As an editor for Freedom Forge Press, I am lucky enough to encounter a handful of freedom-themed manuscripts amazing enough to send through the publishing process. I recently completed a manuscript with Linda Harris Sittig, and I wanted to learn more about the inspiration behind her work to share with you.
Last Curtain Call features a strong woman named Annie Charbonneau. Living in a coal town in western Maryland in the 1890s, Annie dreams of going to college. But instead, she is thrust into a personal battle against the ruthless coal company preying on the vulnerable women of her town. Unaware that her actions will bring the evil to her own front door, Annie is caught in a web where her every movement is watched and a vengeance-seeking enemy wants to silence her. When Jonathan Canavan arrives from Philadelphia and is hired as the new school principal, he becomes an ally, helping Annie to lead the miners’ wives in retaliation against the coal company.
Linda’s blog features strong women throughout history, many of whom fought harsh injustices to accomplish their dreams, and I see many of those themes repeated throughout Linda’s novels. Last Curtain Call is the second in the Threads of Courage series. I’d like to thank Linda for taking the time to answer these questions about her research and inspirations.
One of the reasons that I like your work is the presence of women with spirits that cannot be extinguished. What inspired you to be attracted to the concept of strong women throughout history?
As a twelve year old I discovered historical fiction and became hooked on the genre. Looking back I realized that almost all my favorite stories had strong female protagonists who experienced tragedy, but became stronger because of it. And, although love played a significant part in their lives, they didn’t wait for a prince to rescue them. Much later when I started researching my mother’s family in Philadelphia I discovered a female ancestor that no one in our family had ever heard about. I centered my research on her and discovered that she had a major role in my great-grandfather’s success as a Civil War textile merchant, but that she received no credit at all. That started me thinking that throughout history there must be hundreds or even thousands of women who had amazing accomplishments, but did not receive the accolades they deserved.
I understand that you did extensive research for the novel (LCC). What was the most remarkable location you went to and why?
Because Last Curtain Call takes place in a coal mining village in the 1890s in Western Maryland, I went on research trips to coal towns in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. The West Virginia trip was eye-opening because the town still had an operating black lung clinic, the surrounding small towns were still filled with miners, and mostly because I went to one of the mines and had a guide take me down into the mine. Since I am claustrophobic, the trip was gut-wrenching, but provided me with the realistic details I needed to write about.
Do you think that historically, women’s roles put them in a unique position to achieve the kinds of feats that women like your protagonists (Annie and Ellen) did?
I think that if women had been declared equal to men in all aspects long ago, we might not see the strong females develop. I think strong women developed because they were denied equal footing with men…in business, in the law, in education. Because of this women like Ellen Canavan and Annie Charbonneau became determined to see fairness granted.
Tell us about the newspaper article that inspired the novel. Why do you think the women were left unnamed?
I read this small section in a book on miners in Western Maryland and it alluded to the 1894 strike when a small group of women held off a vigilante mob. There was a footnote and I searched the source, which was the Baltimore Sun Newspaper. Intrigued, I went to Maryland looked up the old Baltimore Sun News clippings of that incident. I was amazed to find 20 articles written about the strike from journalists who were there. However, the 20 women were never named in print. I suspect that the journalists worried about repercussions that might happen to the women for being so bold in the face of the powerful coal company and the union.
In Cut from Strong Cloth, your protagonist fights for admittance into a library, and in Last Curtain Call, the protagonist dreams of breaking tradition by going to college. Why does education play such a strong role in your stories?
I think education plays a strong part because of my parents. They instilled in both my brother and me the importance of education and that it was a gift, not a right. We knew that my father had worked two jobs and gone to school at night to get his college degree, so education was highly valued. In addition both of my parents were readers and believed in the importance of travel, so each summer we went on educational vacation trips where they taught us about the geography and history of the area we were visiting. I was also aware that colleges had not always been open to girls, so that made me value my education even more.
I noticed that your protagonist seem to have a propensity for “Bad Boys.” Why do you think bad boys are such a temptation?
Ah, yes, the bad boys syndrome. Guilty as charged. I think girls become attracted to bad boys because it seems to be a safe form of rebellion. You might be attracted to a bad boy, but not marry him. I think too it represents a form of daring and excitement in a life where girls are curtailed in other ways.
Your blog features strong women throughout history. Based on the research you’ve done, are there certain traits that seem common to those who make history? What advice would you give someone today looking to make a change in the world?
The women I profile always have a cause (even a small one) that they are passionate about. The women are a bit daring, often defying the status quo and laws they feel are unfair in order to seek justice being fulfilled. None of the women I have profiled did their actions in order to become rich or famous. They were following their north star, because they had to in order to believe in themselves. It seems hard to make a change in the world, but I personally try to look people in the eyes and smile graciously at them. I have noticed that grumbly clerks in supermarkets often do not even look at me, but if I smile at them I believe they see the smile. Smiles are a silent way of saying, “You are important.” On a bigger scale I would say to look where your own passion is. For me it was always helping kids discover the awesome power of stories, so I became a teacher who took on the kids who did not like to read and spent my career trying to show them how reading can enrich their life. Reading is still a passion of mine.
You can read more about Linda on her website: www.lindasittig.com or check out some of the strong women she has profiled: www.strongwomeninhistory.com — Isabelle Romee from 15th century France is one of her favorites.