[Interview] Molly Roe

In this interview, Molly Roe, the author of Call Me Kate: Meeting the Molly Maguires (Tribute Books, 2008), talks about her writing:

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

Until about five years ago, I wrote only academic papers, but I began writing fiction as an outgrowth of my genealogy hobby. At first the stories were just for my family and myself, but later publishing became my goal.

My writing combines family genealogy, Irish and coal region lore, local history, and imagination to create historical fiction for young people.

What motivated you to write for this audience?

Since I teach junior high students, they seemed the logical target audience. I read and evaluated middle grade and young adult library favorites and decided that an historical fiction novel similar to the Dear America series books would suit my style and abilities.

I also wanted my students to learn more about local history -- of which coal mining and the Molly Maguires are a huge part. Imagine my surprise when I found that the grandparents and great grandparents of my teen and ‘tween audience were also fascinated with Call Me Kate. Now some of my most avid fans are octogenarians!

Which authors influenced you most?

Two young adult authors, Susan Campbell Bartoletti and Suzanne Fisher Staples, have had a big impact on my writing. They are both Newbery Award recipients, and both grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania, as I did. Last spring I had the enormous pleasure of sitting with Susan and Suzanne at a library luncheon. Both women are fantastic writers and unbelievably gracious people.

Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s historical fiction and nonfiction works relate to my area of interest, and she has been kind enough to give me advice about writing.

Suzanne, on the other hand, writes knowledgeably about an entirely unfamiliar but fascinating world. She worked in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan for twenty years and brings that exotic setting to life in her books. I could never hope to match her global experience, but I become a virtual world traveler by reading her books.

Have your own personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?

My personal experiences influence my writing since my beliefs often surface in my characters’ lives.

I feel strong ties to my female ancestors who were so strong and enduring through the tough times of past generations. I feel their sense of injustice over discrimination, I feel for today’s immigrants because of what they endured. I get angry at the cavalier attitude of big business just as they evidently did against the Coal Companies that ran their lives.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

A general concern is that people will stop reading for pleasure. The modern world moves so fast that many people say they don’t have the time to sit and savor a book. I think writers and publishers are dealing with this issue by changing to meet the needs of the “modern” reader who like to jump right into the action.

A personal challenge with writing is making the time to write. Since I teach, most of my day involves reading and writing. When I get home, grading papers consumes much of the evening. I don’t always have the energy to write. On the other hand, teaching is a part of my platform and motivation, so my career is a double-edged sword.

Do you write everyday?

I wish I would buckle down and write every day!

When the muse is with me, I get an idea and start off great guns. Sometimes, I try to picture my current heroine involved in an ordinary chore and wonder what tools she had to use, how long it took, etc. Research on the internet and in book and old newspapers also spurs my imagination. Usually a writing session ends when my eyes blur and the pins and needles in my legs become unbearable.

How many books have you written so far?

Call Me Kate: Meeting the Molly Maguires is my debut novel. My other published works are academic articles and short stories.

Call Me Kate was published in November 2009 by Tribute Books. It is the fictionalized life of my great great grandmother, Catharine McCafferty.

Kate lived at a time when the Great Hunger struck Ireland, and droves of poor peasants were shipped to the US by their English landlords. Kate arrived in the US at a time when nativists persecuted immigrants, and her teenage years coincided with the Civil War.

Her family and friends had to depend on each other to survive.

Some factions of this group became militant in their struggle for safety, justice, and human rights. A group of Pennsylvania miners became known as the Molly Maguires. There is still controversy about whether the group were labor activists, criminals or even whether they actually existed. One fact is known: Twenty men were hanged for crimes committed by the “Molly Maguires.”

What will your next book be about?

The working title of my next book is Sarah’s Story: The Curse on Centralia. This one is also about the Molly Maguires, but this time the story follows Kate’s younger sister, Sarah McCafferty, to the town of Centralia.

A devastating mine fire that started in the 1960s has reduced Centralia to a mere six residents. Was the fire the result of a curse placed on the Mollies a hundred years earlier? That’s the question that inspired Sarah’s Story.

Possibly related books:


Related article:

[Interview: Part 1 of 3] Brian Wainwright, author of 'Within the Fetterlock', Conversations with Writers, February 1, 2008


Anonymous said…
Molly Roe's "Call Me Kate" book presents a biased history of the anthracite region of Pennsylvania, along with unfactual additions to the history--such as draft dodgers and slanders against the respectable Ancient Order of Hibernians organization.

In 1979, Pennsylvania Governor Milton Shapp pardoned alleged "Molly Maguire" leader Jack Kehoe, who was executed in 1877 with 19 others on the hearsay evidence of a Pinkerton detective hired by the president of the largest coal company in the area. The men hanged were prominent in the Irish immigrant community. In exonerating Kehoe, Governor Shapp said that the men "called Molly Maguires" were "heroes" who were fighting for unions. He said their trial was a travesty of justice and granted the pardon on the recommendation of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons after their reexamination of the case.

The myth of a "dangerous and secret" organization, i.e. union, was repeated by all anthracite coal operators and carried out West by Pinkerton agents. Clarence Darrow defended miners there, who were also framed with hearsay evidence by Pinkertons. He won their acquittal. Darrow returned to Pennsylvania to defend miners' rights in the Anthracite Strike of 1902.

Pennsylvania anthracite miners' unions won some of the first workplace safety laws, child labor laws and protection from prosecution for belonging to a union. They paid a price.

The facts are clear that no anthracite coal mine owners were killed by miners. In the Lattimer (PA) massacre alone, 19 unarmed, striking, immigrant anthracite miners were shot and killed by a Luzerne County sheriff's posse, and "scores more workers were wounded." Many other striking anthracite miners were also shot in cold blood on the orders of mine operators in Pennsylvania in the last half on the 19th century.

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