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Tell Your Own Story

An Accidental Author by J. Peter Konkle

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Article by J. Peter Konkle ©.
Posted in the Magazine (Tell Your Own Story: , ).
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It all started innocently years ago when I simply wanted to write a lesson plan for teachers that would include the history of the labor movement in early America.  As I began to collect material a history professor at a local college mentioned that the first significant labor insurrection in my home state of Vermont in the USA was known as the “The Bolton War.”  At first, all I could find was one paragraph about the incident in one history book: Irish immigrants, fleeing the Great Potato Famine in the 1840’s, revolted when they failed to receive their promised wages. Surely there was more to the story.

The Vermont Historical Society library had a treasure trove of related material, including a newspaper article written one week after the revolt with some details of the incident.  A dusty box yielded a collection of letters written by a railroad supervisor and other letters written by a nearby farmer describing his perspective of what had transpired.  I was collecting pieces of a puzzle, and like a blind man describing an elephant, each piece I touched gave a different view, and only when all the pieces were put together did I get a view of the whole story.

Peter KonkleEach document led to another, and what I thought would be a simple story to tell became a much greater story with roots in Irish history previously unknown to me.  As a protestant North American I was not aware of the centuries of suffering the Irish endured under British occupation. Nor was I aware of the origins or severity of the potato famines that drove the Irish into the sea and toward the New World in search of salvation.  As my research continued I also learned of several very colorful characters with roles in the story: a sheriff who did the bidding of the railroad, a woman tavern owner who followed the construction crews each season and obtained her supplies by smuggling liquor into the USA from nearby Canada.  What fun, and how interesting!

At first I wrote the facts of our local “Bolton War” in a thirty thousand word essay, but it was dry and not compelling.  I re-wrote my essay, again telling the story as an outside observer, adding more details about the conditions I imagined the workers endured thinking the reader would be more entertained if I included more adverbs and adjectives.  Even though the story was a bit more interesting, I did not think it would be circulated beyond one issue of a local magazine. So my work languished, un-circulated and unpublished.

Several years later I read a novel by John Irving with a variety of amusing characters and a concluding plot twist.  That was my inspiration to take the facts of my story, add a character to tell the story in the first person, and have the reader experience the story in the present tense.  The result was what others deemed an informative and amusing historical novel, my novel, “On Bolton Flats – An Irish Insurrection in Vermont’s North Woods.” My narrator became the vehicle for telling the history of his Irish ancestors, their experiences under British rule, and his first hand account of the effects of the Famine and immigrant life in the United States’ frontier.

In spite of my detour into the world of novel writing I had not lost sight of my original goal to include the history of working men and women in school curriculum.  So I edited my manuscript to make it suitable reading for secondary and post secondary students.  So I created a ”Teacher’s Guide” with a section on vocabulary, talking points and questions regarding Irish and American history, and additional sections on literature and business ethics.  The “Teacher’s Guide” is now available free of charge upon request.

Published and available New Year’s day on Amazon and Amazon Europe, I am beginning the book’s marketing phase.  Staff members of the Vermont Historical Society were well aware of my project, and they placed an order to carry my book in the VHS Museum Bookstore.  I approached the state teacher’s union, and they agreed to mention the book and the teacher’s guide in their newsletter.  My college alumni magazine will announce its publication in its next quarterly issue.  I sent an email to all of my friends announcing publication, and posted an announcement on my Facebook page with a j-peg image of the cover and a link to points of purchase.  Finally, I am about to begin a trip to libraries and bookstores throughout Vermont to distribute a postcard I had printed with the cover image on one side and a short summary of the story and ordering information on the reverse.

What started as a project with the modest goal of writing a lesson plan for high school history teachers snowballed into a decade long project propelling me into the world of novel writing, publication, and book sales, one might say, quite by accident.

(c) J. Peter Konkle

Set in New England’s North Woods, the forces of unbridled industry, human tragedy, and re-awakened passion converge in this story of the Irish immigrant experience in 1846.  Based on a true story, and including characters taken from the pages of history, two hundred Irish families fleeing the Great Potato Famine journey from their inhospitable homeland to the frontier of the young and industrious United States of America.  Instead of finding salvation, they become feed for the insatiable appetite of corporations pushing the tentacles of civilization into the frontier. Tension between those who take advantage of unrestrained commerce and those who answer to a higher power comes to a head when the forces of nature and the ambitions of mankind clash.

Maurice Murphy, a widower, and his teenage daughter, Christine, make the journey across the frigid North Atlantic and into the work camps of the fledgling Vermont Central Railroad.  The local Sheriff, who has secrets of his own, is in the pocket of the railroad while an industrious young woman evades the law to provide sustenance to the workers and travelers through Vermont’s North Woods. 

A series of dramatic events brings these characters together to confront their past, to survive their present, and to shape their future.

On Bolton Flats – An Irish Insurrection in Vermont’s North Woods by J. Peter Konkle is available at Amazon here.

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After a lifetime of working as a human resources manager for large and small corporations and a union organizer and labor representative, Peter has insight into the issues confronting employers and employees alike. As President of the Vermont Labor History Society Peter became aware of “The Bolton War” and was compelled to uncover the truths of this fascinating and relevant historical event.

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