Columbia Falls author Miantae Metcalf McConnell has a folder labeled simply “Long Shot.” Inside that folder she’d jotted down a key goal for her book: get it noticed by Oprah Winfrey.
That long-shot dream came true recently when McConnell’s historical account of a black woman’s contributions during Montana’s early days was listed on two separate book lists promoted by the mega-star. “Deliverance Mary Fields,” the Montana history of the first African-American woman star route mail carrier in the United States, was listed in the January issue of O magazine in the Reading Room section that recommends “10 titles to pick up now.” It also was included in an online book list on oprah.com, entitled “17 books to pick up this winter.”
“Deliverance Mary Fields” details the life of Fields, a 53-year-old second-generation slave who arrived in Montana in the winter of 1885. It was an act of love, McConnell said, that compelled Fields to board a night train in Toledo, Ohio, in December that year to come to the Montana wilderness after getting word of a friend’s impending death. With early-day medical remedies tucked in her satchel, Fields arrive to find Mother Mary Amadeus lying on the frozen ground in a dilapidated cabin.
When Fields realized the cloister of frostbitten Ursuline nuns and their students from nearby Indian reservations wouldn’t survive without assistance, she stayed to help.
McConnell spent years researching Fields’ story for her book. She pored over documents in the state historical archives, scoured old newspaper articles and studied records at the Ursuline Center in Great Falls. Years went by — more than a decade all together — as McConnell searched for a complete picture of this remarkable black woman who survived wolf attacks, wagon crashes, brushes with local politicians and even a run-in with the state’s first Catholic bishop, who terminated her service at the Ursuline mission for alleged “inappropriate behavior” after nine years of loyal service.
Fields, known also as “Black Mary” and “Stagecoach Mary,” dealt with racial prejudice and obstacles at every turn in her life, McConnell said.
“As I got into the story, I didn’t want just the biographical story,” McConnell said in a 2017 interview with the Daily Inter Lake, explaining how she gave an authentic voice to her work of literary nonfiction.
Once McConnell’s exhaustive research was completed and the book was published in 2016, the job of marketing her work began.
“I spent well over a year trying to find the right person to send a book to on Oprah’s staff,” she said.
Eventually she connected with an editor, then got an email from a book reviewer.
“This is just what I was hoping for,” McConnell said about the high-profile national exposure. “I invested a year from the time the book was published until I got that review. I’ve been very active about doing all the promotion.”
The Oprah connection has given her book sales a sizable bump.
“I’m selling a lot more books. I’m absolutely thrilled,” she said, adding that the marketing has continued as she sends the book to “as many reviewers as I can find the names of.”
There’s one more plum promotion Oprah offers authors: Oprah’s Book Club, an honor that has put many new authors on the literary map.
And McConnell isn’t finished with Fields’ story yet. She plans to put together a companion book to “Deliverance Mary Fields” that would include photographs and all kinds of artifacts that showcase what she found during her research. It will be called “Mary Fields’ Road to Freedom.”
“I definitely want it out by summer,” she said. “By that time a larger audience will have read ‘Deliverance Mary Fields.’”
“Deliverance Mary Fields,” published by Huzzah Publishing, is available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, iBooks and IndieBound.
Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or firstname.lastname@example.org.