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Nancy French’s writing career is now on the fast track. In addition to Red State of Mind: How a Catfish Queen Reject Became a Liberty Belle and Home and Away: A Story of Family in a Time of War (co-written with her husband, David French), she is now hoping to publish a political suspense novel in the coming months.
But what made French a New York Times bestselling author was the memoir she co-wrote the Bristol Palin, Not Afraid of Life: My Journey So Far.
For starters, the way she met Bristol Palin is just as interesting as the book itself.
“I was watching the Biggest Loser on television one night when my agent called and left a message, asking if I was interested in collaborating with a young, Christian celebrity, but he couldn’t tell me who the person was,” said French. “The only hint I had was that she was younger than Tim Tebow [Denver Broncos quarterback] and was a Christian. I was recommended as a young, Christian female writer.”
French submitted a resume and writing sample to Harper Collins and three weeks later, received a call from a Harper executive asking her if she could hold for call from Bristol Palin.
“Oh, man, I didn’t know the details about her – I had never watched Dancing with the Stars but I did vote for her mother [Sarah Palin, who ran on the ticket with John McCain in 2008]. So I started googling her really quickly,” French recalled. “But most of what I learned through the Internet was false anyway. She turned out to be quite different – much better and down to earth – than the gossip mill would leave you to believe.”
The two found a common bond in the fact that French’s husband David, and Bristol’s brother Track, had both served in Iraq around the same time. Also, French having worked with Ann Romney, was able to build a quick rapport with Palin.
“I also admitted to Bristol I was a big reality TV fan,” she said with a laugh.
French initially thought the Palins would be a bit apprehensive if they knew she had kids for fear that she wouldn’t be able to do the job, which required living in Alaska and Arizona for a while. When asked, French acknowledged that she and David have three children, the youngest of whom was just adopted from Africa and didn’t speak a word of English.
To French’s surprise, she was chosen to co-write the book and in no time found herself in Alaska.
For the writing opportunity, French left the children in the care of her husband, including their newly adopted child, “who was terrified of men at the time,” she noted. “It was a great time because David could take off work and it was a great opportunity for him to bond with our new child.”
She planned to stay for eight days, but ended up staying for a month. “I even parked in short-term parking,” she said. “That decision cost me over $500.”
“It was cold, very cold, but it was beautiful,” said southern-born French while describing the Alaska climate.
Not even knowing where she would stay, she texted Bristol on the way into town and asked about hotel accommodations. “It won’t be a problem,” said Bristol. “You can stay in my apartment.” After getting directions, French discovered that Bristol’s “apartment,” was actually attached to Sarah and Todd Palin’s home.
“I was a little intimidated by that,” French said. “I actually worked in the Fox news studio room where Sarah does her interviews. It was really beautiful.”
After getting down to the business of writing, French had to go over the details of Palin’s life, especially the part about Bristol’s pregnancy and her relationship with Levi, her former boyfriend and the father of her child. French described the somewhat challenging process of having to dig down into Bristol’s life.
“We were having to deal with some very difficult issues. These are the worst things you’ve even done, all your biggest sins, and that’s hard to do…because we have all sinned gravely, but not all of us have it plastered on the newspaper. So, how do you deal with that?” French asked. “But the gospel starts with brokenness, but how do you tell that story? You start with the truth and that’s what we did.”
Up to this point, all French knew of the Palins were what she had read or seen on TV. “I found them to be very genuine and down to earth and very hospitable.”
She ended up traveling with them throughout the state on small, short trips, and getting to know the personal side of a very public family. “It was a real unique experience.”
French also pointed out that in comparison to Sen. John McCain and his family, the Palins aren’t defined by their political life.
When French was asked how much of the book Bristol actually wrote, she said, “Whenever something big in Bristol’s life would happen she would write it down (usually in texts and e-mails), so I had access to all these messages. It’s a good thing she’s only twenty, because it meant that we weren’t digging through the attic for old journals. Also, I read all her love letters from Levi, which was helpful because it helped me understand the good times she felt with him as well as the bad.”
But the bad times is expected to grow with Levi Johnston coming out with his own tell-all book about Bristol and the Palins on Sept. 20.
“He acts like he wants to see the baby but that the family won’t let him. However, Bristol texted him several times saying that he could come over and see the baby, but he was always too busy. Even when he was supposed to watch his own child, he wouldn’t show up. Living there made me realize that although he says a lot about wanting to see his child, it’s not really true.”
French and husband David are supporters of Mitt Romney and co-founders of Evangelicals for Mitt. Yet after getting to know the Palins, does she think Sarah will throw her hat into the GOP presidential race?
“I don’t know. The last time I saw her in Iowa she looked ready to go.” But would that put French in an uncomfortable position if Sarah were to run?
“Not at all. Bristol has said that we are friends regardless of politics and I feel the same way. Plus, Sarah Palin will help change our culture whether or not it’s from the Oval Office.”
A staunch evangelical Christian, French feels America needs a change in the White House and that there are several qualified candidates in the race. “I like Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, but I think the race now is between Romney and Perry and obviously, I want Romney to prevail.”
Settled and comfortable in their rural, southern culture, her fans will undoubtedly read more from her in the years ahead.