A Novel Idea
Research. I do an awful lot of it, entailing trips to sights, museums, and libraries, trawling the internet, tons of reading and the keeping of copious notes. As part of my process, I keep a series of scribbled-in notebooks.
In this constant quest for the choice tidbits I feel make my stories come alive, I sometimes bump into a tasty morsel that is altogether unrelated to the project at hand – but irresistible nonetheless. What do I do with it? I jot it down.
My debut novel, Midwife of the Blue Ridge, is a tale set in 1763 about a young midwife who makes her way as an indentured servant from the Scottish Highlands to colonial Virginia. When I was in the early stages of in-depth research for Midwife – concerning 18th century ocean travel specifically – I jotted down this unrelated fact:
The British Army controlled New York City for almost the entire war? Really? An invading force occupied the whole city for seven years? Wow…
With less then 300 years under our belt as a nation, the United States has, admittedly, a paucity of history when compared to other countries and cultures, and you’d think it would be easy for us Americans to know our history inside and out. The War of Independence is a massive event, and we begin learning about the birth of our nation from the moment we attend our first Fourth of July celebration. From the time we enter kindergarten to when we graduate high school, information about significant events like the Boston Tea Party, the writing of the Declaration, the winter at Valley Forge, and famous battles at Lexington, Concord, Saratoga and Yorktown has been drummed into us – the facts and dates etched on, and sometimes lost in the wrinkles of our brains.
I think for many of us, our country’s astounding history can easily become a boring series of tired facts memorized to pass a test or give a report. And because of that, we might lose sight of the magnitude of what really happened here – the fact that average, everyday people rose up and rebelled against their sovereign King – that regular people decided to take up arms and wage an impossible war against the world’s mightiest superpower. Add into that mix the development of a radical form of government and one can’t help but be reminded of how thrilling – how romantic – and how incredibly crazy the American Revolution really was!
And the British occupied New York City from 1776 to 1783? This was a revelation for me. In an instant I was boosted into a whole new realm of thinking. How different the wartime experience must have been for the people of New York City? How did rebellious New Yorkers manage to live day-to-day among their oppressors? How did the British cope with the rebels in their midst? Oh, I was intrigued. Not only did I jot the fact down – I double-bubbled it! That short little note scrawled in the top margin of a red notebook wound up being the embryo of my recently published novel, The Tory Widow.
In The Tory Widow, Anne Merrick’s adventure begins on the steps of St. Paul’s Chapel just after her marriage to a much older man. News of the Stamp Act’s repeal sweeps through the city and prompts a triumphant street celebration where she becomes the recipient of a wild, celebratory kiss from a handsome young stranger.
Ten years later, Anne has lost both her husband and child to smallpox. Blood is shed at Lexington and Concord, and thousands are dead and wounded at the Battle of Breed’s Hill. Against this backdrop of civil strife and revolution, Widow Merrick struggles to maintain her printing business. With British warships menacing New York’s harbor, true loyalties are questioned. The Sons of Liberty scour the city, pursuing and punishing supporters of the Crown. As the widow of a known Tory, Anne Merrick draws the attention of these fanatic Liberty Boys – one of whom she recognizes as the same man who’d kissed her on the steps of St. Paul’s years before.
When the Continental Army arrives to stem any British invasion, New York transitions into an armed camp. In spite of the widow’s apparent Tory leanings, Liberty Boy Jack Hampton finds he is drawn to Anne Merrick, and she finds it hard to resist the ardent patriot. Jack leads Anne to rediscover her true ideals, but their tenuous connection is severed when the Redcoats invade and occupy the city. In order to survive, Anne Merrick draws upon her Tory reputation to infiltrate British military society and work for the patriot cause. With cunning, stealth and courage her only weapons, Anne fights for her new country, and the man she loves.
Up the Rebels!!
Enter to win a signed copy of The Tory Widow, plus a Revolutionary survival kit: lavender water, a hankie, and a packet of Liberty Tea. Leave a comment with your favorite fact about your country’s history. The giveaway is open to anyone, anywhere. The deadline is this Friday, May 22nd.
Author Christine Blevins writes what she loves to read – historical adventure stories. Her debut novel Midwife of the Blue Ridge takes the reader to the wilds of 18th century colonial America, and was inspired by information unearthed while researching family history. Her second novel, The Tory Widow begins in New York City at the eve of rebellion. A native Chicagoan, Christine lives in Elmhurst, Illinois, along with her husband Brian, the younger two of four children, and The Dude, her ridiculously lovable golden-doodle. She is presently at work on the second novel in her Revolutionary War trilogy titled Hearts of Oak, due to be published in 2010, by Penguin/Berkley. http://www.christineblevins.com/