Irish Chain
Earlene Fowler

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Benni Harper

About Irish Chain

     The idea for the plot of Irish Chain originated in 1984 when I taught a weekly crafts class at a retirement home in Covina, California.   My youngest class member was somewhere in her seventies and my oldest was ninety-eight.   I was going through some personal problems at the time and they avidly followed the progress of those problems, dispensing sage advice mixed with a large dose of humor.   They learned a lot of new crafts from me, but what I learned from them was much more valuable.   I learned that life doesn't stop when you enter a retirement home -- there are intrigues, gossip, fierce loyalties, practical jokes, petty jealousies, fist fights and even romance among the residents.   In other words, they didn't stop being human just because they got older.
        The idea of a murder at a retirement home's "Senior Prom" came from a newspaper article in the Orange County Register about high school students who, as a school project, put on a prom for a local retirement home.   I get many of my plot ideas from the newspaper -- not from the big dramatic articles, but from the little filler human interest stories.
     The part of Irish Chain that involves the treatment of the Japanese-Americans during WWII was also sparked by a newspaper article in a Central Coast newspaper, but it actually had its birth in the late 1970's when I worked for an insurance company in Pasadena.   One of the ladies I worked with was Japanese-American.   Somehow she and I got on the subject of internment camps and she told me she'd lived in one when she was a girl.   She and her family were sent first to the Santa Anita Racetrack to live in the stables and then to an internment camp in Arizona.   I asked her how she felt about it and she said at the time it seemed a great adventure because she was just a child and didn't really have any idea what it was all about.   I remember thinking at the time why wasn't I taught that in school?   Fifteen years later, I finally got the chance to write about it.
     I set Irish Chain during Mardi Gras season because that's a very popular time of year for San Luis Obispo.   They claim they have the biggest Mardi Gras celebration of any place outside of Louisiana.   Their Mardi Gras parade, though not as big as those in "Cajun Country", is certainly as elaborate and impressive.

     This is the real historical museum in San Luis Obispo.   It is actually an old Carnegie library building just like I say in many of the books.   I've found lots of ideas in the exhibits and books there.   It is very close to the mission.

     Here's the front door of the Olde Port Inn -- the restaurant that inspired me to invent the one where Benni meets her on-the-run cousin, Rita, at Port San Patricio (which is actually Port San Luis).  It's a fun restaurant that has glass tables that look down into the ocean where you can see your potential dinner swim by.

     Sometimes life imitates art. The local senior center in San Luis Obipso, California, invited me to be a guest of honor at their "Senior Prom" just like the one in Irish Chain. This was in October 2001. The band played songs from the 40's and I had a great time talking with the seniors about my books, watching them 'cut the rug' and wearing my vintage 1940's clothes. Posing with me is my dear friend, Christine Hill, who owns The Novel Experience bookstore in San Luis Obispo and is also the model for the Azanna Nybak character in Mariner's Compass. (She was the sculptor with the sequined eye patch).

     Here's a picture of the cemetery in San Luis Obispo.  It is the place in my imagination where Jack, Benni's first husband, and her mother are buried.   It is on South Higuera street right across from the Elks Lodge.

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