The Blue Line Down began as a school project during my senior year at Anderson University. As a Creative Writing major, I was required to select a writing project to work on over the course of my final semester, and I decided to work on a novel. I had already received a spark of inspiration: the fall semester just before, I had taken an Appalachian Literature class, where my professor had spent a length of time reviewing the Appalachian coal wars of the early 20th century.
This was a piece of history I had scarcely heard about, despite having grown up just a couple states away from where all this violence occurred barely 100 years ago. But there was a specific historical tidbit that caught my attention: the mention of a union-busting group called Baldwin-Felts that were at the center of all this violence. As I tried conducting some additional research on this group outside of class, I found that web articles and books on the subject were strangely limited. I decided early on that, because of the scarce source materials available to me regarding the Baldwin-Felts, I wouldn’t attempt to approach the story as an exact recounting of historical events; I’d leave that task to a more seasoned historian.
However, there is a fantastic article published in 1979 by The Roanoker (“Guns, Thugs, and Heroes”) that provided me with much of the context and inspiration for Blue Line. Namely, the Baldwin-Felts’ legendary conflict with the Allens, and their subsequent hunt of Sidna Allen and Wesley Edwards across several states, was what made me realize the extent to which the agents doggedly sought out their victims. This is what spawned the storyline of Jude and Harvey on the run, desperately trying to shake the Baldwin-Felts off their scent. I hope that, by paralleling some of the storylines of actual events, Blue Line will spark readers’ interest to investigate these historical events for themselves. I would love to see educators take notice so that future students won’t go 21 years (as I did) before hearing about these alarming but important historical events in American history.
After landing on the subject matter for my senior writing project, I worked with my professor one-on-one through the initial draft over the course of the spring semester. While I built the bones of the story during those sessions, The Blue Line Down was a very different story at that point. Over the next two years post-graduation, I vigorously revised the story, scrapping superfluous characters and sub-plots, rewriting key scenes, and trying to figure out what I was actually trying to say with this story. I had set out to write a fast-paced adventure highlighting these long-lost historical figures, but the more I wrote (and rewrote), I came to realize that the Baldwin-Felts, unions, and bootlegging were only the context for the story — the actual story was about abuse, morality, and Jude’s struggle for redemption.
I read back through the story with a fresh set of eyes, and that’s when I began to explore a wider range of themes; a prominent one became abuse, both domestic and cultural. In the prologue, the scenes between Jude, Willis, and their father showcases a dynamic referred to as target-child selection, sometimes called the “Cinderella Phenomenon,” where a parent directs abusive behaviors toward one child while sparing others in the household. This is a pattern of domestic abuse that, while common, is rarely discussed, in fiction or in reality. In Blue Line, I wanted to give some exposure to this phenomenon; I chose to place Jude as the witness rather than the victim to frame the series of moral dilemmas he struggles with throughout the whole novel. Cultural abuse in Appalachia is another featured theme of mistreatment that we see these characters trying to break free from. These were challenging topics to write about, but they added needed depth to the story and its characters.
At the end of 2019, I realized that I had to give myself some sort of deadline for my revisions or else I would keep revising Blue Line for eternity. I had been following Hub City Press’s titles and community presence for a while at that point and found their call for submissions for the 2020 South Carolina Novel Prize. I decided that was a good, if unlikely, place to start, and decided to have the manuscript finished and ready to submit by their deadline. I had intended to research other publishers and prep the manuscript to submit elsewhere as well (I truly believed there was no way I’d win the SC Novel Prize), but shortly after submitting to Hub City Press in February 2020, COVID-19 hit the United States.
Needless to say, I had other things occupying my mind for the next few months, so I was floored when I received an email from Hub City Press notifying me that The Blue Line Down had made finalist for the 2020 South Carolina Novel Prize. About a month later it was announced that I had won, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that this story is actually making its way out into the world. My dream for this book remains the same — I hope this story inspires curiosity about Appalachian history, and that the characters in Blue Line become companions to you, as they have for me over the past several years.
The Blue Line Down
By Maris Lawyer
Hub City Press
June 22, 2021