Mahoney: A Guest Post from Andrew Joyce

In this compelling, richly researched novel, author Andrew Joyce tells a riveting story of adventure, endurance, and hope as the Mahoney clan fights to gain a foothold in America.

In the second year of an Gorta Mhór—the Great Famine—nineteen-year-old Devin Mahoney lies on the dirt floor of his small, dark cabin. He has not eaten in five days. His only hope of survival is to get to America, the land of milk and honey. After surviving disease and storms at sea that decimate crew and passengers alike, Devin’s ship limps into New York Harbor three days before Christmas, 1849. Thus starts an epic journey that will take him and his descendants through one hundred and fourteen years of American history, including the Civil War, the Wild West, and the Great Depression.

My name is Andrew Joyce and I write books for a living. Marian has been kind enough to allow me a little space on her blog to promote my new book, Mahoney. So, I thought I’d tell you how it came about. But to do that, I gotta tell you how my mind works.

A few years ago, I had just finished reading Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn for the third time, and I started thinking about what ever happened to those boys, Tom and Huck. They must have grown up, but then what? So I sat down at my computer and banged out Redemption: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. I had them as adults in the Old West. Kind of like Wyatt Earp-type characters. It was a modest success and won an award for Best Western of 2013.

I think my favorite book of all time is The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I’ve read it a number of times over the years—the last time being two years ago. Now, for those of you who may not have read it, it’s about one family’s trek from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl of the 1930s to the “Land of Milk and Honey,” also known as California. Of course, California was not a land of milk and honey. If anything, the family was worse off in California than they were in Oklahoma. The subtext of the book is how those on the lower rungs of society’s ladder are oppressed and have very little voice to fight against that oppression.

Near the end of the book, Tom Joad, the protagonist, runs afoul of the law and must leave his family or else be arrested on a trumped up charge or be killed by the big landowners’ goons. His mother, quite naturally, will miss him and is worried for him. The words he spoke to her in that scene have become iconic.

“I’ll be aroun’ in the dark. I’ll be everywhere-wherever you look. Wherever there is a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there is a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folk eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build—why, I’ll be there.” — Tom Joad, The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

So, here’s what I did. Just like with Huck and Tom, I started thinking about what ever happened to Tom Joad after he left his family. I wanted to write about injustices and the people who suffer those injustices. I thought I’d follow Tom around and write about what he encountered from about the mid-thirties to 1963 when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a Dream” speech.

However, there was just one problem with that: copyright laws. The character of Tom Joad belongs to the heirs of John Steinbeck. So, I had to come up with another angle. After some thought on the matter, I decided to expand my initial time frame of between 1933 and 1963 to between 1849 and 1963. I’d start the story in Ireland during the potato famine and work my way to America, and then I’d end up where I had originally intended.

The whole project took twenty months of full-time writing, researching, and editing to get it to where I wanted and to tell the story I wanted to tell. The research took almost as long as the writing did. Of course, I did my preliminary research before I started writing, but I could only do so much because I had just a three-sentence outline in my head of what the story would be. I did most of the research while I was writing. I’d be in mid-sentence and stop to check something out. A half hour later, I’d come back and finish the sentence. I had to get things right. That’s why the book took so long.

Well, that’s how Mahoney came about. For those of you who may read it, I hope you enjoy it.

A short excerpt from Mahoney:

The reflected firelight flickered across awestruck faces and mirrored in the eyes of those who listened as stories were told of yesterday’s indignities and tomorrow’s aspirations. The look in those yearning eyes spoke of hopes and dreams. The laughter heard around the fire conveyed a sense that somehow it would all work out. For a few short hours, on Saturday nights, in the deep woods of a place none of them had ever heard of before, the constant fear that lived within their hearts was banished from their lives.

In time, they would prevail. Their sons and daughters would one day stand straight and tall as proud Americans, as proud as their fathers had been to be Irish.

Andrew Joyce left home at seventeen to hitchhike throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico. He wouldn’t return from his journey until years later when he decided to become a writer. Joyce has written seven books. His first novel, Redemption: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, was awarded the Editors’ Choice Award for Best Western of 2013. A subsequent novel, Yellow Hair, received the Book of the Year award from Just Reviews and Best Historical Fiction of 2016 from Colleen’s Book Reviews.

Andrew’s Website

Mahoney on Amazon

Lena’s World: MidWinter Celebrations (Empire’s Daughter Backgrounder 3)

While religion is a background element in Empire’s Daughter, not a component of the plot, its world would not have felt real to me without including some acknowledgements of how its culture marked the turning points of the year, especially Midwinter.

The Empire is a northern nation, analogous to Britain or northern Europe.  In common with its real-world cultures, Midwinter is a time of celebration.

“…Midwinter’s Eve being a traditional time of fun and feasting. I thought about the games and song and food I would miss tonight in the meeting hall at Tirvan. Even the littlest babies came, and toddlers fell asleep on benches or the floor as the night progressed.”

While religion is a background element in Empire’s Daughter, not a component of the plot, its world would not have felt real to me without including some acknowledgements of how its culture marked the turning points of the year, especially Midwinter.  The darkest days of the year and the rebirth of the sun – far enough north, that’s literally true, as the sun disappears for several weeks – have been marked by cultures around the world: by Jul, or Yule in pre-Christian Germany and Scandinavia; by Saturnalia in Roman culture, and in the cult of the Roman ‘soldier’s god’, Mithras, as the birth of the Unconquered Sun. It is this god that the Emperor Callan addresses when he says “The god of soldiers receive you, my brother, or I will know the reason why when I stand before him myself.”

So, both the women’s villages and the military celebrate Midwinter, although the women’s celebrations have more in common with Jul, and the military’s with Mithraic ritual.  The Empire’s tradition of making major proclamations at Midwinter, however, is based on the later Christmas Courts of the monarchs of England, when many political decisions (including coronations, notably of William the Conqueror) occurred (but not necessarily so formally as at the Emperor’s Winter Camp proclamations).

And here it is December 21st….at home in Tirvan, Lena would be partying at the Meeting Hall, eating and drinking, dancing and singing.  The Jul log, a massive root, would be burning in the hearth, the fire started with a piece of last year’s log.  Some of the women would stay awake until dawn, to greet the newly-born sun.

The military too has its Saturnalia: food and drink, dance and song, which Lena is happy to participate in, but somewhere outside the camp, a more secret ritual is taking place, acknowledging the birth of the soldier’s god. (This is neither mentioned nor described in the book, by the way, as it had no place in the story. But likely both Casyn and Callan are there.  Turlo?  Probably not.  I think he’s out on the hills with Pan, personally.)

Of course, Midwinter is a plot device, in that it is a turning point in the year, and a turning point in the story, for both the Empire and for Lena. The book begins roughly on May 1, May Day, Beltane, traditionally the day when young women can see their future husbands by various divinations (or, in the book, meet the man who will change their lives) and ends at Midwinter and the dawning of a new year.

The land has its rhythms and pacings, its periods of calm and its periods of change, reflected and acknowledged in the rituals and celebrations of pre-Christian northern Europe, which in turn provides the background structure to the action in Empire’s Daughter. Did I set out to do this, consciously?  No.  It seems that my own internal rhythms, which are set far more by the natural world than by the artificial calendar we have imposed upon it, simply insinuated themselves into the writing.  That doesn’t surprise me: so much of what we write comes from places inside us we barely know.

Blessed Yule, Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa.  (If I’ve left your celebration out, it’s due to me not knowing about it, not a deliberate oversight, and I wish you joy.)

Sunrise photo: By Fabolu (selbst aufgenommen von Fabolu) [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons