Image from: http://clipart-library.com/clipart/355513.htm, History Cliparts #135374 (License: Personal Use)
I love writing historical fiction. I do it because I always have wondered what it was like to live during certain periods in time. I also like to make history accessible to people. The subject of history often is perceived as a bunch of boring details – but those alleged boring details include people who lived and died and loved and shaped the world around them. So, I enjoy trying to create characters and storylines that just might interest readers enough for them to read a non-fiction book about history. Or read more stories in my series. Either one. I’m not picky!
However, writing historical fiction brings with it certain demands, just as any genre does. For instance, in science fiction or fantasy, an author needs to create credible worlds, complete with their own cultures and histories. Romance needs to have believable characters and situations for love to grow between individuals. And historical fiction needs a grounding in history before an author tries to add fictional characters, settings, and situations.
I felt compelled to write this blog because I'm starting a short story or novella (not sure which it will be yet) about Frankie & Patrick's wedding. The original plan had been to have them move to a gold mining town in Colorado soon after the wedding, since Patrick has been offered a job as a town's doctor.
But then the need to do research rose its demanding, ever-present head.
First, it’s 1864 and the pair are going to go to Colorado in mid-October? Even these days, heavy snow in mid-October can close mountain passes either for the season or temporarily. And if closed for the season, the pass might not be open until mid-April.
Now, imagine a stagecoach trying to travel through rough, snow blocked, dirt roads. Yeah. That’s right. It’s not going to happen. I think the reality was that no one got in or out until spring. I still need to confirm this, but it makes sense.
Another point: the Civil War is still raging in October of 1864. About five battles were fought in Missouri from October 15 through October 28. If Frankie and Patrick wanted to get through to the border of what was then the United States on their journey to the Colorado Territory, they would take a train either to Independence or St. Joseph. I feel that neither would want to risk traveling to the end of the line until after hostilities between North and South ceased in April 1865.
Of course, my intrepid couple always could go by way of Chicago but once again, given the winter conditions, but it does not sound all that workable. I think their adventure out west actually will need to begin in spring, 1865.
So, here’s my new plan: Frankie and Patrick remain in Blaineton, NJ during the first few months of their marriage. Patrick works at the Western New Jersey Hospital, where he will be schooled in how to treat things other than war wounds and diseases common to military encampments, while Frankie does... well, she does Frankie. I'm not sure what she'll get up to, but she almost always gets up to something, and I'm confident that she'll soon let me know what that “something” is!
There you go. A morning in the life of an author of historical fiction. It's fun. But it's fun only if you're a history geek!
Janet R. Stafford
Cover Image for A Good Community: Children playing near a schoolhouse in the 1800s. (Purchased from iStock.
Yes. I have been Missing-In-Action from my blog and just about everything book-related. Life tends to turn things upside down. I had the usual Holy Week and Easter services and activities in mid-April. But a few extras were added, among them the return of pain related to my degenerative disc disease. One MRI and a consultation with the doctor at the pain management and rehabilitation center later, and I’m getting 12 sessions of physical therapy, including acupuncture. I’m looking forward to feeling better soon – and hoping it lasts for another year.
SO! Today’s topic: a scene from A Good Community, Book 5 in the Saint Maggie series. The main theme in the novel revolves around a majority decision by town’s folk to segregate the school. That leaves the African American children living up on Water Street without a school.
Enter Maggie and Emily, who learn the news when they try to register two newcomers to Greybeal House (orphans Mary and Addie Brooks). They are shocked to hear about the new ruling. When they learn that industrialist Josiah Norton is the chairman of the school board, Maggie seeks Josiah out.
She finds him and Josiah proudly gives her a tour of his hotel, the Norton Arms. Then they sit down to tea in the restaurant. Maggie now has a chance to question him about the new policy at the town’s school. His reply is not unexpected:
“Oh, come now, Mrs. Smith. I should think that were obvious. Everyone knows the colored race is inferior. They are of lesser intelligence and lower morals. To have them sitting next to white children would only serve to slow our pupils down.”
“I disagree. Colored people are quite intelligent and many are well-read. And as for morals, I have met far too many white people who are selfish and badly behaved. I don’t think color enters into morality at all.” Frowning, she sat back in her chair. “And I must say that this situation strikes me as rather odd. Most of the people in Blaineton claim to be Christian, yet they conveniently ignore Saint Paul’s words that there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, and male nor female. We’re all one in Christ.”
He smiled condescendingly at her. “Ah, but Saint Paul says nothing of race.”
“Mr. Norton, were not Jews and Greeks considered races back in Saint Paul’s day?”
“But he does not make a specific mention of color. The majority in town believe that white and Black children should not be put together, and with good reason. Remember the story of the children of Ham!”
Maggie had to use all her self-control not to snap at him. She took a sip of tea as she decided what to say next.
“You do know that story, don’t you?”
The nearly mocking expression on his face irked her.
“Of course, I know it,” she fumed. “Ham was the son who saw his father Noah unclothed. But nowhere does the Bible say that Ham was cursed. Noah cursed Ham’s youngest son, Canaan. And nowhere does the Bible say that either Ham or Canaan had dark skin.” She took another sip of tea. Her hand would have trembled, had she not kept it still by an act of sheer will power.
Maggie continued, “In addition, Mr. Norton, those obscure Bible verses have nothing to do with enslaving people with dark skin. And what evil possibly could come of putting children together? By way of illustration, allow me to say that I share a household with colored people of all ages: Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, Mr. Edward Caldwell, Miss Rosa Hamilton, and now Addie and Mary Brooks. And Mrs. Matilda Strong and her daughter stayed with us for several years before moving to Canada. Neither my household nor my life has been hurt by having these friends and acquaintances. On the contrary, we live in peace and our lives have been all the richer for it.”
“The way you live is considered quite eccentric by most of the town. You no doubt are aware of that.”
“Please don’t be insulting, Mr. Norton. Of course, I know what people think. But let us return to the problem at hand. I am concerned about the current situation. What is happening to the colored children who live on Water Street? Do you know who is educating them?”
“Their families, I presume. There are so few of them, it is not economical to have another school.”
“That is a rather cold thing to say, don’t you think? Would you really dismiss children’s futures in favor of saving a bit of money?”
He sat back in his chair and gazed at her in a manner that was common to haughty men who held the opinion that women were stupid. “Mrs. Smith, you are a woman, and naturally you have a woman’s heart. However, you lack the rational capabilities of a man. These greater issues are beyond your comprehension. You should be content with keeping house.”
Speechless and indignant, Maggie blinked at him. There was a pause as she thought what to do next. Tearing his head off simply would not do. They were in a restaurant and it was too public – not to mention too messy. The sheer audacity of her thought momentarily amused her.
But Maggie’s humor faded as she returned to herself and realized that engaging Josiah Norton any further would get her nowhere.
Shake the dust off your feet.
That was a good Bible verse, and excellent advice from Jesus. If you are not welcomed or listened to, move on.
Strengthened, Maggie folded her napkin and placed it on her plate. “I thank you for your hospitality,
Mr. Norton. However, I am afraid I must leave. My husband is watching our baby and it is time I returned to ‘keeping house,’ as you say.”
However, Maggie does much more than keep house when she gets back to Greybeal House - and what she does will cause quite a controversy among the folks of Blaineton.
If you’d like to read the book, you may find the paperback and Kindle at Amazon.
Until next time: practice kindness, friends! It's always a good policy.
Janet R. Stafford
The content in Seeing the Elephant is not all grim, despite the themes of post-traumatic stress disorder, the Western New Jersey Hospital for the Insane, and gross mismanagement of the hospital. In one chapter, Maggie and Eli are invited to attend a winter ball at the home of Josiah Norton, the industrialist from eastern New Jersey who now has a mill and factory in the western part of the state – and a mansion just to the north of Blaineton.
So, let’s put on our fancy clothes and sneak into the Norton party, shall we? Maggie and Eli have just arrived and gone upstairs to leave their outwear before the event.
When they approached the ladies’ apartment, which under normal circumstances was a bedroom, a young maid greeted them at the door and invited Maggie in. Eli heaved a sigh then went to the opposite side of the hall where a footman was awaiting him. He tried not to gape at the surroundings overmuch. Granted, he had lived in Samuel and Abigail Beatty’s house for a short while. He had been free there to gape at their furnishings all he wanted. But this was different. Propriety was everything in a formal gathering.
In the ladies’ apartment, Maggie surrendered her opera cape to the maid in charge of the cloaks and received a number. She had just flashed a smile at the maid, who must have been all of fourteen, when a voice at her side said, “Good evening, Margaret.”
It was Abigail!
Smiling in joy, Maggie turned. “Abby!”
The two women kissed cheeks. Then Abby took Maggie’s hands in hers. “My, but don’t you look lovely.”
Taking in Abby’s gold satin gown, designed to complement her golden hair, Maggie whispered, “And you are a vision!”
“Despite that let us check our appearance in the mirrors and make any necessary adjustments.”
Like two schoolgirls, they joined hands and went to the mirrors helpfully placed at one end of the room.
In the hallway, Eli had found Samuel.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Sam was saying. “This is a good sign.”
Eli lowered his voice. “I think it’s more a sign that Norton wants to get on my good side, so he’ll be assured of glowing stories about his hotel.”
“Well, connections are important.”
“Evidently. Shall we fetch our ladies?”
Once they did that, they all proceeded downstairs.
Eventually, all twenty couples lined up in the hallway until the orchestra began to play the Grand March. The line began to move, and Maggie slipped her arm through Eli’s as they marched through the loggia and into the picture gallery where the ball was being held. Once inside, Eli fetched a program for his wife, greeted the people they knew and made the acquaintance of those they didn’t.
Samuel did the honors of presenting Josiah Norton to the two women. Maggie and Abigail both curtsied.
“I am pleased to meet you, Mr. Norton,” Maggie said. “Thank you for hosting this lovely ball.”
“Indeed, our town has not seen the likes of this in a long time,” Abigail added.
Josiah smiled. It was a charming smile with just a trace of arrogance. “Ah, well, my wife, Isobel, and I thought we might bring a bit of eastern New Jersey out here to the wilds of the west.”
The comment made Eli wonder if Norton saw them all as semi-civilized barbarians. If that was the case, how must he perceive those who lived in the western territories? It took an impressive act of will for Eli not to roll his eyes.
Josiah held his hand out toward Maggie. “May I see your dance card, Mrs. Smith?”
“Of course.” She slipped the ribbon off her wrist and surrendered the card.
Josiah read it and glanced at Eli. “Only one dance, Mr. Smith? With such a lovely wife?”
“A man with a cane is only good for one dance, it seems,” Eli replied.
“Would it be permissible for me to have two dances, Mrs. Smith?”
“It would, Mr. Norton.”
As he wrote his name in two empty slots, Josiah glanced at Abigail. “And you, too, Mrs. Beatty. Or would Mr. Beatty object?”
Abigail laughed cheerfully. “He would not, sir!”
“See here,” Samuel teased, “he might have something to say about that.”
Abigail gave her husband a good-natured wink. “You shall have many dances with me, Mr. Beatty. Have no fear.”
The trumpet’s call indicated it was time for the dancing to begin. Maggie turned to her husband. “Are you ready?
Eli took a huge breath. “I’ll do my best. I hope this is a slow waltz.”
Fortunately, the orchestra struck up Byerly’s Waltz. Its music was gentle and lilting. When the Smiths stepped onto the floor, Eli bowed, and Maggie curtsied. Then he took her in his arms. While the other dancers spun about, they stayed close to the edge, moving slowly but as elegantly as possible. All the while Eli kept praying that he wouldn’t stumble. He had left his cane propped against the wall. But Maggie was graceful and accommodating, and he got through the ordeal by staring into her beautiful hazel eyes.
I feel sorry for Eli, whose lame leg prevents him from doing much in the way of dancing. And, since Maggie loves to dance, he is forced to watch her twirl across the ballroom floor with other men, including Josiah Norton. Yet, we all know that Maggie’s heart belongs him and him alone.
The scene presents an idea about what a ball or formal event would have been like in the mid-1860s. I had great fun researching the subject and learning about the clothing, music, dances, and the customs that my characters would have experienced.
Next blog: things get crazy when Maggie starts a school in A Good Community.
Until then, “be excellent to each other,” to quote Bill and Ted.
Janet R. Stafford
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder