When I started making the rounds of book clubs and book groups with my novel Saint Maggie, I began to hear people say, “What happens next?” They indicated to me that I had left things open at the end of the first book and that they liked the characters and wanted more. People seemed to develop an affection for some characters in particular: Maggie, Frankie, and Eli (some women wished they could find a guy like him – as blustery as he can get sometimes, he does love Maggie with all his heart).
To tell the truth, I had no idea where to go next – except that I recently had returned from a visit to Gettysburg and thought, “Hmmm… interesting idea, but how do I get them there?”
I figured that out. Read on.
In February of 1863, arsonists burn Maggie's boarding house and Eli’s print shop burn to the ground. Fortunately, the boarding house family makes it out safely. Eli’s printing press and other material in his shop are not so lucky.
To complicate matters, most of the men are no longer at home. It is the middle of the Civil War. Patrick McCoy, now Frankie’s beau, and Edgar Lape, Lydia’s husband, enlisted in the 15th Regiment of New Jersey Volunteers in 1862 and currently are wintering in Virginia with the Sixth Corps Army of the Potomac. That same year, once Eli received governmental permission to be a war correspondent follow the New Jersey 15th, bought a news wagon, a horse named Sadie, and took off. Chester Carson travels with Eli to serve as a reporter and to record what he sees on film (note: newspapers were not able to print photographs at this time, so Carson’s work is of an artistic nature).
That left Grandpa O’Reilly and Nate Johnson at home. While Nate waits for New Jersey to start a “colored” regiment, Maggie’s brother, Samuel, offers him a job as a wheelwright at his carriage manufactory, which is now producing wagons for the army. Samuel’s decision is highly unpopular because he has put Nate as a supervisor over some younger white men, and eventually proves dangerous.
The rest of the household is comprised of women and children: Maggie and adopted son Bob; Lydia and Frankie; Nate’s wife Emily and toddler son Natey; and Matilda Strong (a self-emancipated black woman from Virginia) and her daughter Chloe.
Upon hearing news of the fire, Eli and Carson return home. Maggie and her unconventional family have taken refuge with her brother Samuel and his wife Abigail at their mansion some miles outside town, but trouble follows them there: Nate is beaten by ruffians one day after work, and a group of masked men threaten to burn down Samuel’s house. Before any more violence can erupt, the sheriff suggests that it may be best for the family to get away from Blaineton until things calm down.
At this point, Eli reveals a plan to move everyone to his old family home in Gettysburg, ostensibly to help his Quaker sisters and brother-in-law with still-escaping slaves and refugees coming over the Pennsylvania border. His news upsets Maggie’s plans to rebuild her boarding house and causes a rift between the couple that grows.
The last half of the book shifts between Virginia and Gettysburg, members of the family encounter wartime violence first hand and struggle to survive a national cataclysm. It will take a great deal of faith on everyone’s part to make it through, especially when things look their darkest.
Walk by Faith is available at the Squeaking Pips Store for $7.99 (free shipping, tax included, and a signature from the author!)
You also may find it at Amazon, Lulu, and on Kindle.
I’ll be back tomorrow with the background on A Time to Heal, the third book in the Saint Maggie Series.
Back in 2011, I released my first novel, Saint Maggie, through my micro-publishing house, Squeaking Pips Press, Inc. Based on a research paper I had done while pursuing my Ph.D., it was part of a tutorial in which my professor wanted to investigate “Scandal in Ministry.”
For my research, I found a story about a young minister living in Warren County, NJ. His name was Jacob Harden, and he was handsome, charismatic, and an engaging preacher. He also had an eye for the ladies.
But the culture of the time meant that a good many mamas and aunts also had their eye on Harden as a suitable mate for their single daughters or nieces. Through some plotting on one mother’s part and sheer stupidity (and a bit of lust) on his part, Harden found himself in a shotgun marriage with rumors swirling that Louisa, his new wife, had become pregnant before the wedding.
The marriage was not a happy one but since divorce was not a possibility for Harden if he wanted to stay in ministry, he addressed the issue another way – one soon led to his arrest and trial. So much for staying in ministry.
You are welcome to read my paper. Just be warned, it is historical research and I was looking at how the media of the time (newspapers) dealt with Harden’s story. JACOB S. HARDEN: POOR BOY, MORAL MONSTER, MALIGNANT SOUL
The odd and tragic story stayed with me, and I wondered how one might translate it into a novel. I ended up creating widow Maggie Beatty Blaine, a pious Methodist woman who runs a boarding house in the fictional town of Blaineton, NJ. Maggie’s compassion for her boarders means she barely makes a go of her enterprise, but somehow manages to hang on.
Maggie has two teenaged daughters: the logical, calm Lydia (Liddy) and the outspoken, emotional Frances (Frankie). Her house boards four men: Chester Carson, once a well-known author but now a nobody; James “Grandpa” O’Reilly, an old, Irish immigrant of no discernable employment; Patrick McCoy, the undertaker’s apprentice; and Edgar Lape, a struggling young lawyer.
Maggie, her daughters, and boarders are all white. But Nate and Emily Johnson, a black, couple also live in the house. Maggie pays Emily to cook for her and gives Nate and Emily free room and board. Over the years, the two women become good friends. Nate is a carpenter and runs a little shop on Water Street, where most of the black population of Blaineton live. Not surprisingly, the town is disconcerted and disgusted by Maggie’s friendship with the couple, and she is shunned socially. The one saving grace is that the town’s folk do not know that Maggie and the Johnsons run an Underground Railroad station in a room below the boarding house.
One other person rounds out Maggie’s fictive family: Elijah Smith, the bespectacled, short, and portly editor/reporter of The Gazette, the town’s penny weekly, which is in Maggie’s outbuilding. Early on we discover that Eli is sweet on Maggie, and she is sweet on him.
However, Eli’s budding romance is nearly derailed by the arrival of the Rev. Jeremiah Madison, the new Methodist minister, whom the church is lodging at the boarding house because the old parsonage burned down. Mr. Madison is handsome, intelligent, and an excellent preacher, and while Maggie is not interested in him, her daughters and most of the other young women in the congregation immediately develop a crush on him. This situation makes Maggie uneasy, especially when, at the yearly camp meeting, she catches Madison walking through the woods with her niece, Leah. And – horrors of horrors! - they have no chaperone.
A bit of a scandal erupts when Jeremiah and Leah are forced into a marriage. Maggie, who has become Jeremiah’s confident, learns some less than savory details about his past - and then things take an abrupt turn that stuns both Maggie and the whole town.
Finding themselves now in the middle of a mystery, Maggie and Eli seek to uncover the truth, even as Maggie boldly forgives Jeremiah and suffers the town folks’ wrath.
Saint Maggie is available at the Squeaking Pips Store for $7.99 (tax is included, and shipping is free, plus I’ll sign it and say nice things to you).
You also may find the book at Amazon, Lulu, and other distributors. The ebook is available for $0.99 at Kindle, a great price if you’d like to check the series out.
Tomorrow, the lowdown on Walk by Faith.
Throughout the Saint Maggie Series, Frankie has always been a handful. She is headstrong and impulsive, especially as a teenager.
She ran away from home in 1862 so she could be with her beau Patrick, who had enlisted in the army and was staying at Camp Fair Oaks in Flemington. Early during the Battle of Gettysburg, she and a school friend Gus Schultz ran off to watch the fight, only to be caught up in the Union retreat – an event that separated her from her mother Maggie and the rest of the family for the duration of the battle. And of course, she went off to fetch Patrick from Mower General Hospital after he had been wounded to bring him back to their home.
Eli Smith, who married Maggie in his early 40s and was heretofore childless, has had the education of his life learning to parent both Lydia and Frankie – but especially Frankie.
In the excerpt below from A Time to Heal, we learn what had transpired before Frankie burst crying into the house and revealed to her mother that she and Patrick had spent a night together in the barn. The first person to find the couple was Eli, who had gone into the barn to milk the cow and brought a cup of coffee with him (coffee was a rarity during the Civil War, as most of it went to the soldiers). Eli’s response was to let Maggie handle Frankie while he talked turkey to Patrick – which he does using some very colorful language. So, if you are at all sensitive to cursing and rude terminology, stop reading here.
Maggie reins Eli’s cussing in when they’re together, of course, but when she’s not present and when Eli comes face to face with the young man who he suspects has de-flowered his stepdaughter, he lets it fly.
Eli walked as quietly as he could into the dusky interior of the barn. He stood still and listened for a moment. He heard nothing. The smell of hay and dung surrounded him. Eventually, his ears detected a noise. It was whispering. Someone was talking. Frowning, he took a few stealthy steps toward the sound. He knew those voices – and they were coming from behind the wall of the last stall.
Eyes narrowed, Eli loudly cleared his throat.
The whispers stopped.
His worst suspicions were confirmed. Eli pursed his lips. “Frances Deborah Blaine!”
Frankie warily peeked over the edge of the stall and slowly got to her feet. Patrick stood up beside her. Hay was in their hair and all over their clothing. And their clothing, to Eli’s eyes, appeared to have been hastily arranged.
He drew a deep, angry breath, working to keep his voice level. “Frances, go inside and tell your mother what you have been doing.”
“But Papa –”
He cut her off with an abrupt wave of his finger. “You shall go in the house. Now.”
His tone of voice said that he was not to be trifled with. Casting a worried look over her shoulder at Patrick, Frankie hurried past her stepfather as if she were afraid he would reach out and smack her.
Eli turned now to Patrick. With eyes snapping coldly behind the wire-rim glasses, he was a young suitor’s worst nightmare.
The younger man smiled nervously, came around from the stall, and balanced uncomfortably on his crutches.
Eli looked him up and down. “Have a seat,” he said, using his cane to indicate a milking stool.
As Patrick sat down, he realized that he had been maneuvered into a submissive position, making it possible for Elijah Smith to appear more powerful. There was only one thing Patrick could do now and that was to face the music. He set his crutches on the dirt floor and waited for the lightning to strike.
Eli’s countenance abruptly became cool, if not calculating. He took a sip from the cup in his hand. “This is very good coffee, you know. Get some when you go in for breakfast.”
“Yes, sir,” Patrick’s mouth had gone dry.
Eli fastened his dark brown eyes on the young man before him. “So … you and Frankie decided to spend some time in the hay.”
“It’s not what it seems –”
Eli’s eyebrows shot up. “That so? Well, it seems to me that you were answering the call to go forth and multiply. So, did you, Patrick? Did you partake in a little amorous congress with my stepdaughter? Some hogmagundy?”
“No, sir. We didn’t. I mean, I can’t.” He indicated his leg.
“You can’t? Well, don’t that beat all. You know, I do pretty well,” Eli slapped his left leg, “even though this thing can hurt like hell. It’s all about the positioning, you see. Positioning is very important.”
Patrick flushed bright red. “Eli – that is, Mr. Smith, I …”
“Listen, son, when I was your age nothing would’ve stopped me from screwing a willing woman. A little pain doesn’t make a whit of difference to a horny boy.”
“No, sir. I mean, yes, sir! I mean, I wouldn’t do that to Frankie, even if she begged me to.”
“So you’re saying that you didn’t have sex with my stepdaughter?”
“Yes, sir. That’s right, sir.”
“You better not have because if you have and I find out, I am going to string you up by your balls. Got that? And then, if you survive, I’m going to get a rifle, march you and Frankie to the nearest minister, and get your pathetic, wounded, blue-uniformed ass married to my stepdaughter. We do things right around here.” Eli took a breath and smoothed his feathers. Calmly putting the cup to his mouth, he took another sip of coffee. “Say, this is good stuff.” He paused to fasten his dark eyes on Patrick once more. “Have I made myself clear?”
Patrick knew when he was beaten. The portly, short man with the cane was a force to be reckoned with. “Yes, sir.”
“Good. That’s what I wanted to hear. Glad we were able to have this little chat.” Eli pointed his cane toward the exit of the barn. “Now get yourself out of here. I’ve got a cow to milk. We’ll ring the bell when breakfast is ready.”
Nodding, Patrick hastily gathered up his crutches and left in a hurry.
Eli watched him go and growled, “Bell-fired war.”
Hope you enjoyed our little journey into Maggie and Eli's struggles to raise Frankie.
See you Monday!
Cupid. What a pain this guy can be. Especially for the parents of girls.
My work-in-progress, The Great Central Fair, focuses on cupid’s activity with Maggie’s daughters, Lydia and Frankie, and their relationships with the young men in their lives. It is a story about falling in love, being in love, and making decisions. Its secondary and much smaller story line focuses on the impact this activity has upon Maggie and stepfather Eli. Because although two people may fall in love, their relationship will have an impact on family and friends.
And yet the issues above have been threaded throughout the Saint Maggie series. Maggie, as a mother, worries about her daughters regardless of their age. What mother doesn’t? At the same time, she cannot afford to be suspect the worst of their young men, as Eli does. When Maggie was 19, she eloped with John Blaine, the son of a competing carriage manufacturer. So, she remembers what it was like to be young and in love – and to break the rules. And this is a good thing because Frankie is the one most likely to break the rules. But love causes even the logical, cautious Lydia to veer off her normal course, as is evidenced in Saint Maggie when she and Edgar Lape decide to get married when the Civil War breaks out.
Unlike Eli, who takes his job as stepfather way too seriously and secretly would like to lock both young woman (especially Frankie) into chastity belts, Maggie has a different approach when issues regarding men and love arise. She tries to be loving and logical as her girls travel the road to womanhood. But what she does and says on the outside does not always match what is going on in her heart. We get a glimpse of this in the scene below from A Time to Heal.
Maggie was caught off guard when a tearful Frankie, covered with hay, burst in the kitchen door and threw herself into her mother’s arms. Emily and Maggie exchanged a brief, concerned glance.
“Best take her into the parlor,” Emily murmured. “The child’s crying like it’s the end of the world.”
Maggie maneuvered the weeping Frankie out of the kitchen and down the hall. When they finally got settled on the sofa, Maggie cooed, “There, there. Catch your breath and tell me about it.” She pulled a handkerchief out of the bosom of her dress and handed it to Frankie.
The young woman mopped her face, comforted by the trace of her mother’s scent on the hankie. She blew her nose. Eyes watery and red, she looked up. “I did a bad thing.”
“What?” Maggie plucked a piece of hay from Frankie’s wild red hair and paused. What was hay doing in her daughter’s hair?
“Patrick was walking me home last night and – and he got tired by the barn, so we went in to sit down and – and …” Tears began to flow afresh.
Maggie worked to stay calm. “All right, settle down. I will not love you any less, no matter what you have done.” Although her mind added, I might be extremely perturbed with you. And as for Patrick …
Blubbering, Frankie wiped her wet face and nose again and drew a deep, shaky breath. “Well, we – we started talking and, I don’t know – we were both so tired. We fell asleep on the hay. And – and when I woke up it was dawn.” She began to cry again. “And Papa found us! He’s so angry! Mama, he could hurt Pat!”
“Shh.” Maggie gathered her daughter up in her arms and fought the urge to demand every detail of what had happened with Patrick. “Papa can assume a frightening countenance, but he will not harm Patrick. Now tell me what happened.”
“Nothing happened, Mama. I wouldn’t let it. And Pat didn’t even try. We know we need to wait until we’re married.”
“Wise girl.” Maggie stroked Frankie’s hair and then looked her daughter in the face. “The feelings between a man and a woman in love are very, very strong. You might be tempted to do more than perhaps hold hands or kiss. But you cannot, and you should not, because ...” Maggie patted her belly. “You could end up in the family way.”
“There is no reliable way to keep from getting with child, Frances, save by practicing self-control. You do not want to be unmarried and expecting a baby. Goodness knows it is hard enough to raise a child with a husband.”
“But Pat would marry me.”
“And what would happen to his plans to become a doctor? Or to yours to do what God has called you to do?”
Frankie swiped at her nose.
“Do not put yourselves in a situation where you will be tempted. Oh, it is all right perhaps to sit in the parlor alone, but certainly do not be together in the barn at night, or in the woods, or anywhere without a chaperone.”
“Oh, Mama,” Frankie’s eyes blurred up again, “we’ve already spent a night together!”
Maggie almost fainted. “What?”
“We just slept, Mama. We were on the way home and the train stopped in York, and Pat looked so tired. The telegrapher said his mother had a guest house, so we stayed there. She thought we were married and put us in a room with one bed.”
“We slept in our clothes and he didn’t lay a hand on me.”
Maggie heaved a relieved sigh. “You’re fortunate Patrick is an honorable man.” The conversation reminded Maggie of what had happened at camp meeting one night three years earlier. She and Eli were courting. They had been alone in a field. They were in love, and she wanted him so badly. But he had been honorable even when she would not have been. Maggie took a breath. “I think it may be best not to divulge this story to Papa. Nor should Patrick.”
Frankie nodded. “I know. Not if he wants to live.”
Maggie laughed and hugged her daughter. “My dear, please promise that you will learn to think before you act.”
Good luck with that, Maggie.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at how Eli handled the above-mentioned discretion.