Lisa Alber received an Elizabeth George Foundation writing grant based on Kilmoon. In addition, Ms. George asked Lisa to write a short story for Two of the Deadliest: New Tales of Lust, Greed, and Murder from Outstanding Women of Mystery (HarperCollins). She featured Lisa’s story in an “Introducing…” section for up-and-coming novelists.
Lisa is currently working on the second novel in the County Clare mystery series, Grey Man. Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions. Lisa lives in Portland, Oregon. Kilmoon is her first novel.
When I talk about my debut novel, Kilmoon, A County Clare Mystery, I tend to talk about Ireland and an annual matchmaking festival and a medieval church relic called Kilmoon Church. These are great hooks into my story about a Californian named Merrit Chase who travels to Ireland to meet her long-lost father, the famous Matchmaker of Lisfenora, only to get drawn into a murder investigation and her father’s dark past.
Ireland definitely inspired the novel—and what could be better than Ireland?—but that’s not the only thing that bubbled out of the melting pot that is my subconscious. Years after I’d written the novel (publication took awhile) I realized just how personal this novel was to me. Personal in a way I don’t talk about at readings.
My dad died of cancer just as the first ittiest bittiest glimmers of a story idea started floating around in my brain. I was in Ireland at the time. In fact, I was researching my Drawer Novel. (Kilmoon is my second written novel.) I happened to land in Lisdoonvarna village, which just happened to host a matchmaking festival each year. And, my B&B just happened to be located down the lane from Kilmoon Church. I had the backdrop for a novel that didn’t exist yet.
I remember my B&B hostess, Theresa, telling me I had received a call from home. I remember the emptiness whispering over the telephone line as I talked to my dad, hoping he could hear me through his coma. We had all thought he’d live for months longer, so I thought it was safe to journey away for a few weeks. He died before I made it home on the next flight I could get. My guilt and regret knew no bounds.
That trip and its fun discoveries became irrevocably linked to my dad’s death. It’s no wonder I wrote a novel that features a father-daughter theme. It’s pretty dark, but that was a dark time in my life as I wrestled with my guilt and regret, and also with trying to understand my sometimes difficult relationship with my dad.
But that’s not all, two months to the day my dad died, my mother received a phone call from Catholic Services. Her long-lost son was looking for her, wanting to know what his genes carried because he now had a child of his own. My mother had given this son up for adoption when she was around 30 years old. This wasn’t a teenage pregnancy. My mom had loved her lover, a dentist who still lived with his overbearing Irish mama, and she thought they would marry. Nope. My mom quit her job and banished herself to a Catholic Home for Unwed Mothers. She didn’t tell a soul.
And she never told my dad either. When she revealed the news that I had an older brother, she said that her time in the Catholic home was the hardest thing she’d ever had to live through, even harder than mourning my dad’s death. She’d wiped her memory clean of that time. Repressed it. She couldn’t remember my brother’s birthday when Catholic Services called. (And this repression explained so much about the way she mothered us three daughters—a kind of distance.)
My mother said that if my dad were still alive, she wouldn’t have allowed Catholic Services to pass her phone number to her son. She still would have kept the truth from my dad. It was eerie, the timing of that phone call.
I’d barely begun the grieving process when the fact of a brother came at me out of the blue. All of a sudden, I had a different family, and I knew both my mom and dad for different people. I had to wonder about my dad if my mom never felt comfortable enough with him to tell him the truth.
In Kilmoon, Merrit also discovers that her family is not the family she’s known, and she must readjust her ideas about both of her parents. Family secrets play a large role in the story.
Now, the connections between Kilmoon and my tumultuous year—an Ireland trip cut short, a new brother—seem obvious. As if I’d consciously set out to process the changes in my life through fiction. But I didn’t.
A year later I’d set Drawer Novel aside and started in on Kilmoon. The Ireland trip that linked to my dad’s death that linked to my mom’s secret came together in a fictional way I never could have imagined.
Have you faced secrets or truths about loved ones that you never
would have expected? How did you process your new reality?
About Kilmoon: Merrit Chase travels to Ireland to meet her father, a celebrated matchmaker, in hopes that she can mend her troubled past. Instead, her arrival triggers a rising tide of violence, and Merrit finds herself both suspect and victim, accomplice and pawn, in a manipulative game that began thirty years previously. When she discovers that the matchmaker’s treacherous past is at the heart of the chaos, she must decide how far she will go to save him from himself—and to get what she wants, a family.
“Brooding, gothic overtones haunt Lisa Alber’s polished, atmospheric debut. Romance, mysticism, and the verdant Irish countryside all contribute to making KILMOON a marvelous, suspenseful read.”
—Julia Spencer-Fleming, New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of Through the Evil Days
“This first in Alber’s new County Clare Mystery series is utterly poetic … The author’s prose and lush descriptions of the Irish countryside nicely complement this dark, broody and very intricate mystery.”
—RT Book Reviews (four stars)
One lucky reader will win a signed print copy
of Kilmoon by Lisa Alber and you have two
chances to enter the drawing. For the first entry,
go back and leave a comment on the review
posted on April 17th. For the second entry, leave
a comment here on Lisa’s guest post. The
winning name will be chosen at random on the
evening of Tuesday, April 22nd. This drawing is
open to residents of the US and Canada.