One of the fun things about writing a novel series is that I can have recurring characters. I did it with Tryphena Moore, whose dislike of Maggie and her boarding house causes our heroine grief in Saint Maggie. She returns briefly in Walk by Faith to reveal that she has a change of heart. We hear from Tryphena in A Time to Heal through a bit of correspondence she has with Maggie. And she re-emerges to take a much larger role in Seeing the Elephant.
Despite her change of heart and mellowing, she is still demanding, rather imperious, and very much in control – even with Eli. Or should I say, especially with Eli.
I enjoy writing Tryphena. She makes Eli nervous, especially now that she’s his boss. I think she actually enjoys watching Eli squirm. Well, why not? Sometimes our editor-in-chief can be a bit much and aside from Maggie, Tryphena apparently is the only other person who is able to reign him in.
I do so love having secondary characters recur. It gives me the chance to deepen their character development and add them to the mix of personalities in my stories.
Oddly enough, I don’t know why I have so many characters in my series. Perhaps it is related to my undergraduate studies. My major was Asian studies, and in addition to learning to read, speak, and write Chinese (we had to take an Asian language), we also studied Asian history, politics, religion, philosophy, and literature. Chinese novels were just bursting with characters and sometimes it was difficult to follow who was who because of our lack of familiarity with Chinese names. Or so I thought.
A few years ago, some of my readers requested that I put a cast of characters list at the front of each of my books. Apparently, the truth is that names don’t confuse people – lots of characters do. So, each novel now has a cast of characters list. I hope it has helped.
Recently, something inspired me to have another character return, this time in The Good Community. Our new returnee first appeared in The Enlistment: A Frankie Blaine Story and I liked the way she turned out. She was spunky and strong. And although I may change my mind and save her scenes for another story, this is what I have done so far to re-introduce her (or introduce her for the first time) to readers. Here’s an excerpt from my early draft of The Good Community.
Edward Caldwell was taking a short break from his duties as telegrapher. He liked to have a cup of tea with Andy the receptionist, and this enabled the two young men to exchange stories about Eli’s foibles. They respected his knowledge and acumen as an editor, but the portly man also provided them with a consistent source of humor.
They currently were chuckling over how Eli was willing to babysit little Faith. It struck them as funny that, as manly and rough-edged as Eli appeared, he also was tender and loving with the baby.
“Yeah,” Andy was saying, “and when he made Danny bury the diaper out back, I nearly split my sides watching him try to do it! The poor kid kept gagging as he dug the hole.”
Robert swallowed his tea in a big gulp. “You need to stop saying things like that when I’m drinking, Andy. My tea almost came out my nose.”
The front door bell jangled.
The two looked up to see a thin young woman standing in the entry. She was shorter than Frankie. Her skin was brown, but a shade or two lighter than Edward’s. And she was wearing a tired bonnet and a faded dress. One hand clutched a carpet bag, the other hand held a piece of paper.
Edward had been slouching by the desk, but at the sight of the young woman he quickly straightened up.
“May I help you, Miss?”
“I…” she said.
He frowned slightly behind his wire-rim glasses.
Then her eyes rolled back, and she fell to the floor.
Alarmed, Edward rushed to her side, plopped down beside her, and began patting her face. “Miss? Miss!”
He noticed the slip of paper in her hand. He removed and read it. Edward’s eyes widened. “I think you’d better get Mr. Smith, Andy. Quick!”
As Andy pounded out of the room, Edward got to his feet and fetched the pitcher of water from the reception desk. He returned to the unconscious girl and, sitting back down beside her, he pulled a handkerchief from his jacket pocket, dipped it into the pitcher, and began to bathe her forehead.
“Edward?” It was Eli’s voice. “What the hell’s going on out here?”
“This young lady came in and swooned before she could tell us what she wanted.”
Eli stood over the prone figure. “Funny. She doesn’t look like the type who’d swoon.”
“Why do you say that?” Edward gave Eli an accusing frown. “Just because she’s colored, doesn’t mean – ”
Eli held up a hand to stop him. “Hell, no. It has nothing to do with her color. Any woman might take to fainting if they lived a pampered life. She hasn’t. Take a gander at her hands. They’re rough. That means she’s a worker. In my experience, workers don’t have the time or the luxury to swoon.”
Now it was Eli’s turn to frown as he looked more closely at the young stranger. “You know, she looks familiar, but I can’t place her.”
Edward held the paper up. “Perhaps this will jog your memory, sir.”
Eli took the paper from his telegrapher. As he read the words on it, his eyebrows arched and he grunted. “Huh.”
The young woman moaned.
Edward said, “It’s all right, miss. You swooned.”
She winced. “I never swoon…”
“Told you,” Eli said to Edward.
The young man chose to ignore his boss in favor of the pretty girl, whose head he now cradled on his lap. “I’m sorry to say, you just did faint, miss.” He put the back of a hand to her cheek. “And you’re terribly warm. Are you ill?”
“No. It’s hot out.” She struggled to a sitting position and focused her eyes on Eli. “Hey, I think I know you.”
“Do you, young lady? Well, you definitely know my wife. This is her handwriting.”
A few minutes later, the young woman was sitting in Eli’s office and drinking a cup of water.
She drained the cup in one long gulp. “Thank you. That tastes so good. I haven’t had a tall drink in I don’t know how long.”
“Are you hungry?” Eli asked.
“I am. I haven’t eaten in two days.”
Eli turned to Andy and barked, “Miss Amelia’s! “Sandwich.” He dug into his pocket and held some coins out to the boy
Andy took the money and then turned to the girl. “What kind of sandwich?”
“Yeah. I’ll eat anything you bring back.”
After a quick nod, Andy was off.
“So…” Eli perched himself on the edge of his desk. “How do you know my wife?”
“Camp Fair Oaks. I’m Rosa. Rosa Hamilton. I was one of the laundresses with the Fifteenth.”
“Oh, yes. Frankie’s friend. We did meet, after all.”
“I’ll take you to my wife as soon as you’ve eaten and rested.”
Edward refilled Rosa’s cup with water. “When did you leave Virginia?”
“How’d you know I was there?”
“Frankie’s beau, Patrick was with the Fifteenth’s medical corps.” Edward handed the tin cup to her. “He’s now serving at Mower General Hospital – or will be tomorrow.”
Rosa eagerly took the cup and began to gulp.’
Eli laughed. “Whoa! Slow it down, Miss Hamilton. A little at a time.”
Rosa nodded, and took a pause.
“Why you are no longer with the Fifteeneth?” Edward wanted to know.
Rosa looked away from the men. “I left after North Anna.”
“Nothing.” She didn’t sound convincing. “It just… I didn’t want to do laundry anymore.”
She cast her eyes down, which gave Edward the chance to glance questioningly at Eli. The older man shook his head and put a finger to his lips. Edward nodded. So… something bad had happened to their visitor.
Eli changed the subject. “Well, Miss Hamilton, my wife will be delighted to see you and so will Frankie, but she’s been away for a few days. She’ll be home tomorrow, though.”
“Where is she?”
“Philadelphia. Patrick’s reporting for duty at Mower General Hospital. Carson took them, Capt. Frost, and my other stepdaughter Lydia for a little holiday to the Great Central Fair before the fellas report to Mower.”
“My wife no doubt will ask you to stay with us. Don’t hesitate to say yes.”
Rosa looked up. “Is there room at the boarding house?”
“No,” he replied. “But that’s because it isn’t there anymore. We had a fire.”
“Oh! I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine. Everything worked out for the best, Miss Hamilton. We sojourned for a while in my hometown.” He left out the fact that his hometown was Gettysburg and that they had been there for the battle. “Then we returned here. Maggie sold her property on the square and we live in a rather…” He hesitated.
“Commodious,” Edward suggested.
Eli chuckled. “Yes. A rather commodious house. Although I prefer to think of it as a monster. In other words, we’ve plenty of room.”
A breathless Andy suddenly reappeared with a cheese sandwich on a plate. He wheezed, “Miss Amelia would like the plate back.”
“Of course. It’s hers.” Eli took the plate from him and offered it to Rosa. “Eat up.”
The young woman seized the sandwich and began to wolf it down.
“Whoa!” Eli chuckled. “Slow down. You don’t want what you’re putting down there to come back up again.”
Mouth full, Rosa nodded and began to chew more carefully. “Thank you,” she said around the bread and cheese.
“Rescuing young ladies in distress is what we do,” Eli replied. “We’re a full-service newspaper.”
At which, Edward and Andy rolled their eyes.
I can’t wait to see how Rosa interacts with the rest of Greybeal House. I’m sure I’ll be putting something more up about her later.
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Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder