Back in 2011, I released my first novel, Saint Maggie, through my micro-publishing house, Squeaking Pips Press, Inc. Based on a research paper I had done while pursuing my Ph.D., it was part of a tutorial in which my professor wanted to investigate “Scandal in Ministry.”
For my research, I found a story about a young minister living in Warren County, NJ. His name was Jacob Harden, and he was handsome, charismatic, and an engaging preacher. He also had an eye for the ladies.
But the culture of the time meant that a good many mamas and aunts also had their eye on Harden as a suitable mate for their single daughters or nieces. Through some plotting on one mother’s part and sheer stupidity (and a bit of lust) on his part, Harden found himself in a shotgun marriage with rumors swirling that Louisa, his new wife, had become pregnant before the wedding.
The marriage was not a happy one but since divorce was not a possibility for Harden if he wanted to stay in ministry, he addressed the issue another way – one soon led to his arrest and trial. So much for staying in ministry.
You are welcome to read my paper. Just be warned, it is historical research and I was looking at how the media of the time (newspapers) dealt with Harden’s story. JACOB S. HARDEN: POOR BOY, MORAL MONSTER, MALIGNANT SOUL
The odd and tragic story stayed with me, and I wondered how one might translate it into a novel. I ended up creating widow Maggie Beatty Blaine, a pious Methodist woman who runs a boarding house in the fictional town of Blaineton, NJ. Maggie’s compassion for her boarders means she barely makes a go of her enterprise, but somehow manages to hang on.
Maggie has two teenaged daughters: the logical, calm Lydia (Liddy) and the outspoken, emotional Frances (Frankie). Her house boards four men: Chester Carson, once a well-known author but now a nobody; James “Grandpa” O’Reilly, an old, Irish immigrant of no discernable employment; Patrick McCoy, the undertaker’s apprentice; and Edgar Lape, a struggling young lawyer.
Maggie, her daughters, and boarders are all white. But Nate and Emily Johnson, a black, couple also live in the house. Maggie pays Emily to cook for her and gives Nate and Emily free room and board. Over the years, the two women become good friends. Nate is a carpenter and runs a little shop on Water Street, where most of the black population of Blaineton live. Not surprisingly, the town is disconcerted and disgusted by Maggie’s friendship with the couple, and she is shunned socially. The one saving grace is that the town’s folk do not know that Maggie and the Johnsons run an Underground Railroad station in a room below the boarding house.
One other person rounds out Maggie’s fictive family: Elijah Smith, the bespectacled, short, and portly editor/reporter of The Gazette, the town’s penny weekly, which is in Maggie’s outbuilding. Early on we discover that Eli is sweet on Maggie, and she is sweet on him.
However, Eli’s budding romance is nearly derailed by the arrival of the Rev. Jeremiah Madison, the new Methodist minister, whom the church is lodging at the boarding house because the old parsonage burned down. Mr. Madison is handsome, intelligent, and an excellent preacher, and while Maggie is not interested in him, her daughters and most of the other young women in the congregation immediately develop a crush on him. This situation makes Maggie uneasy, especially when, at the yearly camp meeting, she catches Madison walking through the woods with her niece, Leah. And – horrors of horrors! - they have no chaperone.
A bit of a scandal erupts when Jeremiah and Leah are forced into a marriage. Maggie, who has become Jeremiah’s confident, learns some less than savory details about his past - and then things take an abrupt turn that stuns both Maggie and the whole town.
Finding themselves now in the middle of a mystery, Maggie and Eli seek to uncover the truth, even as Maggie boldly forgives Jeremiah and suffers the town folks’ wrath.
Saint Maggie is available at the Squeaking Pips Store for $7.99 (tax is included, and shipping is free, plus I’ll sign it and say nice things to you).
You also may find the book at Amazon, Lulu, and other distributors. The ebook is available for $0.99 at Kindle, a great price if you’d like to check the series out.
Tomorrow, the lowdown on Walk by Faith.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder