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Review from Publishers Weekly – October 1, 2001

Will’s War

Janice Woods Windle
Longstreet, $25 (384p)

Based on events in the author’s family history, this ably written historical novel follows a century-old court case.  The author’s German heritage caused her ancestors grief at the time of WWI in the Texas hill country town of Seguin, where America’s rabid anti-German hysteria revealed itself in deep suspicion and persecution of German Americans like Will Bergfeld.  The dapper and capable William Hawley Atwell, who later becomes a federal judge, defends Will against an accusation of treason; in fact, Will is guilty of nothing but union sympathies, German ancestry and a mercurial temperament that makes him a difficult client and often his own worst enemy.  The trial is an uphill battle against the press and public sentiment, and the case is stacked against him, but Will has right on his side, and is support by his beautiful, gentle wife, Virginia King Bergfeld, and his volatile, gorgeous sister, Louise.  Windle already has a deserved reputation as a fine, lyrical writer and lively historian; she used the rich fodder of her tough Texas female forebears to produce the well-received True Women.  Here, she condenses thousands of pages of transcripts from her grandfather’s actual trial into a suspenseful fiction, and vividly resurrects 1917 Texas.  This excellent book will be popular with history buffs and romance readers alike. (Oct.25)

Forecast:          A 10-city author tour and $100,000 marketing campaign should effectively advertise this strong effort, and mobilize Windle’s fans--- who include First Lady Laura Bush.

A shameful slice of Texas history

Trial for treason tests a Texas family in 'Will's War'

Staff Critic

John Grisham, go way back and sit down. This season's most readable courtroom thriller comes from deep in the bloodly heart of Texas.

True Women author Janice Woods Windle is at it again, mining her colorful go-for-it family. But this time the focus is a once-celebrated trial, now nearly forgotten, and an ugly, mean chapter in state history.

The result is the Seguin native's best, most tautly written novel. Lit-erary first lady Laura Bush, is right:
Janice Woods Windle is "a wonderful storyteller."

It's 1917 and this time the central character is not one of the author's strong-hearted female relatives. Rather, it's her charismatic, movie-star-handsome maternal grandfather, Will Bergfeld.

Shy and flamboyant at the same time, Will was a grown wild boy who did magic tricks for kids, delivered the mail on an Indian motorcycle and played the violin sans sheet music.

In fact, he was fiddling for wife Virginia and their two little girls when 18 armed men burst warrentless into his home and took him to jail on suspicion of treason.

They arrested him, not because he was a leader in the labor movement that fought the robber barons and big local landowners, but because he had a German name and the United States had declared war on the Kaiser.

Will was arraigned at the Fort Worth courthouse, but he way only one of 52 members of the Farmers'
and Laborers' Protective Association picked up in the sweep.

In a way they were the lucky ones. Other Texas Germans, whose families had fled tyranny in the old country, were vilified, harassed, even whipped, tarred, feathered and shot.

The story is told through the women ? his wife, mother and sister ? who loved Will and rallied to his side in the six-week trial that took place in Abilene.

The author, who lives in El Paso, credits her lawyer-husband with helping re-create the trial, based on 3,000 pages of transcripts uncovered in research.

Sometimes she overwrites and turns a tad florid ("sleep came like a carriage and carried her away") but mostlyshe keeps her prose warm and tight with Texas touches, such as the praire dogs' barking that heralds a train.

Will may be the focus, but again it's the Texas Women who stand like oaks in adversity. Like the author, they believe, "It's always good to remember who you are. Especially in these troubled times."

Will's War was scheduled for October release but was delayed after Sept. 11. Little did Ms. \Windle know when she launched into re-search for this book in 1985 how timely it would be 17 years later.


Book Review

Fiction Review at BookPage


What I wouldn't give fo a gaggle of ancestors like Janice Woods Windle's. They make such marvelous fiction! Although, to tell the truth, perhaps all of us have these characters in our background and simply lack the documentation, or the energy, to search them out. Why, I remember tales about my Grandma Fahs . . . but, right, we're talking about Windle's good luck.

Still, while the author's pedigree, with its Texas setting and larger-than-life family stories, may have been a lucky stroke, every page of this extraordinary novel about an extraordinary woman must owe its accomplishment to hard labor and a mighty gift of re-creation. Laura Woods would have been proud of her granddaughter.

The leading lady of Hill Country, Laura was an intelligent, simple, yet complicated woman. Born about 1868, she led a Texas-sized life, jam-packed with experiences ranging from Indian raids to helping her dearest friend's baby boy, Lyndon Johnson, grow up to be President of the United States. She witnessed the community lynching of a white murderer, fell in love with a pariah, lived alone on a wilderness ranch, endured Mexican revolutionary violence and a horrible train wreck, helplessly watched a daughter's slide into schizophrenia, engaged in feminist and political activities, flew with Charles Lindbergh -- and, aged 93, moved to California. When that didn't work, she got herself back to Texas again, hampered by age but up to the challenge. Last seen, she's doing for herself once again.

During this long life, "she wrote everything down: random thoughts, momentary furies, things she must do, things others should do, observed injustices, acknowledgment of the folly and error of those around her." She saved them all, along with carbons of letters giving advice to 11 American presidents and many other public personalities, and boxes full of photographs, newspaper articles, campaign materials from political contests she had worked in, and voluminous correspondence and personal files. In her seventies, she started to write a book about her life, and, if the purported excerpts in Hill Country are authentic, she possessed a writing style and wisdom equal to Windle's own.

That's saying a lot because, except for a grating tendency to use "like" for "as," Windle's work is fresh and imaginative. She rarely settles for cliches, and her evocation of very old age seems remarkably real. (As far as I can tell, of course.)

She has wisely chosen to tell Laura's story in novel form. This worked well with Windle's first novel, True Women, which uses other feisty feminine forbears as the basis for punchy, adventurous storytelling. Hill Country repeats themes from the earlier book, but its power is intensified by the focus on a single, strong woman.

There's heft to this book, of the human kind that comes from the substance of a life lived in real time and historic circumstances. Some might call her a survivor, but that word is too passive for Laura. She doesn't just endure life, she triumphs over it.

Maude McDaniel is a freelance writer in Cumberland, Maryland.



Interview With Janice Woods Windle
by JC Pinkerton

Janice it is a great honor to have this opportunity to talk with you. I'm sure your fans here at EightteenHundreds will be thrilled to see your interview. When you wrote your debut novel, True Women, did you have any idea it would be such a success and even a mini-series for TV?

Every family has wonderful stories and I think that is the common thread and success of my books. People identify their own family stories with my books and that is why I under gird them with so much research. It is the truthfulness of voices in the stories. You are right; I had no idea that my family story would be made into a mini-series.

Your great-great grandmother was Euphemia Texas Ashby King, who many fell in love with after seeing the mini-series. Do you think any of her strong character comes out in you?

My mother uses a quotation that I believe came from Euphemia. She says " American women are strong because they know they won't melt if they are rained on." The saying "they won't melt if they are rained on" describes the ability of American women facing problems and tragedies and coping with them. I hope that I have some strength as Euphemia and certainly after the recent murder (car jacking) of my son, I marvel at the strength of Sarah who outlived 8 of her 9 children. How on earth did she do it?

Janice is it true that while collecting family recipes your research kept growing until it turned into the novel, True Women? I find this fascinating!

My plan was to collect family recipes to comply into a notebook and give it to my son, Wayne (who loves to cook) as a wedding present. My mother reminded me she had an old hand written cookbook that 3 different women has written in so I decided to do a one page essay on each of the women - all of it turned into the novel, True Women.

Just so our readers will know, your novel, Hill Country is the sequel to True Women in which you write about your grandmother, Laura Hoge Woods. Is it true that your grandmother was hoping to one-day write a book called "Hill Country?"

My Grandmother was an avid writer and she wrote about her experiences, poetry and did large amounts of research to present papers for large organization like churches and UDC (United Daughters of the Confederate). I don't know if she ever planned to be a world famous novelist, but I do know (because I knew her well) she often talked about her experiences in the hill country and would preface her storytelling with "Well, in the Hill Country", thus and such happened.

For our reader's information your latest novel, Will's War, will be available in March 2002. This book is based on the trial of your grandfather, Will Bergfeld and German immigrants suspected of being anti-American. While researching for this interesting book, did you find it disturbing that immigrants were treated so unfair?

Yes. Some of the current events of today are shockingly parallel to those of World War I and World War II. We must be extremely vigilant and outspoken about protecting individual rights and due process of law regardless of what our personal opinion about the persons charged, actions or political beliefs might be. Remember the famous German saying "I didn't speak up when they came for my neighbor and there was no one left to speak up when they came for me." The finest tribute we can make to the people killed on September 11th is to protect the individual rights of all human beings. After all, that is what the terrorist would like to take away from us.

I understand your mother is a local historian for Seguin, the setting for your novel, True Women. Does she enjoy helping you do research for your novels?

Yes, my mother is a marvelous scholar and she lives in the house of Bettie King who appeared in two of the novels. She is opening her home to the public to help me launch the new book, Will's War, on two afternoons - Saturday, April 6th and Sunday, April 7th, from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. I hope all of my fans come to Seguin, Texas to meet my mother, tour the King Homplace (920 E. Court Street) and visit with me.

Can your fans expect to see more historical novels from you?

Yes, there are wonderful stories to tell. I am working on a Woods family story, a Windle family story and a Creek Indian story.

Do you have a website where your fans can visit and learn more about your work?

Yes, my website address is:


True Women and Pecans in Seguin, Texas

February 3, 2010 by Blue Eyes and Bluebonnets  
Filed under Texas, Our Texas, Traveling Here & There

True Women Book Tour

True Women Book TourIf you are a fan of True Women, Janice Woods Windle’s 1994 bestselling novel about Texas women, war and adventure, then you know about Seguin, Texas.

If, however, you are not familiar with Seguin, you should definitely plan a visit. Located about 50 miles from Austin and 35 miles from San Antonio, it’s an easy day trip from either city.

Seguin is one of the oldest towns in Texas. Founded in 1838, it was named for Col. Juan N. Seguin, a Tejano who fought beside the Anglo settlers against the Mexican dictator Santa Anna.

Many places mentioned in Windle’s book can be seen as you drive around Seguin, such as the final resting place of Euphemia Texas Ashby King and the Male Academy where Euphemia and William’s sons attended school. Look for Book Tour signs or visit the True Women Virtual Tour web site to view an interactive map of book tour locations.

In 1997, the book was made into a movie starring Dana Delany and Angelina Jolie. I recently saw the movie for the first time and really enjoyed it. About the Movie: True Women on

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