In my last post, I neglected to thank SAVE Animal Shelter in Montgomery, New Jersey for bringing Vida, my new dog, into my life. They are wonderful! If you love animals, I strongly suggest that you donate either some money or time or both to your local animal shelter. Or better yet, adopt a furry friend.
In last Friday’s post, I revealed that I am terrible at naming my dogs. So, you may wonder, given this obvious shortcoming, how on earth I name my characters.
The truth is, for me, it is much easier than naming a pupster! Over the years I have tended to name my characters based on several criteria.
Character or function.
For my leading female, I wanted an old fashioned, steady name and “Maggie” came to mind. She had to be relatable, an everyday kind of woman but one who has an extraordinary dedication to living by the law of love, something which includes kindness, generosity, mercy, and justice.
For my leading male, I wanted to juxtapose Maggie’s qualities with humor and edginess. I also saw that her paramour needed to be a harbinger – a prophet who points to the 20th century. Eli Smith’s full name “Elijah Amos” combines two prophets from the Hebrew scriptures: the great prophet Elijah, and the minor prophet Amos, who was concerned with social justice. Wow! It’s quite a load to put on a guy like Eli, but as his story goes, his mother saw that her baby boy was capable of great things.
Frances, or “Frankie,” is Maggie’s youngest daughter with her first husband, John Blaine. I named this young woman after Frances Willard, president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union during the last 1800’s. Willard also fought tirelessly to better the lives of women. Her nickname was Frankie, and it fit my feisty, redheaded young woman who also is called to become a pastor.
As for Lydia, Maggie’s oldest daughter with John Blaine, I wanted a name that indicated a steady, serious, young woman with an interest in medicine. Interestingly, while I was writing Walk by Faith, Lydia suddenly acquired a nickname, “Liddy.” My characters did that, not me. It happens in a scene where aspiring doctor Lydia is examining Nate, who has been beaten by thugs. “My left side hurts when I breathe, Liddy.” Actually, as I was checking this out in my novels, this came as a revelation, as I thought Frankie gave her that nickname. Nate, in his moment of pain, told me something I didn’t know! (This kind of thing isn’t unusual. Anyone who writes fiction will tell you that characters, once developed, can and will do things on their own according to their own natures.)
I called Maggie’s best friend “Emily” because the name felt a bit old-fashioned, loyal, and had a touch of a smile in it. As you may or may not have noticed, Emily is stern (especially when it comes to manners and things religious), a devoted but honest friend, and surprisingly humorous.
Emily’s husband ended up as “Nathaniel,” or “Nate” for short. Nathaniel is a variant of Nathanael, one of Jesus’ followers in the Greek Scriptures (or New Testament) who in the Gospel of John recognizes Jesus as the “Son of God.” Biblical names were common in the 19th century and I have plenty of them in my books. But I also liked “Nate,” which is a solid and no-nonsense moniker. It fit a man who is a carpenter and wheelwright by trade, not to mention honest and dedicated to making the USA a better place for his children.
Another thing that influences a character’s name is ethnicity. The predominant European immigrants to New Jersey tended to be English, Scots, Dutch, Swedes, Germans, and Finns. In Warren County in western New Jersey, Dutch and English tended to predominate, although other groups moved west, too. In my books, therefore, are English, Dutch, or Scots names such as Blaine, Beatty, Moore, Morrison, Opdyke, Coopernall, Van Curen, and so on. When the story shifts in the second and third books to Gettysburg, we see characters with German names because that is a group that settled there in large numbers: Augustus Schultz, Beate Schultz, and Adela Edler.
But times are changing in the 1860s, and other people from other places are entering Maggie’s world, people like James “Grandpa” O’Reilly and the Brennan sisters, all from Ireland.
I often will go online to peruse lists of ethnic names, both surnames and first names, to give my characters, but I also have plundered my own family’s surnames. My family tree has people in it named Coopernall, Morrison, Lape, and Frost. I had my DNA tested about a year ago. I’m so European (mainly from Ireland and the British Isles) that it’s ridiculous.
While most of the African American characters in the series have English-sounding names, there is one character who chose a last name of her own, and that is Matilda. She is a freedom seeker from Virginia, who emancipated herself and her daughter Chloe from a plantation. Rather than take the name of the plantation or the man who owned it, Matilda gave herself her own name: “Strong.” It suits her. She is a strong woman, escaping to the North, making a new life for herself and her daughter, and hoping that someday she will be reunited with her husband and sons.
There is another dynamic when it comes to naming. Some religious groups tend to have particular surnames. An example of this is the Society of Friends (Quakers). Since Eli comes from the Friends, people in his family are named Smith and Millhouse, common Quaker surnames.
So that’s it. I may struggle to find a name for my pets but ask me to name a character and I go forth and conquer. Actually… maybe my Vida is lucky. I mean, I could have named her “Lady Long-Legs of Tennessee,” or “Lady Houdini Hound,” or something much worse!
See you Friday!
My new doggie, Vida.
I missed my Monday blog, a week ago today. What happened was I adopted a rescue dog (pictured above). Her name is Vida. She is my companion and also First United Methodist Church’s new Church Dog. Yes, that’s right. We actually have an (unpaid) staff position called "Church Dog." You can read more about it here. Scroll down to the bottom of the page. She's in there with the pastor, the music director, our administrative assistant, and me.
My new dog came to me with the name Veda (pronounced Veeda), but after she was introduced to members of the congregation, several of my Spanish-speaking friends perked up. “Oh, Vida! That means life!” Having studied Spanish, I perked up and decided I liked that interpretation. Vida is a loving, sweet 2-year-old coonhound/beagle mix. To me, she exemplifies what life is all about: love. And, honestly, would you expect the author of the Saint Maggie series to have any other take on the meaning of life?
My history is that I grew up with a dog. When I was four years old and my sister a toddler, the cocker spaniel across the street gave birth to a litter of mixed puppies. Because our neighbors were giving the pups away, my folks had me pick one out. I chose a brown and white pup with a white blaze from her head down to the nose. Think of the dog Lady from Lady and the Tramp. Not surprisingly, I named her Lady. That was the first and last time I named a dog.
I didn’t get another dog until midlife, when I realized that I probably would not get married, much less have children. I could become a Cat Lady, but I had severe cat allergies at the time. So a dog was a natural choice.
One of my friends had adopted a miniature Schnauzer/Cairn (?) terrier mix. I thought he was a great pup and told her, “I know this isn’t likely but if those two dogs ever get together again, I’d adopt one of the puppies.” Well… those two dogs did get together again. And I chose one that had coloring similar to a Yorkie terrier.
She was so cute! But I’m terrible at naming dogs. I suppose it’s a good thing I never had kids. “What should we name him, honey?” my spouse would ask. I’d reply, “I dunno. The Result of Hideous Pain? I’m Never Doing This Again?”
When I say I’m bad at something, I’m bad at it.
So I did the next best thing, I asked kids from my youth group to name the new addition. “Wow,” they said, “her ears are enormous! They stand up straight. She looks she came from the movie Gremlins.”
My terrier had the gift of sniffing out other alphas. She immediately knew my mother was the family alpha in and curried her favor. Grem then went on to humiliate my father by bossing him around and/or letting my mom know that Dad needed to take her outside, completely by-passing Dad. Gremlin even resented me. Oh, she obeyed me because she knew she had to. But I could tell she thought I wasn’t even close to her standards of alpha-ness. And yet, she was a great companion, who owned whatever street she was walking on.
I loved Gremlin and memorialized her in the Squeaking Pips logo.
A few months after Grem died, I learned that a friend of a friend had two miniature Australian shepherd puppies. The story was that a nice breeder out in Pennsylvania had bred one of her females (Spirit) to a stud named Rudy Valentine. Well, Rudy apparently lived up to his name sake (silent film star Rudolph Valentino), and voila! Female Aussie #2 was pregnant. The owner knew she couldn’t sell two litters of puppies in her area, so her friend in New Jersey offered to purchase two for half price.
That was when I received an email from my friend Margie with the subject line “Mini Aussie Puppy?” And soon I was had a new pup in my life.
But once again… name??? My friend and occasional scholarly collaborator Sloane suggested, “Well, she has a white tip on her tail. Why not call her Tippy?”
And so the mini Aussie became Tippy. If Gremlin was a super-alpha, Tippy was a super-beta. She was sweet-tempered and friendly. Her only issue was a case of leash-aggression with other dogs, which sad to say, I was not savvy enough to relieve.
After a period of being First UMC’s Assistant Church Dog, Tippy assumed the Church Dog title, upon the China, the first Church Dog retired. Tippy excelled at her job, happily greeting all who entered the office. She also was patient and loving with children. Being a herding dog, she came in handy during Confirmation class. When a middle-schooler would get up from the table, Tippy would bark at the student. The kid would laugh and walk toward her. Tippy would back up and bark again. The kid would walk toward her. And that clever little herder would bring the student back to the table.
Tippy also was great with cats. She and Dan’s cat, Pantera got along famously. In fact, when Tippy was very ill toward the end of her life, Pantera laid down nearby and watched over her.
Pantera doing the cat thing in a bag. Pantera & Tippy hanging out
Pantera is getting acquainted with Vida now. The folks at the shelter “cat tested” my dog and she passed – meaning she was curious about the kitty, but not aggressive. This morning, Vida has been curious about Pantera, receiving Pantera’s hisses for her trouble. But we expected Pan to react this way and know that in time the two animals eventually will become fast friends.
A week in to having Vida in mi vida, I can say that while not nearly as disruptive as a new baby or older adopted child, this has been an adjustment (as expected). I’ve had to let my Monday blog go as I developed a new routine for Vida and me. There has been a good morning walk and a longer walks during the day. My energetic, but mellow hound dog needs action. But we’re slowly getting into a routine that works for both of us. In fact, she’s currently sacked out in the living room.
I’m enjoying living La Vida (not so) Loca. With any luck, I’ll be back to regular blogging on Monday.
Have a great weekend.
P.S. Sorry for any major or minor typos or grammar errors!
Image from https://meanmary.com/photos
When I was working on Heart Soul & Rock’n’Roll, I created a playlist and listened to it while I was writing. It was quite useful with regard to my creativity.
Sadly, this has not been the case with the Saint Maggie series.
A couple of months ago I was messing around on YouTube. I have certain things I like to watch. Don’t most of us? As a Jack Black fan, I check to see when he’s put up the latest installment of Jablinksi Games. My other faves are K’eyush the Stunt Dog, a really talkative husky whose antics make me laugh, SNL, old Beatles videos, and Karolina Zebrowska (a historical fashion fanatic). Yes, I’m weird. And yes, I do like humor. And I love the Beatles because… well, they were and always will be “my” band.
Occasionally I also drop in on Abby the Spoon Lady who, well, plays the spoons. For some reason, I find spoon-playing fascinating. I think it’s probably because I’m rather uncoordinated and easily can imagine both spoons flying out of my hands after clacking them together once.
The YouTube analytic noticed that I appeared to enjoy old-timey music and suddenly this woman with a banjo popped up. Her name is Mean Mary and she was playing an instrumental piece called “Blazing.” I thought, “Interesting name.” Banjo music has never been my thing, but I watched the video and to my surprise loved it. I was mesmerized by how fast her fingers moved.
As a result, I began listening to her other music and learning a bit more about her life.
First off, there is nothing actually mean about Mean Mary James. According to her bio on meanmary.com, she was the youngest of six children, whose peripatetic parents moved from place to place and lived in a variety of settings, including a tent and a hand-built log cabin.
Early on Mary had a love for music and turned out to be gifted, learning “to read music before she could read words.” She wrote her first song with her Mom’s help before she entered Kindergarten. That song was “Mean Mary from Alabam.” Not surprisingly, the press took the moniker and ran with it.
Mean Mary recorded her first album when she was six and became proficient in banjo, guitar, and fiddle. Her performing career began in childhood and this meant she could not attend public school because she was on the road so much. So, she was home schooled and passed the state 12th grade equivalency test at the age of 9.
So there you are: child prodigy and genius.
The other thing that caught my notice was that Mary and her brother Frank began touring and performing historic folk music and music from the Civil War era. She’s got the hoop skirt to prove it, too. This, of course, endeared her to me, and so I began listening to more of her music, much of which has made my Saint Maggie playlist.
Here's "Blazing," the instrumental that caught my attention. Folks, I am a rocker. Aside from my nostalgic fits of Beatlemania, I listen to heavy metal and hard rock more than anything else. I never thought banjo music would pull me in, but the way Mary James plays and the variety of styles she employs did it.
But there’s another side to Mary James’ story besides talent and genius. She faced near death. That was followed by a debilitating injury, which she met with perseverance and faith.
One night, while riding in a friend’s small car, the driver lost control. The accident was horrific. Mary’s head crashed through the windshield and her neck hit the dashboard, twisting her neck so badly that her companion thought she had died.
But she hadn’t. The paramedics and the doctors at the hospital were able to save her life. But sadly, they couldn’t save her voice. Mary was told that the vocal chord on her right side had been paralyzed.
Not willing to give up music, Mary fought to recover physically and to get her voice back. At length, a doctor told her that he had observed some movement in right-side vocal chord. Determined, Mary booked a ton of performances. At them she sang when able and played her instruments when she couldn’t. And then… amazingly the vocal chord on her right side recovered.
That story says it all to me. Mean Mary is determined and strong and, yes, she has faith. In her story, I hear echoes of my character, Maggie.
Finally, Mary also writes novels with her mother, Jean. She's an author, too - yet another reason I like this woman. Go to the website at the top of this blog and check her out.
So, so a big thank you Mean Mary James, musician, Civil War buff, survivor, and fellow author, for giving me a soundtrack by which I am able write my series about a determined, faithful, and strong Civil War-era woman named Maggie. May you continue to inspire others the way you’ve inspired me.
Have a good weekend, all.
Image from http://www.angelpig.net/victorian/engagement.html
People of the nineteenth century are not well-known for their public – and even private – discussions about sex. Of course, some discussion of the subject did slip into some of their writings. And there were, of course, manuals geared to educating women who were about to be wed. But generally speaking, these manuals were not what they are today. Instead, they often sought to reinforce beliefs about women’s submissiveness, including the notion that sex was not something that women were supposed to enjoy. And orgasm? Don’t even go there. Please note, I am speaking in generalities here. There were people who actually defied convention and wrote or spoke on sex and sexuality.
During my research into the nineteenth century, I found scant references to sex and sexuality in primary resources such as journals. However, I do believe that women talked about the subject among themselves. And so I wrote these moments into Saint Maggie and have continued to do so in the other books throughout the series.
With that in mind, I thought I would offer up some moments from Saint Maggie in which my characters discuss sex. In this first excerpt, Maggie is preparing to marry Eli, and she is predictably nervous about the wedding night. She and Eli have refrained from having premarital sex, mainly because having done so might have resulted in a pregnancy outside of marriage. After all, this is an era in which contraception was close to non-existent. The day before the wedding, Maggie wonders what intimacy with Eli will be like. It is clear that she enjoyed her sexual relationship with her late husband, John Blaine. But would she experience the same or similar with Eli?
Notice that Maggie, having been raised in a white, well-to-do family, is not blunt about her problem. She has to dance around the issue and the question. Emily, on the other hand, comes from a less prosperous background and from a family of color, so she tends to be much more forthright. Toward the end of the conversation, we learn that Maggie does greatly desire Eli. And her dear friend Emily gives her some solid, commonsense advice.
When I first visited with reading groups after the publication of Saint Maggie, several people commented that they found Maggie’s little joke in the excerpt below to be rather shocking. After all, Maggie is a rather reserved person. My point here is that, given the right circumstances, even Maggie can rip off a bawdy joke.
It all starts rather innocently, with Maggie typically fretting about the fact that the men have gone out to the shed to share a celebratory drink.
Let’s transition into Maggie telling her daughters about “the facts of life.” First up is Lydia, who has already been given the basic information. But, since she is about to marry her beau Edgar Lape, Maggie feels it is necessary to educate her a bit more. As one of my friends, a pastor, used to insist, “God created sex. And since everything God created is good, then sex is good!” Maggie has a similar take and attempts to break through restrictive Victorian attitudes in the hope that her daughter will have a happy marriage and a happy sex life.
Finally, we come to how Maggie educates Frankie about “the birds and the bees.” Since Frankie is fourteen years old, it now is time to tell her about sexual relations. Maggie ends up doing it on Christmas Eve, as she and the family walk home from providing Christmas cheer for the local orphanage. The scene begins with Maggie and Eli talking about adopting a child, since Maggie has miscarried and not become pregnant again. When they are interrupted by Frankie, who has overheard part of their conversation, Maggie knows she needs to have “the talk.” Notice how quickly Eli skedaddles out of there so he won’t be involved in any sex chat.
So do I think nineteenth century people discussed sex? Why, yes. Yes, I do. I mean, they obviously had sex, or else we wouldn’t all be here. So they most likely talked about sex with each other. However, what they said and how they phrased it is anyone’s guess. This is mine. It was fun for me to look back on these little chats in Saint Maggie. Similar discussions show up in other books in the series.
I love Saint Maggie because it started it all. The characters are both quirky and likeable, perhaps even loveable. And, may I be so bold to say, you probably will find that one of them becomes your favorite. They are nineteenth century people, but relatable.
The story is part murder mystery, part romance, part women’s fiction (with its emphasis upon women’s life at that point in history).
If you haven’t read Saint Maggie, then I invite you to grab a copy – paperback or ebook – and read it. It’s not long and it moves fast.
And then do me a huge favor – leave a review on Amazon.
Have you ever heard of Mean Mary James? Her music is starting to form a soundtrack for me as I work on the series. More on that on Friday.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder