Fascinated by WW2

Libby Hellman author photoRelevant History welcomes Libby Fischer Hellman, who left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago thirty-five years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Fifteen novels and twenty-five short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first. She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery and crime writing community and has even won a few, including the Anthony, Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Daphne. She has won the Ippy and the Readers Choice Award multiple times. For more information about her and her books, visit her web site, view her book trailer, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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My trilogy of WW2 stories, War, Spies, and Bobby Sox, is set during the war. It includes two novellas and a short story, all set in Chicago and the surrounding area. Because my knowledge of battles and military strategy is quite limited, all three stories examine the effects of wartime on the people who stayed home while their loved ones went abroad to fight. Here’s a look at the motivations that drove me to write the stories.

The contemporary appeal of WW2
People frequently ask, why World War Two? I’ve always been an avid reader of fiction set in the period, mostly because it’s one of those rare times where the line between good and evil was crystal clear and unambiguous. That doesn’t often happen, especially now.

WW2 was a time where some people turned out heroic and others were cowards, a time rich in potential conflict and ripe for character development. At first I was intimidated at the thought of writing about it, because so much had already been written about it, and so beautifully. What could I bring to the party? But when a friend encouraged me to give it a go, I decided to choose just a small part of the vast canvas. The three stories that fell out make up War, Spies and Bobby Sox.

I wasn’t certain today’s readers were still interested in the period. But I was wrong. It still fascinates people. In today’s landscape of widespread government surveillance, 24-hour news, drone strikes, post-truth, expert-hating, and Trump, a clear-cut hero is rare. Our leaders have been known to lie to us, and we’ve lost faith in our institutions. We’ve entered what I call “The Age of Gray.” So the idea that there was once something worth believing in, something that united us despite our circumstances, has a powerful appeal.

Research, research and more research
Research is my favorite part of the writing process. I could read and take notes all day. I had already taken a long, hard look at espionage techniques and strategy. I’d visited Bletchley Park in the UK and DC’s Spy Museum. And, while I knew nothing about physics or atoms, I knew I wanted to write about the early years of the Manhattan Project (before it was called that) at the University of Chicago. That meant even more studying just so I could claim a rudimentary understanding of the nuclear fission process. The result was The Incidental Spy, the first novella in the collection. By the way, I’d also visited and had lunch in Berlin’s Tiergarten (their version of Central Park). I recall thinking that if I ever wrote anything set in Berlin, I’d have to set a scene in the park. Guess where the first scene of An Incidental Spy is set?

I’d originally planned to write a companion piece about the women who worked at Bletchley, but someone in my exercise class (See, there are reasons to work out) mentioned an ex-prison camp German POWs less than two miles away.

German POWs? Here in Chicago?

German POW camp in TexasIt didn’t take long to discover there were almost half a million German POWs in the US, held in more or less every state between 1943-1945. They worked on farms and in factories. It wasn’t a secret, but the US Army, which managed them, didn’t advertise the fact either. Consequently, a lot of the details and stories about their time here have melted away. But I was hooked, so the companion novella about two German POWs and their “love” triangle with a farm girl was born.

Discovering 1930s Lawndale
The third story is about an actress in the Yiddish theater in Chicago’s Lawndale, a thriving Jewish community in the ‘30s, and how she came to spy on the German-American Bund. This story is set in 1938, before the war officially began, but war fever was high, and at the time Fritz Kuhn, who was eventually deported, was the head of the fascist Nazi-inspired Bund. Incidents of anti-Semitic bullying, fist fights, and worse were on the rise. It was a dangerous time.

My research for that originated with my son, who was preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. Someone had given him an amazing book called “The Jews of Chicago.” Idly flipping through it, I found a 1930s photo of immigrant butchers in Lawndale, standing behind the meat counter in a deli. I’m still not sure why it stopped me. It could have been the lighting, their blood-spattered aprons, the expression in their eyes—a mixture of pride, hope, and fatigue. But I instantly knew I had to write about people like them. So I toured Lawndale, interviewed people who had lived there at the time, and “The Day Miriam Hirsch Disappeared” was the result.

A growing trend
I’m not alone in my fascination with those dark times. All The Light You Cannot See, Sarah’s Key, Nightingale, Jody Picoult’s The Storyteller, Unbroken by Laura Hillebrand, The Women in the Castle, and more, have all come out recently. In fact, there’s a new sub-genre of literature developing around WW2. I’m thrilled to be part of it.

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War, Spies, and Bobby Sox book coverA big thanks to Libby Hellman. She’ll give away an ebook copy (winner’s choice of format) of War, Spies, and Bobby Sox to two people who contribute a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winners from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET.

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The American Turtle, George Washington and Me

Robert Skead author photoRelevant History welcomes back the father-son team Robert J. Skead, with Robert A. Skead, authors of YA historical fiction. Their ancestor Lamberton Clark fought in the Revolutionary War as a member of the Connecticut Militia and the Continental Army, and their popular children’s books include the American Revolutionary War Adventure series: Patriots, Recoats & Spies and Submarines, Secrets, and a Daring Rescue (Zondervan). To learn more about their books, visit their web site and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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I never knew the first submarine invented for warfare was created during the American Revolution. It wasn’t in any of my history books when I was a child. Had I known about it, my interest in the subject, which was already high (I was in sixth grade in 1976 during the Bicentennial), would have peaked even higher.

I stumbled on the American Turtle submarine while searching for possible hooks for the second book in our American Revolutionary War Adventure series crafted with my father. Our goal with the books is to inspire kids and adults to do great things and educate our readers about some “little known” facts or events during this important period in our nation’s history. The first book in our series—Patriots, Redcoats & Spies—used the Culper Spy Ring as a hook. When I saw the image of the American Turtle on my computer screen, my eyes widened, and I had that “Aha!” moment. When I tell kids about it during my author visits, they too are fascinated. How can you not be—a submarine during the American Revolution! Who knew?!

Turtle submarine beneath shipMy PowerPoint presentation used for my author visits shows an image of the Turtle. One child said it looked like a giant acorn, which is true, but the American Acorn doesn’t sound so cool. Others described it as two giant clam shells stuck together, but the American Clam doesn’t work either. When the sub is in the water it looks like a turtle, hence the American Turtle, maybe not a very threatening name, except when you think of its inventor, David Bushnell, saying that his Turtle snaps on command.

The turtle that more than snaps
The American Turtle was invented to secretly submerge under a British warship and attach a bomb to its hull, and then escape while the fuse burned and the clocked ticked down until BOOM! David Bushnell, a Yale graduate, started inventing the Turtle in 1775 because he first invented underwater explosives (waterproof gunpowder), and he needed a way to deliver it to blow up a ship. Previously when men of war wanted to destroy a ship, they used fire bombs made with oil or other flammable materials, all delivered above the water level. The Governor of Connecticut, the state in which Bushnell lived, who was a Patriot and knew of the invention, recommended it to General George Washington, who, even though he was a little skeptical, invested funds for its continued creation.

The Turtle could hold one man as pilot and operated via pumps and hand-cranked propellers. Tar inside the grooves of the wooden structure made it waterproof. It could submerge for about 20-30 minutes. Glass built into its structure provided some light, but once submerged there would be darkness. That problem was solved, to my surprise, by fungus that would glow in the dark, and that was placed around instrumentation like gauges. Yes, the ingenuity of David Bushnell is so impressive! The fungus would not work in cold weather, so the Turtle didn’t operate in winter.

The Turtle was used several times in New York Harbor but failed to achieve the purpose for which it was created. Patriot Ezra Lee piloted its first mission. The target: The HMS Eagle, Howe’s flagship, stationed off Manhattan.

Lee’s personal account (found in the back of Submarines, Secrets and a Daring Rescue) details how he couldn’t get the bomb to attach to the hull because he hit metal. He tried to connect with another part of the hull, but was not able to stay underneath (imagine all the currents). He had to give up. He reported that the British did spot him and rowed out to investigate. He then released a charge (a floating bomb), which they saw and avoided in retreat. When it exploded, it did so “with tremendous violence, throwing large columns of water and pieces of wood that composed it high into the air.”

The Turtle was exhausting to operate, as you might imagine. Lee tried again a month later, but he was spotted, so he abandoned the mission. The British sunk it later as it sat on its holding device in Fort Lee.

Not so secret, after all
Despite the Continental Army’s best attempts to keep the Turtle’s existence a secret, the British did learn about it, and they didn’t take its threat too seriously. It seems a Loyalist tavern keeper and postmaster had intercepted Bushnell’s mail and learned of it, and a coded message was then sent to British attention. The message contained some inaccuracies, stating it was ready to be used when in fact it was still being developed in the Connecticut River.

Washington says!
George Washington wrote to Thomas Jefferson that the Turtle was an “effort of genius.” He described David Bushnell as “a man of great mechanical powers—fertile in invention and a master in execution.”

Our adventure
Entering  the TurtleIn Submarines, Secrets and a Daring Rescue, fifteen-year-old twins, Ambrose and John Clark, once again find themselves in the thick of things in service of the newly forming United States of America. Their new mission: help transport much-needed gunpowder to the patriots. When they end up in an even more dangerous situation—manning one of the first submarines—it seems the worst is behind them. Until they have to attempt a prison break to rescue one of their older brothers. Follow these brave young patriots as they continue to follow in their father’s footsteps and take even bigger leaps of faith.

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Submarines, Secrets, and a Daring Rescue book cover imageA big thanks to Robert Skead. He’ll give away autographed paperback copies of Submarines, Secrets, and a Daring Rescue to two people who contribute a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available is the U.S. only.

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I’m Featured in Southern Writers Magazine

Suzanne Adair feature in Southern Writers Magazine Nov-Dec 2015Many thanks to Southern Writers Magazine, where I’m featured for the November-December 2015 issue. The article provides information on the historical background of the Michael Stoddard series, details development of characters like Nick Spry, and goes into the importance of my reenacting experience. Interested? Purchase a copy. Follow Southern Writers Magazine on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about your favorite Southern authors.

Tweet: Check out #mystery author @Suzanne_Adair featured in Nov-Dec 2015 Southern Writers Magazine. http://bit.ly/1PgNS7y @SouthrnWritrMag

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Mini Book Tour for Deadly Occupation

Deadly Occupation cover imageA wayward wife, a weapons trafficker, and a woman with “second sight”—it’s a puzzle that would have daunted any investigator. But Michael Stoddard wasn’t just any investigator.

Late January 1781, in coastal North Carolina, patriots flee before the approach of the Eighty-Second Regiment, leaving behind defenseless civilians to surrender the town of Wilmington to the Crown. The regiment’s commander assigns Lieutenant Michael Stoddard the tasks of tracking down a missing woman and probing into the suspicious activities of an unusual church. But as soon as Michael starts sniffing around, he discovers that some of those not-so-defenseless civilians are desperately hiding a history of evil.

Deadly Occupation, book #1 of my “Michael Stoddard American Revolution Mysteries” series, is on a mini book tour through next week. I’ll update the following list as permalinks go live:

Monday 12 October, at the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, Debra Brown posted my essay on Major James Henry Craig, a hero for North Carolina’s loyalists during 1781.

Sunday 18 October, at the Writers and Other Animals blog, Sheila Boneham interviews me. The interview includes a story about how an editor at a mid-sized publishing house didn’t believe my historical research and rejected Deadly Occupation.

Thursday 22 October, at the A Covent Garden Gilfurt’s Guide to Life blog, I discuss William Herschel and astronomy in the eighteenth century.

Sunday 25 October, at the Make Mine Mystery blog, I discuss why I strive to write historical mysteries that are as accurate as possible, rather than settling for “Hollywood history.”

Purchase Deadly Occupation here:
Amazon Kindle US
Amazon Kindle UK
Nook
Apple
Kobo
Paperback

Release Day for Deadly Occupation!

Deadly Occupation cover imageToday is release day for Deadly Occupation, book #1 of my “Michael Stoddard American Revolution Mysteries” series. Here’s the book’s description:

A wayward wife, a weapons trafficker, and a woman with “second sight”—it’s a puzzle that would have daunted any investigator. But Michael Stoddard wasn’t just any investigator.

Late January 1781, in coastal North Carolina, patriots flee before the approach of the Eighty-Second Regiment, leaving behind defenseless civilians to surrender the town of Wilmington to the Crown. The regiment’s commander assigns Lieutenant Michael Stoddard the tasks of tracking down a missing woman and probing into the suspicious activities of an unusual church. But as soon as Michael starts sniffing around, he discovers that some of those not-so-defenseless civilians are desperately hiding a history of evil.

Purchase Deadly Occupation here:
Amazon Kindle US
Amazon Kindle UK
Nook
Apple
Kobo
Paperback

Over at the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, Debbie Brown has posted my essay on Major James Henry Craig, a hero for North Carolina’s loyalists during 1781.

Reviews on blogs:
Aobibliophile
Amber Foxx
Caroline Clemmons
Warren Bull

A Book of Cookery by a Lady

Kimberly Walters author photoRelevant History welcomes Kimberly Walters, a living historian, author, and owner of K. Walters at the Sign of the Gray Horse, which offers historically-inspired jewelry. Kim is a proud horse mom first and foremost. She is a member of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, currently of the Fincastle Chapter of Louisville, Kentucky, as well as the Association of Living History, Farm, and Agricultural Museums. She also serves her country as a Federal employee. Sales from A Book of Cookery by a Lady help support her rescued Colonial Williamsburg horse. To learn more, check out her web site.

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Fire, frying pan, and potsWhen I started participating in living history events, a friend recommended that I look into hearth cooking to give me a purpose and something to do. I was skeptical, but I am not one to sit around and do nothing, no matter where I am. Wasn’t that hot and sweaty work? With five rescue horses, I’m not a lightweight, so I am used to working hard, but this was a different kind of work. Nevertheless, I was not prepared for what I was getting myself into! I did start my research with passion and immersed myself into the subject. What’s not better to like than food?

First and second course layoutAfter I studied period cookery books and actually cooked over a fire, I compiled appropriate recipes (also known as receipts in the time period). I was so enamored with how they did things in the kitchen and in dining, I couldn’t stop. My original concept was to find the most common things of the time period that would assist me with interpreting this part of history to the public without a bunch of notes tucked away in my pocket (or having to remember it). It was all really meant for me. That sounds kind of selfish but it is true! However, many of us that do research cherish the little bits of information that we find that are not well known and like to keep them close to us like the “Gollum” did of the “One Ring” of the The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. They are precious!

18th-century mealFive years later, I decided to publish my findings as A Book of Cookery by a Lady. I did so on what would have been my Mom’s birthday as a tribute to her. I was also enamored with an article written about Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson, George Washington’s housekeeper during the war years, by Ms. Nancy K. Loane. Mrs. Thompson’s service is not really well known, yet she deserves to be remembered for running the great general’s household and feeding his staff. I have compiled a history on her as a memorial of her service. It is a highlight of the book.

A lot of chapters are interesting from a historical viewpoint—but also very practical for today. This includes items in season, cooking terms, measurements, receipts, how to carve meats, setting a table for one to thirty dishes, and even how to choose your produce at the market.

Kitchen cleanliness and safety in the 18th century
One of the other areas that I think is highly important and underrepresented is cleanliness and safety in the 18th-century kitchen. What was really considered, done, and written down? I’m always asked if I am going to use bleach, soap, and sanitizer when cooking. No. I use 18th-century methods, and they work. General observations for cooks and what they needed to do to ensure they did not poison or make anyone sick were also noted in my book. This focused on utensils and equipment.

The types of metals that the equipment was made from and how they were cleaned was very important. If a cook wanted to poison someone, they could do so by using a certain type of pot that had verdigris on it and serving it right up! Cooks did not know that some of the metals were deadly that they used, but they at least knew that if they were not cleaned correctly, they could be deadly.

I caution the reader not to use an original pot or utensil to cook for demonstration or at home. We may not be able to identify the type of metal it is made from today. By focusing on M. Radcliffe, I highlighted this very issue. Radcliffe talks about lead and its hazards, which is somewhat unique, but by this time well known. Here is an excerpt from her book:

Lead is a metal easily corroded, especially by the warm steams of acids, such as vinegar, cider, lemon-juice, Rhenish wine, &c. and this solution, or salt of lead, is a slow and insidious, though certain poison. The glazing of all our common brown pottery ware is either lead or lead ore; if black, it is a lead ore, with a small proportion of manganese, which is a species of iron ore; if yellow, the glazing is lead ore, and appears yellowish by having some pipe or white clay under it. The colour of the common pottery ware is red, as the vessels are made of the same clay as common bricks. These vessels are so porous, that they are penetrated by all salts, acid or alkaline, and are unfit for retaining any saline substances. They are improper, though too often used, for preserving sour fruits or pickles. The glazing of such vessels is corroded by the vinegar: for, upon evaporating the liquor, a quantity of the salt of lead will be found at the bottom. A sure way of judging whether the vinegar or other acid have dissolved part of the glazing, is by their becoming vapid, or losing their sharpness, and acquiring a sweetish taste by standing in them for some time; in which case the contents must be thrown away as pernicious.

Source:
Radcliffe, M., A Modern System of Domestic Cookery: or, The Housekeeper’s Guide, Arranged on the Most Economical Plan for Private Families. Originally published in 1823, digitized on Google Books Aug 15, 2007.

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A Book of Cookery by a Lady book cover imageA big thanks to Kimberly Walters. She’ll give away a copy of A Book of Cookery by a Lady to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available within the U.S.

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Education of Girls and Women in Times Past

How were girls and women educated in Tudor and Regency England and Revolutionary America? I join Relevant History author guests Anna Castle and Libi Astaire on the Historical Fiction eBooks blog for this “back-to-school” report.

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The Cost of Freedom

Geshe SangpoThe monk in the middle of this picture is Geshe Sangpo, a Tibetan-born Buddhist, taking his oath of American citizenship in Raleigh, North Carolina. When he was a boy, he fled the repression in his homeland and made the iconic but arduous crossing of the Himalayas by foot into Nepal so he could pursue his calling as a monk—not unlike the Dalai Lama’s own journey. Until May 2015, when he became an American citizen, Geshe Sangpo was essentially a man without a country. However from now on, every Fourth of July will have special meaning for him.

What would you do for liberty? Would you leave family members behind and walk hundreds of miles in rugged terrain with little food? That’s what Geshe Sangpo did. At some point today, while you’re enjoying your holiday feast, the company of friends and family, and a fireworks display, pause a moment to think about all the people worldwide who are living in repressive regimes. And give thanks for the freedom you have.

I’m selling and signing my books in person today from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Joel Lane Museum House’s annual Fourth of July celebration. I’m also an online guest in the following spots. Stop by and say hello:

Richard Abbott’s blog

Writers Who Kill blog

Linda Hall’s blog

Happy Fourth of July!

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Spies Like Us

Robert Skead author photoRelevant History welcomes Robert J. Skead, with Robert A. Skead, authors of YA historical fiction. Their ancestor, Lamberton Clark, one of the main characters in Patriots, Redcoats & Spies, fought in the Revolutionary War as a member of the Connecticut Militia and the Continental Army. Patriots, Redcoats & Spies includes many historical facts about the war and features events that took place in 1777 in Bergen County, New Jersey, where the Skeads live. To learn more about their books, visit their web site, and follow them on Facebook and Pinterest.

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The best part about writing Patriots, Redcoats & Spies, an American Revolutionary War adventure, was living in 1777—and becoming a teenage spy. You see, our protagonists were twin teenage boys, John and Ambrose Clark. And key to making their adventure real for the reader was the research involved, particularly involving the Culper Spy Ring.

The twins’ father, Lamberton, is a spy/courier for the Culper Ring, and when he is shot by British soldiers while on a mission, he has only two hopes of getting the secret message he’s carrying to General George Washington: his 14-year-old twin boys John and Ambrose.

The boys accept their mission without a clue about what they may be up against. They set off from Connecticut to New Jersey to find General Washington, but the road to the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army is full of obstacles—including the man who shot their father, who is hot on their trail.

I had plenty of help in the research about the Culper Spy Ring in the form of my father, Robert A. Skead (now 89-years-old and a member of the Sons of the American Revolution), who crafted the story with me. In the story, all the twins know is that the letter they carry is from Culper Jr. and is written in invisible ink—and that it’s imperative they trust no one and place that letter in the general’s hand, fast.

Culper Jr.’s real name was Robert Townsend. He operated in New York City, gathering information about British troop movements for General Washington. He made his fellow spy Abraham Woodhull, also known as Samuel Culper, pledge never to tell his name to anyone, not even to George Washington. Townsend posed as a Tory coffee shop owner and society reporter, which helped him gain information from British loyalists and soldiers at fellowship gatherings.

Invisible ink did exist during colonial times, and was used by the Culper Spy Ring with their messaging. The ink was developed by James and John (future chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court) Jay. It was made of a mixture of water and ferrous sulfate, and could be read when activated by heat or when in contact with a reagent. Secret sentences were often crafted between the lines of real letters. That is the device we used in our story.

Tremendous success and secret codes
Patriot spiesThe Culper Spy Ring operated in the New York City tri-state area for five years, and they were very successful—no spy was ever unmasked. Washington himself didn’t know their identities. To protect his spies identities, Major Benjamin Tallmadge, whom Washington appointed as head of the intelligence-gathering operation (the Culper Spy Ring), used a number system and pseudonyms in documents rather than their real names. The numbers pertained to words only discernable if one had the codebook divulging them.

Tallmadge used John Entick’s New Latin and English Dictionary (1771). Only four copies of the codebook were made—one for him, one for Washington, and the others for the Culpers. His codes, for example, included General Washington as 711, Culper Jr. was 723, and 727 was used for New York. Overall, more than 760 numbers were used in his codebook.

Ben becomes a central character in our sequel story Submarines, Secrets and a Daring Rescue, which launches on 4 August 2015. Tallmadge’s spy team was comprised of schoolmates from Long Island where he grew up. Other names of members included Sarah Townsend, Austin Roe, and Abraham Woodhull.

Petticoats and Benedict Arnold
Secret drop points, locations where messages would be hidden, were part of the spy ring’s operations. Anna Strong, a member of the secret team, would hang a black petticoat on her clothesline, signaling another operative (Caleb Brewster) to retrieve the message. We used the black petticoat in the sequel adventure as well.

The Culper Spy Ring was also behind the capturing of the British spy Major John Andre, and had that not occurred, the British might have taken control of our fort at West Point through the traitorous efforts of Benedict Arnold.

So, right now, you know more about the Culper Spy Ring than the boys in Patriots, Redcoats & Spies. All they know is they have a mission to accomplish and that they have to somehow find a way to do it, which isn’t easy because one of the boys, John, isn’t quite sold on the concept that a cause can be worth dying for. He likes his life as it is. But the reality is none of our lives would be as they are now were it not for the brave men and women who operated as spies in the Culper Spy Ring and were it not for the wisdom of General George Washington, who understood the importance of intelligence and deception to win the war.

We had the pleasure of being spies in this operation, even if only in our imaginations, which was more than historical—it was quite an adventure.

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Patriots, Redcoats & Spies book coverA big thanks to Robert Skead. He’ll give away a hardback copy of Patriots, Redcoats & Spies to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available in the US only.

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Revolutionary Miami?

Paper Woman book coverRegulated for Murder book coverHow do you think my protagonists Sophie Barton and Michael Stoddard would respond if they were suddenly transported from the American Revolution to 21st-century Miami? Check out my tongue-in-cheek response in this fun interview of me on Raquel Reyes’s Miami blog.

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