“Shadow Campus” Book Club Dinner in Schull, West Cork Ireland — Great Craic!

What a wonderful experience last night sharing the origins and future of Shadow Campus characters at a book club in Schull, Ireland – my very first in Ireland! I didn’t really know what to expect. All I can say is that it was far more than my fondest hopes. What fun!

Annemarie, who has been a friend for many years, invited me to the book club. She read Shadow Campus recently and shared it with the club.

I don’t know when I’ve laughed so much, learned so much about my own characters and been so encouraged to finish the sequel. One of the things I love about West Cork is the inevitability of events inspired by extraordinarily talented people. The music, drama, festivals, art and comedy events, to name a few, seemingly emerge from nowhere, transport you, and stay in your heart and mind forever.

The book club meeting with Annemarie, Aileen, Amanda, Collette, Fionnuala, and Leah was one such event. The book came alive, as Collette said. We talked of Shamus, Meg, Dr. Michaels, Denise and other characters as if we know them – and indeed we do. Interesting, though, we all saw Shamus somewhat differently. I think it’s not a stretch to say that we all rather love the guy. He is definitely a diamond-in-the-rough who matures and grows. He loves to the best of his ability; he cares beyond his realization. There is a tenderness and toughness about him and, while male readers like and identify with him, especially as an emerging detective, female readers often love him. He was treated very well again last night.

Below are some of the questions that arose and my best recollection of how we answered them. That’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of being an author. Your characters are accessible. They can be who the readers want them to be. You get to learn so much more about them. By the end of the evening, Shamus, Meg, Dr. Michaels, Denise, Rashid, and the other characters could have walked into the room and we would have recognized them instantly. They would have gotten a marvelous reception. We might have asked Meg why she got pregnant? Who is the father – really? Shamus would have received some very probing questions and a few dinner invitations. Dr. Michaels wouldn’t have been lonely.

In fact, Dr Michaels emerged in our discussions last night as handsome, romantic and even husband material! That’s a first. He’s complex and sometimes arrogant, but he received higher attraction ratings than Shamus from some around the table. No names mentioned here, ladies. You know who you are!

It was great craic, as we say in Ireland. Without giving too much away to those who haven’t yet read Shadow Campus, here are some of our discussions and discoveries:

Was Shadow Campus written in the U.S. or Ireland? The answer is both. It was started in Palos Verdes, California where I was teaching at the University of Southern California and was developed and completed in Ireland. That is one of the beauties of West Cork. Creativity is everywhere and it’s contagious.

How long did it take to write Shadow Campus?  Now, that’s a tough question because between being a professor, writing articles and books about communication and politics at work, like The Secret Handshake and It’s All Politics, raising three children, the manuscript for SC rarely came out of my desk over the past years except during the summers.  I’ve also dealt with some medical issues. It was, however, often on my mind.

The “bones” of the entire story was written in a very intense one-week semester break. I just had to get up around 5 a.m. and begin to write this story.  It flowed.  I’d awaken, get the kids off to school, and write, write, write.  That was the beginning of Shadow Campus.  Then it took about 5 summers to finish the book and a final push. Chris, my husband and editor, was always encouraging and his skills invaluable.

How did you feel when you finished and knew it would be published?  Usually with nonfiction books, and I’ve published many of those, you’re so busy getting them ready and accurate that you initially just want to drop when the work is done. But, for a first novel, especially, publication was immediately exciting.  I remember one night before going to sleep I was alone thinking, “It’s really going to be published now.”  Shamus, Meg, Rashid, and the others who had lived in my brain would now belong to everyone who reads Shadow Campus.  I wondered for a brief moment if they and I were ready.  But fortunately that passed quickly.  It’s a little like having children; you’re never truly ready.

How did your children respond to the publication of Shadow Campus? Fionnuala asked this. She knows my three children, as most of the book club members do. I was pleased to be able to report that when it was published each of the “kids” was joyful – really happy for mom. They were kind of proud too. I’ll remember those three conversations. They meant a lot.

Did you purposely not include a lot of detail about how your characters look? Amanda, also a professor and aware of the challenges women face in academia, explored this. I’d never been asked this question. It’s a good one. Recalling that I’m a first-time novelist, I made some choices about pace as well as detail. Pulitzer prize winning writer, Laura Sessions Stepp, said of Shadow Campus, “I was hooked from the beginning.” I wanted to retain that page-turning element. Irish author, Deirdre Purcell, also read early chapters and loved the pace and intensity of the plot.

Some authors describe their characters in detail – often quite beautifully. My field of study is communication. I wanted Shamus, in particular, but also Meg and others, to be sufficiently described to enable the reader creative license.

There are sprinklings of description throughout the book, but mostly what the characters say and do allows the reader to see them through their own eyes. It leads to some wonderful discussions about how they look. There are many versions of Shamus out there!

What did Roddy Doyle say to you at the Bantry Writer’s Festival?

In the acknowledgments of Shadow Campus, I mentioned renowned Irish author, Roddy Doyle. Some years ago, I attended a session he taught in Bantry, West Cork. Toward the end, people shared ideas for stories. I followed suit. When I finished, he said to me, “You have to write that book.” I told him my nonfiction agent was not convinced. Doyle said, “He’s wrong!” He told me to never give up on the story – and I didn’t.

Last night I promised to mail a copy to Roddy Doyle.  Since Collette and her husband, Tom, run the post office here, I’ll have to make good on that one!

What will happen to Denise and Shamus? Will they get together in the next book? There is considerable pressure on me to get these two together. Aileen insisted last night, with great humor, that Meg and Dr. Michaels do the same. What to do? What to do? I am still deciding. I didn’t take love relationships very far in SC. Nothing was finalized. I guess we’ll all have to see what happens in the sequel.

Amanda, for example, thinks Denise may be too smart or intellectual for Shamus. She’s not convinced it could work. They’re also both unwilling to sacrifice or diminish their careers. They’re separated by 3,000 miles. It’s a tough one.

Dr. Michaels, it was mentioned, may be too old for Meg. Some protest ensued after that was mentioned. He’s in his fifties. She is now in her early thirties. We shall see.

Should a more “professional” cover be used with the sequel? I raised this question. Leah was persuasive here. She really likes the cover that was derived from one of my oil paintings. Chris did the graphics. When you’re close to a book, it’s difficult to be objective about such things. The consensus seemed to be that the cover was right for the novel. I’ve read several articles about the importance of covers that grab attention – ones that compete with the bestsellers out there. And yet, I don’t want to fall for something flashy. The decision will need to be made soon, as the sequel to SC is nearly finished.

There were many other discussions and much laugher. I learned a great deal about the characters and leaked a few details about the upcoming sequel.

Writing is hard work and, at its best, a dialogue with readers. Last night was very special.

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