Growing Up O’Malley:
Interview with Fran Fisher
By Carin Chea
In 2008, Mary Frances Fisher was faced with one of the darkest chapters known in her existence, one that included the death of her mother.
Rather than collapse under grief and heartache, the author transformed her dark night of the soul into a beautifully written and award-winning historical murder mystery: Paradox Forged In Blood.
Inspired by her family’s roots and certain true-life events, the author’s debut book chronicles a murder that takes place in 1930s Millionaire’s Row in Cleveland, Ohio.
This fall, Fisher will release her highly anticipated second novel, Growing Up O’Malley, a historical novel based on stories passed down through the generations.
A poetic, tender, and humorous writer, Fisher’s work is as much entertaining as it is healing. Perhaps Linda Thompson, host of The Authors Show podcast, said it best when describing Fisher’s debut novel: "If this book is an indication of things to come, we will be hearing a lot about Mary Frances Fisher – she’s that good."
Prior to becoming an author, you were a legal nurse consultant. Tell us about your transition into writing.
All my life, people told me I had a gift for writing, but I didn’t think I had time or patience to write a novel. However, after working for attorneys for more than 30 years—involving long hours under stress—I was completely burned out.
When my mom died in 2008, it was the culmination of tension leading to health issues (my weight dropped to 95 pounds!) I needed an outlet for my grief and I began writing short stories and novels.
In 2016, my father died at the age of 99, four months shy of his 100th birthday. Together with my mom, they became my guardian angels providing hope and inspiration as I delved into my new and challenging career.
Whenever I felt overwhelmed, I could feel my parents giving me a hug and that gave me the stamina for the past 13 years to finish both books.
What inspired you to write Growing Up O’Malley?
The impetus was turning grief from my mother’s death into a positive outlet. Thirteen years ago, I wrote my first book and assigned her as the main protagonist. But I realized something was off and needed a fresh eyes review.
I gave my son a few chapters for his input and he asked if I was writing a murder mystery or an homage to the O’Malleys. His clarity stunned me and I knew the only answer was both!
My next step was separating the two books (the murder mystery became Paradox Forged In Blood; my homage to the O’Malleys transitioned into Growing Up O’Malley.) I pursued the murder mystery first, because I believed it would be more appealing to readers from a first-time author.
Although both books contain many of the same people, Growing Up O’Malley spans a century (1880s to 1980s) with a commensurate number of additional characters.
What was the process like? Were you writing on a daily basis?
No. I reduced my work as a legal nurse consultant to part-time remote work until back pain necessitated multiple back surgeries with extended recoveries and therapy.
Congrats! That must be a relief. And you have a wonderful book to show for it. Tell us a little more about Growing Up O’Malley.
It’s centered around two different aspects. First, the story of Michael O’Malley and Mary Ginley from County Mayo on Ireland’s western seaboard emigrated separately to America. Despite living in neighboring towns in Ireland, they didn’t meet until they arrived in Cleveland.
Michael took a circuitous route before his final destination by journeying to California where he joined a group of prospectors pursuing the gold rush. They were successful in their search but when the day arrived to travel into town to cash in their fortune, Michael was too ill to travel. They left him meager provisions and took his share of the gold.
When Michael was strong enough to travel a few weeks later, he came across his former partners murdered for the gold they prospected.
When Michael O’Malley arrived in Cleveland, he met and married Mary Ginley and they had seven rambunctious children. This provides the backdrop for humorous antics while the family grapples with various challenges (The Great Depression, World War II, family kidnapping, and deadly illnesses) through love, humor, and respect.
Second, the book provides an overview of American and world history presented with a twist (similar to “Behind the Headlines”)—events witnessed/discovered by the O’Malley family.
A few examples include:
a. During the Great Depression, what was the most popular crime to offset poverty?
[Childhood kidnappings for ransom; sometimes they were used as slave labor by criminals. Abductions were committed so often, with the exception of the rich and famous, they were no longer front-page news but relegated to brief notices in the newspapers. Teachers and nuns were not aware of stranger danger which often had dire results.]
b. Why did Japan attack Pearl Harbor?
[They desperately needed oil to continue fighting, but the US enforced an oil embargo. Oil could be found in the South Pacific but Pearl Harbor was in the way and limited access. Also, Japanese spies in Hawaii advised due to “America First” (adversity to engaging in foreign wars supported by the famous aviator, Charles Lindbergh), they believed Americans didn’t want to engage in a war.]
c. Who fired the first shot on December 7, 1941?
[More than 90 minutes before the Japanese attack, the USS Ward sent a radio message at 6 AM to naval command to advise they sank a Japanese sub off the Harbor’s coast. Everyone assumed it was an off-course sub, not the beginning of a Japanese onslaught.]
d. How did Americans first hear about the Pearl Harbor attack and why was it unusual?
[Eleanor Roosevelt had a 15-minute radio show on Sunday evenings at 6:45 PM called “Over our coffee cups.” She was the first person to tell the nation about the attack and advised them to listen for a major announcement by the president the following day. This would be the only time in American history that news of such importance would be delivered by anyone other than the president.]
What challenges did you face in writing Growing Up O’Malley and how did you overcome them?
I didn’t have a timeline or a calendar and I was working from memory. My two aunts, my mother’s sisters, were still living so I interviewed them for more information. Also, my oldest cousin knew my grandparents, Michael and Mary O’Malley, first-hand and informed me of several colorful events that I incorporated into the book.
In my youth, stories of Michael O’Malley’s lineage including Grace O’Malley (the infamous Irish Pirate Queen) were passed down through the generations. By achieving the respect of hundreds under Grace’s command, they profited through successful pillaging of British ships in the sixteenth century, thereby earning Grace O’Malley a place in the history books.
Multiple sources (internet, books, documentaries, etc.) were consulted for the historical events during this period of abundant upheaval and change.
I believe a book that nurtures the reader with historical content will not only draw them into the story but enrich their sense of adventure by chronicling little known backstories surrounding poignant events.
What kind of impact do you hope your books have on your readers?
Today’s society promotes rage and a lack of common decency through anonymous media posts permitting the spread of enmity without responsibility.
During the early twentieth century, quiet reflection was possible without the continuous bombardment of social media and 24-hour news. My writing returns the reader to a time when family values and respect for one another was paramount.
The combination of two things (family’s nurturing love in addition to laughter) can become our personal anchors for peace and sanity.
Growing Up O’Malley is a tender reminder that inside each of us resides a childlike innocence waiting to enrich the lives of others with creativity, love, and an abundance of laughter.
Is there a central message to your book?
There’s a saying that I never truly understood until I wrote Growing Up O’Malley: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
The O’Malleys endured The Greats: The Great Depression, Great Potato Famine, and the Great War. Despite the passage of a century, we face many of the same challenges encountered by our ancestors:
Despite our advances in technology and the information highway, age-old problems remain the same.
Finding equitable solutions, a challenge for all, could be facilitated by employing mainstays pursued by the O’Malleys to sustain them through life’s hurdles: positive attitudes, humor, and decisive convictions that nurture hope.
Are there any future projects you’d like us to know about?
I’m working on two other books. The first is called, When I Grow Up: A Collection of Short Stories. These are short stories that have been published but I retained the rights.
The second is a paranormal mystery, You’re Never Truly Alone. The storyline has been drafted but I haven’t started writing.
How did you go from writing about the O’Malleys to a paranormal mystery?
They say you should write what you know. For over 25 years, I had two ghosts living in my home but I wouldn’t call them friendly spirits. I sensed their presence confirmed by their hijinks.
For example, my son woke up one morning with deep scratches on his back. We would wake up freezing because the strong, sturdy switch for my furnace would mysteriously turn off in the middle of the night.
After an inspection by an expert, he confirmed it was impossible for it to automatically turn off while we were asleep.
I called Mary Ann Winkowski—author of When Ghosts Speak and the inspiration for the TV series The Ghost Whisperer—fortunately a Cleveland native. She confirmed the presence of two ghosts in my home and assisted them in crossing over.
Who would play your protagonist if Growing Up O’Malley were made into a series? Also, who would you want to direct it?
I’d like to see either of the following portrayals of my grandmother, Mary Ginley O’Malley: Caitriona Balfe (Outlander) or Kelly Macdonald (Boardwalk Empire).
Directors: Kenneth Branagh (wrote & directed Belfast); Brian Percival (Downton Abbey); or, Tate Taylor (The Help).
For more information, please visit www.MaryFrancesFisher.com.
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