I do an awful lot of it. As a writer of historical adventure stories, I keep lots and lots of notes. I have a box of spiral notebooks filled with handwritten notes. In my constant quest for all the wonderful tidbits required to make a historical novel come alive, I sometimes bump into a tasty morsel that is altogether unrelated to the project I am working on at the time – but compelling nonetheless. So what do I do? I jot it down.
My first novel, Midwife of the Blue Ridge, is an adventure tale set in 1763 about midwife Maggie Duncan, (the main character) making her way as an indentured servant from the Scottish Highlands to colonial Virginia. Evidently, sometime during in the course of researching 18th century ocean travel and life aboard a sailing vessel, I jotted down this interesting but unrelated fact in the top margin of my notes:
New York City had been occupied by the British Army for seven years?
The War of Independence is a massive event in our country’s history, and we Americans begin learning about the birth of our nation from the moment we attend our first Fourth of July celebration. Between the time we enter kindergarten and graduate high school, significant facts and events like the Boston Tea Party, the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, Valley Forge, Common Sense, Saratoga – all become etched on, and sometimes lost in the wrinkles of our brains.
Some part of me knew that New York City figured in the war somehow – but that the city was occupied for seven years was a revelation – I was intrigued. Not only did I jot the fact down – I double-bubbled it! This note is the embryo of my new novel, The Tory Widow.
The Tory widow’s adventure begins on the steps of St. Paul’s Chapel just after Anne Merrick’s marriage ceremony to a much older man. At that same moment, news of the Stamp Act’s repeal sweeps through the city and prompts a triumphant street celebration where Anne becomes the recipient of a wild, celebratory kiss from a handsome young stranger.
Ten years later, Anne is a widow. The “shot heard round the world” has been fired. Blood is shed at Lexington and Concord, thousands are dead and wounded at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the port city of New York is thrown in turmoil. Against this backdrop of civil strife and revolution, Widow Merrick struggles to maintain her deceased husband’s printing business, and survive in a perilous world where a woman’s lot is usually governed by the men her life.
British warships begin to menace the harbor, and loyalties are questioned. The fanatic Sons of Liberty scour the city, relentlessly pursuing and punishing supporters of the Crown. Loyalists are terrorized – tarred, feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail. As the widow of a known Tory, Anne Merrick draws the unwanted 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.
General Washington’s Continental Army arrives to stem a certain British invasion and New York transitions in to an armed camp. In spite of Anne’s apparent Tory leanings, Liberty Boy Jack Hampton finds he is drawn to the determined widow, and Anne finds it hard to resist the ardent patriot. Jack leads Anne to rediscover her true ideals. Together, they weather the confusion and fervor of an extraordinary time.
The tenuous connection between Anne and Jack is severed when Redcoats invade and the British occupy the city. To survive, Anne Merrick must draw upon her Tory reputation to infiltrate British military society and work clandestinely for the patriot cause. With treachery, cunning, stealth and courage her only weapons, Anne fights for her country, and the man she loves.
Up the Rebels!!
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