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21 February 2024

Anywhere But Schuylkill by Michael Dunn Blog Tour and Excerpt! @MikeDunnAuthor @cathiedunn @michaeldunnauthor @thecoffeepotbookclub


Book Title: 

Anywhere But Schuylkill


The Great Upheaval Trilogy


Michael Dunn

Publication Date:

September 25, 2023


Historium Press

Page Length:



Historical Fiction

In 1877, twenty Irish coal miners hanged for a terrorist conspiracy that never occurred. Anywhere But Schuylkill is the story of one who escaped, Mike Doyle, a teenager trying to keep his family alive during the worst depression the nation has ever faced. Banks and railroads are going under. Children are dying of hunger. The Reading Railroad has slashed wages and hired Pinkerton spies to infiltrate the miners’ union. And there is a sectarian war between rival gangs. But none of this compares with the threat at home.

The Cage

Plank Ridge was ten blocks east of Tom’s house, an easy walk if Mike hadn’t tossed and turned all night between all those dreams of falling. As it was, he could barely keep up with Tom, who kept looking back and rolling his eyes, as men and boys passed by, beneath swirls of sweet tobacco smoke and garbled chatter that sounded as if they were buried under a culm heap. Shoveling coal would be a hundred times harder than mule driving. How was he going to dance all night with Hannah, let alone dodge her father, when he could barely keep his eyes open now?

Coyne was waiting at the front gate with his arms crossed and his cap askew.

“Ye fellers aim to be late on your first day?”

“Ye sound like the boss,” Tom said. “I thought ye were real WBA.”

“I am, but I’m tryin’ to be a good buddy, too. Don’t forget, they’re layin’ fellers off right now. And impertinent micks are the first to go.”

“Or wind up dead,” Mike muttered, forcing a smile.

Tom wrinkled his nose. “Ye talking ’bout Cosgrove? That was just Gomer James being an jerk, as usual.”

Coyne’s face tightened. “Ye kidding, Tommy? Cosgrove was murdered two days after he told the boss they’d walk off the job if he kept laying off Irishmen.”

Mike’s eyes widened. “They killed him for that?”

“Not likely,” Tom said, shaking his head. “Cosgrove was tough, but quiet. Always let others take the lead.”

Coyne gave him a long, pained look. “The Depression’s squeezin’ us all, Tommy. Could’ve reached the end of his rope. Everyone’s gotta speak up someday.”

Tom got a mischievous gleam in his eye that gave Mike a chill, like he was planning something that would get them both into trouble.

“Don’t even think about it,” Coyne said. “Wanna end up dead? Or unemployed? Owing Muff a lotta money?”

Squirming, Tom spat against the fence.

“Let the WBA take care of our grievances,” Coyne continued. “And the courts take care of Gomer James. Now, let’s get to work before we’re all fired.”

They walked briskly up the dark path toward the headframe, a looming shadow in the distance. The twang of a Jew’s harp was just barely audible over the donkey engines. A booming laugh. Pipe smoke. Flickering headlamps. Faces coming into focus. A glowing cigar butt tossed to the ground, squashed beneath a boot. The shrill groan of the pulley as the cage reached the top of the shaft.

Everyone stopped. For a moment it was ghostly quiet. Then they fought to get into the cage first. Maybe there was a good spot that gave a smoother ride. Perhaps they just wanted to be next to their buddies. Didn’t matter to Mike. He climbed in last, his heart racing, sweat streaming down his flanks. Slow and steady, he kept telling himself, in a fruitless effort to control his breathing and snuff the panic. Men did this every day of their lives. And how often did the cage fall to the bottom and kill them? Almost never. But almost never meant there was still a tiny possibility, a possibility that Mike couldn’t shake from his mind.

He wedged himself between Coyne, and Tom, who smiled as he picked wax out of his ear and rubbed it on his trousers. Coyne just stared at the greasy black floor. It was hot and cramped. No one said a word.

The warning bell clanged. The floor dropped out from under them. They plummeted straight down as if the cable had snapped. Mike’s guts flew into his throat and his ears throbbed, as if his brains were being squeezed out through them. He looked at Coyne, hoping for reassurance, but his rattling pupils told him nothing. Tom was frozen in place, his coat rippling like eddies in a river.

Mike closed his eyes and clenched his teeth, his cheeks jiggling uncomfortably.

Then his knees seemed to rise above his ears.

He opened his eyes. It was pitch black, except where men’s headlamps shone. Tom’s coat was smooth and Coyne’s pupils were steady. They had reached the bottom and no one had died. Men casually exited the cage, as if it had been a Christmas sleigh ride. Mike followed them out, feeling relaxed and slightly giddy, victorious. Must get easier each time, he figured.

They climbed into the tiny shoofly, the train that took them to their work sites. Mike sat with his knees pressed against his chin and his back twisted awkwardly against something that bulged out from the rear of the car. It clattered and jerked down the dark tunnel, occasionally passing through gates that were opened and closed by nipper boys.

After what seemed like an hour, Coyne said, “Wake up, lads. Last door before our breasts.”

Mike gave Tom a wink. Every time he heard the word “breast” it made him laugh. So profane that Aunt Mary wouldn’t even use it to describe the meaty part of a turkey, which she referred to as the bird’s bosom. Yet down here it was so commonplace it didn’t raise an eyebrow. Breasts were the chambers from which they removed coal. Dark. Jagged. Cold. The least arousing thing imaginable. Men hacked at them with their picks. Exploded them with powder and squibs. Pissed on them when they had to relieve themselves. The complete opposite of bosoms. The name made no sense at all. He was just about to ask Coyne about it when the shoofly came to a stop.

Universal Buy Link:

Historium Press:

Michael Dunn writes Working-Class Fiction from the Not So Gilded Age. Anywhere But Schuylkill is the first in his Great Upheaval trilogy. A lifelong union activist, he has always been drawn to stories of the past, particularly those of regular working people, struggling to make a better life for themselves and their families.

Stories most people do not know, or have forgotten, because history is written by the victors, the robber barons and plutocrats, not the workers and immigrants. Yet their stories are among the most compelling in America. They resonate today because they are the stories of our own ancestors, because their passions and desires, struggles and tragedies, were so similar to our own.

When Michael Dunn is not writing historical fiction, he teaches high school, and writes about labor history and culture.





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1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for featuring Michael Dunn today, Kathleen.

    Take care,
    Cathie xo
    The Coffee Pot Book Club



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