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Blog Tour and Book Excerpt for "Anywhere but Schuylkill"

Book Title: Anywhere But Schuylkill

Series: The Great Upheaval Trilogy

Author: Michael Dunn

Publication Date: September 25, 2023

Publisher: Historium Press

Page Length: 301

Genre: Historical Fiction

Anywhere But Schuylkill

by Michael Dunn




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.


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Author Bio:


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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Book Excerpt:

Couch’s Saloon


Couch’s Saloon was like a circus inside—loud, raucous, and full of laughter. The air was steamy and smelled of beer and tobacco. The ground was covered with peanut shells. Men sat on stools at the long bar and at tables scattered throughout the tavern with mugs of beer, which they clanked and slammed back down so enthusiastically it sounded as though they’d break. They played cards, arm-wrestled, and argued boisterously about the WBA and the Democratic Party.


Tom was bobbing side to side. “This place is amazing!”


Warmth radiated through Mike’s body, like he was already part of the crowd. It was the most exciting place he’d ever been. The exact opposite of work or home. He wanted to come back again tomorrow. And the next day. Who was stopping him?


Someone tapped his shoulder. He nearly jumped out of his skin.


“Just me,” said Coyne, sitting back down. There were several mugs lined up on his table, as if he was expecting them. “Have a drink, lads. First one’s on me.”


They grabbed mugs and clanked them together.


“This’ll cure what ails ye.” Tom took a long swill and wiped his face on his sleeve, grinning like he’d just beaten the devil. “A few more victories like today and we’ll win this strike in no time!”


Sucking in his cheeks, Coyne shook his head. “We won a battle, Tommy. Not the war. Plank Ridge was easy. Larger coll’ries’ll be tougher. Best not count our chickens before they hatch.”


Out of the corner of his eye, Mike saw John Gibbons swaggering toward them with a full mug, sloshing beer with each burly step. He had the square face and ugly grin of a bulldog that’s just shaken a cat to death.


“Are the muleboys counting chickens or being chickens?”


“Shut up!” Tom said.


“Watcha gonna do about it?” Gibbons held his mug in front of him like he was going to bash Tom in the face, but then he started swinging it side to side, spilling even more, singing:


Oh, My sweetheart’s the mule in the mines,

I drive her without reins or lines,

On the bumper I sit,

Tobacco I spit

All over my sweetheart’s behind.



Mike’s body tensed. Maybe now was the time to really earn this bastard’s respect. He leaned forward in his chair, ready to punch him in the groin, but slumped back when he spotted another Kohinoor Boy walking toward them, the meanest-looking feller he’d ever seen, with squinty little eyes that he could barely keep open beneath the weight of his extraordinarily long and perfectly rectangular brows. There was scruff on his chin and a thin mustache above his lips, which he kept tightly sealed. He removed his coat and scarf and handed them to Tom, who neatly folded them over a seatback and handed him a beer. As he brought the mug to his lips, Mike could see the muscles bulging beneath his shirtsleeves. His fists were like anvils.


“Ye oughta be ashamed of yourself,” the new feller said to Gibbons, who sank lower in his chair. “These boys are goddamned heroes. Right, Coyne?”


“Absolutely! They’re the ones that hit the driver and sent them scabs runnin’ home. If it weren’t for them, we’d still be there now.”


Gibbons blew out a noisy breath.


“Ye Doyle?” The bruiser smacked his mug against Mike’s.


“Eddie Lawler?”


“That’s me.”


Tom frowned, then took a long chug of beer.


“How’d ye know about them?” Gibbons asked, his voice rising. “Ye weren’t even there.”


“I know a lotta things, ye big jamoke. How’d ye not know? You were there.”


“Enough!” Coyne said. “Both of yiz. Fact is, these two’re my artillery command. Doyle has an arm like a cannon, only more accurate. They’re exactly the kind of fellers the WBA needs.”


Mike peered at his beer, still more than half full. He brought it to his lips and chugged it down, grit and all, then belched so loudly heads turned at the neighboring table.


“I was just messin’ around.” Gibbons got up. “Anyhow, everyone’s lookin’ dry. Whadye say I buy the next round?”


Eddie leaned closer to Coyne. “Hear ’bout Colonel Cake? Kicked off the Anthracite Board?”


Coyne’s eyes widened. “No, but makes sense. All his men’re back on the job at their old wages. Where’d ye hear this, anyway?”


Eddie grinned. “My uncle’s on the bargaining committee, remember?”


“Well, boyos,” Coyne said, standing up. He fiddled in his pocket for change. “We may not’ve won the war, but this is certainly grand news. Let’s have a whiskey, too!”


Mike turned toward Tom, mouthing the word “Seriously?” His body was already warm and tingly from the first drink. What would two more do to him?


Tom just nodded and grinned.


By the end of the third drink, Mike’s head was swimming. Everyone at the table looked handsome and friendly, even Eddie Lawler, who was no longer squinting and whose lips had relaxed into a wiggly smile. Everything seemed funny, too. Gibbons kept patting him on the back, saying what good buddies they were. So, when Eddie got up to buy the next round, promising beer and whiskey, Mike wasn’t the slightest bit worried. He already knew what the fourth and fifth drinks would do to him. They’d make him feel great! But as he finished his beer, a thought occurred to him. Was he expected to buy a round, too?


He looked to Tom, who winked and said, “I got the next one.”


When it was finally Mike’s turn, he took a step toward the bar, but the floor suddenly slipped out beneath him and he fell on his face.


“What’s wrong, muleboy?” Gibbons laughed. “Never been soaked before?”


“That’s enough!” Coyne helped Mike to his feet. “Time you lads headed home. Slept it off.”


Mike’s cheeks burned. He pushed Coyne’s arm away. “I’m fine!”


He walked toward the exit, taking wide steps, determined to prove he wasn’t drunk.


“Let’s get outa here!” he called to Tom from the doorway.


The air outside was cold and burned Mike’s nose. The midday sun was so bright he had to squint, which only intensified the ache. He leaned against the tavern wall and sighed. “One minute you’re on top of the world, buying rounds for the fellers, whooping it up with your buddies. The next you’re a weakling who can’t hold his liquor.”


“Forget it,” Tom said. “That was still the most fun we’ve ever had, right?”


“Sure, but where’re we gonna sleep it off? We can’t go home.”


“Ye worry too much.” Tom tried to squeeze out one of his mischievous smiles, but it ended up looking like a suppressed belch. “We only had five or six drinks. No one’s gonna know. Just act normal. No staggering or hiccupping.”


Mike figured it was at least seven, but each time he added them up he got a different sum.


“And don’t get too close to mum or da. They’ll smell it on your breath.”


“Right.” Mike drummed his fingers on his thigh. “No one’ll ever know.”


“No one,” Tom repeated, giggling. He clapped Mike on the back, staggered a bit, then started down Coal Street.

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1 Comment

Thank you for hosting Michael Dunn today, with an intriguing excerpt from Anywhere But Schuylkill.

Take care,

Cathie xo

The Coffee Pot Book Club

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