Sunday, May 17, 2009

Guest post / giveaway from Christine Blevins: A Novel Idea

Historical novelist Christine Blevins, who I interviewed for Reading the Past last September, is stopping by with a guest post on unexpected finds during the research process and her fascination with early American history. She's also offering a giveaway. Welcome, Christine!

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.


  1. My favorite fact about my country's history (United States) is that we can and will do that which we do not necessarily want to do. That is, we will take the initiative on matters when it becomes apparent that no-one else will! We are true go-getters and will make sacrifices to do the greater good :)

  2. So many interesting things about our history, but I've always been esp. fascinated by bits of trivia. For example the fact that the first battle of the Civil War was in the fields around the home of Wilmer McLean, who then moved, and 4 years later the surrender occurred in the front room of his home in Appomattox.

  3. History has so many strange and interesting facts. The original books in the Library of Congress were destroyed in a fire when the British burned the new Capitol in 1814. Congress bought Thomas Jefferson's library of 6,487 books for $23,950 to replace them. 2/3 of these were destroyed in another fire. Over the years, the Library of Congress has replaced all but 310 of Jefferson's books through a worldwide search making sure the replacements were the same editions as the originals.

  4. i love historical fiction. cont me in, i would love to add it to my summer reading list

  5. This was a very engaging post, excellent! I am going to have to look up Blevin's first book.
    I always feel a little guilty (instead of stupid) due to the fact that I know/read more info about The Wars of the Roses and the Tudor families then I know about America, where I and my family have resided for about 200 years. I always wonder what made my ancestors COME here, why America, and not stay in England and Ireland where their families lived for hundreds of years.. I wish I knew more of their beginnings upon moving to America. Did they move here only to be caught up in the wars for freedom and killed? How did their families feel about that? Was it worth it to escape one persecution to trade it for something less than freedom?
    Anyway, you've had me at hello, Christine, and I'd like to read more about it.
    I live near Caddo Mills, TX, and people in TX do not know how to pronounce it,(the A is like the A in Cat) even when I correct them they pretend not to hear. The origin of the name of Texas comes from the Caddo Indian word "teysha" meaning "hello friend" referring to the friendly tribes throughout the region.

    Please enter me, marieburton2004 at yahoo dot com

  6. It's hard to choose a top favorite fact, but one of my top favorites is that the pirate Jean LaFitte, despite being a wanted man in New Orleans and being offered land and British citizenship if he would help the British in the War of 1812, instead offered his services to New Orleans and helped Andrew Jackson defeat the British in that famous battle, fought two weeks after the war itself had formally ended.

    I enjoyed the guest blog. Thanks, Christine.

  7. I have so many favorite facts, which all play into serious and great events. How about I say that in 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act. One of the best moments in American history.


  8. I don't know if it's my *favorite* fact, because there are so many, but I just learned this on a recent trip to Colonial Williamsburg:

    1) Patrick Henry had a total of 17 children from 2 marriages.

    2) In the Governor's Palace at Williamsburg, there hangs an ORIGINAL portrait of King Charles II. An original, so from around 1660. That blew my mind.

  9. As a native New Yorker, I was excited to read about this book. There are so few books written about this period of American history unfortunately since it was such a dynamic period. I was lucky enough to have New York State history in 7th grade, and I learned that a significant number of battles were fought in my lovely state. thank you Christine for writing such a splendid book. I'm throwing my hat into the ring for this book.

  10. A terrific post. What impresses me as much as the historical insights is the fact that Christine's handwritten research notes are so legible and tidy! My penmanship has deteriorated so much, requiring considerable de-coding skills when I review my own notes!

  11. I love Civil War history and tidbits about Lincoln such as that he had a cat named "Bob," a turkey named "Jack," and a dog named "Jib." :-)

  12. Thank you for the giveaway! I think my favorite part of our country's history is that everyday average people can make such a difference in our history. Just that decision of revolting against the tea tax and throwing out the tea in Boston Harbor, has today led Americans to be Starbucks swigging coffee drinkers instead of tea lovers. And I love that Americans, by nature, are travelers. So when learning history, it's not uncommon to find information about a person in various locations around the US. For instance, I love that in New York City I can stand in Greeley Square and then visit my mom in Greeley, Colorado and know they were both named for the famous newspaper magnet.

  13. My kids have a book that they enjoyed about the unusual pets that the different presidents had. John Quincy Adams had an alligator given to him as a gift. He resided in one of the White House bath tubs.

  14. Peanut butter was invented here!

  15. Greetings to one and all:

    I have written three books so far and have two of them third book is in the final stages of editing.

    My fourth book is just within the beginning stages.

    All are Christian oriented adventure stories.
    I'll leave a link on here for my latest published book.

    Warm Regards

    William Dunigan

  16. One of the interesting facts from our history is that whilst the majority of the colonies in Australia were penal colonies, Adelaide was a completely free colony!

  17. Tara Werkheiser4:51 PM

    My favorite facts about U.S. history come from the life of Thaddeus Stevens. He's best known as an abolitionist Republican Congressman during the Civil War. As such, he's partially responsible for our 14th Amendment, which protects our civil rights. But Stevens also defended education in Pennsylvania, perhaps even saving it when he spoke in support of a PA law to establish free public schools. Stevens had a wicked, caustic sense of humor too. When female admirers asked for a lock of his hair, he offered them his whole wig! (Perhaps this is why he never married..)

    Please enter me in the giveaway!

  18. My favorite fact for my country is Abraham Lincoln. I think he was fantastic, and utterly quoteable. My favorite is "'Tis better to remain silent and be thought a fool than speak and remove all doubt in the end."

  19. My favorite fact about my country ( USA) is that we have the "Bill of Rights" which are protected by the constitution.

    madamerkf at aol dot com

  20. We recently moved to a part of the country whose residents are often derided as "rednecks." We were surprised to learn the history of the terms - miners banded together to fight and die for the right to unionize. asthenight at gmail dot com

  21. I am a citizen of two countries. My adopted country, Canada, helped more that 30,000 black American slaves escape to Canada.

    In the U.S. the end of slavery, Civil Rights movement, and the end of segregation.

    I blogged about your giveaway here:

  22. The first official expedition to explore the western frontier was Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
    Their guide for part of the trip was female Shoshone Indian named Sacagawea .
    1bmore @ gamil .com

  23. I'm such a history geek... hmm.

    I think one of my favorite U.S. history facts is that the pillars of the original Capitol building (which was burned in the War of 1812) are today in the National Arboretum. What an odd sense of history, to walk around those pillars.

    krtrumpet [at] aol [dot] com

  24. Anonymous4:44 PM

    For me, the most interesting fact about our country's history is that there are so many facts and stories yet to be unearthed and publicized. Mainstream textbook histories always tell a story from one point of view. It's not in their authors' best interests to confuse the readers by questioning either established negative or positive aspects of the historical personages or situations. My favorite historical books are usually based on established history's footnotes.

  25. My country was named after a lion because that's the first animal the local founder saw when he stepped off his boat.

  26. Fav fact about Finland...hard one, but what stands out in my mind. Well the 3 real crusades to make us Christians, the pope complaining. More crusades from other countries. I like that we were stubborn to teh end :)

    blodeuedd1 (at) gmail (dot) com

  27. Anonymous8:21 AM

    I've always admired John Quincy Adam's courage in going into the House of Representatives after being President and waging his one man war against slavery, dying in the Capitol building.

  28. To me the most interesting thing in US history is that women finally got the vote in 1918. So hard to believe it took that long. The book sounds like an awesome read.

  29. My favorite fact is that the Ivy League colleges were here before the country's birth.
    Thanks for the giveaway!

  30. My favorite fact about America is that one truly can start from "humble beginnings" and become anything we dream of. So many of our Presidents have done so. Thanks for the giveaway, would love to win.

  31. I'd say my favorite fact about the U.S. is our enactment of the U.S. Constitution, particularly the First Amendment.

  32. I love digging into local history. My city was named for a game played by the Native Americans who lived in the area.

  33. Just popping by to say that I've posted this on Win A Book. No need to enter me.

  34. I'm not from the US - am from the Philippines. One of my favorite facts about our country is that we invented the yoyo but used to use it as a weapon.

    We have survived Spanish, American and Japanese colonial rule, have had 3 different constitutions, shifted from bicameral with a president to unicameral with a prime minister, back to bicameral with a president. Many of the shifts seem to be either for the removal of "term limits" or to increase the number of seats in the Philippine congress.

    please count me in

    gaby317nyc AT gmail DOT com

  35. Anonymous5:57 AM

    favorite fact? When we gained independence in 1947? I don't think anything can ever top that for me. (I'm from India)

    thanks so much for the giveaway and thanks for keeping it international.

  36. A bit morbid, but I was fascinated that Lincoln's wife held seances to try and contact her son, who died while Lincoln was in office.

    Thanks for the entry! This book sounds really interesting.

  37. My favorite fact about my county's history(US)is that only two people, John Hancock and Charles Thomson signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Most of the rest signed on August 2, but the last signature wasn't added until five years later.

    Enter me please!

  38. mitty9:31 PM

    Mercy Otis Warren, the US' first female intellectual, was possibly the least known but most prolific and ardent rebel writer. She produced several plays (pure political propaganda), a couple volumes of mediocre poetry and a three-volume history of the American Revolution, in addition to several uncollected articles of political commentary. Where is she now?

  39. I love that we're a fiery bunch in the US. This country was built on the bravery and tenacity of those who came before us and weren't afraid to fight for what they believed in. We don't just sit back and "take it".

  40. I am amazed at the fact that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two of our great nation's founding fathers and revolutionary geniuses, died within hours of each other on July 4, 1826 - exactly 50 years to the day that we officially declared independence from Great Britain. To me, that is just an ultra cool coincidence.

    safo316 -at- gmail -dot- com

  41. My favorite fact? That we won the Revolutionary War!
    Thanks for the chance to win this book -- I'm looking forward to reading it one way or another!

    geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com