The story picks up on 5 July 1863. Maggie and Emily have been traumatized by their experiences in the war. So, for that matter, has Eli. The town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is a disaster of bodies, wrecked and abandoned wagons and equipment, and dead men and animals. Wounded soldiers are lodged in nearly every home and public building.
Before I started Book 3, I had to ask myself if I was going to pick the story up on 5 July or jump ahead to a later date and avoid the unpleasantness.
Originally, I had jumped the story forward to late December at the end of Walk by Faith. I had wanted to set things up so the family could return to Blaineton, New Jersey.
And then a weird thing happened. My characters refused to go where I wanted them to go.
Let me explain: most authors are familiar with this phenomenon. You plan to have a character do something to make your story work, and no matter what you do it just won’t happen. Eventually, you realize that your plans go against the character’s personality or beliefs, or the character just flat out doesn't want to do it.
The “just flat out doesn't want to do it” thing happened to me. No matter what I wrote or how I massaged the idea of returning to Blaineton, every draft of Book 3's opening fell flat. It was as if the principle characters had gathered around me and were shouting, “Don’t you get it? We have issues! We can’t just go home. Not yet.”
In addition, I received some helpful criticism from a book club, with which I agreed. It’s odd how I knew something was wrong with the ending of Book 2. I was glad the book club was frank with me. Together we agreed where the real ending for Walk by Faith was. I made the changes and, in my opinion, that book ends well.
So, there I was… ready to start a new book with characters who needed to heal in Pennsylvania, but I had no idea what was going to happen next.
The good news is I figured it out.
After the battle, Eli and Nate decide to get their wives out of Gettysburg, especially since Maggie is pregnant and both she and Emily need a place to heal. They move to Eli’s sister, Sarah (Sally) and her husband, Andrew, Quakers with a sizeable family who have a farm north of Gettysburg and near Middletown (current day Biglerville). Eli and Nate soon are able to rent a house right outside Middletown and the families move again.
Meanwhile, Frankie and Lydia remain behind in Gettysburg to tend to the wounded, as do Carson, Grandpa O’Reilly, and Matilda and Chloe Strong. (Patrick must return to his regiment, which moves soon after the battle.)
The novel then alternates between the two locations. Things gradually improve in Gettysburg with the arrival of the Sanitary Commission and the Christian Commission, both of which bring the twon much-needed supplies, food, and nursing help. On July 11, the old Smith house is visited by Capt. Philip Frost, who tells Lydia that the army will be constructing a temporary general hospital (Camp Letterman) to care for injured soldiers and announces that they are making plans to move both Confederate and Union wounded to the new location.
Up in Middletown, Maggie and Eli seek to heal the fissure in their relationship. Maggie’s surging hormones, which cause her to desire her husband, help in this process. The downside? Eli wonders if he'll survive all that love-making to see the birth of their child.
A twist is added when Patrick, who is serving with the Sixth Corps of the Army of the Potomac south of Hagerstown, is wounded by friendly fire. He ends up in a hospital tent, undergoes surgery, and later is sent to Mower U.S. General Hospital in Philadelphia. When Frankie learns of this, she decides to go to Philadelphia to fetch him and bring him to Middletown to recover. This is a major no-no, as young women of that time were not supposed to travel on their own. You already know something of the consequences from last week's posts.
But another complication arises when Frankie’s heart goes out to a wounded Confederate soldier named Caleb, who is worried about the wife and baby he left behind in Virginia. He has nearly recovered from his wounds and knows that he will be sent to a prisoner of war camp. She and Lydia must contemplate whether or not to break the law in the name of compassion.
Will Maggie and Eli overcome their differences? Will Emily forgive herself for what she did to save Maggie? What will happen to Patrick? To Caleb, Frankie, and Lydia?
I’m afraid I can’t tell you the rest because that would be spoilers. But you can purchase the book from the Squeaking Pips Store for $ 7.99 (tax included, free shipping, and a nice signature and message from me).
You also may buy it for higher prices at Lulu and Amazon. The Kindle book though is $1.99, which is a good deal.
Tomorrow, book 4 in the Saint Maggie series, Seeing the Elephant.