I’ve always been drawn to stories about love against the odds, perseverance, and grit. When I was a little girl, I was watching Show Boat with my parents, and I couldn’t believe the main character couldn’t marry the man she loved because of the one-drop rule. I actually drafted my first love across color lines as a teenager, and it was called A Fading Smile. I wouldn’t return to it until a seed of a story came to me from my husband’s hometown of Roslyn, Washington. Just east of the mountains, this small, once coal mining town had the feel of another world—western storefronts, the oldest bar in the state with a running spittoon, a cemetery with over 24 nationalities. Over time I met local historian Nick Henderson, and he began telling me stories of the town’s rich history, including how 300 African American miners were brought to the region in 1888/89 not knowing they’d be strikebreakers. As history books/articles tell it, their initial reception wasn’t easy: Pinkerton guards boarded their trains in Montana, and Black miners were handed rifles to protect themselves. Over time, Blacks and whites worked together in the mines and put aside differences to get a difficult job done. But before that unity, Black people were kept from certain rights, even the rights of burial. I heard this and knew I wanted to write The Emblem. I was determined to write and chose historical fiction as my outlet, since fiction awakens empathy as little else.
What is your protagonist like, and what are the main obstacles hindering her path?
The Emblem is a novel told in two timeframes: the late 1800’s and the 1930’s, but it stays most consistently with Callie Rushton, a tutor who ends up falling for her employer’s right-hand-man, Gabe Ward. Though she’s intelligent, hardworking, and has inner strength, Callie often feels ordinary. Being that her family is dealing with the fallout of the Great Depression, she is stifled creatively and with her lot in life, believing she won’t escape the confines of small-town living. Her oft mundane existence is put to the test once she falls for a Black man in a time where loving across color lines was frowned upon. Despite the fact that Washington state had no ban on interracial marriage and was a sought-out destination for hopeful couples, such unions were not easily embraced or encouraged. Callie’s greatest adversaries include her worried parents who only want her to make “safe” decisions and some in the town who believe people should stick to their own kind. My other protagonists whose perspectives are featured include David Ward, one of the first Black miners to arrive in Roslyn, his daughter, Lily, as she weathers adversities placed upon her, and Gabe, the man whom Callie falls in love with and vice versa.
What were your greatest challenges in writing The Emblem?
My greatest challenge was encountering conflicting historical sources about how African American people were treated following the strike. Many books and articles don’t allow for nuance or tend to gloss over hard content. One of the things that inspired me to write the novel in the first place was how I kept reading sources that said Black and whites lived harmoniously, and I wanted to capture that. It wasn’t until I attended my first Roslyn Black Pioneer Picnic in 2017 and met some of the descendants of the first Black miners to arrive in Washington that I realized that there wasn’t as much unity as certain sources proclaimed. Sure, Black and white miners could form partnerships, even friendships in the mines, but there were numerous regulations placed upon Black people. They were denied entrance to many establishments, refused service at the Company Store on occasion, and not treated equally in school. After listening to the Craven family (the only Black family related to the original miners to still make their home in Roslyn), I rewrote a lot of the novel. It probably goes without saying that it’s challenging to write about racial tensions as a white writer who hasn’t experienced these injustices firsthand. I’m drawn to stories that make a difference and hope that the heart of the novel resonates with readers no matter their background.
IMPORTANT UPDATE for readers: I was notified by the printing house that their press was down for several days. Because of this delay, books are expected to arrive 10/21. The e-book is available. My apologies on the wait to those who preordered. I'll mail your books out as soon as they arrive. If you have any questions, please drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. Many thanks!