a novel by James Russell Lingerfelt
about the novel
Brian was raised on "the wrong side of the tracks" in inner-city Alabama. Now, at nineteen, with a troubled past and juvenile record, Brian struggles to earn a living and find a life purpose. When he journeys to New York on a chance trip, Brian meets and falls in love with Shannon; a bright eyed, aspiring actress from California.
Brian returns to Alabama stirred by Shannon's courage and passion for life. With a new zest and reason for living, Brian is determined to turn himself into a man worthy of her love. Unable to afford college, Brian discovers the Os Guinness Scholarship, which provides free tuition to Pepperdine University for Irish students who desire to train for Ireland's ministry. With some innovative thinking, Brian fakes his Irish citizenry, accepts the scholarship, and moves to Southern California to attend school and pursue Shannon.
However, when Brian visits Alabama, all the lies come crashing down and Brian comes face to face with a past he thought was finished. Now, Brian must make a choice: lose Shannon by spinning more lies and choosing vengeance in hopes of putting his past to rest. Or choose honesty and forgiveness and embrace a new life with the only woman he ever loved.
Alabama Irish will make us sit back and laugh, then lay the book down and cry. But in the end, we'll be reminded that no matter our pasts, the possibility to find true love again is never lost.
(A companion novel to The Mason Jar, Alabama Irish is a coming of age love story teaches readers the necessity of honesty and openness in the pursuit of loving, long-lasting relationships.)
– Amazon Review
A sweet coming of age story where the ordinary is beautiful. It is a fabulous novel that really spoke to my heart. In Alabama Irish, Brian's soul is laid bare. He is brutally honest about love and life and hopes and dreams. In its simplicity there is great beauty and I loved it. I do enjoy James Russell Lingerfelt's novels. I adore his style of writing. It is gentle and hauntingly beautiful. His books 'speak' to my soul and leave me feeling calm, peaceful and at one with the world. I can highly recommend both The Mason Jar and Alabama Irish. They are both unique and breathtakingly beautiful. I am hoping for many more by him.
I was beyond thrilled to see a different side to "Finn" from the author's previous novel The Mason Jar. You are taken back to the deep feelings and emotions of your first love. The ups and downs of a relationship. Shown the importance of friendships and how they enrich our lives. This book has many twists and turns that will keep you wondering what will happen next. You are shown the power behind the act of forgiveness and the impact it has on the lives of others. I thoroughly enjoyed the references to growing up in the south. This book will not disappoint!
– Amazon Review
Lingerfelt's stories are not only entertaining but also stirring – stirring the reader to love better, to know what it means to be in love and be loved. His modern day references to Pepperdine, other authors, and musicians makes me want to visit those mentioned places and buy the books and music, too. I really enjoy the story, look forward to many years of reading more of Lingerfelt's books, and seeing them made into movies.
– Amazon Review
In Alabama Irish, Brian's journal entries grab hold of you and bring you into his world until you're fully immersed. Good luck putting this book down. I cracked it open as my poolside casual read, then ended up taking it to work, and pretty much everywhere else I went until I finished it.
– Amazon Review
I love this book just as much as I did The Mason Jar! I love the way the story is told, through journal entries. I wish I had kept a journal all these years! I felt connected with the characters throughout the book, as if I was walking with them through the many ups and downs. Always waiting for the next one from James Russell Lingerfelt!!
– Amazon Review
//Video interview: Alabama Irish
//Read a partial chapter from Alabama Irish
The novel opens with Brian Bailey at Uncle Mike’s home in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The year is 1998 and Brian is seventeen years old. He explains that he’s keeping a journal because Uncle Mike suggested it for “introspection and reflection.” Brian doesn’t understand the exercise fully, but does it anyway. Brian works at a MMA dojo that Uncle Mike owns. Brian began working at the dojo after school as a janitor, and is now a trainer. He’s never fought in an exhibition match, but he spars with the fighters to ready them for tournaments.
Brian went to live with Uncle Mike at fourteen years old since Brian’s father left when Brian was a baby, and Brian’s mother was addicted to drugs. Though he calls Mike his uncle, they are of no relation.
Brian treats the first few journal entries with a charming light–heartedness, covering questions about sex and dating. Occasionally, Brian mentions his twelve year old brother Darren, who passed away in an accident when Brian was eight. Brian discusses the diet plans he finds and gives to his fighters, and recalls a fights from his past. During his junior year, in the high school locker room, the wrestling and football team picked a fight with Brian. Brian cracked the rib and broke the nose of the starting quarterback. Brian walked the high school halls trouble–free.
The only classes Brian excels at in high school is Health and Literature. Brian cares nothing for school and his highest aspiration is to own his own dojo one day. Uncle Mike warns Brian to keep his grades up for college, but Brian doesn’t see the point, and coasts along.
Uncle Mike, the fighters, and Brian (now nineteen years old), journey to Manhattan for an annual MMA fighting exhibition and tournament. This is the first time Brian has left Tuscaloosa County. In the hotel lobby one night, Brian meets Shannon LaFarre, an aspiring actress from California who just graduated from Pepperdine University in Malibu. There, she studied theater and will enroll in their graduate program in the fall.
Shannon and her mother are in New York because Shannon’s sister is singing with her high school chorus in Carnegie Hall. That night, Brian and Shannon go for a walk through the city. Shannon leads the conversation and asks Brian what he wants to do with his life. Brian says he wants to study psychology and “help people.” It’s the first time Brian begins down the path of self–awareness, and he attributes this to spending time with Shannon. At the end of the night, Shannon invites him to her sister’s performance two days later.
The next day at the MMA event, Brian spots two salesman at a booth advertising their company’s protein and strength conditioning products. One of the young men speaks with an Irish accent and wears a Pepperdine sweatshirt. Brian strikes up a conversation with “Ian” and learns that Ian is attending Pepperdine on the Os Guinness Scholarship, which provides free tuition to Irish students who wish to study theology at Pepperdine.
That night, Brian skips the exhibition match and attends the concert with Shannon. Following the concert, Brian and Shannon ride on a cruise boat with her mother and the chorus to see the Statue of Liberty. Given the music and dancing on the boat, Brian and Shannon escape to the deck to be alone. There, they talk more about their lives. Brian lies about his parent’s occupations, calling his dad a pharmaceutical salesman and his mom a housewife. He also tells Shannon that he’ll be attending college in the fall, that he took off a year to help his uncle Mike.
When they arrive back to the hotel, Brian invites Shannon to his room, where one of the fighters is asleep in the opposite bed. Brian and Shannon whisper to each other while she lies in his arms. Shannon helps Brian realize that in addition to his career, what he really wants is to be a good father and husband to someone. Shannon talks about her journey in learning the importance of finding the good in people, affirming it, and drawing it out of them. And Brian falls in love with her. Brian chooses not to have sex with Shannon because he’s afraid that would ruin their relationship. When Brian walks her to her room, they exchange phone numbers and mailing addresses, and exchange a final goodbye kiss.
When Brian returns to Alabama, he sees his home and life with new eyes. He no longer wishes to run his own dojo, but to attend college and become the kind of person Shannon could love. Brian phones the University of Alabama and learns that a career as a psychologist is at least a seven year journey. With his poor grades and minimal money saved, community college at two courses per semester is all he can afford. He considers other options.
Three months pass, and with some planning and innovative thinking, Brian is able to apply to Pepperdine’s theology program as an Irish student, is accepted, and he moves to Malibu. Brian sleeps in the library that’s open 24/7, speaks with an Irish accent everywhere he goes, and enrolls in free tutoring at the student services. He’s afraid to track down Shannon because he knows she’d eventually learn where he sleeps. So, a month passes before he’s discovered by two graduate students named Clayton “Finn” Fincannon and Ryan Lockwood.
They befriend Brian and eventually invite him to stay with them in their apartment, rent–free. Finn is on the lacrosse team and hooks Brian up with a job to write workout and diet plans for the team, since their coach can’t afford a certified trainer and nutritionalist. The job doesn’t pay a lot, but it keeps Brian from eating up his savings. One night, Finn and Ryan take Brian to their favorite pub in Santa Monica, and Shannon’s their waitress.
Shannon is excited to see Brian, and he pulls her aside for a talk alone. He informs her that he hasn’t reached out to her yet because he didn’t want her to think that he’s a freak and came to Pepperdine to be find her. He also tells her that he speaks with an Irish accent on campus as an inside joke to Finn and Ryan. Shannon believes the lie, and though she’s genuinely excited to see Brian, she informs him that she’s dating someone. His name is Will and he’s in a rock band. She and Will dated before she met Brian, they were separated during New York, but got back together when she returned to Pepperdine.
Brian accepts the news with grace and decides to just be her friend. During his time at Pepperdine, Brian bumps into Shannon on campus and at parties at the home of Finn and Ryan’s friend Ethan (a recent alumni of Pepperdine). Their martini conversations evolve into deeper talks as Shannon trusts and respects Brian for keeping his distance on the account of Will. While Shannon is on the road with Will’s band, Brian befriends a close friend of Finn and Ryan’s named Tabitha. Tabitha confides in him about being physically and sexually abused by an ex–boyfriend. During talks with Tabitha and other students, Brian realizes how fortunate his life has been, despite his pains, losses, and sorrows.
Due to all the theology courses, Brian becomes convicted about his lies and comes clean with Finn, Ryan, and Shannon. It creates distance between them all, but it’s short lived when Brian rescues Tabitha from being drugged at a party. When it’s discovered that Will has been cheating on Shannon, Brian and Shannon become inseparable again. During dead week, leading up to finals, Brian and Shannon lay on Brian’s bed and talk. He learns that over the summer, Shannon’s mother had a stroke and is recovering back home. Also, Shannon’s apartment in West Hollywood was broken into twice, and she moved to Santa Monica.
The next morning, after Brian walks Shannon to her car, Brian receives a call from Uncle Mike that Brian’s mother passed away. Brian returns home to Tuscaloosa for the funeral, and meets the youth minister at the church, Thomas Turner, who’s shocked when he hears Brian’s name. Thomas distances himself from Brian for the rest of the afternoon. After Brian returns to Uncle Mike’s house, he receives a visitor: Paul Turner, the brother of Thomas. Paul graduated from Auburn University as an engineer, has a wife and a six year old son, and lives in a neighboring district.
Through heavy tears, Paul informs Brian that he was present the day Darren, Brian’s older brother, was accidentally killed. Brian learns that Paul withheld information from the police, and Paul was even at fault for Darren’s death. Later that day, Brian tracks down Paul’s street address, and beats Paul in his front yard until Paul’s nearly unconscious. Brian stopped the beating when Paul’s six year old son burst from inside their home, begging Brian to stop.
Paul’s rushed to an Intensive Care Unit and survives the attack. Paul refuses to press charges against Brian, and Brian decides not to turn Paul’s confession into the police. Brian falls into a deep depression and doesn’t return to Pepperdine for another two weeks, missing all his finals. Brian had received numerous missed calls from Finn, Ryan, and Shannon, but ignored them. When Brian returns to Pepperdine, he decides to go before the university board and confess his lies about the Os Guinness Scholarship. He must also explain a repressed history to Finn, Ryan, and Shannon.
Brian then faces a university, friends, and the only woman he’s ever loved. The story has an explosive happy ending, reminding us that no matter what our pasts, the possibility to find forgiveness and true love again is never lost.
We’re on the plane home from New York and I’m really glad I have a few hours to write, because man, do I have a story to tell! I met a girl! Her name’s Shannon, and she’s amazing! I can’t stop thinking about her.
This is going to be a really long entry, because I want to write all the details just as they happened. I don’t ever want to forget this one.
Outside the Hard Rock Café on our first night in NYC, after dinner with Uncle Mike and the fighters, a million people and a hundred horns blew across the streets. And she was there. I even caught her looking at me.
This blonde haired girl with her hair pinned into a French bun. I know it’s called a French bun because she told me later when I asked her about it. I thought it was really beautiful, and I wanted to know its name.
She wore a white polo shirt and khaki shorts and leather sandals. She’s got the legs of a gymnast and I think that’s really hot. She has these almond-brown eyes and she looked away when I caught her looking at me. But she smiled anyway, and I knew she knew I caught her. That smile of hers, with the dimples in her cheeks, just wow. I mean, wow.
Her watching me surprised me because I’m not that impressive to look at. My shaved head isn’t attractive to many girls, but I’m often complimented on my blue eyes. They turn gray when I wear black and gray, but they turn electric blue when I wear navy blue. They might could catch some real women. Like tractor beams or something. Anyway, all I wore that day was my solid black t-shirt and faded jeans. So I don’t see why she liked that, either.
Shannon LaFarre, I learned her name later, carried a leather backpack and gripped the shoulder bands with her hands. I waited for her to look my way again. And when she did, I smiled the most confident smile I could come up with, and I waved at her. She leaned her head back and laughed, and that made me feel real good.
A friend tapped her shoulder and pointed up the street in our direction, and so they headed our way. I turned to James, one of my roommates. He’s humble and plump. I don’t think there’s a bit of muscle on his legs, because he just comes to the gym for bicep curls and to walk on the treadmill.
People like James find expos real interesting, so that’s why they come. He wears braces at nineteen years old, and he never goes into public without his hair gelled, even when he comes to the gym.
James asked if he knew what our plans were for the night, so I let him distract me until I could feel Shannon’s group getting closer. She about passed behind me, but I took a small step back and cut her off. She almost bumped into me. She stood still a second or two, wondering if I was going to introduce myself.
So, to be playful, I just smiled and waved again. I didn’t even say a single word. And she laughed, but harder this time, and it’s a laugh I’ll love forever. And I mean it. I’ll love it forever.
I didn’t believe I’d ever see her again, but later that night, we were meeting in the lobby of the hotel to visit the Empire State Building, and there Shannon was, standing near the door. I kid you not. We were staying in the same hotel. I mean, how does stuff like that happen?
Anyway, her mom, with the same hair color and eyes, was talking to her. Mrs. LaFarre was tired, but she was smiling. When Shannon looked over her shoulder and our eyes met, she smiled a soft smile at me, and I realized she already knew I was there. The look on my face must have been funny because she chuckled. But I could only stare. She was so pretty! I couldn’t believe it. I mean, that was really her, and she was really standing there.
So I took a step toward her and motioned her to meet me halfway. She kept her eyes locked on mine, but she crossed her arms, probably wondering what kind of person I was, and if I could be trusted. I understand that. She’s a real smart girl. Smart girls make you earn their trust.
She met me halfway, and we shook hands, and I said, “I’m Brian.”
“I’m Shannon. Are you a tour group?”
“Nah. We’re here for a sports expo.” I didn’t want to say MMA, because people think it’s violent and has a bunch of meatheads.
“Oh, cool,” she said.
“Where are you from?”
“Nor Cal?” I’d never heard of such a place. Where was that, Canada?
“Northern California. My younger sister is here with her high school. They’re singing in Carnegie Hall.”
“When are they performing?”
“We’ll be back by eight,” I said. “When does her group go on?”
“I thought everybody singing in Carnegie Hall was opera singers or something.”
“I thought everyone singing was high schoolers,” she said, chuckling and slapping her hips with her hands. Then she slid her hands into her pockets, and I knew she was beginning to feel more comfortable with me. That made me feel good, too.
“So you’re here to see your sister. And that’s your mom?” I asked. Mrs. LaFarre was watching us and smiling.
“Yep,” Shannon said. “But I’m also looking around. I thought about moving out here for acting, but I think I’ll just stay where I am.”
“L.A. – Los Angeles. So Cal. I’m moving out of West Hollywood soon. I’m going to Santa Monica.”
I don’t know where any of those places are, but I nodded anyway. “Oh, that’s cool. Have you found a place to live yet?” I asked her.
“Ehh,” she said. “Everything’s so expensive. Just a studio apartment is $600 a month.” (Here’s a note I’ll need later. Minimum wage is $5.15 right now. After taxes, $600 is equal to about 166 hours of work.)
“So, you’re finished with college?” I said.
“I am. Just graduated.”
“Pepperdine. I’m in grad school, now, for my MFA.”
“Yeah. Master of Fine Arts. It’s a terminal degree. I can teach college if I want to. In Acting.”
“Malibu. I’ve been waitressing, saving money. What about you? What’s your story?”
I saw a brochure for Pepperdine in the guidance counselor’s office at TCHS a few years back. Peach buildings with pink, clay shingled roofs, built in what they called “Mediterranean Architecture,” standing on a grassy hill, overlooking an electric-blue ocean. I’m sure that blue was doctored in Photoshop or something. I’ve never seen water so blue. I wondered who got to attend a school like that. Probably the really smart kids. Or the rich ones. Shannon was now officially intimidating, but I tried to recover fast.
“I’m-a, I’m-a-nineteen,” I replied, tripping over my words. That wasn’t true. I’m about to be nineteen. She had me hesitating and stuttering, like a blabbering moron. But she didn’t seem to notice. “I’m starting college next year. Helping my uncle right now, at his gym.” That’s more of a hope than a truth, but I was trying to impress her.
“Neat,” she said. “What kind of gym?”
“Uh, we train MMA fighters. Mixed martial arts.” I scratched the back of my head, because I was afraid of how that would go over. Shannon pulled her head back and looked at me with these real wide eyes. I was anticipating that, though, so I said, “It’s all right – we’re not violent. We teach dieting, core-strength, cardio. We train women there too, because we can get them in shape real fast.”
“Oh, well, that sounds really interesting,” she said. “I did aerobics in college, and I still go to the gym and watch what I eat. Maybe you can give me some tips.”
“Sure.” A second or two passed. “So where are you guys headed tonight?”
“To a Broadway play. You?”
“The Empire State Building.”
“Oh, awesome! We were there last night. It’s beautiful. You’ll love it.”
“So, you want to meet me back here at the lobby, later tonight?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said, smiling and clasping her hands together below her chin.
“It’s six now. Do you think you’ll be back by ten o’clock?”
“Oh, sure. I’m with my mom, so she’s not going to stay out late.”
I have no idea where all that confidence came from, but it was there inside me. I hadn’t really liked a girl enough to talk to her in a long time. I can’t even remember when the last time was. Maybe three years? I know that sounds bad, but I mean, even if I did find someone, who in the world would want to date me? With me and my history? Nobody wants to date a boy from a trailer park, unless they’re from a trailer park, too.
Shannon’s group started to leave, and she peeked over her shoulder at me, one last time, and smiled goodbye.
When we arrived back at the hotel a few hours later, I asked the doorman if he had seen the group from Northern California, and he said no. We were the first that had left and came back, he said. It was 10:30p.m. or so and I wondered if I would ever see Shannon again. The thought of not seeing her worried me.
Just then, a group of students poured through the front door. “How are you this evening?” the doorman asked, nodding his head and smiling. I got out of the way, and then Shannon stepped out from the back and walked straight toward me. My heart bounced in the bottom of my throat, just below my Adam’s apple. It was the happiest I’ve felt in a long time.
“Hi,” Shannon said, with her eyes locked on mine again. I wished I had packed my navy blue pea coat or something. I have one that Uncle Mike gave me for Christmas. That would have really set my eyes off for her, but I didn’t think I’d meet a girl. Shannon’s mom passed by, nodded hello at me, and waited for Shannon at the elevators.
“Did you guys have a good time?” I asked.
“Oh,” she answered, touching her heart. “Fabulous. If it’s okay, I’m going to change clothes and put my purse down.”
After she left, I asked the doorman where we should go, and he said to walk around Times Square, watch the street performers, and make sure we tried a hot dog before we left.
Shannon returned with a skip in her step, and that made me feel real good. I mean, she was skipping because she was going to get to spend time with me! Man, I never saw that coming. She wore a grape purple t-shirt that brought out her brown eyes. And I loved that. She has some gorgeous eyes. She really does.
We walked side by side through the bustling streets of Times Square. Locals wear a lot of black and also sunglasses, even at night. I always hear, “If you want to know where the east will be in five years, look at where the west is now.” But New Yorkers are different. They walk to the beat of their own drum.
During the daytime, the city mostly smells like exhaust. Tops of skyscrapers disappear into clouds. Flashing advertisements cover the walls on most buildings. Horns constantly blow. Beeps echo as trucks shift into reverse. Car and truck tires pop over the steel sewer lids. Yells, both friendly and angry, come from all directions. “The city that never sleeps” was more real than I thought.
But at night, New York City feels like a magical world. It was everything I’ve seen on TV and more. Store and building lights make the city glow like a Christmas tree. And for some reason, people seem more cheerful at night. I wonder why that is. Maybe it’s because they’re off work and get to spend time with their friends, like I was spending with Shannon.
Street performers break-danced on mats to homemade thump and bump music, and they spun on their heads while wearing motorcycle helmets. Chinese masseuses offered Shannon and me back and neck massages. They even had recliners set up on the sidewalks and strangers were lying down on them, getting their shoulders and necks rubbed. No kidding.
“Imakeyougooddeal,” the Chinese masseuses said, running their words together real fast. “Fivedolla!” By their tone, I wasn’t sure if that’s how they talked or if they were angry. But they smiled and waved us over, and since we were in public, I guessed they were safe. But we didn’t get a massage.
Shannon wanted coffee from a place called Starbucks. She said it’s growing in popularity. But we never found one open. I didn’t care, though. I was having a fine time with her just walking and talking.
I asked her about her home and she brought her hands together and clapped them, like an excited kid. Everything was so fresh and new to her. I love that. She said her dad and brother grew corn and made a good living doing it, and that her mom was a stay-at-home mom. And when she asked about mine, I lied and said my dad was away on business a lot in sales and my mom was also a housewife.
“You didn’t want to farm corn?” I asked, to get the conversation off me.
“No,” Shannon said. She wrinkled her nose when she said it, and I thought that was real cute.
“You wanted to be an actress,” I said.
“You wanted to be an actress,” I said.
“Yeah. I studied theater in college because I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
“You didn’t know a soul when you moved there?”
“My agent’s there.”
“That’s amazing, Shannon,” I said. “It really is.”
“Aw,” she answered. “That’s what it takes if you want to succeed.”
“But that’s what I mean. Most people don’t take those risks. Going after your dreams. I think that’s really cool.”
“Thanks,” she said.
Shannon’s the coolest and most laid-back girl I’ve ever met. I’ve met pretty girls before, but they’re not like Shannon. She’s educated, has common sense, she’s smarter than me. I know that. She’s driven, confident, courageous to chase her dreams, and she’s older. I love that, too. When a girl is a few years older than a guy and knows how to speak to him and treat him, I’ve never met any guy who didn’t want that over a dumb, younger girl. If the guys do, they’re idiots.
Shannon didn’t hide her thoughts from me. And she didn’t try to impress me, either. She wasn’t interested in any of my accomplishments, though there aren’t many except that some of the fighters I trained won some competitions. She was just glad to have that walk with me, to be in my company. And that made me feel real happy.
There were quiet times between us, like that time we went into the CD shop and separated for a while, skimming through CDs on shoulder-tall racks. But we always knew where each other was in the room. I thought that was really cool.
Sometimes, I would look over at her, and it was like I was watching a story take place through someone else’s eyes. This can’t be real, I thought. Meeting a girl like her was the last thing I expected.
When it grew late, I rode the elevator with her to her floor. She was staying with her mom only a few floors above mine. She invited me to her sister’s concert the next night, at 8:00p.m., saying she had an extra ticket for me if I wanted to go. So we agreed to meet back up at Carnegie Hall the next night. I’d take a taxi.
I hadn’t held Shannon’s hand or tried to hug her. So when the elevator opened, I just cupped her hand in mine and gave it a gentle squeeze. Shannon smiled at me and her cheeks went pink. And she stepped off the elevator and kept smiling at me until the door closed between us.