Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Look at Amazing Women

Recently, I have been binge-watching episodes of Turn: Washington's Spies on Netflix. The story is set in and around New York during the years of the American Revolution, and it has been fascinating to look back at this period in history, even knowing that not all the details, or characters, are true to the facts. The series is based on a book, Washington's Spies: The story of America's First Spy Ring, which was known as the Culper Ring. The book was written by Alexander Rose, who focuses on the true historical facts instead of the dramatized version of events seen in the television series.
Photos courtesy of  AMC
What is true is the Culper Ring, headed up by Abraham Woodhull of Setauket, New York.

Set primarily in New York where the spy ring started in the town of Setauket, the story does cover key places and people in the fight for Independence throughout the Colonies.

One of the aspects of the story I have enjoyed the most is the way the strength of women is portrayed, especially, Mary, Abraham's wife, Anna Strong, and Peggy Shippen. When Abraham gets into dangerous situations, coming close to being exposed as a spy for Washington, Mary and Anna band together to formulate  plans to get him out of that danger. Both women gain more and more strength as the story evolves, especially Mary who attempts to kill Major Simcoe, a ruthless man who relishes killing and torturing Colonial sympathizers and takes up residence at Woodhull Manor, the home of Setauket's magistrate, Abe's father.

Peggy, from a prominent Philadelphia family, is first aligned with the British and falls in love with Major Andre, the head of intelligence for the Queen's Army. Andre convinces her to renew her friendship with Benedict Arnold in order to gain intelligence on the Continental Army. The plan goes awry when Arnold mistakes her overtures of friendship as romantic interest. Peggy goes from being manipulated by what high society expects of women, as well the men in her life, to taking a stand and aligning herself with the Patriots.

I looked online to find information about how much of the dramatic elements of the story are true, but couldn't find hard facts other than the formation of the spy ring and key players, and some television critics have suggested reading Rose's book for accurate historical facts. Since I do love to study history, I will do that at some point, but in the meantime I will enjoy the rest of this series that highlights such strong women. All of them suffered great hardship before finding their inner strength and that is what attracted me to their characters.
For some time now, I have used the tagline "Writing books that celebrate strong women" as part of my brand, and that started after the release of One Small Victory. The central character, Jenny, is based on a real woman who infiltrated a drug ring in a small rural town in Michigan and helped to bring down a major supplier. This followed the death of her oldest son in a car accident, and she used the depth of her grief to find the strength to bully her way onto a drug task force, rising out of hardship to do something amazing.

When I read the news item about this woman in The Dallas Morning News many moons ago, I was struck by her ability to channel her grief that way. She was a single mother of five children, and I couldn't imagine how a woman, a mother, could find that kind of courage. I don't think I could. But then, we don't know how strong we can be until we are faced with a significant challenge.

What about you? What challenges have you faced down, in your writing or your everyday life? I think we take strength from knowing what others have accomplished, so please do share.

Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. She won her first writing award at age twelve with a short story in the Detroit News Scholastic Writing Awards Contest and continues to garner recognition for her short stories, books, and screenplays. You can find out more about Maryann and all of her stories at her Amazon Author Page  * Website   * Blog  and follow her on Facebook and Twitter. 


  1. We all have strengths we sometimes aren't even aware of; the problem on occasion may not be lack of strength, but rather lack of courage to tap into it. We have great examples of strong women from Bible times down to the present. Reading about some of them may inspire us to face adversity head-on.

    In my writing, I like to show both strengths and weaknesses in my characters because that's reality. We all have both, and, typically, we demonstrate both at different times. The question is this: in the end, which one will overtake the other?

    Great post, Maryann. :-)

    1. Thanks, Linda, and you are right about how we can portray reality by showing strengths and weaknesses of people.

  2. We watched Turn. It was interesting. It is posited that Benedict Arnold's wife was the real spy. I hated history in school: dry recitation of dates of battles. As an adult, I love delving through the rich stories.

    1. The best history class I took in college was one where the instructor said we only had to know two dates, the date of the discovery of America and the date we won independence. The rest of the tests were based on the events and people who impacted our history. It was great.

  3. History is fascinating. I've only recently begun to focus on women in history and find the stories of courage and accomplishment an inspiration.

    1. We certainly need that inspiration, and it is great to find that there are so many stories that have been buried in obscurity.

  4. Women have always been underestimated and unsung, but we've been there. The old adage that "Behind every successful man there stands a woman." Groucho Marx said, "Behind every successful man is a woman, behind her is his wife."


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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