Mining for Heart: “Setting as a Window into Character”

Writing CLOAKED IN COURAGE: UNCOVERING DEBORAH SAMPSON, PATRIOT SOLDIER was a challenge in many ways, just one being that the misinformation about her made it difficult to find HER, the person in history. Why did she do what she did? and What made her who she was? As always, setting was key. And books of the time provided a fabulous window!

So in celebration of books, let’s do a GIVEAWAY! Just leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of CLOAKED IN COURAGE. 

Congratulations to Joyce Uglow, winner of the 5-book BIOME EXPLORERS series from Laura Perdew! 



Setting as a Window into Character by Beth Anderson

I’ve learned to dig far and wide when researching a new story. The time and place answer a multitude of questions, open a window into character, and can open the path to discovering the “heart” of a story.

When I started to work on CLOAKED IN COURAGE: UNCOVERING DEBORAH SAMPSON, PATRIOT SOLDIER, I immediately had questions about how a woman might pass as a soldier in the Continental Army for seventeen months. About the use of disguises. About the consequences of breaking traditions as she did. I uncovered specifics that helped establish stakes, risk, and decision making. But I also needed to discover the influences on her. I thought about what influences us in our time and place. I dug in.

What would she have seen? Read? Heard? 

research books

Each manuscript is a little different and pushes me into different areas. For this story, I descended into the rabbit hole of media!

Songs, poetry, news, printed materials, books…

Here’s a bit of what Deborah Sampson was in the midst of in her formative years.

News and Current Events – Some would have been printed. Probably most were shared by word of mouth in a community.   

  • “The Boston Tea Party”
  • “Boston Massacre”
  • Opposition to King George III
  • Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and American Crisis
  • Resistance to taxation 
  • Formation of local militias
  • Declaration of Independence
  • and of course the Revolutionary War


  • Gulliver’s Travels (1726)
  • Robinson Crusoe (1719)
  • Primers
  • Almanacs
  • Joan of Arc (story in various forms)
  • Hannah Snell (1723) – woman joins the military disguised as a man
  • The History of Little Goody 2-Shoes (1765) – virtue is rewarded
  • The World Turned Upside Down (chapbooks and song)

Deborah Sampson was a reader and likely had access to the books of the time from the women who taught her to read and write and in the Thomas home as an indentured servant—stories of adventure and bravery, of women breaking traditions, of people seeing possibility and taking chances. When I investigated, I discovered that stories, poems, and songs of Women Warriors had been popular for more than a century! Wow! 

The World Turned Upside Down” is a concept you may be familiar with as a song from Hamilton, the Musical. The popular chapbook poked fun at institutions and boldly put forth ideas of the powerless in power. A “revolution” was happening in varied spheres.

After exploring the media of the colonial and revolutionary eras, the character of Deborah Sampson emerged, impacted by the world around her, grounded in her time and place. My main story question—“what makes us who we are?”—suddenly came through more strongly and specifically. Choices! And chances! But it was recognizing chances in life that was key, especially chances offered by challenges. I threaded the heart through the narrative: the idea of finding “chances” no matter the situation, and taking chances, no matter the risk. That’s what made her who she was. I revised to view each scene through that lens:

  • The five-year-old girl “put out” into servitude because her mother couldn’t care for all her children – Instead of a pitiful child and a horribly sad beginning, I looked through her mother’s eyes—she’d given her daughter a chance. Then that idea carried forward in Deborah.
  • Her hard work as a servant – A chance to become physically strong and capable
  • Serving in the Thomas home – a chance to educate herself using the boys’ lessons and books
  • Release from servitude at age 18 – a chance for personal independence and choices (instead of marriage)
  • Enlistment – a chance to earn money, a chance for adventure, a chance to belong, a chance to prove herself
  • And in the end as she moved on to her future – “All she needed was a chance.”

While many might think all that information I uncovered didn’t make it into the narrative, I’d disagree. It’s all in there. Embedded in every choice of every word.


Don’t forget to leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of CLOAKED IN COURAGE! (continental US addresses only, please. Winner announced 11/18/22.) 

Educator Special: Since I always do an educator giveaway with a book, 30 bookmarks, and virtual visit to celebrate a new book release, let me know in your comment if you’re an educator.

SPECIAL PRE-ORDER OFFER FROM INDIE BOOKSTORE THE WANDERING JELLYFISH HEREOrders received prior to 11/15/22 include a signed copy with personalization, journal, bookmark, and button! 

34 thoughts on “Mining for Heart: “Setting as a Window into Character”

  1. You are such a clever and resourceful researcher Beth! Thanks for helping us to learn about such incredible people and also how to write about them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The research for this book is amazing! Probably because men were in charge of writing the history books, I never knew how many women were able to rise against society expectations like Deborah Sampson. I’m excited to read this and learn more.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a fascinating post! Thank you so much for sharing the way your research into what likely influenced Deborah helped inform the heart and thread through the book. I am not in the running for a book! Just letting you know I loved this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Not only does Beth teach my fourth graders so much each time they read her books, she continues to educate me as well. I look forward to each new book she puts into the world. I am a huge fan!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your research process. I appreciate the search to understand what builds character that would go to such great lengths to serve as a soldier versus serve in more traditional ways of the time. Thank you for all your well researched books!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This sounds like a fascinating story! I’d love to share it with our fifth grade students during their study of the Revolutionary War. I’m always looking for ways to add additional perspectives to their learning.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for sharing how the setting and current events of the time allowed you to get to know Deborah Sampson and bring her story to life. I love PB bios, and this one looks really fascinating. I look forward to reading Cloaked in Courage.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m so glad that I saved this blog post, Beth. I LOVE IT! As I think about another book, I want to keep these things in mind–what books did he read? Newspapers? Movies? I know I’ve thought about this when I started my MG novel this is a great visual reminder. Thanks for sharing your resources.

    Liked by 1 person

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