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Monday, June 27, 2016

How to Write a Non-Partisan Book on Politics

Turns out, it's possible to write a book on politics so the reader never guesses the author's personal politics.

The China Conspiracy was published a few years ago (14 to be precise) but sales have dramatically increased this past year as a presidential election looms a few months away. The book was written before 9/11, before Afghanistan, before Iraq, before George W. Bush or Barack Obama took office and long before Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump tossed their hats in a primary.

So why are sales so high this year?

Because the problem that The China Conspiracy is all about still exists.

As recently as 2015, voters in Virginia encountered constant problems with electronic voting machines crashing. They thought the problem was due to the electronic interference made by one of the elections officials, who was streaming music. But when state auditors investigated, they discovered that a smartphone could easily connect to the voting machines' network.

Now, in case you're wondering, once someone with knowledge connects to a network, they are 90% of the way toward the ability to hack their way into the most sensitive data. If they connected to a network counting votes, they could easily shift the numbers so a specific person was elected - and then they could completely obliterate their trail so you would never know the system was hacked.

Take a look at this video by Princeton University, demonstrating their findings:

In The China Conspiracy, a CIA programmer/analyst discovers that the Chinese government has planned to rig the United States elections outcome in order to place their preferred candidates in strategic positions.

The impact would be far-reaching.

It could lead to jobs once held by Americans being shipped overseas - including the manufacture of weapons that at one time were closely guarded secrets.

It could lead to the removal of restrictions that prevent foreign governments from lobbying (today in the U.S., the two largest lobbying groups are China and Mexico, far outdistancing the NRA).

It could also lead to the removal of restrictions against borrowing money from foreign governments (China is the United States' largest creditor).

It could cause inspectors to look the other way while toys with lead paint or dog treats laced with poison make their way into the hands of our children or the mouths of our pets.

Think about it.

This book actually got me banned from visiting China, a fact I found out from a government agency who investigated my knowledge of some of the facts in the book. (I was in good company, as it turns out; Tom Clancy was questioned in much greater depth for his book, The Hunt for Red October.) It turns out that Chinese officials learned of the book when Voice of America aired some segments about it, which was broadcast in their country.

Here's a one-minute video about the book:

The China Conspiracy is available in all eBook formats (Kindle, iBooks, Nook, etc.) and the paperback is available in all fine book stores. If you don't see it on the shelf, ask for it. Or follow this link to purchase it on amazon - $6.99 for Kindle and $14.95 for the printed book.

Visit my website at and click on "Books" to download a sample chapter and read GoodReads reviews - and more!

Monday, June 20, 2016

A Love Triangle Ending in Death and Betrayal

The true story of a love triangle involving one woman, a British spy and an American general. One is captured and hung, another forced to leave the country in disgrace, and a woman whose fate hinged on which man survived. It makes for fascinating reading and left me hungering for even more.

Last week, I mentioned how addicted I am to AMC's TURN, based on Washington's Spies by Alexander Rose. It's in its third season and it's excruciating to wait a full week between episodes. If you haven't seen the series, start with Season 1, which is available on Netflix and possibly Hulu and amazon.

One of the more fascinating parts of the show involves a love triangle between Peggy Shippen, British Major John Andre and General Benedict Arnold.

Peggy Shippen was born in 1760 in Philadelphia. There are differing reports to her family's loyalties, but in history's hindsight, they appear to be a family that was determined to straddle the occupation of Philadelphia by either England or America and come out unscathed. At least, that was the plan. She was only 18 years old when she met British Major John Andre, who was stationed in Philadelphia during the British occupation. She was, by all accounts, very beautiful, multi-talented and very intelligent. (Shown here: actors JJ Feild and Ksenia Solo from AMC's TURN as Major John Andre and Peggy Shippen.)

John Andre was 10 years older. The son of a Swiss father and a French mother, he was in British uniform and was in charge of British spies during the Revolutionary War. He was very handsome, spoke several languages fluently, and loved to sketch. At dinner parties, he often sketched the women and cut silhouettes of them, and he also painted. He was, by all accounts, a gentleman. When he was captured by the Americans in 1775, he gave his word not to attempt escape and spent a year traveling throughout American society in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, before being traded in a prisoner exchange.

Peggy and John began a love affair. In AMC's TURN, they are both portrayed as people who deeply love the other. In reality, I wonder if Peggy, being only 18 years old and naive, fell head over heels for the dashing Major, and Andre, being a spymaster, saw an opportunity to use her connections. Whatever their feelings for one another, when Philadelphia fell to the Americans and Andre fled to New York, Peggy remained behind - and met General Benedict Arnold.

Arnold was 38 - 10 years older than Andre and 20 years older than Peggy. He was already disillusioned with the Continental Army, having been accused of fraud, brought up on charges, and was owed a substantial amount of money for four years of service without pay. Though he'd been wounded three times in the same leg and had shown himself to be a brave leader in the midst of battle, he was passed over several times for less experienced, lesser qualified men. By most accounts, his problem was not his aptitude but his lack of social skills, which garnered him more enemies than friends.

He fell in love with Peggy and they were quickly married. (Shown here: actors Owain Yeoman and Ksenia Solo from AMC's TURN as Benedict Arnold and Peggy Shippen.)

And somewhere along the way, Peggy began a role as a liaison between Arnold and Andre. Andre had taught her how to use invisible ink - ink that, when dried became invisible and had to be moistened again to become readable. He taught her how to hide notes in hidden compartments and how to use a network of spies to get her correspondence between the lines to him in New York. It was Peggy who was instrumental in convincing her new husband that he would fare better with the British.

When Arnold was placed in charge of West Point, Andre arranged to meet him in rural New York. During the meeting, Arnold gave him six pieces of paper that detailed the plan for Arnold to surrender West Point to the British during a battle that the two men planned. Arnold provided him with civilian clothing and a fake passport to get him back through the lines.

But during his return, Andre was captured. Taken into custody, the papers were quickly found and Benedict Arnold's name forever became synonymous with a traitor. When word reached George Washington, he personally left for West Point, presumably to take Arnold into custody himself. Arnold got advance word of Washington's advance and Andre's capture and fled for the British side, leaving Peggy at home to pretend she knew nothing about the plot.

At this time, spies were considered lower than military and civilians. Andre was quickly given the sentence of death by hanging. He was so well thought of in both the American and British circles that George Washington supposedly said that "he was not a criminal, only unfortunate."

Peggy eventually joined Arnold and the two set sail for England. They lived most of their lives in London, where Peggy gave birth to five children. Arnold died in 1801 at the age of 61 and Peggy sold most of their possessions to pay off his debts. She died in 1804 at the age of 44.

One has to wonder what would have happened had Andre not been captured; would the British have been successful at taking West Point? Would Arnold have remained in the Continental Army, only to betray it time and again? Would Peggy and Andre ever have been reunited, or was Andre's interest in her merely part of the act of espionage?

It's a fascinating love triangle, one that poses more questions than it answers.

p.m.terrell is the author of River Passage, the award-winning true story of the ill-fated Donelson river voyage to Fort Nashborough during the height of the Chickamauga Indian Wars; and her most popular book, Songbirds are Free, the true story of the capture of 19-year-old Mary Neely by Shawnee warriors in 1780. Check out her website for more information at

Monday, June 13, 2016

What AMC's TURN Can Teach an Author

I admit I am addicted to AMC's Series: TURN: Washington's Spies, based on the true story of America's first spy ring and the book, Washington's Spies by Alexander Rose.

As a writer, I often look beyond the surface to discover the reasons I am drawn into a story. TURN takes place against the backdrop of the American Revolutionary War. Since we all know how it turned out, there's no suspense - or is there?

It turns out there is. And it also turns out there's more to the story than what we've been taught in school.

But even more so, I find I am drawn to the characters - and this is where the real genius exists. (All pictures below are from AMC's television series, TURN.)

Washington's Spies is the true story of a group of childhood friends who form a spy ring. All civilians with a military contact, they risk their lives to journey behind enemy lines, leaving documents and information that can turn the tide of war in their favor.

Abe Woodhull becomes the ringleader. His story is a classic tale of a son who can never live up to the ideals of the father. In this case, his father is Magistrate Richard Woodhull, whose home has been turned into the headquarters for Major Hewlett, who governs Setauket, Long Island.

Abe was engaged to Anna Strong but his older brother was killed during the war and he was pressured to marry the woman his brother had arranged to wed. Anna subsequently married Selah Strong. (Anna and Abe shown here.)

I liked Abe from the beginning and could feel his angst as he was caught between seeing the woman he truly loved and bedding the woman he was compelled to marry. However, as time marched on and the twists and turns began to unfold, I found myself appalled at the tactics Abe used to further his cause.

I disliked Abe's wife Mary from the beginning and completely reviled her when she burned the code book she found and then subsequently burned down their house. But as she was pulled into the shadows of the spy ring, she became resourceful, faithful and loyal to her husband - if not to the cause.

Two surprises for me were how I feel about two British loyalists: Major Hewlett was clearly the enemy as the series began so I hated him as any American would... Only there is more to Major Hewlett than meets the eye. We discover he was not a career soldier. In fact, he wanted to become an astronomer. What's more, he is a decent man and a fair-minded man placed into an impossible predicament of winning over the hearts and minds of a colony half a world away from England.

And when Anna Strong's husband becomes a prisoner of war and then a soldier who can't venture into British-controlled Setauket, Major Hewlett becomes attracted to her... And Anna clearly becomes attracted to him. I found myself rooting for their marriage, hoping they would leave war-torn America for England and Hewlett's life as an astronomer. (Major Hewlett and Anna Strong shown.)

Then Major John Andre enters the picture. Andre is in charge of Britain's spy ring and they are every bit as formidable as the colonial ring. He is cunning, opportunistic, shrewd. And yet there is another side to him. While he is in charge of Philadelphia and is given a black woman, he immediately gives her papers that demonstrates she is free. When she chooses to remain in his employment, he treats her fairly and kindly. When he falls in love with an American socialite, we see a romantic side, gentle, attentive, captivated. And when he must depart for New York, he is despondent and melancholy. I found myself longing for them to be reunited, even though I know it might be too late. [And spoiler alert: if you'd like to know what happens to him, follow this link.] (Andre and Peggy shown here.)

Lest you think I've become a loyalist, there are plenty of villains as well and none more vicious than British Lt. John Simcoe. Simcoe as portrayed in this series is a psychopath who clearly relishes his role as a soldier and his position in Setauket as a license to kill and maim without penalty. Brilliantly portrayed by actor Samuel Roukin, even when he is infatuated with Anna Strong and attempts to display a gentler side, his glassy eyes and high-pitched voice can not hide a sinister tendency toward evil. (Simcoe shown here.) [Follow this link for the real story of John Simcoe.]

I am now hooked on the series (in its third year) because I must know what happens to Major Hewlett and Anna Strong; whether Abe and his father will ever reconcile their differences; whether Major Andre and his lover, Peggy, will reunite before history takes its dramatic turn.

And of course, there are those who will always remain in the forefront of history: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, King George and more.

In a war that raged across early America, the majority of the action takes place in Setauket, Long Island and the surrounding rural countryside, with brief interludes of a young York City and staid Philadelphia. For an author always interested in what keeps readers coming back for more in a series, this is definitely a show to watch - and a book to read.

p.m.terrell is the author of River Passage, the award-winning true story of the ill-fated Donelson river voyage to Fort Nashborough during the height of the Chickamauga Indian Wars; and her most popular book, Songbirds are Free, the true story of the capture of 19-year-old Mary Neely by Shawnee warriors in 1780. Check out her website for more information at