Interview with Cynthia G. Neale, Author of THE IRISH MILLINER
Updated: Feb 3, 2020
The Making of an Irish-American Woman in 19th Century New York
“This timely novel spans centuries to bring to our attention to a topic as old as yesterday, as expedient as tomorrow—emigration. Neale's work, written with love and insight, reminds us that our neighbor is all mankind.”
~Tim Pat Coogan, Irish broadcaster, journalist, writer and author of 1916 The Easter Rising, Michael Collins and The Famine Plot
THE IRISH MILLINER
It is New York City and the Civil War is brewing. Norah McCabe, an Irish immigrant who escaped the Famine as a child, is now a young widow with a daughter. She is a milliner, struggling to survive in tumultuous times. Norah meets Abraham Lincoln, befriends the extraordinary African-American woman Elizabeth Jennings, and assists the Underground Railroad. She falls headlong in love with Edward M. Knox, son of the famous hat-maker Charles Knox, but he is lace curtain Irish and she is shanty Irish. Edward joins the 69th regiment and leaves for battle. Can their love endure through class differences and war?
This is a story of survival, intrigue, romance, as well as, exploring the conflict of Irish immigrants thrust into a war that threatened to destroy a nation. It is about an Irish-American woman who could be any immigrant today, any woman today, seeking to create beauty and make sense of her life.
Genre: Fiction/Historical/Romance | Publication Date: June 2, 2017 | Pages: 276pp | Publisher: Fireship Press
“Suddenly the Civil War seems very relevant and Cynthia Neale does a great job of focusing on the role of the Irish in the conflict. And it's great fun to be in touch with her wonderful character, Norah McCabe, again!” ~Mary Pat Kelly, author of Galway Bay and Of Irish Blood
Q&A WITH AUTHOR
Cynthia G. Neale
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
When young, I oftentimes felt exhilarated and in a Muse infused state when writing, mostly late at night. Some kind of exhaustion began seeping in when the rejection letters piled up. I was inexperienced and didn’t fathom the real work involved that entailed both inspirational energy and exhaustion. When a story and characters come bounding into my life, I am thrilled. And then I am energized by dreams and the research. This is followed by procrastination that brings on a certain exhaustion. When I finally drag myself to the computer and attempt that first sentence, I feel sick and overwhelmed. Writers like to quote Red Smith (and so do I), “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” It’s like that in the beginning and sometimes it happens throughout the course of writing the novel. But when some of my life is poured into the story, it is a sort of bloodletting, I suppose. And then I'm immediately energized. Israel Shenker said that “Writing is an affair of yearning for great voyages and hauling on frayed ropes.” The yearning is energizing and the hauling on frayed ropes causes callouses and exhaustion. You can’t have one or the other. And when you finish that chapter and eventually the novel, you re-read it in an exhausted state with flashes of tiny lights surrounding the pages. Is that euphoria or is this the effect of exhaustion? My bet is that it’s both.
Tell us a little about what else you've written.
I’m old enough to have boxes of stories, as well as stories in computer files. I had positive feedback in the good ole days when big publishers like Simon and Schuster responded to queries. I was too naïve to re-work those stories and re-submit! I have a musical play titled, ‘Diamond Juba,’ based on the famous ham and bone dancer, Master Juba (William Henry Lane), an African-American dancer who competed with the Irish jig dancer, Jack Diamond, for big money. I imagined a young Irish girl meeting a young African-American boy during this time and wishing to dance like Jack Diamond and Master Juba. This idea came after my two young adult books were published by White Mane – The Irish Dresser, A Story of Hope during The Great Hunger and Hope in New York City, The Continuing Story of The Irish Dresser.
Norah, The Making of an Irish-American Woman in 19th-Century New York, was published by Fireship Press in 2015. The Irish Milliner is my last novel about Norah McCabe. I’ve written two screenplays and one is based on my four novels and it’s currently being pitched to producers. I’ve also written a cookbook, Pavlova in a Hat Box, Sweet Memories & Desserts that was published a year ago. There are dessert recipes with an organic twist, art, and stories. I’m doing another cookbook with two other Celtic (Scottish) bakers called, Transatlantic Tarts, Sweet and Savory Recipes & Stories. Good ingredients in a recipe and good ingredients in a story, but with a recipe, there is immediate gratification!
What story are you working on next and what inspired it?
I’ve researched seven years for a novel about a Native American woman with French blood who lived during the American Revolution period in the Finger Lakes area where I grew up. I didn’t intend to write about her, for there is great difficulty in ascertaining the truthful facts about Native Americans. This is for many reasons, including their oral history and the viewpoint of European domination. I feel it is sacred to write about them and I say with some modesty it’s only because I experienced visitations with my character, Queen Catharine Montour. Her name has been preserved in the area on markers and used on businesses, etc. I grew up knowing little about her. Many years ago while visiting family, I was walking on a trail named for her. I stopped at her memorial and in my head I heard, “Write my story.” I said aloud, “No, I’m writing about Norah.” Thereafter, I had unusual encounters, such as waking up with a dried kernel of corn in my bed after reading about the “Three Sisters (corn, bean, and squash). There have been other experiences and when I finally started writing the story, Norah visited again and I had to write one more book about her and set Catharine’s aside. I think the two women have become friends, for I believe Norah actually lived, as well. The working title is Catharine, Queen of the Tumbling Waters. I’m also writing a play about Elizabeth Jennings, a real life character from The Irish Milliner. And another cookbook…screenplay…
Do you read much and who are your favorite authors?
My bed stand is full of books that topple over in the night. I usually read a couple of historical novels, taking turns each evening until one wins out and I finish it first. Sometimes I only read from one briefly and then read from a non-fiction or poetry book. I thought someday there would be time to re-read some of my favorite classics, i.e. George Elliott (Mary Ann Evans), Louisa May Alcott, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, D.H Lawrence, Henry Miller…even tackle Moby Dick and War and Peace for the first time. Favorite contemporary authors are Susan Vreeland, Barbara Kingsolver, Colm Toibin, Annie Dillard, and Sarah Dunant. My bed stand books: Whirligig by Richard Buxton; Portrait of a Conspiracy by Donna Russo Morin; It Happened in New Hampshire by Stillman Rogers; Poems by Robert Frost; 50 Great American Short Stories, Edited by Milton Crane; The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers (again); Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain (again).
What would you like carved onto your tombstone?
Hope Dances in the Darkness and Believes in the Lover who Casts Light at our Feet would be my tombstone inscription. Many years ago while Irish dancing at a pub and peering at a famous poster of an Irish Dresser, I imagined a young girl living through the Famine and hiding inside a dresser for comfort and dreams for a better life. This is when I began doing laborious research into Famine Ireland history and eventually wrote my first novel, The Irish Dresser, A Story of Hope during the Great Hunger (An Gorta Mor,1845-1850). I queried publishers and received many rejections for a long time. I was ready to give up and go on to other writing. I was quite discouraged and one evening I turned off the lights, lit a candle, and played loud Irish music and danced barefoot. I cried and danced until I felt hope surge through me. It was within days I received remarkable signs to go on and eventually a publisher, White Mane, offered to publish the book. After it was published, I came up with this quote and write the shortened version, “Hope Dances” in my books at signings.
Cynthia G. Neale is a native of the Finger Lakes region of New York and now resides in New Hampshire. She has long possessed a deep interest in the tragedies and triumphs of the Irish during the Great Hunger.
This is Ms. Neale’s fourth novel. She also writes plays, short stories, and essays, and holds a B.A. in Writing and Literature from Vermont College.
Tour Schedule | Follow on Twitter: @hfvbt @cynthianeale7 @fireshippress
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