To be truly free, you have to know who you are.
I don’t review or chat about every book I read. The ones I chose to discuss here mean something to me, have changed me in someway, and have allowed me to become a better writer.
Such a novel is The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins. I savored every word and cradled them in my heart. I sat in awe of Cummins’ ability to weave words so delicately, so gracefully and yet the strength in them holds you fast, like an anchor at sea.
I met the lovely lass at a book reading a while back. Her debut novel tells the tale of an Irish gypsy boy's childhood in the 1950's and his struggle to find himself in a changing world.
As Christy's exposure to a different life causes him to question who he is and where he belongs, the answer may lie with an old newspaper photograph and a long-buried family secret that could change his life forever...
Here is a short excerpt from chapter one. Here, Christy’s Grandmother stirs them all from sleep, wailing in the night. His father and uncle stand outside his grandparents wagon, waiting to face the inevitable…
Dad came out again, shaking his head.
"He's gone," he said.
Below is an interview that Jeanine was so nice to do for our little blog and she let me gush over her like a little school girl…
For me, that wasn't difficult. I always wanted to write fiction, but I sort of had to write that memoir first. I had to get that out of me before anything else would come. I always knew I would make the switch. What was surprising to me was how similar the process was, between writing fiction and non-fiction. In the end, both stories come from the same place in my emotional landscape.
Your background is so diverse and worldly. Can you share with us where you’ve been and where you are now?
My background isn't as worldly as it might seem. My dad was in the Navy, so we moved around a lot when we were kids. I was born in Spain, and lived all over the states. But I grew up mostly in Maryland. After college, I spent a couple of years in Ireland, and then I moved to New York, where I've been ever since. Okay, maybe it is worldly. I'm very sophisticated. AHEM. I'm also half Irish and half Puerto Rican. And in case you're curious, it's definitely the BACK half that's Puerto Rican.
You have quite a few impressive endorsements for The Outside Boy, but Malachy McCourt’s took my breath away. How did it feel to have an Iconic Irishman give you such poetic praise?
The Outside Boy is about a group of Travellers/Pavees in 1959 Ireland. Where did the idea from this story come from? What inspired you to write it? Is there a little boy named Christy roaming the Irish countryside?
What do you want the general public, especially readers, to understand about the Pavee culture?
Well just that, really - that it's a culture. These people are not disposable, and they're not homeless. Their way of life is ancient and valid, and they deserve our respect. Their culture is worth preserving.
You mentioned in the reading how you were lucky to get a glimpse of Pavee life, that a few gave you a peek inside their world. Can you share with us one of those experiences?
My favorite experience was going to visit Winnie and her family in Dunsink, outside of Dublin. I was astonished by the interiors of the caravans- I'm claustrophobic, and I couldn't imagine living inside such a small space. It still hadn't dawned on me then, that the travellers don't really live inside the caravans. They live outside them. The caravan is just a retreat from the weather, for sleep, for comfort. But their real lives go on outside, in the camps.
Hmmm, let me think. There were a couple of moments in the book that were inspired by true stories. The one where Beano yells "fair fucks!" to his sister in the middle of the classroom was stolen from an ex-boyfriend of mine – a kid in his school back in Ireland actually did that. Poor bastard. But beyond that, I'd say just the general psychology (and the resulting banter) of the characters comes largely from people I know, and I know a lot of Irish people. They tend to be rather witty. Or at least they think they are.
The nicknames Christy gives to the people he comes across is so true to children of that age. (Ah-hem, I even give nicknames to people as an adult). Did you know any Sister Hedgehogs, Beanos, or Finnaula Whippets growing up?
I did not. Many of the nicknames in the book came from people that my Irish husband talks about from his childhood. He had a teacher called The Blob, and knew a kid called Beano. We're big on nicknames. I'm called Tink, and have been since the day I was born. My dog's name is Seamus, but we call him Comanchero. Yeah, I donno.
This heartwarming story is, as the book cover states, about finding out who you really are. Did this theme come first or evolve as you created Christy’s story?
Why, how much did you cry? If the novel made you cry, perhaps you should not read my memoir, which is a TEAR-JERKER, for reals. But yes, I cried when I wrote about Jack. I'd have to be a heartless bitch not to cry for poor Jack.
Fun stuff: If you could have a superpower what would it be and what would you call yourself?
I would be fluent in every language existent (which power comes with an appropriate level of cultural knowledge and empathy) and have my own zero-carbon-footprint jet which runs on water, so I could go visiting at my leisure. I would call myself Dan.
If you could be any fictional character from a novel, television show, or movie who would it be and why?
Oooh, all of my heroes die tragically, and I don't want to do that. I want to die old, eating doughnuts, and surrounded by my progeny. So I'll go with Bilbo. He got to have the same sort of adventures as Frodo, but without quite as much responsibility. And in the end, he lived out his days in comfort and joy.
What was the first book you ever read that made you say, “I want to do this; I want to be a writer”?
I was so moved by so many books as a child; I think most of them made me think: I could never do this. I remember reading Yeats for the first time, and feeling entirely defeated by the beauty of his language. He disemboweled me. To be honest, I still don't think I can do this. I worry that people will discover I'm a fraud. DON'T TELL ANYONE.
What can readers expect next from Jeanine Cummins? Will Christy ever be heard from again? Will we find ourselves reading about Spain or NYC, your other homes?
My mom wants me to write a sequel called Jack is Back! But right now I'm working on another novel, half-set in contemporary New York City, and half-set in Ireland during the famine times. And I'm also writing my first children's novel, which is FUN. It's about an Irish girl-pirate, set in the 16th century, and based on the legends of real-life awesome chick, Grace O'Malley. But I'm already looking ahead to the next project after that... I want to write about immigration issues in America, and the fallout for Irish and Latino subcultures here. There's so much that interests me. I don't think I'll ever run out of material.
Thanks Jeanine for taking the time to answer all my questions and most of all, bringing Christy into my life.
I hope you all run and buy this book! Below is a lovely interview from Jeanine's Website.