Monday, July 23, 2012

My Loving Vigil Keeping by Carla Kelly: An Interview and Review

On tour now with Cedar Fort is RITA award-winning author Carla Kelly with her book, My Loving Vigil Keeping. Welcome Carla!

Tell us a little about yourself. 

Pretty ordinary. I think a lot, and am a good observer.

Did you plan to be a writer or did it just happen? 

It just happened. I’ve always been a writer. Somewhere in my twenties, I turned into a seller. There’s a big difference.

What is your favorite non-writing pastime? 

Leisurely reading, mainly escapist crime fiction. Favorite authors are Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, Ruth Downie and the excellent John Harvey.

When did you decide to take that step that made you a published author? 

I took a university-level creative writing class. I already was pretty sure I could write (I had sold a few short stories by then), but what I needed was the guts to sell. That class gave me the courage.

I think a lot of authors need that courage to press forward. Is writing a full-time career for you? If not, how else do you spend your work day? 

Writing is still part time for me, but that’s just what I want, since I’m no spring chicken. I have worked, variously as a National Park Service ranger, university adjunct prof., public relations writer for a hospital and a hospice, contract researcher for the North Dakota Historical Society, feature writer/columnist for a Nodak daily newspaper.

If you had to sum it up the book in 30 or less words, what would you say? 

When you have no choice, you might as well be brave. And if you combine bravery with grace, others learn from you.

What inspired the idea behind your book? 

The Winter Quarters [Scofield] Mine Disaster is still Utah’s worst disaster. It happened only 40 minutes from where we live. As a sidelight, Scofield has been evacuated for the past two weeks because of wildfires. It’s still a tough place to live.

Do you have a favorite character in My Loving Vigil Keeping? Who and why? 

Owen Davis, my hero, is living a difficult life, and with such grace. So is Della Anders, the heroine, but in a different way. The way their particular challenges mesh made this a delightful book to be associated with.

What has been your greatest challenge in writing this book?

Understanding that in the telling this story, I am the only one involved who knows what is going to happen in Winter Quarters Canyon on May 1, 1900. My characters have no idea. While everything must build to that moment when the mine explodes, it must never be obvious to the people involved. At the same time, I had to tell this story in such an airtight way that no one suspects, but that much action must go on that is entirely unrelated to the disaster. Tricky writing. A real challenge. And throw in the fact that this can’t be a total downer, or people will never read it. It has to be funny, serious, laugh-out-loud, agonizing, ordinary: all the elements of ordinary life.

What message do you hope readers take away from the book? 

That all of us –  large and small, famous and ordinary – are just trying to live our lives the best we can. Also, sometimes bravery means swallowing fear and just hanging on a little longer.

What is your favorite scene in My Loving Vigil Keeping? 

Probably the most amusing scene was the first time Della goes to a sauna in Finn Town. I also like Della’s visit to Provo at Thanksgiving.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination? 

Most of this book is based on fact. My two leads are fictional, but many of the secondary characters really lived. Many of those miners are buried in Scofield Cemetery. When I finished the book, I took them flowers.

Which character in will be the most difficult to part with? 

All of them. I don’t let go gracefully. These people – the real ones and the fictitious ones – are still in my heart and mind. I hope they never leave.

While writing the book, did you connect with one character more than the others? Who and how? 

Yes, this is a story about a dreadful mine disaster, but it’s also the story of immigrants and their hopes for their children’s future, if not their own. I think any American can identify with that.

Do you share any personality traits with any of the characters? 

My readers tell me that my female leads are a lot like I am: practical, useful and prone to solving their own problems. Della Anders does that, too. Go figure.

What kind of research was involved? 

I read all the sources on this subject, visited Scofield and Winter Quarters Canyon several times, and spent some enlightening hours in the Rhino Mine in Huntington Canyon, Utah. I also dissected old photos of Scofield and Winter Quarters, which were priceless.

Do you have to be alone or have quiet to write?

 Quiet and alone are nice, but certainly not necessary.

What has been your greatest pleasure in writing this book? 

Exploring a well-known mine disaster, learning more about Utah’s early coal miners, and being the first person to write a novel on this subject. It was a stewardship I took seriously.

What do you have in store next for your readers? 

I am currently writing book one of a historical mystery series set in colonial New Mexico. And now, for a change of pace…

What has been your greatest pleasure or personal success as an author? 

Awards have been gratifying, but the greatest pleasure is knowing readers are willing to invest themselves in a story that is dear to my heart.

What type of hero do you like best? 

I like a hero who knows his place in the world and isn’t afraid to act. The very best of men are kind to their mothers, good to animals, and polite to the ladies.

What type of heroine do you like best? 

I like heroines who are smart and prefer to be treated by men as equals.

Is there any place and time in the world and in history that you would like to visit? 

I’m a historian, so there are quite a few. I’d like to have sat in on the Constitutional convention in Philadelphia; visited an aid station during/after the Battle of Gettysburg; been on the bridge of a Royal Navy frigate during action in the Napoleonic Wars; spent a day or two with John Marshall, the great Chief Justice; had dinner with Teddy Roosevelt; and on and on.

How do you unwind after a long writing session? 

Read some crime fiction.

Is there a genre you wish you could write, but haven’t made the plunge? Which one and what appeals to you about it? 

I’m taking the plunge into crime fiction, as we speak.

Do you have a favorite author? Who and why? 

Nevil Shute – crisp writing. John Harvey – same reason.

If you had a chance to rewrite, is there anything about your book you would change? 

There’s always something to change.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve received? 

Sleep fast.

Sleeping fast--I'd like to learn that one! Is there a book you’ve ever read more than five times? Which book and what drew you back to it? 

Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice. Great subject, great writing.

Have you ever literally deleted or thrown away a book you’ve written? 

Nope. I don’t write them to throw away.

If you were casting your main characters for a movie, who would be your top picks? 

FYI, there is some serious talk about turning this book into a movie. Gerard Butler could play Owen Davis. If you ever saw him in Dear Frankie, he has a tender side.

Gerard Butler did a wonderful job in that movie and if he was cast in this movie, you'd better believe I'd see that one!

Thank you Carla for joining us today!

The Book
(Goodreads summary)

Della's giving up all the comforts of bustling Salt Lake City to teach school in a rural coal mining camp. Little does she know, she may soon be giving up her heart as well. But when tragedy strikes in the Scofield Mine, Della's life will be changed forever. Based on true events, this thrilling new romance from award-winning and bestselling author Carla Kelly is a must-read!

A Reader's Opinion

For me, this story really began once Della arrived in Scofield. At 8,000 ft elevation, the mining camp didn't seem to offer much that would entice a teacher from the city. I felt as though Della endured that first sight simply because she didn't feel turning back was an option, but you soon see her sense of adventure and her willingness to not give up.

Owen Davis is a charmer and I enjoyed his banter with Della. Where I admired Della's courage and strength, Owen was my favorite. Despite his difficulties, he makes room in his life for hope. I enjoyed the blending of cultures and most especially the history behind the mining disaster. The author made this event feel very real and I found myself feeling the same emotions as the characters.The romance is present, but it burns slowly and sweetly. The author definitely has a talent for writing and keeps the pace of the story going from chapter to chapter.

This is the first Carla Kelly book I've read and I'm looking forward to going back and reading more of her work. I would recommend this book to anyone--it's very clean and suitable for all readers.

"Live a little and laugh some more"--my favorite line from the book!

Note to Readers: This book has a good deal of religion in it. Personally, it didn't bother me because it happens to be my religion, but it is present. I feel that it adds to the story rather than overpowers it, but that is just this reader's opinion.


  1. First, let me say that I love the book cover--it's beautiful! The story is lovely and I'm pleased to have been able to read it for your tour.

  2. I agree with MK, the cover is stunning. I love historical stories, especially when they introduce me to an event I haven't heard of yet. This sounds like a terrific book. Good luck with it!