The lilt of Irish laughter has faded and yet the melodious sounds of harps and flutes seem to linger in the halls of the Irish Heritage Center of Chicago. This even though the artists and authors representing a wide range of literary works and creative and culinary delights have made their way back to Wisconsin and California, Ireland and Boston, Ohio and even the environs around Chicago. iBAM 2011 is now a memory.
iBAM! What’s that, you may be asking yourself. Well let me present to you the toddler of ethnic festivals. Irish Books, Art and Music or iBAM has just celebrated its third anniversary with the theme of “Handing Down the Tradition.” And what a celebration it was from its Black Tie formal dinner followed by two days of Literary exhibits, author presentations and book signings, Musical performances, pints of Guinness flowing and Irish treats and foods being enjoyed as one views artistic renderings such as Celtic Calendars by Dolores Whelan to Jamison Michael Flynn’s original pieces depicting one’s Coat of Arms. The best of Irish culture was indeed on display from Nov. 12-13, 2011.
And amidst all of this festive activity there was I, a Taylor St. guy from the west side of Chicago who now lives in Wisconsin. I was setting up my display of books which consisted of a children’s Christmas themed book to three novels for older folks and teens too. The magic of the rainbow sparkled over me as the sun’s vibrant rays filtered through the crystal chandeliers of the Erin Room where 33 authors were in the process of presenting their books covering such wide ranged topics as The Procrastinator’s Handbook, A Donkey’s View of Ireland, A Unified Ireland and For the Love of Ireland from A to Z, to mention but a few. Then of course there were my legendary tales. For me the tradition of Legend, Folklore and Faith being handed down in stories of days gone by and bringing the tales into the 21st Century became the core of my books “Papa and the Leprechaun King” and “The Shamrock Crown (Legend of Excalibur)” both focusing on Celtic legends. Then there is my historical fiction novel, The Stone Cutter Genius which has at its heart the Italian legend of the Magi Ring. Still there is a wee bit of Ireland in that tale as well so I felt okay with having it displayed at iBAM.
I was early, as is my practice not having learned being fashionably late as is typical in Europe. So there I was setting up my books, the leaflets of the Tours of Ireland, Britain and Italy based on my books and of course placing Finbar, King of the Leprechauns, and an important character in my tales, on his seat of honor ( a stack of cd’s covered with Irish linen and lace embroidered with Shamrocks). And who should be setting up across from me but Frank Delaney author of the New York Times Best Seller, “Ireland, Simple Courage,” as well as a series of books each covering an important decade of 20th Century Ireland. His wit and charm would soon have his many fans enthralled, thus living up to NPR’s description of him as the world’s most eloquent man. Truly he is blessed by the charm of the Blarney Stone. I became a bit self conscious being in the shadow of such a prolific writer and speaker. But Conor Cunneen soon had me smiling as he introduced himself and his beautifully illustrated and very funny book on Ireland from A to Z.
As we chatted a young man came to the empty table to my left. He diligently began setting up and I noticed that the banner he took out read, Cork Literary Review. I pointed out to him that his place was to my right for that’s where the event coordinators had hung a balloon with the name of his group on it, just as had been done for each of the authors. We welcomed him as it was evident that he was not from the United States and soon learned that he was from County Cork where that Blarney Stone is nestled in the castle of the same name. I joked that he might not like how I twisted the legend of Blarney castle and its charmed stone in my tale. He thought it was “brilliant” that I would use such a revered legend and give it another life as it were. I began to regain my confidence having a real Irishman offering such support and none too soon because I was second up on the agenda in the Literary Salon to conduct a presentation on the Blending of History, Folklore and Faith Tradition into an adventure fiction tale.
Maureen Smith of my Alma Mater, Loyola University/Chicago, had invited me to be a presenter. She heads up the Chicago chapter of Celtic Women International which sponsored the author presentations in the Literary Salon. Upon arriving almost every seat was filled and by the time Maureen introduced me there was standing room only. She graciously operated the power point projector thus allowing me to concentrate on my presentation and not the technological aspect of it, much to my delight. Thus as images of the thousand year old Trinity Church in Dublin, the Book of Kells in Trinity College, the ancient monastic ruins of Clonmacnoise and Glendalough and the bed of Shamrocks serving as the background to the book’s cover appeared I spoke of St. Patrick and his use of the Shamrock, creating a connection between the Apostle of Ireland with Wales and its King Arthur. Then taking the audience into the enchanted realm of the Wee Folk I explained how the connecting piece between Britain and Ireland would be the armband of King Arthur being secreted to the Rock of Cashel to hide it from the evil son of Arthur, Mordred. By the looks on the faces of those in attendance I was bolstered and when I concluded to their applause I felt affirmed in my work. During the question/answer period which followed I soon realized that the audience really listened as one questioned me about my use or lack thereof of The Lady in the Lake who in legend was to receive the Sword Excalibur after Arthur’s death by the hand of his son, Mordred. I, the former history teacher, had to present how I gave history a tweak to make my story work. But I’ll let you read about that twist for yourself should you pick up a copy of The Shamrock Crown.
As I prepared to leave, several women came with me to my booth area and I learned that there was a contingency of Celtic Women International, Milwaukee Chapter in attendance. We chatted about my now being a Wisconsinite and my years in education there. As they departed I noticed that Sandra McCone the writer of stories with Celtic fairies in them had arrived. We were to serve on a panel later focused on children’s stories. For me that would be my non-Irish Christmas fantasy of Papa and the Gingerbread Man. We had also been interviewed by Avila Producers on CAN-TV, the Chicago Access Network the previous afternoon, so we wanted to share our thoughts on that experience since neither of us had ever been on a talk show previously.
Sherry and Frank Avila are Chicago based producers whose experience in interviewing writers, artists, politicians and Chicago celebrities is vast. Once again on that Friday afternoon before iBAM opened I arrived at the studio early. For me it was like old home week as the CAN-TV studio is located in the area near the U of I, Chicago and therefore Greek town and the old Italian neighborhood around Taylor St. where my family once lived. Across Green St. off Van Buren was Primo’s Pizza where I enjoyed a wonderful slice of Tomato-Basil pizza and a cup of homemade Rosamarina soup with my usual Diet-Coke. Should you ever be in the area and want to experience a real Mom and Pop operated Pizza Parlor, do drop in Primo’s. Having just driven down from Burlington, WI the respite provided some energy for what was to follow.
The interview segment was to be a half hour in length Frank told me as I entered the heart of the studio with its monitors showing several views of the studio which was being prepared for the show. Sherry was busily working on another screen arranging the images which were covers of my books and Sandra’s Fairy Tea Party events. Frank had me sit in the chair on the stage which would be mine and walked to one of the four TV Cameras encircling the stage area. He stood next to one of them, the one opposite me and pointed to a red light on top of it. “When this is lighted,” he began. “That means the camera is on you. Remember, you should talk into the camera not to Sherry.” Right I said but didn’t quite sound convincing. I placed my books on the little coffee table around which the chairs were arranged and waited. The bright lights made one feel as if they were in Florida on a sunny day. That is hot and brilliant. I couldn’t imagine how people actually made their living doing this type of thing every day. Now I’m a city guy now living in small town America but man did I feel that small town stereotypical image growing in me on that stage as the crew made all ready for the taping of the show. Sandra’s arrival made all of those twinges of nervousness settle as we chatted about our travels and events since last year. I shared my experiences at the American Italian Historical Association Conference in Tampa, Festa Italiana in Milwaukee and Washington, D.C. and so forth as she excitedly told me about her upcoming Tea Party in Utica, IL and the fourth book of her Fairy Series. Just as we got the five minute warning, it was decided that Sandra should wear the Celtic Fairy Costume as she does when hosting her Fairy Tea parties. Off she went to quickly change, wings and all had to be made ready for the camera.
In the nick, she returned as we were escorted to the stage area. Sherry began her introductions of us and I watched for that red light to shine on the camera facing me. Will I be able to focus and talk to the people out there in TV land all two million who watch their show. Sherry asked her first question of me. I was to present the first book I wrote, Papa and the Gingerbread Man. The Red light flashed on, I looked into Sherry’s eyes and quickly turned my head toward the red light. I explained how two of my grandsons, Arthur V and Connor called me while I was visiting friends in St. Augustine, Florida. Their teacher wanted them to find the famous cookie man who was on the run once again. I was familiar with the Kindergarten Christmas unit, which taught geography, as I was the principal of a K-8 school. I sent the postcard sharing my seeing him running down Historic St. George St. in the oldest city on the mainland of the United States. By the time I came home, I also had written a story and then my second youngest son, John, illustrated the pages and created the Gingerbread Man character to be placed in the setting of the most famous sites in the historic city founded in 1565.
I had survived the first question and Sandra was up next. I could breathe once again. Soon I was asked about the novels and the message within the plots. Sherry smiled and seemed so at ease guiding us through each succeeding question. The half hour interview seemed to take longer than I had anticipated as Sherry continued with questioning my character development of Michelangelo and the demons with which he struggled and how he was treated in his own time as one who liked “il ignudo bella” (the beautiful nude) of the male. This created the Fig Leaf campaign which became a central conflict within my novel. “Whoa, that was tough.” Just addressing such a topic seemed a bit over the top for TV to me. But I was on a roll. “Whether Michelangelo was gay or not shouldn’t be the question. For however it is answered, it doesn’t affect the level of his genius nor the greatness of his masterpieces such as the David, Pieta and ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.” The red light went out.
“It’s a wrap.” Sandra and I turned to Sherry as Frank walked up onto the stage. “I never thought a half hour could seem so long,” I was saying as Frank chimed in with “The interview was going so well that we decided to make it an hour long.” We were elated as the photo shoot began. As they left for the iBAM Gala Dinner, Frank turned to me. “You should have been a politician.” I laughed and walked outside and made my way to Halsted St. I was quite pleased that such professionals thought Sandra and I had performed well. We would be given the CAN-TV schedule for the telecast in a week or so we had been told as we bade farewell to Sherry and Frank Avila.
This little reflection into that TV experience came to an end as John Barry, the Manager of Paddy’s on the Square in Long Grove, IL and several other shops came to me with a marketing suggestion. I love visiting his shop and signing books there. Paddy is a real person and is a delight to talk with as he shares his experiences of growing up in Ireland.
As we talked, more and more people began to fill the Erin Room. I had the opportunity to speak with a variety of people, many who had attended my presentation. It would be those conversations which shall stick with me as times of sharing one’s dream to bring important messages to historical fiction and fantasy adventures.
I thanked Cliff Carlson of the Irish American News and the co-creator of iBAM for his efforts to bring this cultural event to new heights. I hope to be a part of iBAM 2012.
(Arthur Cola is the author of the Historical Fiction novel of The Stone Cutter Genius, the magical adventures of The Shamrock Crown and Papa and the Leprechaun King as well as screenplay adaptations of the books. His newest screenplay adaptation based on The Stone Cutter Genius is under development. Visit his web site: http://www.arthurcolalegendarytales.com, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Blog site: http://www.arthurcolalegendarytales.wordpress.com. The Stone Cutter Genius Book Trailer may be viewed at: http://www.americanbookpublishingblog.com/promote-your-book-at-ethnic-festivals. His books are available at http://www.amazon.com/Arthur-Cola, Travel with the author on a Tour of Ireland, Italy or Britain which are based on his books. Details: email@example.com ).