All the Marys: Marian Stanley

BURED TROUBLES COVER.2Breaking News: Lisa Q. Matthews is the winner of Buried Troubles! Congratulations, Lisa. Watch your email for one from Marian.

Edith here, on my older son’s 32nd birthday (and the day I become a mother for reals) – happy day, Allan! I’m always delighted to welcome good friend Marian Stanley to the blog. I read the manuscript of her new book, Buried Troubles, and you’re going to love it! And she’s going to send a copy of Buried Troubles to a selected commentator.

In the book, Rosaria O’Reilly finds herself in grave danger from those who won’t let go of the past in this thrilling sequel to The Immaculate.

Still recovering from injuries sustained during her last effort in solving a murder, Rosaria is dragged into a new case with ties to the Irish community on both sides of the Atlantic. The victim is an Irish journalism student working on a research paper in Boston. His aunt, a friend of Rosaria’s, reaches out to her for help in solving the case. This does not go over well with Rosaria’s significant other, Boston Police Detective Solly Belkin, who wants Rosaria to leave the case in his capable hands. Instead, Rosaria travels to Ireland and is caught up in a dark web of ancient grievances, old crimes, and secrets that powerful people are determined to keep hidden forever.

Can Rosaria unearth these buried troubles and solve the murder before the killer buries her instead?

Take it away, Marian!

BURIED TROUBLES.COTTAGEMaybe someday I’ll write in a cottage in Western Ireland like Sheila Connolly’s. Like this one in Ballyconneely, Connemara—my grandmother’s home village, and that of the murder victim in Buried Troubles, a Rosaria O’Reilly mystery set in Boston and Western Ireland.

NANAEarly in the last century, my Gaelic-speaking grandmother, Mary Agnes Burke, left this remote village as a teenager—coming to a tightknit Irish enclave in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston. She got a job as a housekeeper in the rectory of (what else?) Saint Mary’s church, married James O’Leary, and moved to Malden where they raised six children. Not an uncommon immigrant story.

Charlestown, like some other Boston neighborhoods, was a waystation for many of these young people. It wasn’t Ireland, but almost—the customs, the music, the Church, the insular prejudices. And the history. Old memories and grievances from a small, poor island with one great and powerful oppressor never really went away. Buried Troubles is the story of some caught in the long reach of that history.


Old Charlestown

A successful rebellion created an independent republic in the south of Ireland, but the British kept six northern counties as part of the deal. That part of the deal and longstanding Catholic civil rights issues in the north resulted in a decades-long, savage war in Northern Ireland given the curiously genteel name of The Troubles. Stubborn pockets of Irish republican support for the insurgency flourished in certain American cities, including Boston. For some, the fervor for a unified Ireland excused much more than it should have.

Over time, most of the immigrants of my grandmother’s generation were too busy working and raising children to go to the hall for the ceili or dance. No one spoke Gaelic here. When homesick immigrants went home to Ireland for visits, they found it poor. They missed the comforts of their new country. (“Imagine,” my grandmother said, “We still had to start the fire for a little pot of tea.”) So, gradually, most of them moved on to new lives, a new history.

But some couldn’t. My paternal grandfather, Patrick McMahon, never spoke again to his youngest daughter (another Mary, of course) when she married a Charlestown man from a family said to have informed for the British. This was the worst sin—to be a “tout”, a snitch, an informer. Sadly, this particular Mary died in childbirth and we know little about her.

BURIED TROUBLES.CHARLESTOWNToday, Charlestown is a hip neighborhood, home to many young professionals with small children and dogs. Our own daughter Mary (what else?) lives not too far from old Saint Mary’s church where her great-grandmother was a housekeeper. Every day, she travels the same streets where Mary Agnes, James O’Leary, and my ill-fated Aunt Mary lived as young immigrants.

Our Mary is too young, too sensible, and far too busy to feel the presence of ghosts in this old neighborhood. For my part, I feel the spirits. I see the two Marys—my grandmother and the aunt I never knew—everywhere. I see new versions of them in young Hispanic immigrants in Chelsea and Everett. All in a new home, but carrying so much history.

Readers: If your family had a coming-to-America experience (not everyone’s was voluntary and some people were already here), what memories did they bring with them to America? What’s your own story of traveling to a distant land? I’m happy to send a copy of Buried Troubles to a selected commentator.

author photo

Marian McMahon Stanley is the author of two Rosaria O’Reilly mysteries from Barking Rain Press – The Immaculate (May 2016) and Buried Troubles (June 2018) as well as a recent short story “Career Transitions” in the Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine.  Marian enjoyed a long international corporate career and, most recently, a senior position at an urban university. A dual citizen of the United States and Ireland, she writes in a small town outside Boston, where she lives with her husband Bill and a Westie named Archie. She is now working on the next in the Rosaria series The Mariposa Circle.


There and Back Again

By Sheila just back from Ireland

One more report from Ireland, after a rather hectic two weeks spent there furnishing my small cottage. Writing related? In a lot of ways, actually. Research isn’t always about places and how things look—a lot of it is about people, and the small details of daily life.

I’ve been visiting Ireland since 1998 and writing about for nearly as long. After a lot of thinking, I bought a cottage from which I can see where one of my great-great-grandmothers was born.


cottageThe cottage  was built around 1950, but it hadn’t been lived in for about ten years when I bought it. All things considered it was in pretty good shape, but it was empty, and a bit sad and lonely. So my husband and I went over to make it more like a home—starting with the kitchen, and then adding furniture and a wireless connection and a satellite dish.

We’re looking forward to going back in the spring (when all the wild daffodils are blooming and the new lambs are bouncing in the meadow down the lane). But although I have spent a couple of weeks at a time in the area in past years, it’s different when you’re becoming a part of the place and people know it. What’s more, as we writers know, it’s the details that make a book or story come alive, and you see things differently when you have a stake in a place.

The Connolly surname lets people “place” me in West Cork, and it still matters—not out of any snobbery, but because people like to find connections. If you’ve worked on your family history it’s a plus because then you can share information with others. But simply being there and talking to ordinary people who live there (like Ted at the hardware store and Jerry at the furniture store and Sean at the second-hand store, all of whom I’ve spent a lot of time with) gave me a different perspective on the place, and on being an American.

kitchenIt stands out that Americans are conspicuous consumers. Our homes are big, our appliances are big, our cars are big. Cut those down to half the size and you have what is more typical of rural Ireland. That’s not just a matter of economics, but also of the culture. You shop more often for food—you don’t pack a month’s worth of supplies in a giant refrigerator. You cook on a stove-top that’s 24” across. Your washer measures loads in kilograms: the one that came with my place will take up to 4-point-something kilos as a load. That’s about two pairs of blue jeans. Yes, they come larger, up to about double that, but they’re still small by US standards. And not everyone has a dryer, just a clothesline out back.

I have a second cousin who lives in the house her family moved into in 1956, when the place was new. We visited there last week, and by our standards (even for the 1950s) it’s small. She raised four children there, and helped manage a farm where her family raised both pigs and cattle. It is interesting that two of her married children have settled close by and built new homes, and they are more what we here would call a mini-mc-mansion—handsome two story homes with lots of frills, like electric gates (there are both dogs and livestock to keep in). A lot of the new construction in West Cork follows a much more American model, but plenty of people live in the older places as well. And the insides of the older homes are crammed with generations of pictures and mementoes (makes me feel better about my own housekeeping—maybe clutter is hereditary).

farmers-marketSkibbereen is the nearest town, and it’s booming. The population there hovers around 3,000, but there are new homes being built, and the town is proud that they are now home to the Ludgate Hub, a digital hub that enables regional connectivity and provides local business services (and jobs). It opened in 2015. But if you’re envisioning a huge, sleek building, think again—it’s housed in what was formerly a row-house bakery. The town itself still has only one main street, and a year-round weekly farmers market in the center. In the shops people know you and greet you, and if they don’t have what you need, they’ll tell you what other shop to look in. To me it is a perfect little big town, with everything I could ask for (including good restaurants).

Many of the local towns are tiny (don’t blink as you pass through or you might miss them), but they host a wealth of small festivals—literary, cooking, art, theater and more. It’s a lively cultural region.

The whole area, and maybe the whole country, has one foot in the past and one firmly in the present. You stop someone on the road and they’ll turn out to have known your family years ago. At the same time, you can get wireless with a tiny “hot-spot” device, pay as you go, which is more than I can say for my Massachusetts home. Sometimes the mix of old and new is enough to make your head spin.

sunsetI could ramble on (the Irish are great talkers and rarely seem to be in a hurry), but you get the drift: the best of old and new exist side by side in Ireland.

And one thing that either breaks or warms my heart is how many people, those who know me and those who don’t, asked “when are you comin’ home again?” Soon. I promise.

Readers: Have you ever visited somewhere that you’d love to live?


Book Birthday for A Turn for the Bad

Jessie: In New Hampshire, where there are patches of grass miraculously showing in the lawn.

Cover A Turn for the BadThis week we are celebrating the release of the latest installment in Sheila Connolly’s NYT Bestselling County Cork series. Here’s what the publisher has to say about it:

The New York Times bestselling author of An Early Wake returns to Ireland where Sullivan’s Pub owner Maura Donovan gets mixed up with smugglers.

After calling Ireland home for six months, Boston expat Maura Donovan still has a lot to learn about Irish ways—and Sullivan’s Pub is her classroom. Maura didn’t only inherit a business, she inherited a tight-knit community. And when a tragedy strikes, it’s the talk of the pub. A local farmer, out for a stroll on the beach with his young son, has mysteriously disappeared. Did he drown? Kill himself? The child can say only that he saw a boat. 

Everyone from the local gardai to the Coast Guard is scouring the Cork coast, but when a body is finally brought ashore, it’s the wrong man. An accidental drowning or something more sinister? Trusting the words of the boy and listening to the suspicions of her employee Mick that the missing farmer might have run afoul of smugglers, Maura decides to investigate the deserted coves and isolated inlets for herself. But this time she may be getting in over her head…

So Wickeds, let’s chime in with our birthday wishes!

Liz: Sheila, yay! I love this series and admittedly I need to catch up, but now I can indulge in reading a couple back to back. So excited to visit Ireland vicariously through you and Maura!

Edith: I can’t wait to read this one, Sheila! And isn’t the tight-knit community the essence of a cozy?!

Sherry: Another trip to Ireland from my own home! Keep them coming, Sheila!

Jessie: A new installment in your County Cork  series is always a cause for celebration! Congrats, Sheila!

Readers, are you as smitten as we all are with this series or with all things Irish?


by Sheila Connolly

Readers (and some authors) may think we’re writing sparkling new original stories from our own imaginations, but in fact most of us writers borrow a lot from other people’s subconscious perceptions. That’s a good thing, because in a way it saves the writer time. Use a particular phrase or a setting, and it becomes a kind of shorthand for a lot more.

Phila postcard old This shorthand plays a role when we decide where we want to set our books. Take Philadelphia: what do you see when I say “big city”? Noise and crowds and museums? Ireland is a very different case: rainbows and green hills and cottages. These cues let the reader “see” the stage before we start adding characters.

DSCN1312 - Copy

My fictional Granford, Massachusetts, the home of the Orchard Mysteries (including the latest book, A Gala Event, to be released tomorrow!), is a typical cozy small town. Now, don’t stop to think: what do you visualize when someone says “New England town?”

Granby views 012

The quick answer is: a town green ringed with old maple trees, maybe blazing with fall colors, surrounded by a large white church with a steeple, a couple of stores, and the big old houses built a century or two earlier by the rich folk in town who wanted to show off. Drive through most New England states and you’ll see a lot of them. It’s imprinted in our collective memories.

That’s what Granford looks like. That’s also what the real town of Granby looks like—a place I know and have been visiting since before I started writing. Just about everything in the Orchard Mysteries is real—the library, the historical society, the church, the police station, the feed store, the high school, etc., etc. (Although the real town has opened both a new library and a more modern police station since I started the series—so I moved them in the books too.)

Cold Spring Orchard 10-07 014

There was one other critical element, though: apples. I always knew I wanted to set the series in the town, in a colonial house built by an ancestor of mine (also real), but the publisher wanted a “hook.” I thought about it, and rejected some ideas such as organic farming (I’ll leave that to Edith, since I know nothing about organic farming!), but then I hit upon apples. Everybody knows and loves apples—so there’s an instant identification with the idea. I’m sure you all can call up a mental picture immediately when I say “apple orchard.” And then suddenly you’re plugged into Johnny Appleseed and the “apple a day keeps the doctor away” idea of healthy eating and wholesome gifts for first-grade teachers and “Mom and apple pie,” and so on.

See? I don’t have to put all this on the page, but I’ve connected with a lot of readers who already know about all this, consciously or unconsciously. Just mention “apple” and suddenly you’ve tapped into a whole backstory for your book.

What particular bit of shorthand on the cover or in a review makes you pick up a book in a bookstore (or click online) when you see it? Which ones one would make you avoid a book?

A Gala Event

A Gala Event

And one small bit of promotion: A Gala Event, to be released tomorrow. Available everywhere in most formats you can think of. Yes, there really are alpacas in Granby, er, Granford.

Thanks, sister Wickeds, for featuring it last week!

Wicked Wednesday: Dream Summer Vacation

Summer is finally, officially here. Wickeds and readers: if you had the time and the funds, what would your dream summer vacation be? Where would you go? What would you do? Who would you bring, or not bring? Let’s dream big, here.

IMG_2227_2Sherry: I would tour the British Isles. First to Ireland, then Scotland, and back through England. I’d love to stay in a cottage in a small village for a couple of weeks in each place and take day trips from there. I’d take my husband Bob and spend quiet afternoons in pubs on the days we were tired of wandering. We’d visit the Trinity College Library, look for the Loch Ness monster, and visit the lake district of England. Clothes and lots of comfortable shoes is all I’d need to take. I’d wrap up the trip in London and go to a couple of plays.

Jessie: I’d love to go on a knitting vacation with one of my beloved sisters. There are any number of places to visit, from Iceland to the Baltic and all sorts of places in between.There’s even a schooner offering knitting cruises off the coast of Maine. Most of these trips offer beautiful sights as well as behind the scenes peeks at some part of the knitting process like sheep shearing or wool dyeing.  And of course they offer a chance to improve your craft through classes and seminars taught by experts. For an avid knitter, it sounds like a perfect blend of fun and relaxation.

Edith: I think I’ll go to Italy. I’ll go a week early by myself and check into a Tuscany cooking school. Mmmm… Then Hugh will arrive and we’ll go north to Lake Como where Liviewe’ll visit Livie, the Italian exchange student at my California high school whom I became good friends with (and haven’t seen since), as well as two of the sisters in my Brazilian exchange family who ended up in Italy. We’ll go back to Tuscany for more

Photo by Markus Bernet, 07/13/2004

Piazza Venezia. Photo by Markus Bernet, 07/13/2004

good food and wine. Then we’ll visit Rome for a week, and end up in a village on the Mediterranean in the south. Could do worse, right?

Julie: I am actually going on one of my dream vacations this summer–a trip down the Danube. Italy is definitely on my list, as are Greece and Spain. Summer vacation dreams are so much more mobile than winter vacation dreams. In the winter, all I want is warmth and water. In the summer, I like to explore, to learn, to visit. And to rest.

Barb: So many places, so little time. Bill and I have a big anniversary next year and we’ve been talking about a trip to Scotland. I love Edinburgh, so we’ll definitely spend time there, and then maybe a second week driving. Up to the ancestral home in the Highlands? Don’t know yet. Half the fun is in the planning.

Readers: What’s your dream vacation? Staying home and reading? Trekking in Nepal? Finally hitting that beach in Fuji? Or spending quality AND quantity time with the grandkids?

Happy Book Birthday — An Early Wake by Sheila Connolly

Happy Book Birthday to Sheila Connolly. An Early Wake is the third in Sheila’s wonderful  County Cork Mystery series.

SheilacoverHere’s a quick preview:

Pub owner Maura Donovan may have Irish kin, but she doesn’t seem to have the luck of the Irish. Who could have foreseen that bringing live music back to Sullivan’s Pub would lead to a dead musician?

Summer is ending in County Cork, Ireland, and with it the tourist season. Expat Maura Donovan is determined to keep Sullivan’s Pub in the black as the days grow shorter—but how? When she hears that the place was once a hot spot for Irish musicians who’d come play in the back room, she wonders if bringing back live music might be Sullivan’s salvation.

As word gets out, legendary musicians begin to appear at the pub, and the first impromptu jam session brings in scores of music lovers. But things hit a sour note when Maura finds a dead musician in the back room the next morning. With a slew of potential suspects, it’s going to take more than a pint and a good think to force a murderer to face the music.

Liz: Happy book birthday, Sheila! I love this series – both the story and the setting. Since I don’t get out much, it’s the perfect way to take an annual trip to Ireland 🙂 Can’t wait to read!

Barb: Authors can’t have favorite children, but fans can. This is my absolute favorite of Sheila’s three series. Preordered. Can’t wait.

Edith: Yay, Sheila! My copy already arrived and is right there on the very top of my TBR pile. I’m determined to get to Ireland sometime in the next few years, too, and will absolutely visit County Cork and your pub.

Jessie: Congratulations, Sheila, on another release and another gorgeous cover! Wishing you many more of each!

Sherry: I get to make another trip to Ireland through this series! I hope to make a real one someday soon but until then…

Julie: I love this series! It is both familiar and foreign, and a wonderful place to visit on these bleak winter days. Congratulations Sheila!


by Sheila Connolly

For the past decade or more, I’ve harbored the fantasy of buying a cottage in Ireland. At first I was fixated on buying the site where my Connolly family originated, but I was discouraged by several things: (1) I had no job at the time, so no money, (2) the place was falling down since it hadn’t been lived in for half a century, (3) the farmer who lived next door used the space behind the house for his very large manure pile, and (4) there was a rather aromatic piggery up the hill. All excellent reasons not to buy that property!

Not the family home, but the way I wish it looked.

Not the family home, but the way I wish it looked.

But the dream persisted through the years, and through a lot of changes in my life. So I have to ask myself why the idea still appeals to me, and I didn’t come up with one simple answer, but multiple ones:

–family ties, obviously—although none of my family lives in that part of West Cork now

–owning a place that is uniquely mine (without my husband’s name on the mortgage or title)

–the romance of the idea—most Americans I mention it to seem to love it, and wondered when they could come visit

–the Irish people I’ve talked to about the idea say it’s a good time to buy since the market has bottomed out

–the area is pretty and peaceful and quiet and you can see the Milky Way at night, and I can imagine getting good work done there as long as I had a wi-fi connection

–and finally, it would be like starting over—minus all my stuff.

I have a lot of stuff. I’ve written about it before, and I’m horrified that not much has changed. I haven’t undergone some miraculous transformation and purged my house (too big for two people!) of non-essential items. Although we did rent a dumpster and dispose of over THREE TONS of accumulated construction debris, plus odds and ends that prior owners had left behind (but not that Civil War cannonball I found under the house, a relic from a previous owner who was a Civil War veteran).

Why do I haul this issue out again? Well, in August I spent ten days in a rented apartment in Ireland, which I’d booked sight unseen. It was built over a garage, and it might have measured 15×40 feet all in (two rooms plus bath). I will say that it was very nicely fitted out, and had all the necessary amenities, and it was scrupulously clean, and even had free wi-fi. It became home very quickly during the short time I was there, but it was really suitable for only one person (which was fine since I was traveling alone). Add one more body and you’d be tripping over each other all the time.

My tiny kitchen (that's the oven, not the microwave!)

My tiny kitchen (that’s the oven, not the microwave!)

With limited space you start thinking about what you really need. The kitchen-end of one room there drove that home most clearly. There was a two-burner stove, an oven that might hold a casserole if you left the top off, a fridge about one foot deep, a microwave, and a dishwasher. I never even opened the dishwasher, but I did use everything else. I even cooked! But it made me think: how would I have done things differently in the same space? (Skipped the dishwasher for sure.)

Don’t get me wrong: I love my stuff. Some of it is inherited, and it comes with memories of my family members attached.  Some of it I’ve bought myself, and I can tell you when and where and why for almost all of it. When I see an item or hold it, I remember. I understand why “souvenir” is such an important concept—the word means “memory” in French—and having that tangible thing takes you back to a place and time from your past.

But even so,  there’s something appealing about starting fresh, with a blank slate. And no matter how much I love my assembled clutter, it’s unpeaceful.

Writing is sometimes like that, especially if you’re writing a series. The first book is that blank slate, and you can fill it with people and places and things however you choose. But then there’s a second and a third (and if you’re lucky, even more), and you start collecting baggage. If a character appears in one book, do they have to come back? (Assuming you haven’t killed them.) Are you stuck in one place or can you visit others? If they’re living in one place, they must have surrounded themselves with something—furniture, knickknacks, books. And don’t forget the pets—you can’t just make them disappear.

So by the time you’ve written a few books in a series, things are getting a little crowded. Just like in life. Stuff happens.

The eighth book in the Orchard Series, Picked to Die, comes out tomorrow. When I began the series, my heroine Meg went from a Boston apartment to living in a 1760 colonial house with a barn, and one of the first things she added was a pair of rescue goats. Talk about a change in lifestyles! Curiously, she really isn’t into acquiring more stuff. She hasn’t spent a lot of time worrying about furniture or new curtains. I have to keep reminding myself: I created her. Is she mirroring my own (buried) feelings about accumulating stuff, or am I letting her try out a more streamlined space for me?

As Henry David Thoreau said, “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”


It’s been a busy few weeks on the book front:

Seeing the Dead, the sequel to last year’s Relatively Dead, came out on September 21st. Find it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Picked to Die (Orchard Mystery #8) comes out tomorrow, October 7th. (Amazon, Barnes & Noble.)

Reunion with Death is part of a BookBub promotion through October 11th, and is priced at 99 cents. (Yes, on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.)