celebrating ireland with a virtual Facebook parade of authors

Facebook-based book groups The Write Review and Sue’s Reading Neighborhood teamed up with six other book groups to create a virtual, day-long St. Patrick’s Day “parade” of authors. Since we can’t stand on the sidewalks to watch live St. Patrick’s Day parades anywhere due to the coronavirus, this was the next best thing, plus it gave us the opportunity to speak with authors who are in Ireland right now, while we’re stateside. The Irish Echo even ran a feature story about the unusual, COVID-era event.

I appeared on a panel where the writers discussed the “Irish DNA” in our work. The night before the panel, I looked over my four books and discovered that there’s Irishness deep within the bones of each, in one way or another.

The only explicit reference to my Irish connection (via my father’s father), was found in my collection of humor/parenting columns in my book A Suburban Mom: Notes from the Asylum where I included a piece called, “Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with All-American mutts.” In it, I talk about how my husband and I served our three young kids the same corned beef, cabbage and Irish soda bread my family used to eat every March 17 (full disclosure: my husband almost always made the corned beef.) While Scott took care of the corned beef, I’d have the kids create shamrock-themed crafts while I blasted U2 and the Dropkick Murphys (“Shipping Up to Boston” of course) as Scott and I enjoyed Guinness. That was usually followed by the kids’ consumption of super-sweet shamrock shaped cookies with sprinkles set atop their shamrock paper plates. One year, Scott and I took them to South Boston, where my brother lived at the time, to watch the famous Southie St. Patrick’s Day parade, not too far away from the L Street diner, which was featured in “Good Will Hunting.”

My next book, Mortified: a novel about oversharing, didn’t explicitly have Irish references, although the main characters were Irish. You had Michael Kelly who married Maggie Finn, whose mother was Molly Mahoney, whose mother Emily had lace curtains in the window. The novel was set in a suburb outside of Boston, an area where Irishness is deeply felt. When I was a newspaper reporter for a brief time, covering Boston City Hall in 1998, I was frequently asked, “What county are you from?” I’d wrinkle my brow, recall the western Massachusetts county where I was raised (Hampden), but then realized they meant from which IRISH county did my family hail (Cork).

Years later, my two works of narrative nonfiction included Irishness not only because the second one, Uncomfortably Numb: a memoir, was my story and I have Irish heritage, but because both books made frequent reference to Jamison Clark, the main character of Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room. He not only was the hero in Mr. Clark’s Big Band, but he appeared at the beginning (and the end) of Uncomfortably Numb as he was there when I first experienced numbness in my left leg. During one of my first long interviews with him (the one with the numbness), Clark told me about and showed me his Celtic necklace with the “triple Goddess” that he wears, saying it symbolizes eternity and rebirth, this from a man who married a woman named Colleen O’Brien (no relation) and who, before they had kids, would spend the entire St. Patrick’s Day in the Black Rose in Boston.

While a recent DNA test told me I am 53 percent British and Irish (designating County Cork as a likely ancestral location), Irish influence has always been strong, particularly because of that O apostrophe at the beginning of my last name.

Watch the panel discussion here: https://www.facebook.com/1367330023/videos/10225035457138085/

meredith reads christmas-themed excerpt from novel ‘mortified’

Have you successfully taken your family’s photo for your holiday cards? (Yes, yesterday.)

Have you already sent out your family cards? (No. They’re ordered and I’m praying they arrive in time or else they’ll turn into New Year’s cards.)

Well this excerpt I read from my novel Mortified — about a mommy blogger, circa 2004 who reveals too much information about her family on the internet — is about the main character, Maggie Kelly and her disastrous Christmas card photo session with her two young children.

The excerpt is a blog post written Maggie wrote for her “anonymous” blog “Maggie Has Had It” (spoiler: it isn’t anonymous for long) about a terrible early December incident involving red sweaters from Baby Gap, baby wipes and candy canes.

Enjoy the dark humor as you think about those picture-perfect social media posts you’re seeing on Instagram, Facebook and on the cards being delivered to your home of uber-stylized family photos that extol happiness and joy … amid a killer pandemic, an historic recession, and while our president is running around like a mad king who has decided reality doesn’t apply to him.

You can get a signed copy of Mortified: a novel about oversharing at Tatnuck Booksellers in Westborough, MA.

The book is available at Bookshop, Amazon and other indie retailers.

got readers on your holiday list? give ’em signed books from an indie bookstore

Tatnuck Booksellers in Westborough, MA has signed copies of three of my books (a memoir, a novel and a work of nonfiction) for sale, just in time for the readers on your holiday lists. Given that COVID has severely affected small businesses like independent bookstores, I’m sure they’d appreciate your support.

Signed books include:

Uncomfortably Numb: a memoir about the life-altering diagnosis of multiple sclerosis Kindle Edition

Uncomfortably Numb: a memoir. My medical memoir about the life-altering impact of a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. It chronicles the two years it took to get an MS diagnosis and confirmation that the symptoms I was experiencing weren’t simply in my imagination (as one physician suggested), as well as the uneasy piece I reached an uneasy peace with my post-MS life.

Mr. Clark's Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears, and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room Kindle Edition

Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room. A book about the 2012-2013 school year I shadowed the Southborough, MA middle school jazz band as they were recovering from mourning the sudden death of one of their own, a 12-year-old trumpet player named Eric Green. This award-winning book would be great for any educators on your list.

Mortified: a book about oversharing by [Meredith O'Brien]

Mortified: a novel about oversharing. Set in 2004 at the height of mommy blogging, this darkly humorous work of contemporary fiction follows a thirtysomething mom of two who started venting about her frustration with modern parenting through her blog. When her family discovers the unkind things she’s been writing about them online, well, all hell breaks loose.

good book fairy calls uncomfortably numb ‘a wonderful, absorbing memoir’ with ‘heart and insight’

Book blogger, the Good Book Fairy, featured Uncomfortably Numb on her site, giving it four stars.

Her review:

“Uncomfortably Numb is a wonderful, absorbing memoir where the author chronicles her transformation after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. O’Brien, who is an author/journalist by trade, writes about her life pre- and post-diagnosis, and provides an honest account of how her diagnosis impacted her life and family. The author shares the long diagnostic process where many doctors did not take her seriously.

O’Brien writes with openness of heart and insight. I found her to be honest, relatable, and authentic. I admired her strength, courage, and perseverance as she finally accepts her diagnosis and learns to adapt to her ‘new normal,’ and hold onto her identify as a writer, she states that her ‘reluctance to move forward into uncertainty is rooting me in place, paralyzing me.’

Throughout the book, O’Brien showcases her talents as an investigative journalist by weaving in medical reports, physicians’ notes, and lots of valuable information about MS. She also spends a lot of time talking about her wonderfully supportive family.

… Prospective readers should know that this book is about much more than MS. There are universal themes throughout, and the lesson that readers can take away and apply to their own lives.”

upcoming events: first memoir event 3/7

Tatnuck eventI’ve been furiously updating my Google calendar to add new book-related events to promote my memoir, Uncomfortably Numb (released on March 3).

Here’s a list of what I have scheduled thus far:

Book launch: March 7, 1-3 p.m., Tatnuck Bookseller, Westborough, MA

My first event for Uncomfortably Numb is a March 7 book talk and signing at Westborough, MA’s independent bookstore, 18 Lyman Street, Westborough.

The event runs from 1-3 p.m. Light refreshments will be available.

I’ll be collecting donations for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Book talk: March 26, Northborough, MA Lyceum

I have been invited to talk about the impact the Southborough middle school music program had on two of my children as chronicled in my 2017 nonfiction book, Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears & Jazz in a Middle School Band Room.  

The book examined how a larger-than-life music teacher helped his grieving students in a small Massachusetts town find strength and peace through the creative expression in their music and the camaraderie of the band room.

The talk — whose details are still being worked out — will take place in Northborough, MA.

Screenshot 2020-03-05 12.40.53

Book talk/signing: March 28, 1 p.m., Barnes & Noble, Holyoke, MA

I will be heading back to western Massachusetts — where I grew up and went to college — to promote Uncomfortably Numb at the Barnes & Noble, 7 Holyoke Street, Holyoke, MA (near the Holyoke Mall).

The event begins at 1 p.m.

I will be collecting donations for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Southborough library event flyer

Book talk/signing: April 9, 7 p.m., Southborough Public Library, Southborough, MA

I will be discussing why I wrote Uncomfortably Numb and will read aloud from the memoir at the Southborough Public Library, 25 Main Street, Southborough.

The event starts at 7 p.m.

***

I’m working on scheduling other events and will post them when plans are nailed down.

listen to mr. clark & me on WICN

WICN interview photosWICN 90.5 FM host Howard Caplan kindly shared a recording of the interview he had with Massachusetts band director Jamie Clark (THE Mr. Clark) and me during his Saturday Swing Session show.

We listened to recordings of Clark’s middle school jazz band from Southborough’s Trottier Middle School, as well as discussed teaching, inspiring young musicians, and the book, Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room.

Take a listen:

talking books, writing, and music in hopkinton

The trio that make up the Hopkinton Coffee Break hosts — Darlene Hayes, Colleen Wright, and Patricia Duarte — recently invited me to dish with them about my writing, my kids, and journalism during their lively half-hour weekly talk show.

We discussed my latest book, Mr. Clark’s Big Band (2017), about a Southborough jazz band led by a risk-taking teacher, as well as my other books, Mortified: A Novel About Oversharing (2013), about a fictional blogger who reveals way too much personal info online, and my collection of humor/parenting columns from when my three children were but wee youngin’s, A Suburban Mom: Notes from the Asylum (2007).

saturday morning jazz: radio segment on ‘mr. clark’s big band’ slated for 2/17

wicn_4c-152_1Southborough middle school music director Jamie Clark, the main character (and real-life dude) in Mr. Clark’s Big Band, and I will be making a joint appearance on Saturday, Feb. 17 from 11:25 a.m. through noon with “The Saturday Swing Session with Howard Caplan” on WICN Public Radio 90.5 FM, Jazz+ for New England.

Clark and I will be chatting about the history of the Trottier Middle School’s elite Big Band, including its evolution, and the shelf-load of awards it has accumulated during Clark’s tenure, as well as how the book Mr. Clark’s Big Band, about the 2012-2013 Big Band, came to be.  Excerpts of recordings of Trottier Big Bands, including the ensemble featured in the book, will be played during the broadcast.

Given Clark’s penchant for loquaciousness, don’t be surprised if he attempts to hijack the show and stretch our 35-minute appearance into a marathon take over of the airwaves. Ya never know.

You can stream the interview live at: wicn.org.

Image credit: WICN.

join me at bay path university’s writers’ day, oct. 15

writers day bpuCome join authors Patricia Reis, Charles Coe, Ellen Meeropol and me for lively conversations about writing about one’s personal life, reading one’s work aloud, and folding current events into your work at Bay Path University’s Writers’ Day on Sunday, Oct. 15 starting at 1 p.m. at the  D’Amour Hall for Business, Communications and Technology.

The first panel is slated to be led by author, visual artist, filmmaker, and therapist Patricia Reis: “Mining the Personal for your Nonfiction.” According to the itinerary: “Topics will include using personal elements and materials in nonfiction rather than fiction, how resources can be gathered, what it’s like to present a relative’s story–and your own–so candidly, and dealing with family reactions while a project is in progress and after it’s published.”

The second panel is scheduled to be anchored by award-winning poet and singer Charles Coe: “Standing Your Ground: Thoughts on Reading in Public.” Coe plans to “describe tools and techniques that can help in preparing and delivering a reading. He’ll also work with a few volunteers willing to read before the group and be coached on their presentations.”

The third and final panel–from 4:10 – 5:25 p.m.– will feature Ellen Meeropol, Joan Dempsey and me for, “Swimming with the Current.” Panelists will “discuss how current events in their hometowns and in the larger world have inspired their engrossing fiction and nonfiction. Incorporating topics including cults, racial diversity, the Boston marathon bombings, human trafficking, and a community in grief, the trio’s work will get you thinking about how to use current events as your own springboard.”

Sign up for the day’s events here.

Image credit: Bay Path University.