I started out with butterflies in my stomach. My voice shook as I introduced myself. My hand shook as I held up an old photo of my husband's Irish grandfather, one of the people to whom Erin's Ring is dedicated. However, I was quickly put at ease by the Q and A format. The children had all brought written questions they'd prepared ahead of time--thoughtful, probing, beyond-their-years intelligent questions that truly blew me away. I ended up thoroughly enjoying the experience.
One of the most frequent questions I got from those Windy City fourth-graders had to do with the subject of a sequel for Erin's Ring. (The consensus was that it was practically imperative that I write one!) Most of those eager young readers were just dying to know what happened NEXT. Did Theresa's folks mend their broken marriage? Did Molly start dating class heartthrob John Hughes? I told them that I wanted to tie up most of the loose ends (most importantly, the story behind the mysterious Claddagh ring) by the final chapter, but I also wanted to give the reader the opportunity to decide for themselves how everything turns out. Not good enough, they informed me; they wanted more.
There is nothing more rewarding for an author than to talk to people who have 1) actually read their book, and 2) actually enjoyed it! I'll tell you, if the Amazon shopping public at large felt half as enthusiastic about the merits of Erin's Ring as those kids did, I just might have a New York Times best-seller on my hands. ;)
But in the meantime, I thought I'd share something I'd started working on even before I met with those Chicago fourth-graders last May. I don't know if I'm really going to take their advice and write a sequel, but I do have an idea for some further adventures for Molly and Theresa...
Here's a little teaser, still in the rough draft phase. ;)
Dover, New Hampshire—October 2000
“Here we go again!” Theresa Grant said with an exaggerated sigh, rolling her eyes and smiling indulgently at her best friend, Molly McCormick. “It’s Erin’s ring all over again."
“Would that be so terrible if it was?” Molly retorted, without missing a beat. “Hey, if not for that ring, we might have never even become friends at all! Life is full of mysterious coincidences and seemingly random events that end up changing everything. That ring is what led me to the library that Saturday; and there you were, with your nose buried in that book about the sinking of the Titanic, even though the report wasn’t due for months—and the rest, as they say, is history.”This was true. Molly, the pretty newcomer to the 8th grade class at Dover Catholic Elementary School that fall, had walked into the library one early October morning in 1998—on a mission to discover the owner of an old Irish Claddagh ring that she’d found poking up out of the dirt near Saint Mary’s Church, in a garden that was watched over by a large statue of the Blessed Mother. It was engraved inside the golden band with the words “To Erin—Love, Michael,” an epithet which had filled Molly’s impressionable young mind with all sorts of heady romantic possibilities. She had gone to the library that Saturday, hoping with every fiber of her being that she would uncover an epic, drama-filled, holding-hands-as-they-walked-off-into-the-sunset love story from the olden days, and she’d bumped into Theresa before she ever made it to the history stacks.
That fateful day, Molly had thought that she was the one who was painfully in need of a friend, after having just moved away from the only home (and the only school) she’d ever known in the Chicago suburbs. Everyone at her new school in Dover seemed to have friendships formed a century ago, while they were still in diapers. She didn’t know at the time how desperately Theresa had needed a friend as well.
Longtime Dover, New Hampshire resident Theresa Grant, who was once a popular and outgoing kid, had been retreating further and further into a self-protective shell, following the tragic death of her little brother a few years earlier and the subsequent break-up of her parents’ marriage. It was interesting that it ended up being Molly, instead of Theresa’s dear old friend—and the class heartthrob—John Hughes (who was almost like a cousin to Theresa, even though they weren’t related by blood), who’d helped her to rejoin the land of the living.
And it was Molly, along with the whole big, wonderful, God-centered McCormick family, who’d inspired Theresa to renew the Catholic Faith she’d lost, when all else seemed to be lost. If she hadn’t gone to confession that day…if Father Dominic, a compassionate and holy young priest, hadn’t been there to reassure her that her complicated feelings about Luke’s death didn’t make her a monster, and that God’s love and mercy knew no bounds…
Well, it didn’t bear thinking about. And things were so much better now.
Eventually, with the help of the head librarian and chief archivist, Mrs. Driscoll, and the library’s information-packed historical room that she allowed them to use for their research, the pair of intrepid amateur sleuths did unlock the mystery of the ring; and Erin and Michael’s incredible story—a tale of loyalty and love, hope and redemption, and most of all, faith—definitely didn’t disappoint. How could it, when it included the miraculous conversion of a young Protestant who risked life and limb to save the Blessed Sacrament, charging into the flames on a mission of love? And as if learning about this miracle—a Baptism by fire, literally—wasn’t enough, an enduring friendship between the girls was forged amidst the dusty, antiquated volumes that told the story of Dover’s 19th-century Irish immigrants, who left the poverty of their beloved homeland behind hoping to find a better life in America, worked their fingers to the bone in the once-booming cotton mill called Cocheco, and ultimately were responsible for erecting the first Catholic church in the area.
For the longest time afterward, Erin McQuinn and Michael Kennedy, and all the extraordinary details of the pair’s heart-wrenching love story, occupied more of the girls’ time than was probably healthy. But those memories had finally begun to fade, as thoughts about meeting cute boys (and possibly experiencing real-life love!), and making the volleyball team, and going to high school dances, and all manner of normal teenage activities had moved in and pushed aside the fairy tale musings.
Now here they were, two years later, both fifteen years old and sophomores at Aquinas (the Catholic high school located out on Dover Point Road—just past the big red barn at Tuttle’s Farm, as you were heading south, toward Portsmouth). Molly and Theresa, the “Dynamic Duo,” as their classmates liked to call them, because you rarely saw one without the other. Hearing that would set Molly off with mock anger, and before you knew it she was spouting one of her stinging soliloquies. “But who gets to be Batman? And who’s relegated to Robin, the lame sidekick? And what kind of name is ‘Robin’ for a superhero, anyway? Unless the bad guys are a gang of evil earthworms.” (John often said that Molly McCormick, not his girlfriend but his great friend who also happened to be a girl, made him laugh more often than anyone else he knew.) She might grouse about the fact that people said she and Theresa were practically joined at the hip; but deep down, Molly loved having a friend who was so close, she was almost like a sister. For heaven’s sake, she was burdened with five brothers at home—who were good boys, she supposed, relatively speaking anyway, but still managed to try her patience on a daily basis (except for sweet and adorable, utterly edible, not-quite-two-year-old Jack, that is). True, she did have one sister. But Bridget was only four—hardly old enough to be a confidante.
Today, Molly and Theresa were experiencing an extreme case of déjà vu: they’d been assigned a history project last week—a major term paper worth a big percentage of their second-quarter grade, and it was due right before Christmas break. A similar junior high assignment had been the very reason Theresa had been at the library that day two years ago, when they set out on their quest to unravel the mystery of Erin’s ring. But this time around, the students were specifically instructed to work in pairs (how perfect for these two experienced history researchers!); and furthermore, they had to give a presentation in front of the class, complete with poster boards and power points, and you name it.
“Partners in crime again! I mean, you’re going to be my partner, right? Or is this friendship over?” Molly smiled at Theresa, delighted by the prospect of spending countless engrossing hours poring over all those old documents housed behind glass doors, just as they had in the early days of their friendship. Hours marveling at how different their lives were than those of girls who’d lived a century before them—and yet, strangely, how much alike. Hours making each other laugh, and even, at times, making each other cry. Something about that historical room and its contents seemed to stir up the deepest and most conflicting emotions!
“Do I have a choice?” asked Theresa, as she and Molly left the cafeteria and jostled their way through the packed second-floor hallway, weaving toward their lockers to exchange books and head to their next classes.
“Of course not."
“I figured as much.” Theresa smiled at Molly slyly, ready to reveal her bargaining chip. “So I’ll be your partner, as long as I get to pick the topic for our project."
“Wait a minute—I don’t get a say?”
“I know that you like to rule the roost over at your house, bossing all the younger ones around. But no, I don’t think you get a say here. You’re not going to be the boss of me, Molly McCormick! Because I have the perfect topic:
What's the topic, you ask? What life-changing event in Catholic history is going to be the subject of this as-yet-unnamed sequel?
So...should I write it? Or shouldn't I?