‘Fire in the Hole’ digs into mining history

Kynslie Otte

Local author John Kekec’s historical fiction novel, “Fire in the Hole,” was released July 31 and sheds light on the forgotten coal mining legacies of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

“Fire in the Hole” utilizes fictional characters – two immigrant brothers – to detail the conditions coal miners faced in the late 19th century, including the black lung epidemic. One brother leaves town after a murder is committed, and the other stays to work in the mines. The novel not only explores the dangerous working conditions of the mines and the hardships miners faced, but also family life and Midwestern entertainment in the late 1800s.

“It is a story about a hard life,” Kekec said. “But people in those days didn’t think it was hard.”

The inspiration for Kekec’s book came from the stories of his own childhood, having grown up in what was once known as the coal belt near Pittsburg, Kan. Kekec is also a descendant of families who were involved in deep shaft coal mining.

“The stories your parents told you become a little more meaningful too, and you start to live them,” Kekec said.

Kekec did not just draw upon the stories he was told, but also upon the rich history of coal mining in Kansas.

“All one has to do is drive along the old abandoned roads of old Highway 66 to see faint traces of evidence of these past generations,” Kekec said. “Today, who would ever know that deep shaft miners and their families had ever once lived and worked here? It is now no more than a dream remembered; a civilization buried and gone in an era that has disappeared into the past…Yet some of us in these succeeding generations can still hear those voices calling to us from across the years. Whatever our ancestors were, they are ours, the only ones that we will ever have, and this book resurrects the flavor of that era.”

Kekec is an active member of the Missouri Writer’s Guild, as well as a retired Mineral Area College instructor. He has done graduate work at Kansas State College of Pittsburg and the Universities of Arkansas, Illinois, Arizona and Missouri. He now lives in Bonne Terre, Mo ., with his wife.

After writing fiction, essays, poetry, short stories and biographies for 20 years, Kekec calls “Fire in the Hole” the book he has always wanted to write.

“Fire in the Hole” is now available for purchase online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble in print and digital formats. The book is also available directly through the publisher at www.blackrosewriting.com.