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The Lost Women of Mill Street

Author Kinley Bryan shines a light on American Civil War history

The Lost Women of Mill Street

Today I’m happy to welcome author Kinley Bryan to the blog as she shares the inspirations behind The Lost Women of Mill Street, her exciting new novel of the American Civil War.

1864: As Sherman’s army marches toward Atlanta, a cotton mill commandeered by the Confederacy lies in its path. Inside the mill, Clara Douglas weaves cloth and watches over her sister Kitty, waiting for the day her fiancé returns from the West.

When Sherman’s troops destroy the mill, Clara’s plans to start a new life in Nebraska are threatened. Branded as traitors by the Federals, Clara, Kitty, and countless others are exiled to a desolate refugee prison hundreds of miles from home.

Cut off from all they’ve ever known, Clara clings to hope while grappling with doubts about her fiancé’s ambitions and the unsettling truths surrounding his absence. As the days pass, the sisters find themselves thrust onto the foreign streets of Cincinnati, a city teeming with uncertainty and hostility. She must summon reserves of courage, ingenuity, and strength she didn’t know she had if they are to survive in an unfamiliar, unwelcoming land.

Inspired by true events of the Civil War, The Lost Women of Mill Street is a vividly drawn novel about the bonds of sisterhood, the strength of women, and the repercussions of war on individual lives.

Interview with the author

AM: What’s the tagline or ‘elevator pitch’ for your book?

KB: Inspired by true events of the American Civil War, The Lost Women of Mill Street is a coming-of-age survival tale of two sisters and the harrowing journey that takes them far from everything they’ve ever known.

AM: How did you come up with the idea for your book?

KB: I once lived in Roswell, Georgia, which was established in the mid-1800s. A number of the town’s 19th century residences remain and several, such as Barrington Hall and Smith Plantation, are open for public tours. One day I explored these as well as a trail along Vickery Creek that leads past the Roswell Manufacturing Company’s original machine shop, the company’s only remaining pre-Civil War structure. It was there I learned about the mill workers, most of them women and children, who were arrested and sent north by Federal forces in 1864. At the time I didn’t know I’d write a novel about them, but I thought about those women for years.

Photo: Roswell machine shop   Source: Shutterstock

AM: What inspired you to write about that particular era or character?

KB: It was an idea that wouldn’t let go. I kept thinking of the Roswell mill women and wondering what it might have been like to endure what they did. And because the fates of most of the women remain a mystery, it lent itself well to a novel, leaving plenty of room for imagination. And while many novels have been written about the American Civil War, I’d never read one from the perspective of southern mill workers.

AM: What surprised you in the course of your research?

KB: I was surprised to find out the South was not nearly as united in its views on secession as we’d learned in school. Many white southerners opposed secession, and more than 100,000 of them actually fought for the Union. In his November 1860 speech warning against secession, Alexander H. Stephens, U.S. Congressman from Georgia, predicted that if the South seceded, southerners would “at no distant day commence cutting one another’s throats.” And in 1862 an Atlanta newspaper opined, “If we are defeated, it will be by the people at home.” 

AM: Do you prefer to write in silence or with background music? If music, what kind and why?

KB: I like to write with background noise—nothing with words. My favorite source is Funded by listeners, it offers hundreds of soundscapes, and the quality is fantastic. Some of my favorites are Stormy Weather, Irish Coast, and Café Restaurant. If you’re writing something spooky, you can’t beat Windy Mansion!

AM: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

KB: I’m raising three children, and I enjoy going to their games and events and volunteering at their school. I read, of course—mostly historical fiction but sometimes I’ll venture into other genres. And my husband and I are always looking for our next show to watch together. Two of our favorites are “Slow Horses” and “Longmire.” I’m also pretty diligent about exercise, which is important considering how much time I spend sitting at my computer. 

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Author Bio:

Kinley Bryan’s debut novel, Sisters of the Sweetwater Fury, inspired by the Great Lakes Storm of 1913 and her own family history, won the 2022 Publishers Weekly Selfies Award for adult fiction. An Ohio native, she lives in South Carolina with her husband and three children. The Lost Women of Mill Street is her second novel.

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  1. Cathie Dunn says:

    Thank you so much for hosting Kinley Bryan today, Amy. Such a fabulous interview!

    Take care,
    Cathie xo
    The Coffee Pot Book Club

    1. Amy Maroney says:

      Always a pleasure, Cathie!

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