Peter Troy was a history teacher who decided to become a student of his heritage.
He quit his job in New York and started writing what would become an extensive story about the Great Famine in Ireland and the American Civil War through the eyes of an Irish boy, Spanish girl and two African slaves.
Doubleday released "May the Road Rise Up to Meet You" earlier this year. It will be the first of a trilogy that spans 160 years of American history.
Troy, a part-time Hilton Head Island resident who has worked in New York and Washington, D.C., explains how he found a story in his Irish heritage.
Question. I understand your first trip to Ireland had a big influence on the novel.
Answer. In high school, I went over there and worked in a volunteer program. We made a playground for travelers, who are sort of like gypsies, in Ireland. We lived there for three weeks and built a playground. It was right beside a prison. All they had to play on were old appliances, a pile of rubbish, really. I got a chance to travel for a couple weeks after that and really see the country. It was a very eye-opening experience.
Q. Are you Irish?
A. All of my great-grandparents except for one came over from Ireland. They would have gone through the Famine -- the Hunger as it's called. They didn't come over until the 1880s or so. The Hunger was one of the darkest times in Irish history.
Q. Did they talk about that?
A. There's so little folklore that was passed on from generation to generation. I think it was because of the extent of the hardship and the poverty. It wasn't looked at as a badge of honor. It wasn't something they looked back on and said, "We lived through this, and it made our family stronger." There was so much struggle. I think they just tried to forget it. With my generation, the Irish heritage was St. Patrick's Day, corned beef and cabbage, that sort of thing. Maybe you knew a few Irish songs. When I began to work on this book it was a great exploration into that heritage.
Q. When did you decide to write about this?
A. I taught history for 15 years. Writing was always a great passion of mine and was more so in college. But it got put aside when I got into teaching. There wasn't time. Finally I just realized now is the time. I decided in the summer of 2007 that I was going to make the leap and take some time off and devote myself to writing. I had saved up money in my retirement account and decided to live off of that. The timing wasn't great -- that was the beginning of the recession. But, somehow, it all managed to work out.
To read more about Peter Troy's book, go to www.maytheroadriseuptomeetyou.com.