Friday, March 15, 2013

My Loving Vigil Keeping: Why and How I Wrote About a Mine Disaster by Carla Kelly

This is the second time I've had the pleasure of hosting this author on tour. She's fun, she's talented, she's RITA award-winning author Carla Kelly touring her book, My Loving Vigil Keeping.

Why and How I Wrote About a Mine Disaster
by Carla Kelly
My Loving Vigil Keeping

I’m a historian, even before I’m a novelist. I made my first visit to Scofield not long after we moved to Carbon County in 2009. I can’t express the visceral punch that came from seeing rows of grave markers with the same death date. I decided to write a novel about the disaster.
            Other than the eyewitness book by JW Dilley, written shortly after the disaster to raise funds for the widows, there aren’t any texts devoted only to the subject of 200 men and boys dying in Winter Quarters Canyon at 10:28 a.m. on Tuesday, May 1, 1900. I gleaned information from Dilley, and portions of histories, plus scholarly monographs. Price’s Sun-Advocate puts out a supplement devoted just to that mine disaster, and there are websites, too.
            By 2010, I started volunteering at the Western Mining and Railroad Museum in Helper, Utah. It has a good selection of photographs and some additional history, especially related to early 20th century mining. Detailed maps of the mines and the canyon proved invaluable.
            Writing about a catastrophe demands a delicate touch. Too much misery? No one wants to read it. Not enough? It doesn’t ring true. I had to constantly remind myself that except for me, no one in Winter Quarters Canyon knew what was going to happen. Because of this, the novel’s plot can have nothing to do with the explosion.
            I chose Della Anders, a teacher, to tell my story. She is new to the canyon, and new to coal mining. She has accepted the job on a whim, which she soon realizes was an urge to dig around in her own mining roots. I followed Della through a school year, with all its trials and triumphs, gradually peopling the canyon with folks who actually lived there. I found them, courtesy of websites and, and George Anderson photographs. I went to the Church History Library in Salt Lake City and read old minutes of church meetings. I studied the 1900 census for hours, with its pages of Finnish, Welsh and English miners, many of them converts to the Mormon church.
            As it happens, I am director of a sweet but so-so choir. In my frustration, I decided to create the best ward choir ever, in the Pleasant Valley Ward in Winter Quarters Canyon. I created a magnificent bunch of British Isles singers and did my best to make My Loving Vigil Keeping sing, because the Welsh are famous for that.
            Is it a Mormon story? Yes and no. Many miners were converts to the LDS faith, but not all. My Finns were not, and they are as fairly decribed as the Mormons. It’s mostly about the American dream of immigrants, about people wanting futures for their children. It’s a story about hanging on, when all hope is gone. It’s also about how to petition the Lord for advice and to actually listen for an answer.
            I have heard from many readers who are related to the real characters in this work of fiction. They tell me their stories. I have heard from miners and their wives and children, who tell me of hard times. My Loving Vigil Keeping has given a voice to modest, hard workers who have been touched to their heart’s core by cruel coal.
            My Loving Vigil Keeping has become a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. When I drive past the Scofield exit on Highway 6, I always blow a kiss to “my guys.” I visit them in the cemetery. It’s a comfortable feeling, because I have given them a voice. They know it and I know it.

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!

Print | Kindle

(originally reviewed 7/23/12 on this blog)
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.

(Interjecting a reviewer's note: I've since read three of Carla Kelly's Regency Romances, and I enjoyed them all. I highly recommend her as an author.)

"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.

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