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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Irish Woman Seeking American Dream

Mary Neely's grandfather came to America from County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. Considered Scot-Irish or Ulster Irish, they had moved back and forth between Ireland and Scotland for generations as Irish land was given to them by the British monarchy, only to be taken away by subsequent monarchs and given again. Finally, around 1720 three brothers from Ballygawley decided to move to America in search of a better future for themselves and their families.

In 1779, William Neely, Mary's father, decided to move the family westward to Fort Nashborough, now Nashville, Tennessee on a river journey. What should have been a journey of three weeks turned into more than three months as 300 settlers faced constant attacks from the Chickamauga Indians beginning around present-day Chattanooga and continuing all the way to Florence, Alabama. Small pox broke out on one ship and when two sisters were captured by Indians, they nearly wiped out whole segments of the tribe through the small pox epidemic of 1779-1780. Even the river itself was cruel, as Johnny Cash described it in this song (starting at 2:06):

Moving to America and then continuing westward didn't work out as well as William Neely had hoped. He was killed by Shawnee warriors just outside of Fort Nashborough in August 1780, and Mary was captured and held as a slave for three years. She was brought through Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and into Michigan before she successfully managed to escape - but her problems weren't yet over. It was the height of the Revolutionary War, and she was captured by the British and held as a prisoner of war. While being transported to British-controlled Fort Niagara, the ship ran aground and Mary escaped again. She journeyed on foot across Canada into New York and all the way to Fort Pitt, where she was rescued by an American soldier, who transported her to Virginia, where she was reunited with her family.

The story of the Neely family's river journey is told through River Passage, which won the 2010 Best Drama Award:

And the story of Mary's capture, captivity, escape and journey home is told in my bestselling book, Songbirds are Free:

During Mary's captivity, her mother and one brother were killed in a separate Indian attack. Most of the remaining family died before the age of 30; only Mary and her brother Sam lived into their 90's.

Find out more by visiting this special section of my website, complete with photographs and videos taken as I followed the Neely's families journeys:

Sunday, July 17, 2016

When History Inspires

A television series has inspired me to write another book based on my ancestors. I've become addicted to AMC's series TURN, based on the book Washington's Spies by Alexander Rose. When I fall in love with a book, a movie, a play or a television series, I always analyze it to discover what drew me in and kept me captivated. As I analyzed this show with its true story of America's first spy ring, the Culper Ring, Benedict Arnold's betrayal and all the characters that fought on both sides of the Revolutionary War, I began to consider writing another book about my own ancestors and their roles in the founding of America.

My most popular book continues to be Songbirds are Free, based on the true story of Mary Neely, who was captured by Shawnee warriors in 1780 near Fort Nashborough, now Nashville, Tennessee. And River Passage, based on the true story of the Neely family's journey westward with Donelson in 1779-1780, is an award-winning book.

Neely Family Cemetery in Ballygawley, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland
I have been interested for a long time about writing another book based on the Neely family, and when I journeyed to Ballygawley, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, I began research on three brothers who left their home to make their fortunes in America. The year was 1720, and I found it fascinating that these brothers would leave everything they had ever known, travel for two months across the Atlantic Ocean, to a country they knew little about. Language, culture, and unrest under England's heavy colonial hand would be only a few of the obstacles they would need to overcome.

The Neely brothers were Ulster Irish, or Scot-Irish, their grandfather having come to Ballygawley from Scotland when he was granted lands in County Tyrone as reward for fighting on behalf of the King of England at Londonderry. Though technically, they were originally from Ireland, as they had lived in County Tyrone in the 16th century but lost their lands there when they fell out of favor with another monarchy.

Taken from the Bridge into Ballygawley, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland
In 1720, the brothers could have remained in a large home with servants and land holdings, but they gave it all up to travel to America.

I learned that one brother became a very successful owner of a fleet of ships that carried goods back and forth from Londonderry to York City (now New York). He also carried native Irish who were fleeing the poverty of their homeland. Though my ancestors were Protestant, they were known for their empathy toward the native Catholic population, and they had even donated land for the Catholic Church and Catholic School, so it seemed completely in character that he would take them to a new land where they could escape the restrictions imposed upon them in Ireland.

Another brother became a merchant and pub owner in York City, but he doesn't seem to have been cut from the same cloth. Racist and cruel, he drank himself to death at the age of 35.

The third brother was my great-grandfather several generations back; he would become a successful merchant and gentleman farmer, living first in Philadelphia and later in Virginia. It would be his granddaughter Mary who traveled to Fort Nashborough at the height of the Chickamauga Indian Wars, only to be captured and kept as a slave for three years by the Shawnee.

My goal is to complete this book by the end of the year. It will be considered creative nonfiction, because it is inspired by the three brothers but to make it interesting and vibrant, there are liberties taken regarding romance, suspense, intrigue - and the quest for the American Dream. Stay tuned - I'll be announcing it here when the book is scheduled for publication! [At right: Songbirds are Free, my most popular book, about Mary Neely's capture, captivity, escape and journey home in a war-torn country.]

p.m.terrell is the internationally critically acclaimed, award-winning author of more than 20 books in several genres. Visit her website at to download free chapters of each of her books, watch the book trailers, and find out more about her writing.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

An Exciting Week!

This has been an exciting week for me because for the first time in two years, I have a breeding pair of angelfish.

If you've been following my posts for awhile, you may remember that Lindsay Buckingfish and Stevie Fishnick had so many successful clutches that I lost count. But after Stevie passed away, Lindsay was uninterested in anyone else. Angelfish usually mate for life.

I have a black angel and a silver angel in a community tank that includes a marble angel, a pleco, about two dozen tetras and about a dozen corydoras. When they decided to lay eggs on an intake, I didn't give it much thought because with so many others in the tank, there would be little chance that they would survive.

However, John and Christie McFish (of Fleetfish Mac fame) have surprised me. Their eggs hatched within a few days and I now have several dozen babies ready to swim.

Once the eggs hatch, the mother or father catch the babies in their mouths and spit them out someplace where they can get plenty of food. In this case, it's on the intake itself where algae has formed. The angelfish stay glued to this by their little heads. In this stage, they are called wigglers.

As they grow, they become strong enough to eventually pop off and swim on their own. This is a dangerous time because they could get sucked into the intake itself, or they could be eaten by another fish. They are barely the size of a hat pin, and they are translucent. They are also shaped like bullets and not the shape we identify with angelfish.

During this phase, the parents will need to keep them corralled. Normally, I would have had them in a tank by themselves with a piece of foam over the intake to prevent anyone from being sucked into it, and there would be no predators in the tank. However, because they are in a community tank, I inserted a small screen between them and the others; it only reaches partway but it prevents a direct line-of-sight. I also removed the third angelfish to another community tank. The pleco was found dead the morning after they laid their eggs; I suspect during the night, the pleco attempted to eat the eggs and the parents viciously defended them.

The tetras and corys are remaining at the far end of the tank and both angelfish check frequently to make sure they stay on their side!

The next phase is called the Invisible Phase. Many of the babies will seem to disappear; they are actually living on the bottom of the tank, in the gravel, where predators are less likely to discover them. I do have an infant tank at the ready, filled with water from the original tank, and I will attempt to capture at least a few. Then I'll see what the survival rate is between those that are in the dedicated infant tank versus those that are kept with the parents.

And what do babies eat when they are barely the size of a hatpin? I will feed them First Bites, which is manufactured specifically for baby fish, and finely crumbled brine shrimp. As they grow over the course of the next eight weeks, they will eventually be weaned onto finely crumbled fish flakes, and then onto regular fish flakes.

Between the age of eight and twelve weeks (depending on their size) they will go to the local pet shop for sale. Although some breeders will sell the babies when they are the size of a dime, I wait until mine are the size of a quarter. By then, their coloring has taken effect and they have the beautiful lines of the angelfish.

To read more about my angelfish breeding, check out other blog posts at

p.m.terrell is the author of more than 18 books in several genres. Her award-winning Black Swamp Mysteries features CIA operatives who use fronts as angelfish breeders to conceal their real identities. Visit for more information and to read sample chapters.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

What Are You Looking For?

What are you looking for when you visit an author's website? Do you even remember the last time you visited an author's website, versus looking up their book on amazon or in a store?

This past year, I returned to college. Being a Type-A personality, I have a double major: Cyber Security (IT) and eCommerce (Marketing). Turns out, they go hand-in-hand. And during my last course, the focus was on the changing face of websites.

Amazon really defined how websites interact with their customers. By recording every keystroke you make, their software records which items you look for, how long you remained on each page, and whether you purchased. When you logon to amazon later, you'll see recommendations of other products based on those you've already looked at. Or you might receive emails with recommendations in all the various categories. I, for example, love amazon. I buy books, cosmetics, clothing, household items, vitamins, and even food from them. And I love the way their software customizes my experience so I see screens that are unique to me.

But some people find this intrusive - or even creepy. Do you?

Do you want an author's website to respond uniquely to your visit with the ability to logon for recommendations, or would you prefer to flip through the web pages in stealth mode?

Are you looking for videos, book excerpts, the author's blog, ways to connect with the author through social media, ways or places to purchase the books, or are you interested in the author personally - where they're from, how they got into writing, how their personal lives impact their themes (if at all)? Are you interested in behind-the-scenes information?

As a result of my college courses, I redesigned my author website. To be honest, it had been needing a redesign for quite some time - it was first designed in 2000 and was patterned after some of the biggest suspense authors at the time, with a black background and white letters. But times have changed, and my new website reflects more of who I am as an individual, with shades of blue (my favorite color because I love skies and water).

There are more videos on the home page, links to books depending on your interests, integrated blogs, and a new menu with subsets to social media and special links. If you haven't seen it in awhile, check it out ( and let me know what you think.

If you're an author, please leave a comment below with your website and why you designed it the way it is.

If you're a reader but you like a particular author's website, please leave the link below with why you like it. Or if you want to see something specific about your favorite authors, tell me what you'd like to see and what would make the experience more enjoyable for you.

p.m.terrell is the award-winning, internationally acclaimed author of more than 20 books in several genres. Visit for more information.

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