Image from https://pxhere.com/en/photo/695127
Changes in the new book are not all negative for Eli. (And it’s a good thing. This guy has seen enough trouble!)
The most notable positive change happens when Maggie and crew welcome Shelby Garrison, a traveling guitar player, to Greybeal House. During a party to celebrate the near completion of the houses damaged by fire, Eli discovers that he and Shelby get along. This might be due to the fact that, like Shelby, Eli once arrived in Blaineton with the intention of “passing on through” on his way to somewhere else. As we all know, Eli ended up putting down roots in Blaineton, and it just may be Eli sees that Shelby is headed down the same road.
When the band took a break, Shelby wandered over to where Eli was sitting and dropped onto the chair beside him. In his hand, Shelby held a glass containing an amber liquid. Lifting it up, he asked Eli, “Would you care for one? I’d be happy to fetch it for you.”
Eli smiled and shook his head. “No, thanks. I’ve had plenty. But, please, go right ahead and enjoy your antifogmatic.”
Shelby chuckled. “I fully intend to.” He took a sip. “Ahh! I tell you, making music is thirsty business!”
“So I’ve heard.” Suddenly, Eli lifted an eyebrow. “Well, well, well… here comes that lady fiddler.”
Shelby immediately and politely stood up. But it did not escape Eli’s notice that he also rather happy to see her. “Miss Turner! Come sit with us. Have you met Mr. Smith?”
Eli shoved himself to his feet and aimed an abbreviated bow at her. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Turner.”
Millie curtsied. “And I you, Mr. Smith. I do so enjoy your editorials in The Register.”
Eli grinned. “Thanks. It’s nice to know someone enjoys them. I tend to nettle most folks.”
“But isn’t nettling people what editorials are for?” she teased. “If you do that, then I believe you’re doing your job. May I join you gentlemen for a bit?”
The two men readily agreed, and Millie took the seat on the other side of Shelby. “Mr. Garrison, I suspect if we approach Mr. Norton at the hotel, he just might be convinced to let us play for his guests.”
Shelby was delighted. “Is that so? That would be perfect!” Now that they were sitting down and chatting, he was taken in by her dark brown hair, black eyes, and upturned nose.
Eli took note of Shelby’s attentiveness, and smiled to himself.
“Well,” Millie continued, “nothing is for certain, of course, but I sense he might be interested in providing music, perhaps in the restaurant or perhaps elsewhere.”
“That’s a fine idea,” Eli told her, a gleam in his eye. “And well-timed, too, as Mr. Garrison is in want of a job.”
Mille glanced curiously at Shelby. “Is that so?”
“Well…” the other man stammered. “I…yes… yes, I am.”
“Well, then, tell me, Mr. Garrison, have you ever washed dishes?”
“Here and there. It supplements what I earn as a musician.”
“In that case, we could use you in the kitchen! The man who washes our dishes will be leaving us.” She leaned over and laid a hand on his arm. “Would you be able to stop by tomorrow afternoon? Perhaps at 2 o’clock? I could meet you in reception.”
Shelby glanced briefly at her hand, and then looked up and into her eyes. “Y-yes…” he stuttered. “I will. I mean, I shall. I mean, I’ll be there.””
“Excellent!” Millie removed her hand from his arm. “Now, I’ll let you two get on with your chatting. I want to talk to young Mr. Hancock, too. He’s a terribly good drummer, don’t you think?” Before they could respond, she rose and was walking across the porch toward the steps.
Once she was out of earshot, Eli cleared his throat. “Don’t that beat all? Looks like the lady fiddler is forming a band.”
“And you might have a new job at the Norton Arms.”
“Yeah. Seems that way.”
“Pretty woman, isn’t she?” Eli mused.
“How old do you think she is? Somewhere in her 30s, maybe?”
“Seems like a good woman. Interested in helping other musicians.”
Eli sat back in his chair and sighed nostalgically. “Yep…”
“Yep?” Shelby squinted at him. “Yep, what?”
“Yep, that’s how it started for me, too.”
Shelby frowned, a confused look on his face. “Beg pardon?”
“Like you, I came into town, found a place to stay, got a couple jobs, and met a good woman. Not necessarily in that order, of course.” Eli threw a grin at Shelby. “The plan was to raise enough money so I could continue my journey to New York City and get a job at a big newspaper. Five years later, I was publishing a penny weekly of my own, had a place to live, and was married to the good woman. I tell you, Garrison, women have a way of making a man change his plans.”
Shelby laughed. “I see what you mean. Miss Turner is awful nice. Talented and pretty to boot.” He shrugged. “I dunno, Smith. You just might be right.”
“Might be?” Eli hooted. “No ‘might’ about it. Mark my word, friend. You’re a goner!”
 Slang for “whiskey.”
Will Carson disappear from the story? No, of course not. He simply has moved into town to start a new business. He’ll still be part of the story and will remain Eli’s friend.
However, Shelby’s arrival gives Eli a new chum at Greybeal House. Exactly how that friendship will play out and what Shelby’s “job” as Eli’s friend will look like, I’m not quite sure. But since both Carson and Nate manage to keep Eli grounded (but in different ways). perhaps Shelby will bring out Eli’s creative side. I mean, after all, our Mr. Smith has a nice baritone voice. Or at least Maggie thinks so and has told him as much, which I believe is her way of massaging his ego and encouraging him to continue singing congregational hymns at church. Who knows, though? Maybe Eli will provide some vocals for the band.
Anyway, I need to have levity and to have my characters do bits of “business” in this book since the main plot line has to do serious subject matter: an epidemic of typhoid fever. Next week, I’ll have more on how I’m working all that out. Believe me, it isn’t as easy as I thought!
In the meantime, please be kind and loving this week, friends. So many are hurting right now and need the git of understanding and patience
Image from https://www.freeimages.com/search/change
Change involves loss and gain. You may leave your old apartment but move into a new house. You get married but things don’t work out the way either of you thought, and you get divorced. You find a pet whom you grow to love and one day it dies.
In my WIP (work-in-progress), Eli experiences loss and gain, as he does in all the novels. This blog will look at a change in the new book that produces dark clouds for Eli. (Hence the blog image.)
One of his two close friends, Chester Carson, will be moving out of Greybeal House. These two characters have developed a bromance of sorts. They love each other like brothers and at the same time bicker as if they were an old married couple.
They always have each other's back, though. And are close enough that Carson feels comfortable to share his greatest a secret with Eli.
In this scene from Walk by Faith, Eli starts a conversation by being his usual chatty self while the two men travel in his news wagon. He tells Carson about his days living out west with the Sioux and describes how some of their customs and beliefs differ from people of European descent.
“For instance, say a man prefers other men. For the Sioux, that’s all right because they have those other spheres. He doesn’t have to be a warrior, a husband, or a father to be valuable to the village. Everyone is welcome to contribute regardless. They would never beat up a man just because he wasn’t like other men.”
He [was] completely taken aback when Carson heaved a sigh. “Ah. Then perhaps I should have been born a Sioux.”
After an awkward pause, Eli found the courage to say, “Does that mean you like men?”
“I should have remained silent. I fear you will feel uncomfortable around me henceforth.”
Eli had blinked, thought for a moment and then sputtered, “No. Hell, no! I don’t care if you like men.”
Carson smiled knowingly. “I see. Just so long as I do not like you, I presume?”
“Well, yeah. Damn it, man, I like women. I’m married to one.”
Carson chuckled, “Have no fear, my friend. I do not find you at all appealing,” which left Eli wondering whether he should be insulted or relieved.
As I mentioned, the friendship between the men also involves a fair amount of bickering. In this scene from Walk by Faith, it is winter and the two have built a cabin near the Union army encampment. Their home away from home is less than comfortable and both men can get cranky, especially when they need to share a bed.
“Wonder if it snowed again.” Eli scratched at his beard and then put his hand back under the quilts where things were at least marginally warmer. He wrinkled his nose. “Phew. It’s starting to stink in here. One of us needs a bath.”
“Yes, you do.”
“How do you know it’s not you?”
“Because I had one three days ago. You, my dear fellow, are way overdue. Go into town and visit the baths today or you shall sleep on the floor tonight.”
“You’re not my wife, Carson.”
“Nor do I wish to be. Our delightful Maggie is a saint.”
“She’s not your Maggie, she’s mine.” Irritably pulling a quilt around him, Eli got out of bed and limped toward the door. “I’ve got to see a man about a dog.”
“Take your cane. We can’t have you falling over.”
The words nettled Eli. “You know, I think I will sleep on the floor tonight. You’re starting to nag.”
“Sleep where you wish. I wouldn’t touch you with a stick regardless.”
Their friendship has continued throughout the series. Carson returns to Blaineton with the Smiths and extended family and lives very happily in Greybeal House. That is, until he reveals to Eli and Maggie that he has purchased a place on Main Street and plans to start a photography gallery and business there. Eli takes the news in stride. And then...
“Well!” Eli pushed himself to his feet. “I’m glad you’re going to open a gallery. Now, let’s get to The Register –”
Carson cut him off with a raised hand. “Not quite yet.”
Eli narrowed his eyes. Then he said slowly, “Don’t tell me you’re gonna…”
“Yes,” Carson replied. “I am.”
Maggie looked from one man to the other. “I’m afraid I can’t read your minds, gentlemen. What are you talking about?”
Eli growled, “He’s gonna quit The Register, Maggie!”
“I also will be moving out of Greybeal House. I plan to live on Main Street.”
“Oh, my.” Maggie repeated, tears coming unbidden to her eyes.
“There!” Eli gestured at his wife. “See what you’ve done? You’ve made her cry!”
Carson rolled his eyes. “I did not do this to make either of you unhappy.”
“Well, you’ve done it!” Bombarded by a sense of betrayal and abandonment, Eli grumbled, “Now what am I supposed to do?”
“Promote Edward Caldwell to senior reporter, of course.”
“What? Caldwell? That pup?”
“He’s not a pup, Elijah. He’s a capable young man. And a brilliant writer, to boot. You could not do better.”
“And who’ll I get to replace him?”
Once again, Caldwell rolled his eyes. Eli was like a younger brother – well-loved, but also when the occasion arose (as it had now) completely annoying. “Honestly, Elijah! Place an ad in your own paper. How do you think you’ll find a replacement? Must I tell you everything?”
So, Eli has lost one of his best friends. Well, not really. They just won’t be residing in the same building or working in the same place. But it's still a loss, and Eli is taking the news hard. Will he pine for his lost pal, stop eating, and lose weight? (I hope not. His portly physique is what makes him the perfect antidote to the handsome, ripped male leads populating historical fiction.)
But, never fear, friends. Eli is about to experience a non-weight-related gain, Check this blog at the end of the week.
Until then, stay well!
Janet R. Stafford
Change is a normal state of affairs. I’m sure you’ve noticed this, especially these days. Nothing stays the same. So, in keeping with that idea, this blog is about two changes. One has to do with Squeaking Pips and the other is about how change moves throughout the Saint Maggie series.
Here’s the big one: I decided to close down Squeaking Pips Press, Inc. It was an S-Corp, which seemed like a good idea at the time I started the company. But the company brought in a limited income and the requirements to keep an S-Corp running were a financial strain. So, I decided it would be wiser to close the S-Corp down and open a Sole Proprietorship. Now, a Sole Proprietorship means that all the money goes to me, the owner, and I must include that income, as well as deductions, as part of my personal taxes. Making the change also meant a slight change in the company’s name. We’re now Squeaking Pips Books, rather than Squeaking Pips Press, Inc.
When I floated the idea with Dan (my partner in life), he said, “But what if a film company takes out an option on Saint Maggie? Selling the rights to film production can bring in $350,000. The taxes would kill you!”
After I finished laughing, I told him that the chances of such a thing happening are slim. And if by chance it does happen, I’ll change Squeaking :Pips Books into an LLC, probably not without a lot of stress. But I’ll do it.
So, farewell Squeaking Pips Press, Inc.! You served me well as I began my journey as a published author. And hello Squeaking Pips Books! Go forth and kick butt. Or at least be a moderately pleasing little entity.
The concept of change holds true for the Saint Maggie series, as well. Maggie and her boarding house have seen a number of people move in and move out. Among the boarders with whom we are most familiar are Jim “Grandpa” O’Reilly, Maggie’s “fictive grandfather”; Chester Carson, a writer who had fallen on hard times, but now is the senior reporter at The Blaineton Register; and Patrick McCoy, a young man who started as the undertaker’s apprentice, but now is a sergeant in the Union Army and serves as a steward (physician’s assistant) at Mower US General Hospital in Philadelphia.
Other regular occupants of the old boarding house are an African American couple, Nate and Emily Johnson. Emily originally was hired by Maggie as a cook, but over time the two women have become as close as sisters.
Another boarding house denizen is Eli Smith, who becomes Maggie’s husband in the first book. He has lived in the Second Street Boarding House proper and later in the small outbuilding where he also established his little weekly newspaper, The Gazette.
Things constantly change in the stories. Babies are born. People die. And there is a flow of people in an out of Maggie’s life and dwelling.
In 1863, Maggie and her extended family were forced to leave Blaineton and move to Gettysburg. Now, we know that was a big mistake, but they had no idea what was heading their way in the form of the battle between Confederate and Union forces. Afterward, Maggie, Eli, Nate, and Emily move 12 miles north to a house in Middletown (modern-day Biglerville).
In 1864, some good news arrives, along with more change. Tryphena Moore, the grande dame of Blaineton, hires Eli as editor-in-chief for her newspaper, The Blaineton Register, and everyone relocates back to New Jersey.
This time, though, they make their home at Greybeal House, a large residence. Maggie proceeds to fill it with people. Because she sees that she and Emily need help with the cooking and cleaning, she hires two Irish immigrants in their teens: Moira to help with the cooking and Birgit to clean and later help care for Maggie and Emily’s children.
Eli’s new reporter, a young man of color by the name of Edward Caldwell, moves into Greybeal House. Then come two African American girls, Addie and Mary Brooks, who are orphaned and adopted by Nate and Emily. Following on their heels is Rosa Hamilton, a black woman of eighteen years, who had befriended Frankie in The Enlistment.
In the most recent book, A Good Community, a school originally created to give an education to children of color is expanded when the Brennan’s mother shows up with their siblings, and board at Greybeal House. And after the Great Fire of 1864, Maggie opens her doors to shelter temporarily homeless black families.
Why does Maggie do this? It’s simple. She believes that she should treat others the way she would like to be treated. And so, she befriends people unlike herself and happily gives shelter to those labeled as “other” by the larger community.
At the beginning of my new work-in-progress, Maggie’s home is stuffed to the gills with African Americans, the Irish as well as people with ancestors from the England, Scotland, and Germany. The situation is not permanent, and after two months, most of the families from the black community on Water Street will move into new homes soon and the permanent members of Greybeal House will get a bit of breathing space.
But the change continues as Maggie decides to throw her hat into the ring and run for Town Council. It is not an easy decision for her. In fact, it frightens her, but she feels called to do it.
Change is the one constant in life not only for Maggie, for us, too. If she is strong enough to turn and, as the late David Bowie sang, “face the strange,” perhaps we should as well during these unsettled and disturbing times.
I’ll leave you with a link to Bowie’s song. The video is lyrics, not photos or motion. But just look at them as you listen to the song. See if it makes sense to you the way it does to me.
Janet R. Stafford
Image: “An illustration of a woman crying while another woman attempts to console her,” from https://etc.usf.edu/clipart/55800/55853/55853_woman-cry.htm
In my last blog, we found Maggie running for town council and, after much encouragement, addressing a crowd gathered at Greybeal House. The response she receives is highly supportive. After concluding the speech, she walks back into the house to thunderous applause and cheering.
Maggie should be happy. But the truth is that she is shaken to her core and, once inside, she breaks down into tears. Her daughters Lydia and Frankie, and husband Eli, spend the next few pages trying to discover what on earth could be upsetting her. The best Maggie can say is that she is not a politician and that she is terrified of making a mistake while on that town council. The last thing she wants is hurt the people of her town.
After smothering their mother with daughterly affection and reassurance, the girls leave Maggie alone with her husband, who is determined to get to the root of the issue. This is their conversation:
“Would you like to tell me what made you cry?”
She sighed. “I don’t want them to make a hero of me.”
“Do you think they would?”
“You heard them out there. The applause. The cheering. The reality is that I cannot rescue them from anything. They must do the rescuing themselves. If things are to change, it is they who must do it, not I.”
Eli considered this. “But they do need a leader. Someone to encourage them. Someone who listens to them and advises them. Politics is a give and take process, Maggie. A leader inspires the people, the people respond, and then the leader works with them and encourages them as they work toward their goal.”
“Yes, well,” she muttered, “I’m hardly a leader, Elijah. Women are neither leaders nor politicians. It’s just not done.”
“Well, it should be done! And, Maggie, you are a leader, whether you think so or not. It takes leadership to run a boarding house, to help organize and run a school, to run Greybeal House. It takes leadership to raise a family. And, by the way, you’ve raised two strong, young women who are leaders, too. And you did all of that in a gentle, kindly spirit – not like some puffed-up industrialist or judge or man who inherited his wealth. You would never strut around like you’re better than the people you’re serving. And you’d certainly never expect people to do anything that you would not do.”
A skeptical expression remained on her face.
“You’re going to be fine, sweetheart,” Eli reassured her. “And you know why? You’ve got what no one else on that town council has.”
“And, pray, what is that?”
“Vision.” He kissed her. “And that’s something we badly need right now.”
Maggie’s anxiety is real. While it was becoming increasingly common in the 1860s for women to advocate for various kinds of social change as well as to promote their churches to undertake missionary work (and to become missionaries themselves), politics was considered part of the “male sphere.”
Indeed, Maggie is a trail blazer for her era – especially if she is elected to the Town Council. For one thing, at that time, women in New Jersey could not vote. Women’s suffrage in that era was determined on a state-by-state basis. Women were just starting to flex their political muscles.
“The right to vote on school issues, and to be elected to educational positions, were among the most successful campaigns across the nation throughout the 1860s and 1870s. In some states, especially in the west and Midwest, women also gained ‘municipal suffrage’, the right to vote and be elected to offices on the town, county, and/or state levels.” (“Women by State and Territory,” Her Hat Was in the Ring).
The first women to enter political office were elected in the mid-1850s to the school board of Ashland, Massachusetts (“Eastern States,” Her Hat Was in the Ring). The earliest woman to win an election in New Jersey appears to be Hannah Scholfield of Morris County, who in 1874 was elected to a school committee.
So, truthfully, it would have been highly unusual in 1864 for a woman to run for Town Council in New Jersey. If there was such a woman, we have yet to uncover her.
No wonder Maggie has mixed feelings! As she says, “It just isn’t done.”
But then again, her daughters are pursuing things that “just aren’t done,” too. Women physicians were rare in the mid-1800s, although nursing was rising as a profession. As for female ministers or preachers… scarce as hen’s teeth, as the old-timers might say.
Still, that’s the glory of writing historical fiction. Of course, I need to be aware of the history of my chosen time period. But I also get to play with the “what ifs,” provided my particular “what if” it fits the “well, it could have been possible” test.
So, will Maggie win the election? I don’t know. At this point, I don’t even know if the book will go all the way to Election Day (we’re still in early October as I write).
What I do know is that typhoid fever is coming to town and Maggie and family are going to have to help the town through a health crisis coming close on the heels of a human-made crisis. And, believe me, I had no idea we’d now be in the middle of a pandemic when I would start writing this part of the series. The idea of an epidemic presented itself to me after I finished Seeing the Elephant in 2016. It’s taken me four years to ramp up and begin another full-length novel. I’m not prescient. Really. So, don’t ask me to predict anything. The crystal ball is offline. In fact, it’s never been online.
Anyway, as I said, I’m still working out plot details, although I have a general idea where it all is going. That said, sometimes my characters take things into their own hands and I end up with a different story from what I originally thought.
And now, friends, as we begin to open things up during this time of COVID, just a reminder to please take care of yourself, your family, and others. Any kind of a recovery won’t happen if we don’t do this together.
Janet R. Stafford
If you're interested in women and suffrage, you might want to check out a website called "Her Hat Was in the Ring," which is where I found the information for this blog. http://www.herhatwasinthering.org/
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder