Playing around with a new cover. If you think authors don't experience peer pressure - this might be a result of my author chums messing around with their covers. "But, Mom, all the other authors are doing it!" Mom: "And if all the other authors jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you do it, too?" So we'll see if I really mean this or not. Haha.
I apologize for the late posting. I have been working like mad to finish a draft of A Good Community so I can give it to my beta readers. My plans were thrown off mightily by a pile of events in late April: Holy Week and a series of activities at the church where I serve as (for lack of a simpler term because I actually have three titles) assistant minister. There was a family faction sandwiched in there, as you probably have noticed. And then I was knocked off the rails when I learned my dear old dog Tippy had a recurrence of cancer. She slid downhill quickly and on May 1, I had her put down to relieve her of further pain and suffering.
So… yeah… getting back to the book, not to mention something resembling a post-dog life has been challenging.
One of the things I did today was add the Introduction section to A Good Community. I copied it from the previous book and then gave it a tweaking because it’s a good introduction for those who might pick up the new book but know nothing about the series itself.
Then it dawned on me that I might as well post it today for people new to Squeaking Blog.
So here we go. Welcome to “Saint Maggie 101.”
If you’ve never read one of the books before, let me give you a little background on the “Saint Maggie universe” or as I like to call it the “Maggie-verse.”
The original story is rooted in research I did while working on my Ph.D. in North American Religion and Culture. I took a tutorial focused on scandals in Methodist ministry. For the required research paper, I found a sad, tragic story about a talented, charismatic young minister named Jacob Harden who lived in Warren County, NJ during the 1850s. Harden ended up in a shotgun marriage, a result of his own love for the ladies and some devious plotting on the part of his future mother-in-law. Predictably, the marriage was not a happy one. However, Harden’s response to the miserable situation was far from what one would expect of a nineteenth-century clergyman. And that’s putting it mildly.
The story stayed with me long after the paper had been turned in and graded. In the years directly after grad school, I found myself wondering how the story might be fictionalized into a novel. And during 1999-2000, I tried my hand at telling the Harden’s story as fiction.
The result was a character-driven tale set in 1860-61. I called it Saint Maggie, after the novel’s good-hearted Methodist widow, Maggie Blaine. She runs a boarding house and one day receives the new minister, Jeremiah Madison, as her newest boarder. The other people living in the house are a group of societal outcasts: an aging, failed writer named Chester Carson; Jim “Grandpa” O’Reilly, an old Irish immigrant of no fixed job; a broke, struggling young lawyer by the name of Edgar Lape; and the undertaker’s apprentice, Patrick McCoy. In addition, the 39-year-old Maggie two teenage daughters: Lydia, the sensible one with a knack for nursing, and the younger one, outspoken, opinionated Frances (nicknamed Frankie).
Also residing in the house are Emily and Nate Johnson. Emily is Maggie’s closest friend and the boarding house’s cook. Nate is a carpenter. But because the Johnsons are black and Maggie is white, Maggie and Emily’s close friendship does not sit well with the town folk. To make it worse, the boarding house sits prominently on the town square, so its inhabitants and their activities are clearly visible to everyone.
Living in Maggie’s outbuilding is have Elijah Smith. When the story begins, he is the editor of a penny weekly called the Gazette. A former Quaker and self-proclaimed free-thinker, Eli also is sweet on Maggie. The story of their romance and eventual marriage is told in the novel
Just to complicate matters, Maggie and her entire household have abolitionist beliefs. Emily and Nate have been running a station on the Underground Railroad for a while and eventually invite Maggie and Eli into this act of civil disobedience. So they have a secret that they keep from the rest of the town. If it is discovered and reported, they all would face a hefty fine and a jail sentence.
Maggie works to keep the Underground Railroad secret and runs a boarding house with nearly broke boarders. At the same time she is starting to court the local free thinker. She hopes adding a minister to the mix will give her boarding house (an her) a touch more respectability. Little does she know!
After years of pulling the story out, revising it, having friends read it, and putting it away, I finally self-published the book in 2011. I released Saint Maggie through my micro-publishing company, Squeaking Pips Press, Inc.
At the time of the book’s publication, I never imagined that I would end up writing a series. However, as I visited books clubs, one little question came up several times and this changed everything. That question was: “What happens next?” Apparently, readers loved the characters and wanted to hear more about them and their adventures.
The series is getting quite large now. So is the cast of characters. Some come and go for one book, while others are recur. As a result, I have taken to including a characters list and sometimes maps for readers’ reference.
The list below shows where A Good Community falls in chronologically with the other Saint Maggie stories.
“The Dundee Cake” (short story) 1852
Saint Maggie (novel) 1860-61
The Enlistment (novella) 1862
Walk by Faith (novel) 1863
“The Christmas Eve Visitor” (short story) 1863
A Time to Heal (novel) 1863
Seeing the Elephant (novel) 1864
The Great Central Fair (novella) 1864
A Good Community (novel) 1864
So now you know. Or have had a refresher course.
Next week I'm plan a couple of blogs about the difference between 19th century evangelicals and their 20th (and 21st) century counterparts. You might be surprised at the difference between an “evangelical” and an “Evangelical.”
Until then… Have a great weekend.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder