Bringing History to Life...

Elaine Marie Cooper has a talent for taking her readers places. The kind of places you can't get to any other way because they live in the past. Recently, I had the opportunity of reading  FIELDS OF THE FATHERLESS, her newest release. It's about an eighteen-year-old girl caught up in a battle of the Revolutionary War, that brought the fighting right up to her doorstep. 

Here's my review...

FIELDS OF THE FATHERLESS is a glimpse of the Revolution through a young girl's heart. Betsy Russell is someone who stands in that vulnerable place between youth and adulthood, when nearly everything touches one's passions. She is passionate about her family, about her beliefs, and--oh, is she passionate about the war and wanting to do her part.

Elaine Marie Cooper has done an excellent job of depicting the "coming of age" that occurs when ideas finally clash with reality in a young person's life, and the utter anguish that it can trigger in the human soul. Set against the backdrop of a little-publicized battle of the Revolution makes Betsy's eye-witness account spring more realistically to life. I especially liked that all the characters, both real and fictitious, were believable from beginning to end.

I like to call this kind of book a "time-travel book." Because not only is it possible for a person to "catch a glimpse" of a historical event through the true-life memoirs of people who actually lived through it, but it has been said that the difference between reading something that emotionally moves you, and having the actual experience, personally, is very small. I have also been amazed over and over by how much we can learn about our own lives by sharing in the lives of others this way.

I came away from FIELDS OF THE FATHERLESS feeling as if I had seen exactly what had happened during that particular battle "on the road to Concord," and how it effected ordinary people. And how they are still effecting us today. Not only would I recommend this book to anyone who likes "armchair time-traveling," I'm going to go looking for the bullet holes in the "Russell House" the very next time I find myself visiting the east coast. Which-- having had only a passing interest in the Revolutionary War up to this point-- is something that gives Elaine Marie Cooper the true mark of a storyteller. 

Which led me to a few questions I wanted to personally ask Elaine about writing this book. So, here's our little chat about that...

Welcome, Elaine! So glad you could stop by my book club this week.

Thanks for having me, Lilly.

My pleasure. I have to say one of the first things that popped into my mind after reading FIELDS OF THE FATHERLESS was how you discovered all the information. Having been raised near the heart of so much Revolutionary War history, was it taught more during your school years, or was it a personal interest that developed as you grew and began to notice the various historical places around you?

I think it was taught in more depth in New England schools than in other areas of the country. My husband (who grew up in California) knows all about that state’s history from his formative years. We had to share notes after we were married because we were each quite clueless about many historical events in each other’s states.

Betsy Ross House
But history always excited me and I would be the first to want to tag along on trips to Concord and Lexington when out-of-state relatives showed up for “the Tour.” I remember climbing the 100 plus steps to the top of Bunker Hill Monument and couldn’t wait to see the Betsy Ross House and Liberty Bell when we visited Philadelphia. History just came alive for me at these sites.

I'll bet it did. Do you have relatives who also lived in the area during that time, or is your family "relatively" new to these historic places?

My own family lived in Massachusetts during the Revolution although not near Lexington and Concord. My earliest ancestors came on the Mayflower (John Alden and Priscilla Mullins) but then settled in the Bridgewater area. In the 1700’s they moved to western Massachusetts, which is where my 4th great grandmother met and married a British soldier who had been taken prisoner after the Battle of Saratoga. He escaped from the line of prisoners, then met and fell in love with an American woman and started a family in Williamsburg, Massachusetts, not far from Springfield. Their story was the inspiration for my first novel, The Road to Deer Run.

My immediate family moved to Arlington, MA (near Concord) in 1960.

That is truly fascinating--I think I better read that book, too. What is it about the Revolutionary time period that keeps drawing you back to it? 

I think it is partly the family connection that draws me to the era. When I started researching the time period, I realized how personally these events impacted my grandparents from long ago. My 4th great grandfather fought in the terrifying battle of Saratoga. When I was a child, I was embarrassed to be descended from an enemy soldier. As an adult, I see things in such a new perspective. I can’t begin to imagine the horror of that war—the fear, terror and bloodshed—and the risk he took escaping and making a new life for a family in America.

The events of the start of the Revolution were so real to me growing up in Arlington, they stayed in my heart and mind throughout my life—and eventually poured from my pen into the manuscript called Fields of the Fatherless. Long overshadowed by the events at Lexington and Concord, I am so gratified that my hometown’s history can now be told.

And told very well, too, because I practically felt I was there in that battle. What is it you enjoy most about writing historical fiction?

I enjoy the fact that history can be brought alive in a way that a textbook cannot. When you assign personality traits and dialogue into a story form, suddenly a character becomes a person, not just a name on a page. Suddenly, history seems amazing and real.

It certainly does. FIELDS OF THE FATHERLESS is a very serious book. What age reader did you envision it for when you were writing it?

You’re so correct about it being very serious. I wrote it for adults and young adults. I believe it is far too intense for younger children.

What do you hope most that readers will take away from this story?

I hope that readers come away with a better understanding that, despite the most difficult circumstances or deepest grief, God is still our very present help in our time of need. 

That is so true, Elaine, no matter what era we find ourselves living in. Speaking of which... what's next for you?

What is next is a brief hiatus from historicals to complete a memoir of my daughter and the last two years of her life. She was only 24 when she passed away from a brain tumor ten years ago. My hope is that my story can help other families going through a serious illness with a loved one, to empower them to be advocates for their patient, as well as provide hope that they themselves can survive the pain, exhaustion and grief—with the Lord’s help.

Wow, what a monumental undertaking that sounds like, Elaine, but one that can be a lifeline to so many others. I'll definitely be praying for you during that project. Meanwhile, here's wishing you continued success with all your books, and the wonderful insights they have allowed so many of us to share.

Thanks, Lilly, it's been great to be here.

Novelist Elaine Marie Cooper is the author of The Road to Deer Run, The Promise of Deer Run and The Legacy of Deer Run. Her passions are her family, her faith in Christ and the history of the American Revolution, a frequent subject of her historical fiction. She grew up in Massachusetts, the setting for many of her novels. Fields of the Fatherless released October 2013. Visit her website at: 


  1. Okay, that does it, I've got to read this book! My ancestors are buried in Pennsylvania and also fought in the Revolution for the Patriot side. This is delicious stuff! So nice to meet this new author! Well done. Great interview.

    1. Hi, Karla! Isn't it amazing how our own past can reach out and "tap us on the shoulder" via coming into contact with accounts like this? I love that not only does history come alive in well-told stories, but we can also discover a bit of ourselves in there, too... if we look close enough.

      Absolutely wonderful to see you here-- I've missed you!