(The photo above is of my humble little set up at the Lambertville Fall Festival in October. I had a person selling her daughter's artwork to my right and a tarot card reader (see the sign?) to my left. Both were great people and I loved talking with them. Also, I love going to book fairs and other festivals because not only do I get to meet other vendors, but more importantly I get to meet readers.)
As an author, I can’t tell you how hearing that a reader likes your stories can lift an author’s heart and give us the push to continue our work.
Recently, I noticed that my novel, Saint Maggie, and some of the novels that follow it, have garnered four and five stars from readers. That is encouraging and tells me that I must be doing something right.
I had further confirmation this fall when a young reader came up to my table at a book fair and shouted, “You wrote Saint Maggie?? I LOVE that book! I was hoping you’d be here today! I cried when…” and here she lowered her voice to tell me exactly what made her cry. Which I won’t reveal to you, because… spoilers.
That truly was high point for me. There we were, a reader and an author, in the middle of a gymnasium full of authors and readers, and we were nearly screaming with joy and jumping up and down. Maybe screaming and jumping up and down wasn't exactly dignified on my part, but my reader had so much enthusiasm and I was so surprised and delighted… well, who wouldn’t jump up and down?
Then, recently, I received an email from another new reader. I had met her and her daughter at a fall festival. She was interested in reading Saint Maggie, and her daughter bought the book for her. In her email, she told me how much she loved the story and intended to purchase the next book in the series (Walk by Faith).
Her words lifted my spirits and helped me understand how sharing my gift can have an impact on people and bring them joy.
So, I have two takeaways from these things.
Later, gators! Much love to you all.
Janet R. Stafford
From: http://clipart-library.com/clipart/750778.htm; Angry Group Cliparts #2767452 (License: Personal Use)
We hear a lot these days about polarization and bully tactics and violence aimed by one group of people at another.
But it isn’t the first time our country experienced this madness. And I can sum up the most extreme historical example of it in three words: “The Civil War.” And yes, it shows up in my Saint Maggie series. So the next few blogs will provide examples of 1860s tensions.
My central character, the good-hearted Maggie, embraces the command to love God and love neighbor. Maggie’s closest friends are people of color, Nate and Emily Johnson. She has adopted an old Irishman, James O’Reilly, as a grandfather. And there are rumors that Maggie, husband Eli, and Nate and Emily have something to do with the Underground Railroad. Plus, Eli produces a penny weekly called The Gazette, in which he makes his own opinions known.
All this makes for some angry people opposing Maggie, hubby, and friends’ generosity, kindness, and suspected civil disobedience.
Dealing with rowdies and extremists at any point in time is difficult and dangerous. And yet, Maggie and her family refuse to back down. Sometimes, to evade confrontations, they will seek a haven, but this too may turn out to be unsafe. A case in point is found in the series’ second book, Walk by Faith.
Set in 1863, the novel opens with Maggie’s boarding house being burned to the ground because of her suspected connections with the Underground Railroad. The family seeks shelter in her brother Samuel’s mansion outside of Blaineton. Things do not improve, though, partly because Samuel hired Nate Johnson to work at his carriage factory and had the audacity to place Nate, a man of color, over two younger white men. The predictable outrage ensued over that.
One evening a gang of rowdies converge upon the Beatty mansion to express their displeasure with Samuel, his family, and friends.
It starts when John, the Beatty’s butler, appears at dinner with this report: “Some ruffians have arrived at our door. They want to speak with you. I fear there may be trouble.”
Once they determine that trouble indeed is at their door, Maggie and her sister-in-law Abigail escort the other women ,Grandpa O’Reilly, and the children to the woods, where they hide.
Meanwhile Sam, Carson, Eli, John the butler, a couple of stable hands, and Nate (even though he was told to hide) go outside to deal with the visitors.
Note: The rowdies’ conversation with the family is not included in this public space. I try to avoid using certain words in general, but sometimes substituting other, milder terms in my novels is not authentic of the time.
After letting the men rant, Samuel finally responds. But the confrontation almost ends in violence.
Here's the excerpt:
Samuel remained calm. “You might wish to amend your statement, for I am, sir, one who loves the human race, all of it.”
“He [meaning Nate Johnson] ain’t no human!”
Sam was growing tired of these bullies. “Look, just what do you want?”
The first man, who appeared to be the leader, leaned forward in his saddle. “Obvious, isn’t it? We want to burn your house.”
Samuel stiffened his back. “That is pure foolishness. You? Burn my house? Look at the lot of you! You come to me in the dark. You’re wearing hats and masks so I cannot tell who you are. If you were real men, you would show me your faces. You would be proud to let me know who you are. But it is obvious to me and my friends that you are not men at all, but cowards.
“Pray, tell me what is so all-fired threatening about a colored man that you must burn down my house? If you were truly confident fellows, you would not feel threatened by him.” He indicated Nate. “Now this gentleman is a man. He has braved insults to work beside men of paler skin. He has borne the brunt of two beatings. He has never once tried to hide who he is, nor has he threatened anyone even though a group of men – most likely you – ruthlessly beat him.
“My advice, therefore, is to go home this instant. Go crawl under that rock from which you came, for you are not men but worms and as such deserve to live in the dirt.”
“You’re really asking for it,” the leader hissed.
Samuel drew the revolver out from under his jacket. “Do not tempt me to violence, sir.”
“Nor should you tempt me,” a female voice interjected. Brandishing another pistol, Abigail stepped over the threshold and onto the portico.
Eli could hear the stable hands in the hallway. Things were going to get ugly any second. His mouth dried up. He wondered whether he should throw himself between the two parties. Such heroics most likely would get him killed, and he couldn’t do that to Maggie. But what alternative did he have? Being part of a battle on the Beatty’s front yard was anathema to him.
“Why don’t you just try and stop us?” the leader said.
Samuel cocked the pistol. “As you wish. Who would like to die first?”
Abigail cocked her revolver, as well.
But a rifle shot abruptly cracked the air. And Sheriff Miller, accompanied by his deputy, galloped out of the pitch dark. “Now just hold on!” Miller barked. “No one’s burning anything! Put down your weapons.” He nodded at Abigail and added in a softer tone, “That includes you, too, ma’am.” She lowered her revolver. Satisfied, Miller turned his attention to the men on horseback. “I don’t know who you are, but rest assured I will find out. You’re the same ones who burned the houses on Second Street and beat Mr. Johnson. Now stand down.”
Saved by good ol’ Sheriff Miller! But this won’t be the first time Maggie and her family face violent opposition.
Not by a long shot.
Image from: Clipart Library, http://clipart-library.com/clipart/701700.htm, Heart Working Cliparts #2563649 (License: Personal Use)
In the final installment of this blog series, Frankie and Maggie need to come to an accord after a big blow up. They just might be able to do that - with a little help from Patrick and Eli.
You’ll notice that there is a great deal of dialog and very little descriptive information. My writing process is that I start with a skeleton (usually dialog and some action), then add more detail bit by bit. What you're looking at in these blogs is an early draft.
Anyway, on with the show!
Maggie flopped down onto the sofa and buried her face in her hands.
After a few stunned moments, Eli gently touched his wife’s arm. “Are you all right, sweetheart?”
“No…” she replied faintly, then burst into tears. “No!”
“Oh, sweetheart,” he murmured, “come here.” He gathered his wife up and hugged her. “I know that wasn’t easy for you.”
She nodded as she wept upon his shoulder.
“But Frankie’s right, you know.”
“I know,” Maggie blubbered. “I wasn’t ready for this to happen. Oh, Eli! I’ll be worried the whole time.”
He kissed his wife’s head. “I know you don’t want to hear this, my love, but you need to let Frankie go. Let her do what she wants and needs to do.”
Maggie wept harder.
“That’s right, darling. Let it all out. You’ll feel better.”
“Oh, do be quiet, Eli…” she sobbed.
He grinned. He knew she would say that.
“Fine,” he whispered. “I’ll stop.”
After kissing her one more time, he hugged her more tightly and let her weep.
Frankie was marching indignantly down the lane that led from Greybeal House. Every step she took stirred up explosions of newly fallen leaves.
The air was chilly. She shivered and was further aggravated because she had neglected to bring a shawl. But then again, she had stormed out. No time to get a shawl.
Frankie scowled, wrapped her arms around herself, and marched on.
Patrick called out, “Frankie!”
She stopped, turned to face him, and sputtered, “I can’t believe Mama’s being so… so… protective! What is wrong with her? Why is she acting like this?”
Patrick said slowly, “I think it’s because she loves you.”
Frankie snorted. “Loves me? You’d never know it from the way she’s acting!”
“You don’t understand. Your mother is worried that something will happen to you. You’re her child. Mothers worry. They always do.”
“Well, she never worries about Lydia!”
“You don’t understand me. Lydia is here. Frankie. She and Phil aim on staying in Blaineton once he’s mustered out. They’ll probably have a family and live in this town for the rest of their lives. Even if she and Phil get a house of their own, Mama will be able to see Lydia whenever she wishes. But that won’t be the case with us. All she’ll get are letters telling her that you’re fine, even if you aren’t.”
Frankie pouted, turned, and marched away.
“Hey!” Patrick caught up to her, took hold of her arm, and brought her to a halt. “You need to listen to me, Frances Blaine! I wish I had parents who worried that much about me. But I don’t have any kin anymore. Thank God I have you and this family. And I know that when someone tells us off or warns us that we’re going the wrong way, it’s their way of letting us know that they love us and are worried. Do you have any idea how lucky you are, Frankie? Even if you think Mama and Eli are too protective, you’re danged lucky to have them!”
Frankie made a face and looked away.
“Did you hear what I just said?” Patrick persisted.
She sighed “Of course, I did. You’re standing right next to me.”
“Good. Look, you’ve always been the adventurous one. You’ve always been curious and strong and brave. You’ve always said exactly what was on your mind. And because of that, Mama has spent her life trying to make sure you survived those impulses.”
“Impulses?” she protested.
“Impulses,” he replied. “Frankie, you always seem to act before you think things through.”
There was a pause. Then she heaved another sigh. “Well… yes…” she admitted. “I guess I do that.”
“Thank you. Now… I think you need to go back into the house and apologize to Mama and Eli. Then you need to explain calmly that we will move, but when we do, you’ll write a letter home once a week telling them everything that is going on.”
“Once a week?” she protested.
“At least once a week,” he countered. “They’ll be happier if you share your life with them. You need to help them feel that they still matter to you, because sure as shooting, Frankie, you still matter to them and always will.”
There was a longish silence on Frankie’s part. Finally, she murmured, “How’d I get so lucky to have a man like you, Pat?”
He grinned. “The same way I got lucky to have you. But it wasn’t really luck. It was your Mama. She let me live in her boarding house.”
Frankie smiled. “She did. I should thank her for that, too.”
“Come to think of it, so should I.”
“Let’s go inside,” she said.
But Patrick pulled her close first and kissed her on the lips. “I love you, Frankie.”
“I love you, too, Pat," she whispered.
The young couple found Maggie and Eli still in the front parlor. They were sitting on the sofa. They were holding hands and Maggie was resting her head on Eli’s shoulder. It was clear that she had been crying – her eyes were red and a bit swollen.
After a breath, Frankie cleared her throat. “Mama?”
Maggie fumbled for her handkerchief and quickly wiped her nose and eyes. “Yes, Frances?”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said all those things.”
Maggie rose to her feet and took her daughter into her arms. “Oh, Frankie! I should have watched my tongue, too. If going to Chicago is what you and Patrick want to do, who am I to object? It is your life, not mine. Will you ever forgive me?”
“Oh, yes!” As Frankie hugged her mother, she added, “And I promise to write to you every week, without fail, Mama.”
“Oh, that would be lovely,” Maggie hugged Frankie tightly, as happy tears began filling her eyes. “And I shall write back. Without fail.”
Relieved, Eli shoved himself to his feet. “So… does all this mean that peace will reign once again in our little abode?”
“It does,” Maggie and Frankie chorused, then met one another’s gaze and laughed.
“Well, then, perhaps we should repair to the kitchen,” Eli suggested. “We can celebrate in there with tea and a bit of Emily’s apple pie.”
Patrick’s mouth began to water at the very thought. “Sounds good to me!”
“Come on, then,” Frankie grabbed his hand and pulled him out of the room.
But Eli held back, gently taking his wife’s arm as he murmured, “Um... we do have some of that pie left over from supper, don’t we, sweetheart?”
Maggie laughed. “Yes! There is one in the pie safe. A whole one.”
Eli heaved a relieved sigh. “Then all is well.”
“Yes. All is well indeed.”
I suspect that once Frankie and Patrick move away, Frankie will write many a letter to her mother asking for advice – and Maggie will give that advice - as well as copious prayers for her daughter and son-in-law.
Next blog: It’s fall! Time to take my books, a table, a chair. and go to fairs, fests, and other outdoor events.
Janet R. Stafford
Image from: ClipArt Library; http://clipart-library.com/clipart/2086430.htm, Boiling Water Cliparts #2539806 (License: Personal Use)
Well... things are certainly heating up between Maggie and Frankie. To pick up where the last blog left off, Frankie is fighting to move into an adult life, while Maggie is trying to keep her impulsive daughter safe. It’s kind one of those typical mother-daughter moments.
But even Eli jumps into the fray somewhat with Patrick. (If you have any doubt about Eli’s paternal feelings for Frankie, check out his “chat” with Patrick in 1863 after he discovers that the couple had fallen asleep in the barn and spent the night there. It’s in Book 3, A Time to Heal.)
Now, here’s the current scene, set in 1864, when the tension comes to a rolling boil.
“Where will you live?” Maggie asked.
“What’re you going to use for money?” Eli wanted to know.
Maggie added, “Someone will need to earn money, so you have a roof over your heads and food on the table. You two simply cannot live off air.”
“I’ll get a job,” Frankie shot back.
Maggie looked doubtful. “Doing what?”
“Teaching, Mama! I’ve taught school. Remember? Surely some school in Chicago must need a teacher. It’s a big city!”
Patrick added, “I can take a job, too.”
“While you’re attending medical school?” Eli challenged.
“Right. And when do you intend to sleep?”
The young man rolled his eyes. “Eli!”
Maggie took up the interrogation. “And, Frankie, what if you get in the family way before you move?”
“So what?” Frustrated, Frankie wondered why they were talking about all this now.
“You won’t be able to work when you get bigger,” Maggie continued. “And then there’s the morning sickness and …”
The young woman suddenly threw her head back and laughed, stopping Maggie in mid-lecture. “Mama!” the young woman chortled. “You ran a boarding house while you were in the family way! Four times! And it never slowed you down. You set the example for me!”
Maggie was undeterred. “But you’ve never had a child. Who will you go to for advice? Who will help you if you feel ill or when the baby’s newly born?”
That was enough. Frankie hopped to her feet. “Mama, stop it! I’m not a child! For heaven’s sake, I was in Gettysburg during the battle.”
Maggie rose and faced her daughter. “And may I remind you that you got yourself separated from us – all because you and Gus wanted to run off and watch the soldiers march into town! I was worried sick about you!”
“Yes, I did that. It was a foolish thing to do. I freely admit it. But when I got separated from you, I did not dissolve into helpless tears and cry for my mother! I took care of wounded soldiers. I gave them food and water. I prayed with them. I held their hands when they were in pain. And I sat with them when they died. I am strong, Mama. I’m not a little girl anymore, I am a woman!
Gob smacked, Patrick and Eli sat wide-eyed, not knowing how to defuse the mother-daughter confrontation.
Undeterred, Maggie sought another line of argument. “From what I’ve heard, Chicago is a big city. How will you find your way around? What if it’s dangerous? What if you get hurt? What if –”
Frankie cut her off. “Mama! Let me say this as clearly as I can. Patrick and I are adults. We’re young, yes. We’re inexperienced, yes. But that’s part of being young. We will be married soon, and we’ll make our own way in the world. While I’m at it, may I remind you that you were only a year older than I am now when you eloped? Your family disowned you! You and my father ended up living with Aunty Letty because you two had nowhere else to go!”
Maggie was stunned into silence. Her daughter was right.
Turning to her fiancé, Frankie grumbled, “Come on, Pat! I need to take a walk to cool down.”
And she marched out of the parlor.
Patrick, knowing what was good for him, cleared his throat, stood, and said to the two older adults, “Uh… I need to go.”
Now Eli and Patrick must calm the women in their lives and encourage them to make up.
Will Maggie and Frankie come to an accord?
We’ll see in my next blog.
Janet R. Stafford
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder