Please join me in welcoming author Christine Blevins
to Let Them Read Books!
Hello, Christine, and welcome! What inspired you to write this series?
I was deep in research for my debut novel (which is a story that takes place in the mountains along the Virginia frontier in pre-Revolutionary colonial America) and I bumped into a fact that was surprising enough to me that I wrote it down:
I knew the British had occupied New York, but seven years? How did the Patriot New Yorkers deal with their occupiers? How did the British survive on this island in the midst of a civil insurrection for seven whole years? I circled the fact, and knew I would be coming back to it one day. I wasn’t exactly thinking “next book” but I was curious to find out more. I finally finished Midwife of the Blue Ridge and began sending the manuscript out, trying to get representation from a literary agent. I needed a new project to sink my teeth into – something to keep my mind off the steady stream of rejection letters that were coming in J. I went back to that note and it put me on a research path that caused me to rediscover the Revolution – fervent Patriotism, diehard Loyalists, tarring and feathering, a menacing naval armada, the Battle of Long Island, the clarity of Common Sense, the fire that took half of New York, the excess of Empire, and spy networks! It was all so exciting, and it was clear to me that my next book would be set during the American Revolution.
How did you create the characters of Anne and Jack?
Revolution is thrilling, but it was also a frightening and confusing time. I wanted my main characters to reflect the complications of what was happening in society at large – the tug and pull between old, ingrained loyalties and new, exciting ideals. I decided early on in the process that I wanted to write a story focused on the lives of average folk – the kind of people whose stories are lost in history. My main character – Anne Merrick – now she would be a woman who was not the daughter, or wife or mistress or maid of any historically famous man – just an ordinary woman who gets swept up by remarkable events taking place around her. Jack Hampton’s my average guy – not a perfect hero by any stretch – and quite capable of being a real ass now and then, but his ideals and loyalties are firm and clear as glass.
Where have your research travels taken you?
I love to travel, and even when I travel to a place not directly connected to my story, I still manage to find inspiration and energy that affects the quality of my writing. For Midwife of the Blue Ridge, I’ve traveled to Virginia – hiking and camping in the mountains. For The Tory Widow, I hunted out the few remnants of Revolutionary NYC that one can find in modern NYC and combed through the library and exhibits at the Historical Museum. For The Turning of Anne Merrick I’ve tramped the woodlands and battlefields of upstate New York. I find it always helps me to experience the geography of a place – even when it is so very different from the 18th century setting.
Who's your favorite historical figure from the Revolutionary era?
I have a thing for the Rangers I’ve been reading about lately, but if I have to pick just one figure I will say it has to be Thomas Paine. I am a great admirer of his writing, and his revolutionary sprit. His work exhibits the power of words. Paine’s pamphlet titled Common Sense galvanized a people to action, and his pamphlet series titled The American Crisis gave fortitude to the patriot cause. I used Common Sense as the source for the epigraphs that begin every chapter in The Tory Widow. The Turning of Anne Merrick chapters begin with epigraphs culled from The American Crisis. I think it is good to reread phrases that still, 200+ years later resonate so simply eloquently: “I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.”
Can you give us a hint of what's next for Anne and Jack?
Oh, this next book is pretty good so far, if I say so myself. We are in the southern theater of the War for Independence, and a lot of action, adventure, and even a bit of romance ensues. I’ll divulge this: the Americans end up winning the war.
And finally: I laughed when I saw the last question in the reading guide, because it was on my mind, too! What does "The Turning of Anne Merrick" mean?
As to the meaning of the title, I will admit the published title is not the original title I chose for the book. As usual, the sales and marketing folks at Penguin rejected the title I selected (which was Hearts of Oak) so to avoid ending up with a title of their devise, I came up with an alternate, and luckily they agreed to my second offering- The Turning of Anne Merrick. It is a title, I think, that can mean something different for each reader. If we define "turn" as going over to the other side, or taking up the cause of the other side, Anne had already “turned” in The Tory Widow when she embraced the Patriotic cause. But in a broader definition of “turning” meaning change, I think Anne continues to “turn” as she grows and develops in this new story, questioning her values and ethics along the way.
Fantastic! Thanks, Christine!
(I have a thing for the Revolutionary War Rangers, too, particularly in the Carolinas :)
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