The thing that pulls people into the Saint Maggie series and seems to keep them there, are the characters. I have created people who are different but who also love and respect one another. In 1860s America, an era that was highly “polarized,” Maggie and her family and friends work together to create a better world. They are conscious of the values of love, kindness, compassion, and justice, and try to live by them even though they are in the midst of a time in which the United States has been divided by politics, economics, and fear of others.
Does that sound familiar? It should. I hear echoes of the Civil War era around me all the time these days. As a people, we have not dealt fully with the things that divided us then, and so they continue to divide us today.
The initial Saint Maggie cast of characters was designed as a small community of people bonded by love and respect, who appear to the other people in the town to be breaking societal norms However, they actually are, as Maggie might put it, “living according to Jesus’ law of love.”
So, let’s get to know the initial cast, shall we? Here is who they are at the beginning of the series.
Maggie Blaine Smith: a slender, 39-year-old white woman. Maggie has lost both her husband and her young son to rheumatic fever and now struggles to eke out a living by running a boarding house. Previously, the house had belonged to her husband John’s aunt, Letty Blaine. As the story goes, John and Maggie, the children of rival businessmen, eloped and were disowned by their angry families. How Romeo and Juliet of them! Fortunately, Aunt Letty took the young couple into her home, so they didn’t have to kill themselves. After John’s death, Letty suggests that she and Maggie start a rooming house. Quite possibly Letty realizes that once she dies, Maggie would need a source of income. And thus the Second Street Boarding House was born. The fact that the house sits right on the town square and the people of the town can see its eclectic collection of boarders is a source of consternation for most of the town folk. After Letty’s death, Maggie continues to run the rooming house, but has difficulty making it a success. You see, her heart for economically-challenged and hurting people means she gets little in the way of income. But because Letty had shown her mercy and kindness, so Maggie is determined to do the same for her boarders. Part of her dedication to loving others comes from her own experience, but also because she is a devout Methodist. However, unlike some of other people in her congregation, Maggie chooses to focus closely on Jesus’ command to love God and love others. For her, the rest of the Bible is irrelevant without the law of love.
Elijah Smith: a white, 40-year-old, short and portly newspaperman. He’s not exactly the handsome, buff hero one might expect in a historical fiction, is he? His backstory is that he ran away from his dour Quaker father at the age of 15, with the desire to become the next Horace Greeley in the newspaper business. He ended up in New York City and eventually got a job with the Times and married a plump, happy young woman named Martha. Unfortunately, things did not turn out the way Eli had hoped. His son was a still birth and Martha died shortly thereafter. This threw Eli into a downward spiral of drinking and eventually the Times fired him. Looking for an escape, he wandered west and lived for a time with a group of Sioux, who took him in despite his broken condition. After a while, Eli realized he needed to return to his own society. So he headed east again, settled in Ohio, and started a newspaper there. However, his abolitionist views, readily printed in the pages of his paper, encourage a pro-slavery mob to burn down his paper. Eventually, Eli ends up wandering into Maggie’s town. When he sees that she has an unused outbuilding, he asks if he can rent it to start a penny-weekly (called The Gazette). Maggie agrees – but doesn’t receive any money from Eli for six months. (What else is new?) Eli and Maggie get married in the first book, Saint Maggie. “Saint Maggie” is a term of endearment Eli uses for his compassionate, big-hearted wife.
Emily Johnson: a black woman in her mid-30s. Originally hired by Maggie as the boarding house cook, Emily becomes Maggie’s best friend. Her backstory is that her mother escaped (with baby Emily) from a Maryland plantation. So, although born enslaved, Emily has lived as a freewoman in New Jersey for her entire life. New Jersey, however, is far from the land of freedom that her mother envisioned. What Emily can and cannot do are controlled by law and custom. Her understanding of the culture around her is very different from Maggie’s and she often serves as a voice of wisdom and clarity for her friend. After the shack in which Emily and her husband had been living was burned down in the 1850s, Maggie invites to the two to live in the boarding house free of charge. She even gives them two rooms: one as a sleeping chamber and the other as a sitting room. Needless to say, the town does not understand the relationship between Maggie and Emily.
Nate Johnson: a black man in his mid-to late 30s. Nate is a carpenter, who was born in New Jersey. The town knows him as the best woodworker around – as well as an excellent wheelwright. But his skills, good as they are, will not raise him to the top of Blaineton’s society. As a black man he is proscribed a lower place, and although he is realistic about the situation, he also chafes at the racism that hems him in. Even before meeting Maggie, Nate and Emily had been involved in the Underground Railroad. They would escort self-emancipators to a safe place on Water Street (where the black population of Blaineton lived) and then move them further north the next night. In time, Nate and Emily feel that they can trust Maggie and Eli enough to invite them into the underground movement. It is a good thing their activity is kept secret. If the town cannot understand the friendship between these four characters, they most certainly would be appalled to know that they are engaged in civil disobedience.
Lydia Blaine: white, 18-years-old, tall, and curvy, Maggie’s eldest daughter is by nature calm and rational. In fact, I can think of only one occasion when she loses her cool. When we first meet her in Saint Maggie, Lydia has been assigned the task of caring for Grandpa O’Reilly, who has a cold. We learn that Lydia has become the family’s nurse. In those days, most women were the ones who cared for the sick and aged in their homes, and acquired a knowledge of diseases, treatments, medicines, and herbal cures. Obviously, Maggie has noticed her oldest daughter’s interest in medicine and so has turned this task over to her, after giving her some training. Lydia’s interest in medicine leads her to break a social barrier: she wants to be a doctor. As the series progresses, she apprentices with the town’s doctor, learns midwifery, and is well on her way to becoming “Dr. Lydia.”
Frances (Frankie) Blaine: white, 14-years old, short, thin and redhaired, Maggie’s youngest daughter is outspoken and has an interest in religion, ministry in particular. In the first book, she even stands up at camp meeting (a camping experience focus on preaching, prayer, and fellowship) and dares to preach! Again, we find one of Maggie’s daughters poised to break a social convention. Women were not supposed to preach. They could exhort (encourage listeners to be true and persevere) but preaching (interpreting and applying the Bible) was off limits. While Lydia may escape the censure of some of the town’s stiffer citizens, Frankie’s in-your-face attitudes usually result in a lot of huffing and “she needs a good thrashing” responses. But none of that will stop her, and as the series progresses, Frankie is wrestling with how to become a pastor in a culture that forbids her to do such a thing.
The rest of the original boarding house members are Chester Carson, white, an older writer who has seen better days and who, much to my surprise, came out as a gay man in the second book; Patrick McCoy, white, the undertaker’s apprentice who is sweet on Frankie and dreams of being a doctor; Edgar Lape, white, a bright, struggling young lawyer, who is in love with Lydia and who helps solve a mystery in Saint Maggie; and James “Grandpa” O’Reilly, an old Irish immigrant with arthritis who doesn’t do a lot in the way of work, but who serves as a father-figure to Maggie and a grandfather to her girls.
I love my characters and I invite you to check them out! And you can do just that. Saint Maggie is available on Kindle for only 99 cents. I encourage you to see why readers like the series.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder