Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Blog Tour Guest Post: The Strongman and the Mermaid by Kathleen Shoop

Please join me in welcoming Kathleen Shoop to Let Them Read Books! Kathleen is touring the blogosphere with her newest historical fiction release, The Strongman and the Mermaid! I had the pleasure of designing the book's cover, and I'm thrilled to have Kathleen here today with a guest post about immersing readers in time and place. Read on and enter to win a copy of the book and a $50 Amazon gift card!

Myscowa, Poland—1910
Once upon a time in tiny, rural Myscowa, Lukasz Musial competes in feats of strength against his lifelong nemesis to win passage to America. He leaves behind grinding poverty and despair, to seek the clear blue skies, and better life he sees on a postcard. Settled in Donora’s Polish community, Lukasz secures a coveted job in the wire mill, and is matched to marry Donora’s very own Polish princess. Life is set on course. The American Dream is nearly his.

Donora, Pennsylvania—1910
Mary Lancos is no princess. A tall, athletic girl who loves the water, she spends her days keeping house for families in town, digging coal out of a backyard seam and rowing her father across the Monongahela River for work. Mary is dependable, tenacious, and always ready to help when someone needs her. She dreams of a gas-heated home, a bedroom for each of her future children, and good meals on the table each night. To help make that happen Mary attends local dances, waiting for the few men who are taller than her to ask her to dance, hoping one of them is right for her.

An unexpected Christmas Eve visitor brings bad luck, and Lukasz’s world crumbles. Meanwhile, tension grows at the Lancos home when money is short and Mary’s dreams clash with her parents’ old world expectations. Just when Mary and Lukasz are at their lowest, they find themselves under an odd pink moonlit sky and Lukasz rescues Mary from a fall into frigid river water. The attraction between them is sudden and consuming, turning the pair onto an unexpected path. With mounting disapproval from Mary’s parents, and increased pressure on Lukasz, they must decide if love is enough to risk losing everything else that matters.

Available on Amazon

Make Setting Work: Engaging Readers by Immersion in Another Place and Time

When writing fiction, an author’s goal is to draw readers into a literary world as real as the street they walk down every day. Doing this requires layers of work. Plots must be crafted to unfold in natural ways, and characters must be unique and experience a transformational arc. Often in historical fiction, setting acts like a character—shaping, influencing, transforming all who tread through it.

In The Donora Story Collection, the famous steel town of Donora, Pennsylvania, is the thread that ties the novels together from 1910 to 1948. Community, holiday traditions, religious expectations, neighborly behavior, and most importantly, the steel and finishing mills that gave birth to the town, drive much of the action. The elements combine to lend each character’s arc the weight it needs to be wholly new and compelling in order to satisfy voracious, passionate, and intelligent readers.

When William Donner and Andrew Mellon decided to develop their mills on a horseshoe bend of the Monongahela River, the town of Donora (a combination of Donner’s name and Nora Mellon, Andrew’s young wife) was born. Labor was in such great demand and housing was so short that people put homes up anywhere they could find a space, fitting them into valley walls and overstuffed flats.

This speedy development meant that wealthier American management folks lived side-by-side with unskilled immigrant labor from Spain, Poland, Croatia, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy, and what is now the Czech Republic. This fabulous circumstance lends richness and opportunity for plot development and character growth.

In The Strongman and the Mermaid (inspired by real people), Lukasz Musial arrives from Poland (1910), single and ready to earn a good living. He first lives with his sponsor family, the Kowalks, while he starts a nest egg for the home of his dreams. This typical circumstance of living with a family when starting out provided Lukasz with people who served as a comfortable connection to Poland and a bridge to all that was unfamiliar and exciting in America. This situation also provided the perfect ground to create tension and conflict—a necessary ingredient for any successful novel.

At one point, Lukasz moves out of the Kowalk home and participates in hot-bedding. That was a practice in Donora put into place due to the housing shortage. A man would rent a hotel room for a designated amount of sleeping time when his shift in the mill was over. When he woke up he’d leave so another man could take his place to sleep.

This solution was a decent one for single immigrant men in 1910, but 119 years later, it’s the perfect way to inject Lukasz’s fictional life with drama and opportunity. A man without a home and hours to kill before his next shift has time to wander, time to better himself, or time to find trouble.

Other useful tools in developing character and plot in the Donora Story Collection are the religious traditions that were an enormous part of life during the first half of the 20th century. By 1907, there were fourteen churches and synagogues in Donora, and by 1943 there were twenty-three for a population around 12,000. Though every nationality lived side-by-side, the Catholic Poles started their own church as did the Catholics of Slavic descent. There were synagogues, Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian churches, and more. In addition, there were nationality clubs like the Spanish Club, Polish Falcons, Croatian Club, Russian Club, and many more to allow people to remember their roots while building toward their personal American Dreams.

The Strongman and the Mermaid makes use of Polish traditions like Wigilia (Christmas Eve), Andrzejki (St. Andrew’s Eve), St. John’s Eve (June 23rd) and more. These traditions provided fresh opportunities to challenge the characters, Mary and Lukasz, to either follow along with tradition or push back against the expected norms of religion and family.

Most authors easily identify their characters’ jobs and setting, but go further. Thread the meaning of the town or a character’s career through every aspect of the book—from plot development to language choices to nonverbal communication. In Strongman, Mary pulls coal from the backyard seam each morning. She kept house since the age of eight and worked as a nail girl in the mill at the age of fourteen. She also rowed back and forth across the river each day so her father could work.

These aren’t just interesting ways to flavor Mary’s character. Her strengths also created problems for Mary and colored every interaction she had in the book. My goal in Strongman wasn’t to inform people about turn-of-the-century immigrant working conditions or Polish holiday traditions, but their existence in the novel created fertile ground for characters to grow. Donora and all it embodied offers something unique to modern readers but also something familiar as they recall their own transformative traditions. Both of these conditions help compel readers to turn that page. And in the end, that’s the reason an author writes a book.

About the Author:

Bestselling author, Kathleen Shoop, holds a PhD in reading education and has more than 20 years of experience in the classroom. She writes historical fiction, women’s fiction and romance. Shoop’s novels have garnered various awards in the Independent Publisher Book Awards, Eric Hoffer Book Awards, Indie Excellence Awards, Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the San Francisco Book Festival. Kathleen has been featured in USA Today and the Writer’s Guide to 2013. Her work has appeared in The Tribune-Review, four Chicken Soup for the Soul books and Pittsburgh Parent magazine. She lives in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, with her husband and two children.



The Strongman and the Mermaid is on a blog tour!


During the Blog Tour, we will be giving away a copy of The Strongman and the Mermaid and a $50 Amazon Gift Card! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules:

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on May 22nd. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.
Strongman and Mermaid


  1. Thank you so much for hosting The Strongman and the Mermaid blog tour!

    HF Virtual Book Tours


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