Critical Reading: ‘St. Patrick’s Day’ on St. Patrick’s Day

St Patricks dayIt was a privilege and a pleasure to get to know novelist Thomas McGonigle while at the Times, and it’s been a privilege to keep knowing him ever since.

Recently, University of Notre Dame Press brought out his novel, St. Patrick’s Day: Another Day in Dublin, which is also the recipient of the 2016 Notre Dame Review Book Prize.

“McGonigle’s novel,” the prize committee said, “is a brilliant portrait of the uneasy alliance between the Irish and Irish Americans, the result of the centuries-old diaspora and immigration, which left unsettled the mysteries of origins and legacy.”

McGonigle is a member of literature’s world community.  You discover that right away when you talk to him.  Whether you’re in actual conversation or reading his blog, ABC of Reading, you find that he’s preoccupied with far more important issues than who is on the current bestsellers lists.  Instead, he speaks freely and easily to you about Roberto Calasso, or Julian Rios, or Claude Simon, or some Bulgarian novelist whose name is difficult to pronounce as if they’re all neighbors living on the same street.

And, in sense, they all do live on the same street.  So what did I do on this year’s observance of the venerable Irish saint?

I prepped this interview below for you, my beloveds, which presents Tom’s perspective on his novel and the process behind it, not to mention his larger concerns about the current state and future of literature.



***What was the genesis of your St. Patrick’s Day: Another Day in Dublin?  Where does it begin?

All of my books begin with the moment when I saw a blonde girl putting her coat and books into a locker on the second floor of Patchogue High School in my senior year.  I had been looking at a picture history of World War One and must have decided to write a story in which a soldier would think of the girl back home and this boy would die on November 6, 1918. I changed the girl’s last name with the addition of two letters.  The story was published in The Red & Black, the student newspaper.  I waited for Melinda to seek me out.  She did not.  I wrote a second story told this time from her viewpoint…  this was published, and again she did not seek me out. I could say that the writing disease had taken hold of me then.

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A-holes: What kind of writer are you?

A-holes: What kind of writer are you?

I’ve been away for a long time, my beloved friends. A new day job and the weird, twilight frenzy of revising my novel (if you go into the dictionary and look up the word “palimpsest,” I’m sure it says “for an example, see Nick’s book”) — it has been impossible for me to keep up, and I’m sorry for that.  I miss my friends here on WP and beyond.

Even if I haven’t felt capable of posting an original thought on Call of the Siren, I have been capable of reading other people’s thoughts … like Seamus Perry’s piece in the TLS,Angry, Difficult D.H. Lawrence.”  Lawrence was not the kind of writer you would want to get close to; Richard Aldington, Perry writes, said Lawrence had a “wounding capacity for not adapting himself to others.”

Perry’s piece gives us one kind of writer; I’m also reminded of Evelyn Waugh’s cold attitude to his children if they played too loudly and disturbed Daddy; I’m also reminded of a former professor friend meeting the author of The Once and Future King, T.H. White, and finding him to be the complete opposite of the generous, compassionate, bemused narrator that my friend cherished in that book (the photo accompanying this post shows White during a lecture at Boston College).  This leads to a simple conclusion.

Writers can be real a-holes.

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Getting published … an author’s stats on herself

Everyone has an opinion about the ordeal of book publishing, but who can you really trust?

Only the writers who have actually experienced it.

And that applies to Yi Shun Lai, author of the new novel Not A Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu (Shade Mountain Press), although “new” is a misleading term …. Lai is perfectly transparent on her blog about how long it’s taken – agents queried,  months spent querying, etc. – to usher her engaging, funny, charming fictional memoir into print.

At The Good Dirt, Lai provides us yishunwith the numbers that every writer wants to know about, as well as the lessons that she’s learned in her post “How I Landed My Publisher.”

One of her best lessons, for me, has to do with balancing your book project with the rest of your life … and that means not letting it consume the rest of your life.

As Lai says, “if you really want to make this a part of your life, get on it.”

Visit The Good Dirt for more of Lai’s insights into finding that balance in your own writing life … and to learn more about the writer behind the one and only Marty.  She’s a wonderful creation … so funny and wise as she navigates between obstacles and her own soaring aspirations, advertising quotas and office tedium, and the steady nagging of an unforgettable Taiwanese tiger mom.  You’ll want to get your hands on a copy of this book.

My beloveds, you’ll be so glad you did.