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Stories you wouldn’t believe
True events inspire Meg Corrigan’s new novel
Meg Corrigan has a penchant for picking things up.
She never studied to be a writer. She’s only ever taken three months of drum lessons. And yet somehow she’s managed to transform both of those talents into professions.
The Lake Elmo author shares her acquired talents in her new book: “Perils of a Polynesian Percussionist.” The novel follows the adventures of Todd Barlow, a young woman who, after the devastating death of her beloved horse, escapes her small-town life by hitting the road with a Polynesian show group. The book is inspired by the years Corrigan spent in the ’70s playing drums with a Polynesian revue a diverse group of singers, musicians and dancers who performed a variety of island music.
Hitting the road
Corrigan saw the Polynesian revue for the first time on her 26th birthday when friends took her out to the bar where the band was playing. She fell in love with the band and the culture it came from, she said. She left everything behind to follow the group and its keyboardist, who she later married on the road.
A few months later, she found herself on stage for the first time. She remembers being nervous and for a good reason. She only had three months of drum lessons before she started playing professionally as part of the show group.
She traveled with the group for three years. They played “all over,” Corrigan said, traveling from New Mexico to Colorado to Nevada and beyond.
She was inspired to write a book by all of the interesting places, people and experiences she encountered on the road, which to her seemed like an “opposite world.”
“I had this whole box of stories in my head,” she said. “I just wanted to tell them.”
The zany adventures and colorful characters of “Perils of a Polynesian Percussionist” seem like a far cry from Corrigan’s first book. Her memoir, “Then I Am Strong: Moving From My Mother’s Daughter To God’s Child,” confronts her relationships with her family and the traumatic experiences of her young adult life, including a sexual assault when she was in college.
She started writing her memoir shortly after her father died. In 2005, she took a year-long sabbatical from her counseling position at Century College to work on it.
She had “no clue” she could write until she started doing it, she said, but she knew she had a story to tell. She powered through her memoir in nine months, and then set it aside for a few years. She finally published it in 2010.
Four years later, her new novel is in many ways a follow-up to her memoir.
Corrigan’s memoir sets up the real reason she went on the road with the revue, which was to escape the trauma of her past. Both books are about coping with trauma and finding hope in difficult times, Corrigan said.
“‘Perils of a Polynesian Percussionist’ is about surviving after trauma,” she said. “I think there’s a message in (the book) that there is hope for people that are suffering or going through tough times.”
Local author Gloria VanDemmeltraadt said Corrigan finds the humor and hope in hard times.
“She points out the hard aspects of (life on the road) as well as the humor,” VanDemmeltraadt said. Humor is an important part of Corrigan’s book, which readers describe as “funny,” “clever” and “engaging.”
“It’s a fun book,” VanDemmeltraadt said. “She knows how to tell a story in a good way.”
Fact meets fiction
Corrigan’s book blends fact and fiction. Her “creative memoir” draws from true events, though it doesn’t always portray things exactly as they happened. Names are changed, details are supplemented and some events are made up entirely based on what Corrigan could “see happening.”
“Some of these chapters really happened and some are fictional,” she said. She likes to make people guess which events are true. “They never get it right,” she said.
In the chapter entitled “Sideshow in a Crochet Dress,” a Hawaiian torch singer nicknamed Pineapple Paula joins the band for a summer. The washed-up, wannabe-femme fatale is past her prime more than she wants to admit, but the group loves and accepts her anyway.
In another remarkable chapter, the revue’s van halts when a herd of more than 500 wild horses thunder across the road in front of them. The band members watch in awe as the horses race past them under the light of a full moon.
Both chapters are true, although Corrigan doesn’t expect readers to believe them.
“Nobody would believe it if they hadn’t lived it,” she said.
The wealth of unbelievable characters and events make for a fun, quick read, Catherine Langord Wall said. Langord Wall is the music director at Corrigan’s church, and the two have played in a music group together for a number of years. “I thought that the characters were well-developed. They drew me in,” she said. “Some books take a while to draw you in (but) this one brought me in right away.”
“The characters were true to life,” said Corrigan’s friend Kalei Enstad. Originally from Hawaii, Enstad traveled with a Polynesian revue before settling in Minnesota and opening her own hula school. She relates to the theme of the book: that a love of music brings people together. “You don’t have to be Hawaiian to be part of a Hawaiian group,” she said.
Enstad is looking forward to a sequel to the novel, which Corrigan said is in the works. Like her first book, the follow-up will be based on her own experiences. She’s planning to call it “Perils of a Polka Percussionist.”
A release party for “Perils of a Polynesian Percussionist” will be held on Sunday, June 15, at Central Park in Woodbury. The party will be complete with a performance by Enstad’s hula troupe, the Kaleiokapilialoha dancers.
“Perils of a Polynesian Percussionist” was released on March 27. The book is available in print and e-book formats from Amazon and www.megcorrigan.com.
Kaylin Creason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-748-7825.