellers of his own ancestral Ireland.  Rose of Skibbereen is a gripping tale, powerful and evocative, and with such a strong sense of place and authentic characters, you’ll feel transported into one of the most compelling and heartbreaking periods of Irish history.  I was hooked from the first line and highly recommend Rose of Skibbereen.  This is historical fiction at its finest. Haunting and unforgettable.”

Thank you, Sue-Ellen! It means a lot to me that someone who writes best-selling historical fiction like you enjoyed my novel. I appreciate it!

The other piece of news I have is that I am now hard at work on Book Four of the "Rose Of Skibbereen" series. I had thought that I would stop after three books, but the response has been very encouraging from readers, who want the story to continue. I enjoy writing about these characters, and seeing where the twists and turns of their lives will lead them. I hope to have Book Four published in March, just in time for St. Patrick's Day. All I can say at this point is that the story takes place in the 1960s, so you know there will be a lot of change in the air!

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Review That Put A Smile On My Face

When I published my first ebook a few years ago my main thought was, "Will people like it?" Like all writers, I care what readers think of my work, and I was a little nervous about the reception my ebooks would get.
Now that some time has gone by, I can say that I am very happy. The overwhelming majority of the reviews of my ebooks have been positive, especially for my "Rose Of Skibbereen" series. It's been a great experience to see that people do like these fictional characters I created.
And once in a while, I get a review that is so good it puts a smile on my face for days.
The other day someone named Debora Kerr posted a review like that on Amazon. Here's an excerpt:

"McDonnell shines in his characterizations. I wish there were entire volumes dedicated to some of the other people in the novel, such as Rose's "bewitched" mother and the treacherous Mary. It was very natural to identify with the motives and emotions of all the characters. None of them sunk into limited good girl/bad guy cliches."

Wow! I am so happy, not just because she liked my characters, but because she appreciated the fact that they have nuances about them. They are not simple, one dimensional characters. They have gray areas, they are combinations of good and bad, just like real people. You can't put them into a box; the bad guys have good qualities, and the good guys have flaws.
Just like in real life.
My favorite thing about fiction is creating characters, because I love getting to know them, and seeing where their complex inner lives will lead them. Soon I'm going to start on Book Four of the "Rose Of Skibbereen" series, and I expect to meet more complex, flawed, but fascinating characters.
It will be fun getting to know them.
And maybe I'll get another review that will put a smile on my face.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Dreams And Realities In 2014

It’s the start of a new year, and the Internet is filled with people summing up the past year, proclaiming their plans and resolutions for the fresh new batch of 365 days that arrived recently, and generally doing a lot of pontificating about the passage of Time. 
So, I’ll weigh in with a bit of pontificating also. 
What did I learn in 2013?
That life is short, and you can’t wait around for your dreams to come to you. You have to reach out and grab for them. 
One reason I learned this lesson is that I lost my mother in 2013.
She was sick for a few years, and in some ways it’s a blessing that she doesn’t have to endure any more pain or humiliation, but it was still sad to see her go. I’ve lost both of my parents now, and there’s nothing like losing your parents to make you feel the passage of time. 
And so, now that I’ve realized the clock is ticking, it has occurred to me that I have a limited amount of time left in the game. The dream that I’ve been carrying around for my whole life, the one where I become a successful writer of fiction? I now realize that it’s time to stop dreaming about it and start doing the legwork to make it come true. I could always put it off when I was younger, stow it away in the “Someday” drawer. Not anymore. “Someday” is not some vague misty thing anymore. It’s getting closer all the time, and I can see the outline of it in my rear view mirror.  
Actually, I have been taking steps to realize my dream for some years now. When my father died in the 1990s I started writing short stories again, after abandoning them in my youth. I got some published, and that satisfied me for a time. 
Then, I realized that it was time to try bigger things. I wrote a novel, then another, then another. And, I have to say that my timing has been good. The last ten years have seen a revolution in the publishing industry, so that writers everywhere can get published more easily than at any time in history. The digital revolution has meant that you can publish a novel as easily as you can write a Word document, and in a matter of minutes you can have it available to more people than Gutenberg could have dreamed of when he printed the first hardbound book.
So 2013 was a bad year because my mother died, but it was also a good year because I published the first three volumes of my “Rose Of Skibbereen” series. I published 150,000 words about this Irish girl, based on my great-grandmother, who came to America in 1880 and had many adventures, heartaches and joys. To my great happiness, the ebook sold well. I was a novelist! It was a term I could never use before about myself, but now, by God, I could. 
So the lesson I learned in 2013 was that dreaming is a good thing, but you have to combine it with doing. If you want your dreams to come true, you have to start working on them, one day at a time. 
I won’t make any great predictions for 2014, but I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing -- writing every day, publishing more ebooks as I finish them. And if current trends continue, I’ll get some more readers along the way. 
And hopefully my dreams will keep coming true.