The image from the cover of "The Newcomer," purchased from istock.com
I published the first Saint Maggie novel in 2011, but it wasn't until 2019 that I decided to tell the story of how Eli and Maggie met - and that was after at least three full-length novels. I knew the basics of their backstory, but I wanted to flesh it out.
And so I wrote a little tale set in 1855 about a semi-sketchy guy named Eli, who, while his way to New York City, decides to sojourn in Blaineton in order to raise enough money to continue his journey.
As he checks out the little New Jersey town, he meets a kind-hearted widow named Maggie who runs a boarding house. She hesitantly agrees to rent him the old caretaker's house. But as nice and welcoming as she is, Eli senses that Maggie is hiding something. And it has to do with what is behind the door to the cellar in the old caretaker's house.
Download the fee PDF file below to read the first part of the story. It will be followed by other installments, which also will befree. They are my gift to you.
Janet R. Stafford
I’ve always said that I never intended to write a series, but when I look back on the way I wrote as a teen and young adult, I must admit that I already was writing and telling stories that way. Most likely I was influenced by the structure of television, which produced long-running shows at that time. So, I’m now the author of my own series, the Saint Maggie series. There are at least three ways to look at the stories within it.
1) We may read them by type: novels, novellas, and short stories.
2) We may read them in the order I published them, starting with Saint Maggie (2011).
3) Or, we may read them in chronological order according to the historical setting in which the characters live. This is what I will be doing for the next few weeks.
This blog is dedicated to “The Dundee Cake,” which deals with Maggie’s life before 1860.
I am by no means a best-selling author, but in my world as an unknown author, “The Dundee Cake” is my biggest selling book. I have a couple of ideas as to why that might be.
First, it is an old-fashioned Christmas story with echoes of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” and Louisa May Alcott’s Christmas scenes in Little Women.
Second, it has a recipe for a Dundee cake at the end of the book.
Third, there’s that gorgeous picture of a Dundee cake on the cover. Seriously, I’d buy the book just to drool over that image. However, since I have actually made the cake, I am of the opinion that if you’re going to drool over something, make the cake and drool over that. It’s delicious!
Anyway, “The Dundee Cake” takes us back to 1852. Maggie Beatty Blaine is a widow and a grieving mother. John Blaine, her husband of ten years, and their two-year-old son Gideon both died of rheumatic fever in February 1850. To add to Maggie’s pain, Aunt Letty Blaine, who had given the young couple a place to live after their elopement in 1840, died earlier in the year.
Fortunately, Letty was a wise and compassionate elder and was determined to help Maggie support herself and her two daughters (Lydia and Frankie). Letty turned her home on the Blaineton town square into a boarding house and, under her tutelage, Maggie became a landlady.
Maggie is not a terribly successful landlady, though. She has a big heart and takes in men who barely can afford to pay their rent. In Letty’s absence, Maggie also struggles with the cooking, cleaning, and other duties. Desperate, she manages to scrape together just enough money to hire a cook and assistant housekeeper. The cook’s name is Emily Johnson, and although the two women are of different colors (Maggie is white, and Emily is black), they become friends as they work and talk together about their lives.
Now it is Christmas. Although Maggie still struggles with her own grief, she seeks to make Christmas Day special for her daughters, as well as for her four boarders. Her problem is obvious: she has a chronic shortage of cash, and there is no way that this Christmas will be the celebration that it had been in the past.
It is only when Emily Johnson and her husband Nate experience a tragedy that Maggie puts her own troubles on the back burner. With the assistance of her daughters and boarders, she sets out to help her new friends.
You may find “The Dundee Cake” at:
Barnes & Noble ($7.00)
Kindle ($0.00 Kindle Unlimited; $0.99 to buy)
Amazon paperback ($7.00)
Until next week, stay strong and be kind!
Janet R. Stafford
Yes, that’s me up there in the photo. I’m looking pretty chipper, although at the time I was annoyed that my computer was taking more time than usual to boot up. Also, I was jealous of my dog, Vida, seen to my left, who was taking a nap. Anyway, I needed an image and this had to do the job.
Now on to the real point of this blog.
About a month ago, I went to my orthopedist because I thought I had arthritis in my hip. I’ve been having gel shots in my knees for years and I thought, “Here we go again with the arthritis issues.”
But that wasn’t the problem.
After taking some x-rays, we learned that I have degenerative disc disease in my upper back. Simply put, the little discs that serve as cushions between the vertebrae had broken down or degenerated (due to age, in my case), thus putting pressure on the nerves in my spinal column. This was causing pain in my hip that radiated down my leg to my ankle. I also was beginning to experience numbness.
Anyway, my doctor told me that nerve-related stuff was out of his wheelhouse and, super guy that he is, wrote out a list of things that I could do next. Among them were medicine, surgery, and physical therapy.
I chose physical therapy. The next thing I knew I was walking across the hall to the pain management center and clutching a prescription for 12 PT sessions.
For the last month, I have been going three times a week. I have learned what exercises to do at home, how to work out on some of the equipment, and have received massages. At the last two visits, a technician did manual manipulation on my spine, which is an effort to put some space between my vertebrae. The good news is it works!
But all this has thrown my normally well-regulated life into a bit of chaos. I was juggling PT sessions, my job as assistant pastor/director of education/communications director at a United Methodist church, visits to my partner Dan, walking, feeding, and enjoying my hound dog, writing a novel, and blogging.
So I chose to put blogging on the back burner. Although I have been told to post blogs on a regular basis, it was annoying and enervating to take 2-3 hours to write something, find an image, and post the blog on my website and other social media when I could be doing something I really enjoyed, like finishing that dang novel.
But now I’m back, despite a degenerate back… I mean, degenerating discs.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll give each story in the world of Saint Maggie its own little blog that will offer a look into the plot and provide links to where you may find the book.
Until then, be like Maggie: be kind, practice love, have hope.
Janet R. Stafford
Image: 19th century women caring for an ill patient. Proposed cover image for A Balm in Gilead, purchased from i.stock.com.
I thought I’d be finished with A Balm in Gilead by now, but I’m still polishing it. I haven’t quite reached the stage where I’m so sick of the story that I want to throw it out a window. Once I hit that point, though, I’ll send it to my beta readers. And I’ll be sure to send it to them via email or snail mail, and not by heaving it out a window.
Part of the difficulty working in today’s world of COVID is that I work at home. Our church stopped in-person meetings a year ago. We meet for weekly worship on Zoom. We hold meetings, study groups, and other groups like confirmation on Zoom, as well. We’re a Zoom-y congregation. We love to schmooze.
Although I try to keep my hours for church work limited to the morning, and try to reserve the afternoon or evening for writing, I have found that it’s not as easy as it sounds. For instance, some meetings and groups are in the evening. Some things, such as posting information about worship or writing the newsletter, show up on my so-called days off.
Long story short, dealing with our new, rather fluid work style sometimes pushes writing to the side.
However, I am making progress. And today I’d like to tell you a bit about what’s going on in the new book.
First of all, as I’ve said before, the idea to write about an epidemic was part of a storyline that had emerged long before COVID decided to show up. And yet, telling the story of a typhoid fever epidemic in Blaineton in late August of 1864 while living in the pandemic of 2020-21 was a weirdly-placed coincidence.
In the new story, Blaineton is rebuilding or refurbishing homes destroyed in the Great Fire of 1 August 1864. Then an epidemic shows up. Isn’t that the way things work? We would prefer to have a rest after a traumatic experience, but sometimes what we expect and what actually happens are not the same.
The storyline regarding typhoid fever primarily focuses on the doctors as they attempt to discern what has caused the outbreak. Where did it come from? Is anyone or anything to blame? How will they care the patients? There is no a cure, so they must resort to palliative methods. How will they keep typhoid fever from spreading?
The other main storyline involves Maggie's growing political leadership in the town. She registers to run for Town Council, since nothing in the town’s founding documents says whether one must be male in order to run for office, although it does spell out that only males may vote. Maggie also gets her feet wet making a couple of speeches. In addition, she takes responsibility for reporting to the Council on the rebuilding after the Great Fire as well as on the fight to address the epidemic. She even learns to stand up for herself, although she despises confrontation. The blessing of it all is that Maggie is surrounded by supportive friends and family who keep her on course.
As mentioned in my previous blog, Frankie and Patrick will get married in this book. With the Civil War starting to wind down, Mower General Hospital is receiving fewer injured soldiers – and so, toward the end of the book, Patrick is mustered out of the army. That means he and Frankie are now free to go ahead with a new life.
As for Lydia… well… she reveals that she is expecting. Apparently that quick honeymoon with husband Capt. Philip Frost created more than good memories for the newlyweds. How Lydia balances her calling as a doctor with being a wife and a mother will be an ongoing challenge for her. The good news is that Maggie, her mother and advisor, has been juggling multiple callings most of her life.
Finally, Carson moves out of Greybeal House. Don’t worry, he’s just taking up residence on Main Street in Blaineton, where he is opening a photography gallery. However, Shelby Garrison, a traveling musician, moves into Greybeal House. Will Shelby become a new guy-pal for Eli? Let’s be honest. No one can replace Carson for Eli, just as no one can replace Nate Johnson’s friendship. So, this may not be exchanging one friend for another, but more a case of Eli expanding his buddy group.
Here’s a taste of the book, taken from the moment when the town’s doctors (Lydia and Dr. Lightner) and Capt. Philip Frost (on a short leave from Mower Hospital) realize that Norton Mill has a problem:
Western New Jersey Hospital
Philip was accompanying Lydia on her rounds as she saw people who had sustained injuries, checked on a few who were recovering from surgery, and visited a couple of new mothers whose deliveries had been complicated.
They had just stepped into the hallway when they saw Dr. Lightner entering the wing.
“Fred!” Lydia called. “How did the examinations go?”
He strode over and said in a quiet voice, “Please come with me.”
Lydia and Philip followed him into his office. Lightner shut the door behind them and then turned. “It’s typhoid fever.”
Lydia took a breath. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. And it’s ten people not five. Two of the men even have the rose spots. All are experiencing diarrhea, fever, body aches, no appetite, and exhaustion to one degree or the other.”
Lydia asked, “What do you think brought it on? Impure water?”
Lightner shook his head. “I don’t know. But it doesn’t take a genius to see that the dormitories are filthy, in bad repair, and odorous. In fact, the conditions are positively miasmatic.”
Phil frowned. “So, do you suspect miasma rather than polluted water?”
“I honestly don’t know,” was Lightner’s reply. “Right now, we know comparatively little about the causes of typhoid fever. It could be miasmic, yes, but Dr. William Budd’s article a few years back clearly connected contaminated water supplies with typhoid fever.” 
Phil added, “I know that typhoid fever is rampant in the army camps. Saw it first-hand in them, as well as in the Washington hospital I was stationed in. My guess is that the disease there was likely caused by a combination of contaminated water and food. And yet, at times it seemed that it spread merely by one man touching another, as if it could pass from hand to hand. Of course, camps are scarcely places of great cleanliness. As for the hospital… well, it was overcrowded.”
Lightner paused a moment to consider Phil’s observation. Then he said, “All right, here’s what we’ll do. Let’s check the water supply at the mill first. We’ll need to know if the well is located near the necessaries. If they seem to be where the contamination is coming from, then they must be moved to another, safer location. Also, if the well's water supply comes from the river, then we need to ascertain what factories or businesses are throwing their refuse into it.”
“We'll need to discover what that refuse is, too,” Lydia added. “And it all needs to be done immediately. In addition, we must separate the ill workers from the healthy ones, and living quarters should be scoured top to bottom, sheets and blankets washed, and more.”
Will they be able to do all that? What roadblocks will they hit? How will they get extra help if things go downhill? What if the outbreak in the Mill spreads to the town?
We'll find out.
Until next blog: stay well, stay strong, and have hope.
Janet R. Stafford
 A rose-colored rash.
 Budd was an English physician, who in 1859 published an article in the Lancet describing his experiences with a typhoid fever outbreak and suggesting that it was caused by polluted water and person-to-person transmission.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder