On Twitter recently another author played a game asking us to sum up our book and/or series with this fill-in-the blank statement: “[Name of Your Book/Series]: Come for the ____, stay for the _____.” So I played along and wrote something for the Saint Maggie series, which I have since tweaked to read: “The Saint Maggie Series: Come for the nostalgia, stay for the explosions.”
I worded it that way because the full-length novels in the Saint Maggie series start out deceptively low-key and rather nostalgic. Ah, the 1800s. It was a simpler time. A gentler time. Broken only by a war that split the nation, the Industrial Revolution, massive urbanization, and waves of immigration. But sooo much simpler and gentler than now.
The confusion and challenges of the nineteenth century may be why things start spiraling and eventually explode or go crazy in the Saint Maggie novels.
Let’s take a brief look at how each novel in the series handles this process.
In Saint Maggie, we start with Maggie and Emily preparing to welcome the new minister to the Second Street Boarding House. As the story progresses, Maggie and Eli begin courting and eventually get married. But Maggie also discovers some uncomfortable things about Jeremiah Madison and then Jeremiah begins using her as a Mother Confessor and tells her things she rather would not hear. And that is when things go completely crazy: Maggie becomes dangerously ill, which followed by a murder, a high-profile trial, a surprising confession, an execution, and gunfire.
Walk by Faith, on other hand starts off with a bang. Eli and Mr. Carson are away working as war correspondents and the young men courting Maggie’s daughters have joined in the army. While they are away, a mysterious fire destroys the Second Street Boarding House, threatening the lives of all who live in it. After the fire, Maggie, family, and friends take up temporary residence with her brother Samuel but are bullied by a group of young “Copperheads.” So, Eli moves everyone into his family’s old home to keep them safe. Great, right? Enough excitement has happened already. Now they get a rest. Wrong. The stuff that preceded the move was the calm before the storm. That's because Maggie and the family have moved to Gettysburg, it is 1863, and the war comes right to their doorstep. Kaboom!
A Time to Heal picks up where the battle of Gettysburg left off. The old Smith House is being used as a makeshift hospital for wounded soldiers. The family is dealing with a sense of rootlessness and woundedness in a variety of ways. As the story moves along, Frankie strikes up a friendship with an injured Confederate soldier named Caleb. The young soldier has not heard from his wife in some time and is pining to go home to Virginia and find her and his infant son. Frankie’s compassionate response to Caleb's confession results in a broken law, an arrest, and a hearing that puts Eli at risk of imprisonment or hanging. So that story has an explosion after a rather quiet build.
Finally, in Seeing the Elephant, Eli is offered the opportunity to be Editor-in-Chief of The Blaineton Register, a newspaper owned by their former nemesis, Tryphena Moore. The grateful family returns to New Jersey. With Maggie’s permission, Tryphena has sold Maggie's old lot on Second Street and, upon their return, the family discovers that Tryphena has purchased a new home for them. And what a home it is - the Greybeal House, a large estate on the edge of town. It looks as if good things finally are beginning to happen. Emily starts baking for the town’s tea shop. Nate sets up a carpentry shop on the estate. Maggie does some editing for The Register. They hire two young maids to help them care for the massive house. And Frankie goes to work as an attendant at the Western New Jersey Hospital for the Insane. Wait. Frankie's working at a hospital for the Insane? If you think that sounds like trouble, you're right. When the kindly superintendent of the hospital is ousted and replaced by an industrialist who wants to turn the place in to a money-making venture, things spiral into another explosion that sets angry, rioting inmates against the town’s sheriff and his posse.
And yet, in the midst of all the craziness in the novel series, hope and love and mercy manage to shine through. And this makes me wonder whether I should rewrite my statement to read, "The Saint Maggie Series: Come for the explosions, stay for the hope, love, and mercy." The series seems to be a mix of danger, threats, and (often) violence tempered by generous doses of kindness, hope, and love.
Interestingly this “Normal/Nostalgic/Happy to Horrible Explosion” thing has not carried over into the related Saint Maggie short stories and the novellas. These tend to be much gentler in nature, looking at human emotions – love, fear, despair, faith, frustration, and so on. There are no major explosions of any nature. In fact, the stories are fairly simple. In The Dundee Cake widow Maggie tries to help new friends Nate and Emily financially while struggling to afford a nice Christmas dinner for family and friends. Meanwhile, in The Christmas Eve Visitor, a little peddler mysteriously arrives at Maggie’s door at a time when the household’s children are dangerously ill and the family demoralized after the Battle of Gettysburg. The peddler then proceeds to present them with gifts that seem designed to soothe their pain and doubt.
Both novellas, The Enlistment and The Great Central Fair, focus on young love. In The Enlistment, Frankie runs away from home to join beau Patrick at Camp Fair Oaks, the recruitment center located in Flemington, NJ. But she has some adventures and encounters along the way that just might change her mind. The Great Central Fair takes place two years after The Enlistment. Maggie’s daughters are young women now. They decide to see their beaus off to their new post at Mower General Hospital in Philadelphia and visit the Sanitary Fair while they are in the city. Someone even gets married during their visit, which, I suppose, makes the story a bona fide romance. The only tension in it is how to tell Maggie and Eli about this.
Oddly enough, I did not until recently notice that the full-length novels, novellas, and short stories used different processes to spin out their plots. Apparently, I adopted a different storytelling technique depending upon the length of the project, and did it unconsciously. Weird.
Oh, well! Whatever it is that draws you to the Saint Maggie series, I hope you stay for the adventure, humor, characters, and inspiration.
See you Wednesday, readers.
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Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder