I didn’t do any blogging while in Gettysburg. I was traveling with my family and it’s not just a matter of “see the sights, write a blog post.” The point of getting away with family is to get away with family. We spent time together. That was important, and always tops anything else.
Truth be told, I spent the 3-4 fours hours to and from Gettysburg and extra time (think Battlefield tours) in the back seat of the SUV with two grandsons and Tippy the dog. Because Tippy is dealing with bone cancer – and indeed this may have been her final trip – I often walked her around the Battlefield itself, which is dog friendly, or sat in the car with her. But it was no big deal, as I have been to Gettysburg probably five times, two of them doing research for Walk by Faith and A Time to Heal. And, hey, if these are Tippy’s last days, it was good to give her something to enjoy.
The day we arrived in town, we checked in at the hotel and then everyone went over to the Visitor Center to get oriented to the site. Well, almost everyone went over. I hung out in the hotel with Tippy. We enjoyed a nice nap. I needed it after a busy Holy Week and Easter Sunday.
But the next day all of us hopped into the car and took off for the Battlefield. I took the video below and provided the lovely commentary, which was nearly cut off by the sound of road traffic. The house sits very close to a well-traveled road. It was difficult to get a good shot of the house, because workers had parked a truck next to it. They were inside doing some refurbishment.
Image of Lydia Leister farmhouse from Gettysburg Stone Sentinels
The Leister farm, also known as the Lydia Leister farm, served as General Meade’s Headquarters and also as a field hospital. George Meade had only taken command of the Army of the Potomac around June 28. But on the night of July 2, the tiny Leister house held a war council with eleven other Union generals. For those of you who have read the Gettysburg books in the Saint Maggie series, you may remember that Patrick (Frankie's beau) was serving with the New Jersey 15th Volunteers, which was attached to John Sedgwick’s 6th Corps. Eli and Carson were following the New Jersey 15th as war correspondents. With the 6th Corps, they also traveled over 35 miles on July 2, reaching the battlefield around 4 p.m.
(From my photos: Outbuilding on the Leister Farm)
Now, let's connect the history with my historical fiction. Here's what that day looked like through the eyes of Eli, Frankie, and Maggie. I write historical fiction because we often only get the Big Picture - troop movements, politics, battles, and so on. Ever since I was a child, I always have wondered what it might have been like to be a regular person during a particular event or period in history. Although history is comprised of overarching episodes, the threads that hold it all together are made up of everyday life and "regular" people. Or at least that's how I see it.l
On Wednesday, I’ll have a post about our visit to Spangler’s Spring.
Image: CC0 Public Domain, no attribution required
Sorry for the lack of blogs, but these things happen. Last week was Holy Week, one of the two big holy times on the Christian calendar. Since I work in a church, I was busy assisting the pastor with the service on Maundy Thursday, doing a "modified" and interactive Stations of the Cross on Friday along with a youth group sleep-over in the church, and of course the big Easter service on Sunday.
And then there was this: on Thursday I learned that my dog's cancer has metastasized to her ribs. We're trying a different protocol now, and so far Tippy is alert and her usual self but... well... let's be honest, we all know how this is going to end. What no one knows is when. Then again, that is true for almost every living thing on the planet.
So, as you can see, my life has been a wee bit topsy turvy. Add to that, a family trip to Gettysburg, which kicks off on Tuesday. And, yes, we will be taking my three-legged, cancer-ridden crazy little dog with us, but not without the contact information for a 24-hour local vet. Because... you know... or rather we don't know.
Anyway, I'm attaching the notes and bits of dialog and story for that YA novel I was writing about last week. It either will be paranormal or fantasy book or some weird hybrid. As you read it, remember, that this is the roughest of rough draft material and is part-story, part-author information. And I have no idea what it will look like when it comes to fruition. But if you're wondering how authors do it, the material below is how this author starts. I take an idea and riff on it. Then I start messing with things like notes for the plot and secondary storylines. And then the writing begins. And after the first draft... the revisions and editing. It's a multi-part process.
P.S. please excuse any typos and weird usage in the draft below. I don't have time to smooth it out.
Hope you enjoyed it.
With any luck, I'll be back on Wednesday and Friday with blogs about the family visit to Gettysburg. My grandsons tell me a ghost hunt is in the works. I'm cool with it, as long as they don't pay me a visit in the bathroom, turn off the lights, and turn off the water like they did in the Gettysburg Hotel on the Diamond last time I was there. If the lights go out, that's one thing. But on the second night, when the water turned on, I thought, "Okay. Back to bed. Mama don't like this stuff."
I'll be checking in soon... I hope... Ha!
Image: "View of Bailey Island, by the Giant Staircase" by Simonhardt93, CC BY-SA 3.0, Created 7 September 2007.
This past Saturday, I was at Schaefer Farms, for its craft and arts fair and Easter egg hunt. I like going to fairs and festivals because I get to talk to people. Oddly enough, I’m an introvert, but as I get older, I find my father’s DNA taking over. My dad, and his father before him, were gregarious guys (both of them were named Guy). They never met a stranger and genuinely loved people. These days, I too find myself striking up conversations with total strangers. I also seem to be accessible to others. By that, I mean people feel comfortable talking to me or asking questions. Maybe it’s the 30 years I’ve spent in ministry honing my people skills or maybe it’s the Stafford DNA or maybe a little of both. I have no idea. I just know that I really have fun when I’m out and about selling my books and chatting with whoever stops by my table.
So, it was much the same on Saturday, even though I didn’t sell a single book! But I didn’t mind that because something else happened in addition to the conversations. I started a new novel in a new genre. All of which goes to show, you never know when inspiration will strike.
I had the idea for a YA (Young Adult) novel a few years ago, when I had a “girls’ night out” with Dan’s daughter Kristina while on a family vacation. Kristina thought I should write shorter books and do something in the YA genre. I was skeptical, because I wasn’t sure I had the skills or ideas to do it.
Then last year, I began thinking about the vacations my family took when my sister and I were growing up. We went to a “cabin” owned by my dad’s widowed second cousin, whom we referred to as “aunt.” The “cabin” was located on Bailey Island. It is a rugged little island connected to neighboring Orr’s Island by a catacomb bridge, and is part of the town of Harpswell, located in Cumberland County, ME. I put quotes around the word cabin, because in reality it was a really large house built of logs and probably constructed somewhere in the 1930s or early 40s. Rustic, yet big.
We spent many happy two-to-three-week summer vacations there. My sister and I would run around and over the big sea-chiseled rocks set on beaches strewn with stones (and no sand whatsoever). The water was icy cold and only my mother, who was going through menopause, found Casco Bay refreshing. The rest of us stood on the shore, lips blue, and cheered her own as she floated blissfully around on her back.
In the mornings, we’d go outside to pick raspberries from bushes on the side of the cabin and bring them back to put on our cereal. We’d also run down a little path between our aunt’s cabin and a much smaller cabin (also owned by her) where her cousins were staying. On the way, we often were given the job of picking wild blueberries to go into the best blueberry muffins I’ve ever had, baked by her cousin’s husband. At least once during our stay, Dad would rent a small boat with an outboard motor and we’d go fishing for flounder for dinner. Yeah. Food was a big part of staying Bailey Island. There was so much more, but I can’t cover it in one blog.
This place was heaven on earth for us kids, and an inexpensive vacation for my cash-strapped parents, who did various chores around the cabin my aunt and provided groceries during our visits as a way of paying her back for her generosity.
We’d fall asleep to the sound of waves hitting the beach. It was so peaceful. And then, one night, my sister and I heard something mysterious outside the cabin. We slept up on the second floor, and my aunt had the other bedroom. Before we could fall asleep that one night, we heard a strange sound: Step-thump! Step-thump! Step-thump!
Scared, my sister and I lay there listening as it passed under our window and then gradually faded away. The next morning, we told our parents about the sound, and were surprised when my father said he had heard it, too. He and my mother slept in a bedroom downstairs. He said the sound went along the side of the cabin, turned the corner, and then faded off.
What was it? Mom speculated that it might have been the ghost of an old pirate. But she was good at making up little stories like that. To this day, I still don’t know what would make such a sound. An animal? A person with a cane? A prankster? It’s a big question mark for me, and I doubt if I'll ever have an answer.
But that one story and the island setting in Maine gave me seeds for what might be a viable YA story. So, while at Schaefer Farms, I literally put pen to paper and came out with a sort of mini-chapter/notes. Kristina and her sister-in-law Kristy, both teachers, are pushing me to finish it. Kristy even told me to get it out by October. We’ll see about that.
On Friday, I’ll post a polished version of little mini-chapter/notes. I like where it’s going and that it promises to be an interesting story. Since I’ve set my tale in 1965, I also get to trip down Memory Lane, since I was a new teen that year. My heroine also is 13. So, 7th-grade graduate, gawky Janet is coming up out of my psyche to say hello to the Ph.D.-endowed, arthritis-burdened author that is sixty-something Janet. All of which means, writing this book a nice fun change of pace historical fiction. Although... 1965... that is probably is historical fiction for today's kids!
Morgan Henry's photo of the diapers arranged near our altar on April 14. Notice all the little posters and a few palms. It was, after all, Palm Sunday - so the faith formation group I work with (comprised of parents, grandparents, children and, frankly anyone else who wanted to show up) staged a little parade during the first hymn. Because I'm turning into a sentimental sap in my old age, I had to work from choking up. Oh, yeah. It's true. I get weepy. But let's go on to the blog!
In case you were intrigued by my blog about our church’s diaper drive for The Maker’s Place, we repeated the process yesterday. You see, our preacher this past Sunday (Palm Sunday) was Michael Reed, pastor and managing director of The Maker’s Place, a Hope Center and new church start in Trenton, NJ.
Rev Reed told us that when they proposed the diaper drive, The Maker’s Place was expecting to receive maybe 9,000 diapers. To their amazement, they received 90,000 diapers! That, of course, required some fancy footwork to get them all stored and ready to be given away.
Recently, the center held a “diaper party” in the basement of a local church. Diapers were given away to anyone who showed up and requested them, with no other qualification other than "I need diapers for my baby." They also served food and, over the course of the meal, got to know some of the people in the community. The Maker's place also distributes diapers two days a week.
Rev. Reed told us that the organization was contacted recently by a local hospital, who explained that they partner with an organic farm and were wondering if The Maker’s Place would like to receive free, fresh vegetables and fruit for the neighborhood. Of course, the answer was yes. Reed told us that they were stunned at the offer. You see, the thing was that all they were trying to do was one small thing: provide diapers for people who had trouble providing them for their babies. Diapers. That’s it. Small steps first, right? But suddenly, an entirely new thing came out of nowhere and into their midst: fresh food! You could say it was God at work. You could say it was the power of publicity and good-hearted people. Or you could say it was simply good luck. But whatever it was, it was good. A hospital and an organic farm had made a connection with low-income people living in Trenton.
Reed pointed out that he and the others at The Maker’s Place consciously want to shift the Trenton citizens, as well as people living in other parts of Central New Jersey, from “A Mindset of Scarcity” to “A Mindset of Abundance.” If you wonder what that means, here is the description of the two mindsets from the Hope Center’s website. (https://www.makersplace.org/blog/the-mindset-of-scarcity-vs-abundance)
A Mindset of Scarcity
A Mindset of Abundance
Which way is healthier? Living as thralls to a system that won't let you "win" or living with the idea that although we are fallible human beings, we also are relational - and it is relationships that are "life's key resource."
I realize that a mindset of abundance is the also way I have approached my writing and the characters that live within it. In the Saint Maggie series, I know that Maggie in particular lives out of a mindset of abundance. She happily welcomes people into her home and into her life. She works with them to achieve certain goals, whether that is providing space for self-emancipators traveling on the Underground Railroad, feeding and caring for wounded soldiers from both sides in Gettysburg, and opening her house as a safe place for whoever comes to her door. Even during times when Maggie has little, she is willing to share and open to possibilities. In my current work-in-progress, Maggie sets out to do one small thing: provide an education for five children who are being denied schooling She meets with resistance and outrage, but along the way creates friendship, cooperation, and hope. Wherever Maggie goes, community and family soon emerge.
So, maybe there is one small thing that you can do with someone else to make your town or neighborhood a better place, to improve connection with others, and move toward a mindset of abundance, rather than mindset of scarcity. It’s worth thinking about. It's worth doing.
But you’ll never know until you try. A little prayer might help you on your. If you aren’t the praying sort, then just hold up good thoughts and keep your heart open. Working together, communicating, and sharing life is preferable to fear, isolation, and scarcity.
At least, that’s the way I see it.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder