One of the many delights (and challenges) of writing historical fiction is finding specific historical details that are new to me.
In writing THE WIDOWS, I researched coal mining history, specifically in southeastern Ohio and the nearby region. I was stunned to come across the true Battle for Blair Mountain–the second largest civilian uprising in U.S. history, surpassed only by the Civil War itself.
I’m not alone in my surprise at learning this history. Most people, outside of the region, have not heard of it.
But my characters in THE WIDOWS certainly would have, given that it took place only a few years before the time frame of my novel, a short distance away, and made headlines across the country. The battle is referenced in THE WIDOWS as a motivating factor for my main characters, Lily and Marvena, wanting to keep the peace in their own mining community.
I wrote an essay about my discovery of this piece of U.S. history. My essay was published on The History Reader website; the essay was then posted on The History Reader’s Facebook Page–and something amazing happened. The post featuring the essay ended up being shared nearly 4,000 times, and viewed more than 8,000!
Why did my essay get such a huge reaction? For some readers, I think it was, as for me, a shock to learn this bit of our history. For others, all too well aware of this and similar history, it brought back family stories–or even more recent struggles for coal miners. For many it opened a discussion, and I was glad to see in quite a few comments compassion and empathy from those learning of the battle for the first time.
Ah, empathy. Reading is supposed to develop empathy–that’s not a unique thought from me. Plenty of studies have supported this notion; here’s just one.
I’m glad to be part of creating work that hopefully entertains, but also helps build empathy.