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FRANKLIN, Tenn. – Nancy French has more than she can say grace over – both literally and figuratively. Now a New York Times bestselling author, French has found her place in publishing, politics and motherhood – three of the most demanding endeavors anyone would want to tackle – and she’s taking it all in stride.
French spoke to The Christian Post as she was preparing to speak at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Franklin, Tenn. An energetic soul, she recently co-wrote Bristol Palin’s memoir, Not Afraid of Life: My Journey So Far, and worked with Ann Romney, the wife of former Massachusetts Governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, on a book project that has yet to be published.
French grew up in the small town of Paris – Tennessee, that is – Catfish capital of the world, or so the huge sign on the way to town claims. Paris is a small town in the northwest corner of Tennessee, not too far from the Kentucky line. French grew up as one of three sisters in a Church of Christ family. While she was in high school, she was getting calls from David Lipscomb University, which is affiliated with the church and located in Nashville, Tenn. But she was unimpressed when the school called to recruit her.
“I don’t know if David Lipscomb is the right school for me. I don’t think I could get into a good law school after graduating,” said French. Unfazed, the recruiter said they had a recent graduate who was in law school there. “Is Harvard good enough for you?” the recruiter asked.
“Oh, yeah, yeah, sure,” she said. “I couldn’t even spell Harvard at the time,” French admitted.
Later, a young man named David French called her as a favor to the admissions office to chat with her about a legal career.
“I fell in love with him the first time we spoke," she said. “Two years later we met on the sidewalk at Lipscomb and spent the next two hours talking. I knew I would marry him at that moment.”
They were engaged a few weeks later and married a few months later. “He’s a good one," she said. "I married up.”
But an undergraduate or law degree wasn’t in her future. “I’m a two-time college dropout,” she says with a grin.
David French, now armed with a Harvard law degree and a new wife, was ready to take on the world. She describes their move to New York City as “spontaneous,” her only requirement that their apartment have a view of the Empire State building. It did, barely.
Asked how she learned to write, French said her husband taught her. “He’s a really good writer and I learned a lot from him," she said. "We write very differently and I’m a more evocative and a more emotional writer than he is, but I think our skill sets compliment each other. But let the record show I’m a better writer than he is now,” she said, with an even bigger grin.
So how did this housewife with no formal training as a writer decide she was going to write a book?
“I had written a book," she said. "A novel which I still have. It was the first thing I had tried to write by myself and it was just awful. I got rejected 97 times by agents and finally found one stupid enough to represent me. She was good, but the manuscript was not good. I was literally at the point of saying I would never write anything else, when David suggested I start writing short articles, like 600 word articles for the free paper.”
And that's what she did. "After I got a following of people who hated me," she said, "since I was a conservative southerner writing in the liberal northeast, the guy who was the best man in our wedding and Tony Dungy’s agent, said I was funny and needed to write a book like my articles. So, that’s what Red State of Mind: How a Catfish Queen Reject Became a Liberty Belle is. And to my amazement, he sold the book within weeks. J.D. Snell is my agent and I owe him a lot for his idea."
Red State of Mind didn’t fly off the shelves, but French attributes that to timing, more than anything else. “2006 was not a great year to be espousing Republican principles, but now the book is starting to move a bit,” she said.
But an interesting and timely event happened in the lives of French and husband David that, at least for the short term, brought about some dramatic turmoil.
While living the city life as a young family in Philadelphia, and 10 years into their marriage, David came home one day and said he wanted to join the army in the aftermath of 9/11. “David told me he had a burning feeling that it was a duty he had been shirking,” she said. She immediately knew that would probably mean a deployment overseas.
“The very same day," she said, "I had the kids at a park in Philadelphia, sitting with my liberal friends among the statues of the founders of our country. My son asked me who the men were and I told him they were ‘patriots.' When he asked me what a ‘patriot’ was, I told him they were people who loved their country more than they loved themselves. My liberal friends laughed, but then I realized God may be telling me that it was something David should be doing too.”
As a result David joined the Army and within a year found himself in Iraq. The family relocated to Columbia, Tenn., in order to be closer to family while David was gone. They joined Zion Presbyterian Church, which is more than 200 years old.
“It was comforting to be in a church that has seen and survived every war in our nation's history,” said French. “The entire church family embraced us and helped me survive David’s absence. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Faith is an important part of the French household and their strong belief in God is evident in Home and Away: A Story of Family in a Time of War. Both David and Nancy wrote the book with vivid descriptions of what life was like on the front lines, at home and abroad. Each had it own challenges.
David is now home and is an attorney with the American Center for Law and Justice, and Nancy is still writing and editing. She has a political suspense novel that she is currently shopping. They are now the parents of three children.
Both husband and wife also have a deep interest in politics and co-founded Evangelicals for Mitt, as a way to encourage Christians to support Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race.
“I love politics and follow it daily,” said French. “And I think Mitt Romney is the best person to lead our nation.”
In part two of the interview with French, she’ll discuss her time with Bristol Palin, the Tea Party, writing and politics in general.