Growing Up O'Malley: Interview with Author Fran Fisher
Mary Frances Fisher's latest work, "Growing Up O'Malley," is a heartfelt journey into the past. These aren't simply fictional tales, but are rooted in, and inspired by, true-life events. The book follows her debut novel "Paradox Forged in Blood."
In "Growing Up O'Malley," we're transported to the early 1900s, where an Irish immigrant family takes center stage, raising a lively bunch of seven kids. Through the highs and lows of that era — the Great Depression, tough times, even wartime struggles — the O'Malley family faces it all with a mix of humor and determination that's truly inspiring. Their Irish wit, optimism, and unshakeable faith guide them through life's ups and downs.
With a background as a legal nurse consultant, she's woven her storytelling magic not just into these novels, but also in her various short stories. Hailing from Cleveland, OH, Mary Frances Fisher brings a unique blend of imagination and true life experiences to her writing
Continue reading for an exclusive interview.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I’m the youngest of four children born to middle-class parents. I graduated from nursing school and became a legal nurse consultant and nurse paralegal for over 30 years. My career as a commercial print model ended when multiple back surgeries intervened. My publications include: six short stories (2013—2016); and my first novel in 2016—an award winning historical murder mystery titled Paradox Forged In Blood. I wrote a screenplay for one of my short stories, Mercy’s Legacy. And, in 2023 another short story, Earning My Wings, earned a Firebird Honorable Recognition Award. I am a lifelong resident of Cleveland, Ohio.
Can you tell us a little bit about your memoir, Growing Up O’Malley?
Growing Up O’Malley is a continuation of characters in my first book (based on my mother’s family, the O’Malleys). This is not a memoir but a historical novel because it doesn’t adhere to the memoir format of first person present tense and contains certain embellishments with original characters outside the O’Malley sphere. The book covers a century (1880s to the 1980s) beginning with the Irish potato famine forcing the American migration by two families—the O’Malleys and Ginleys. Upon arrival, they overcome prejudice and hardships of language and custom. In 1909 Michael O’Malley arrived in Cleveland, Ohio where he opened a successful plumbing company in defiance of signs proclaiming “Irish need not apply”. Michael met his true love, Mary Ginley, and they had seven rambunctious children providing a backdrop for humorous antics while coping with various challenges including a deadly illness and kidnapping. The rich O’Malley saga is interspersed with stories of their future spouses, each battling unique burdens as the world navigated the Great Depression and World War II.
What was your impetus for writing it?
My mother, Ellen Grace (depicted as the infant on the book’s 1920 family portrait), died in 2008. It became clear that I needed an outlet for my grief and depression. Since childhood, teachers and friends believed in my writing ability but it wasn’t something I formally pursued until 2010. This allowed me to turn my sorrow into a positive outlet as I devised a murder mystery outline incorporating my mother as the main protagonist. However, without any formal training, my first complete draft was an interesting read but something felt off. I asked my son to review several chapters and he asked a poignant question: Is this a murder mystery or an homage to the O’Malleys? Stunned at his clarity, I realized the only realistic answer was both! My next step was to separate my original draft into two books: Paradox Forged In Blood and Growing Up O’Malley. While working a fulltime job as a legal nurse consultant, I decided to first complete the historical murder mystery, Paradox Forged In Blood, believing a murder mystery would be more appealing as my initial introduction into the world of writing. I then found the best editor, Lorraine Fico-White of Magnifico Manuscripts, who assisted a first-time author into perfecting the elements that drive a story. Finally, with her assistance, we found a publisher, MK McClintock of Cambron Publishing, who became the authority of publishing and promoting my work of art (she also devised the book cover).
What challenges did you face while writing & how did you overcome them?
I did not have a diary or sequence of events for this book but relied on numerous stories I heard in my youth. Clearly, this was insufficient for a complete novel so I relied on familial sources. I interviewed my two aunts, Marge O’Malley DuChez and Veronica O’Malley Collins, for additional events during their formative years. Also, my cousin (Louis “Buddy” DuChez—the first grandchild of Michael and Mary O’Malley) filled in many of the gaps with delightful renditions of life in the O’Malley household. 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 her command as they profited through successful pillaging of British ships in the sixteenth century, Grace O’Malley earned her place in the history books. Additional research into this near-mythical person was performed after a friend of my son commented younger reader’s interest would be piqued by stories of a pirate queen. Last, 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 history by chronicling little known backstories surrounding poignant events. One example is how the Mafia was crucial to FDR’s “Day of Infamy” speech.
What surprised you the most about writing the book?
I never understood the saying “The more things change, the more they stay the same” until I wrote Growing Up O’Malley. The O’Malleys endured the Greats—Great Potato Famine, Great Depression, and the Great War. Today we face many of the same challenges encountered by our ancestors more than a century past:
Deprivation of goods and food;
Pandemics (typhus and Spanish Flu);
Lack of school safety from violence (school kidnappings during Depression); and,
War with propaganda at the forefront.
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.
Is there a message you would like readers to take away?
Today’s society promotes rage and a lack of common decency through anonymous media posts permitting the spread of enmity without responsibility. By recreating the mindset of the early twentieth century in my writing (obviously not a perfect time considering Jim Crow laws), I’m returning to a time when family values and respect for one another was paramount. It represents a time permitting quiet reflection without continuous bombardment of deceit from unnamed biased sources. Last, we should remember the past is always with us and can serve as a guideline to avoid past mistakes. By striving to develop a basic understanding of how prior actions influenced our choices, we will gain a deeper understanding of our own motivations.
Are you working on any other books?
1. When I grow up: A Collection of Short Stories;
2. Paranormal mystery: You’re Never Truly Alone.