Judith has been writing professionally since she was seventeen. A country girl and an acknowledged tomboy, Judith grew up on a farm, with loving parents and grandparents. She had a Tom Sawyer childhood, full of ponies, fireflies, and puppies. Books were always a passion of hers, and her fondest memories include afternoons spent reading or listening to her granddad tell ghost stories.
Judith lives with her husband and two spoiled dogs in a restored 18th Century farmhouse on the Delaware-Maryland border that has been in her family since a female ancestor received the land grant from William Penn. Judith is descended from early Chesapeake Bay settlers and Lenape Indians. She has a strong family heritage of oral story telling, a tradition continued in the success of her oldest daughter, bestselling novelist Colleen Faulkner. Two of Judith's grandchildren are aspiring novelists.
Note: Judith has graciously agreed to gift the eBook of SCARLET RIBBONS to three lucky commenters, so be sure we have your email!
The American Revolution as a Setting for Historical Romances, by Judith E. French
I have always wondered why the American Revolution is considered a poor choice for historical writers. Why should Great Britain's wars be of greater interest to romance readers? And why has American history been told through men's eyes? What of the wives, sweethearts, mothers, daughters, and sisters who lived through those turbulent times? Why are their stories pushed to the far corners of the stage and often forgotten?
|Maryland's Eastern Shore|
My mother's family settled on the Eastern Shore of the hauntingly beautiful Chesapeake Bay Region of Maryland in the 1660's. As a child, I listened to stories of redcoats, smugglers, courageous and clever women, horse thieves, crafty clerics, and pirates. Those fascinating tales led me to a passion for history, and when I began to write seriously, I wanted to tell the true experiences of these unique women and the bold men that they loved.
In dusty libraries, in shaded graveyards, and from oral accounts, I learned that the area known as Delmarva--Delaware, Maryland, and the Eastern Counties of Virginia--was known as the Breadbasket of the Revolution. It was from these farms, these rivers, these forests and kitchen gardens that Washington's starving soldiers were kept alive during the terrible winter at Valley Forge. And when everyone believed the colonials struggle was lost, it was the wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters who made the sacrifice to produce and smuggle those vital supplies through the British lines.
|Revolutionary War battle|
In 1777, most men between the ages of 20 and 60 were away from their homes fighting for one side or another. Deserters from the Continentals and the British army roamed at will, robbing isolated farms. Ragged bands of rebel vigilantes and Tory raiders threatened the lives and possessions of loyal citizens and those who supported the young American nation alike. Women, children, and the elderly were often victims of the unrest and lawlessness, and Hessian mercenaries made little difference between Tories and rebel sympathizers when it came to seizing livestock, foodstuffs, slaves, or valuables. For the women left alone, it was a perilous time, as dangerous as the conditions of those refugees and civilians we witness in far parts of the world on the evening news.
|Gen. Washington addresses his troops on the Delaware|
I have to believe that the Delmarva women in 1777 were not much different than today's women. Most must have been frightened and opposed to the war. Some may have been loyal to England's monarch and the mother country, while others, whose husbands and sons had marched away to follow Washington, probably were ardent patriots. But I can't imagine that many of those women would have chosen to see war come to their quiet villages, farms, and plantations. Most women, whatever the color of their skin or origin, instinctively prefer compromise to violence. They want a secure peace to raise their children, operate their small shops, worship as they wish, and interact with friends and family without fear. Most women would not choose to have their homes, their communities, and their loved ones in danger of being lost. Few today or in the 18th century would wish to see their men at risk of injury, imprisonment, or death.
In Scarlet Ribbons, I decided to tell the story of these women through the eyes of Sarah Turner, a young mother who operated a country tavern and ferry crossing. On Delmarva, such a woman would not have been unusual. Here, in Maryland, it was common for women to own their own businesses and manage their own affairs. In sharp contrast to the laws of New England or to England, Maryland women had rights. I gave my Sarah Turner a young child, and I gave her a rocky past. I thought that it would be logical that Sarah would be opposed to the rebellion and sought only to survive and provide for her son, something many readers can understand and sympathize with.
Yet, I'd started with the idea of writing a romance between a practical, conservative woman and a brave, idealistic man who had joined the Revolution in an effort to create a new form of government, a man who would risk all for honor and a noble cause. My Sarah had never known romantic love, and she had reason to doubt and fear putting herself in a position where a man could have the power to hurt her or her child again. So what would make a sensible, intelligent woman like Sarah throw caution to the wind and take up Forrest Iron's cause? What would make ordinary women from every level of society defy the might of the British military? What or who would change Sarah from a pacifist to someone willing to share in the danger of the American fight for independence?
My task as a writer was to make Sarah's journey realistic and believable to readers while keeping the romance front and center. It is up to you to decide if I succeeded. But regardless of your opinion of Sarah and Forrest's love story, I hope that I've made you think about the sacrifices women like Sarah made so that we might enjoy the benefits of life in a free society today. And I hope that those of you who do like Scarlet Ribbons will go to your favorite e-books site and leave a review. Your opinion does influence the future of publishing and of historical romance in today's market.
Many thanks to Regan for inviting me to share a few thoughts with you today. Wishing you happy reading because readers really do have more fun!