Janet R Stafford

SEEING THE ELEPHANT, The New House

 

 

Maggie and family are met at the train station by her brother Samuel Beatty and sister-in-law Abigail. With them is Tryphena Moore, a maiden lady who can freeze a man in his tracks with a disapproving glare. This unlikely woman has, over time, become a champion of the displaced boarding house family. When Eli asks her to sell the boarding house property and invest the money in a house for them, she is glad to do so. But what a house!

The_New_House.pdf

The image is actually of the Dey Mansion, Wayne, NJ. I like to think that the house Maggie and family move into has white stucco over the stone (the stucco kept the rain and wind out). It also would be somewhat larger in the new section. But, hey, I really wanted an image!

 

SEEING THE ELEPHANT, The Boys Build a Fort

 

 

(Building block image from http://www.educational-toy-guide.com/image-files/embossed-alphabet.jpg)

Here is another early-draft excerpt from the next Saint Maggie book. Remember that we are in January 1864, six months after the Battle of Gettysburg. The war just might be turning in the North’s favor. But its impact has reached even the smallest citizens of the U.S.A.

In this snippet, Eli is disturbed by the subject his son Bob and Nate’s son Natey have chosen for their play.

*

As Emily set about preparing the tea, Frankie cut pieces of cake for the men. Eli meanwhile wandered over to the sitting area, where Bob and Natey were playing with toy building blocks on the old braided rug. He watched the two as they stacked the wooden squares, rectangles, and arches. “What are you making?”

“A castle,” Bob said. He pointed to an arch that led to a wall of square blocks. “See that? It’s the draw bridge. The moat goes underneath.”

“Looks impregnable,” Eli observed.

Bob looked up. “What?”

“Impossible to get into.”

“It is!”

Natey nodded. “Yep! No one gets in.”

Eli asked, “Who would want to get in?”

Bob squinted up at his father. “The Rebs, of course.”

“Oh, of course.”

The boy returned to building the walls. “We have to keep Mama, Emily, Aunt Sally, Aunt Becky, and the children safe.”

“We’re up here.” Natey pointed to the top of the walls.

Eli nodded. “Anyone else there with you?”

“Yes,” Bob told him. “There’s Mr. Carson, Uncle Nate, Grandpa, and Frankie.”

“Frankie?” Eli was surprised.

“Frankie’s can fight. She’s fierce!”

“Fierce,” Natey echoed.

Bob looked up at his father again. “And Uncle Andrew’s there, too. But he won’t fight. He’s a Friend. So he’s praying.”

Eli frowned. “Where am I?”

“You’re up there, too.”

“Am I fighting?”

“Yes.”

“But I’m a Friend, too.”

Bob frowned at him. “No, you’re not.”

“How do you know?”

“’Cause you go to church with us, not the Friends.” As Bob turned his attention to the blocks once more, he said with utter certainty, “You’ll fight, ’cause you want to protect Mama from the bad man.”

This made Eli uneasy. “What bad man?”

“The one who tried to hurt her.”

The boy must have heard them talking about Lemuel Opdyke’s attack on Maggie. But when and how? The whole thing added to Eli’s sense of unease. The war was having an impact even on his son. Bob and Natey’s play mirrored their understanding of what was going on around them.

Eli impulsively leaned down, put a hand on his son’s shoulder, and kissed the top of his head. He inhaled deeply. He loved the way his son smelled. At that moment he didn’t want him to grow up. He prayed the boy would never have to fight in a war.

He kissed Natey on the head and prayed for him, too, then walked away.

“Damnable war,” he whispered to himself. He paused by the little wicker basket where his daughter lay on an improvised mattress of towels. Tucked snugly under a tiny quilt and waving her arms, she was the one person in the room who was not conscious of the war. Eli picked Faith up and held her before his face. She gurgled and grinned at him in response.

“Papa loves you, sweet girl,” he murmured. He gave her a kiss on the cheek, cradled her in one arm, and sniffed her head. He loved the way she smelled, too. There was something about children – the scent of newness and innocence. But the world was no Eden. Sooner or later they would face corruption, and deception, and wickedness. The thought depressed him.

Eli thumped over to the table and sat down with his daughter settled in the crook of his arm. He rocked her absently as Maggie put a cup of tea in front of him.

“You don’t need to hold her while you eat,” she said.

“I don’t need to, but I want to.” When he looked down into Faith’s face, he found her eyes wide open and gazing up into his.

Maggie sat down beside him. “Is something wrong?”

Eli tilted his head in the direction of the boys. “They’re building a fortress.”

“All boys do that.”

“To keep out Rebs.” He looked into his wife’s beautiful hazel eyes. “And to keep the bad man from hurting you.”

Maggie smiled faintly. “Ah.” She lifted her tea cup. “I am glad we sent them to stay with your sister and brother-in-law during the battle. They are only playing and guessing, but they don’t know. And I pray they never do.”

 

 

SEEING THE ELEPHANT, the Johnsons' Relationship with the Smiths

 

 

Emily and Nate Johnson are long-time friends of Eli and Maggie Smith. The fact that the white Smiths are close friends with the Johnsons, who are African-American, would be considered freakish, shocking, or simply incomprehensible to many people in 1864. But they are friends, nonetheless, held together by a common belief system and mutual respect.

In this early-draft excerpt, that takes place on the train en route to New Jersey, Nate and Emily try to explain to porter Lewis Yardley why they consider themselves and the Smiths to be "family."

Seeing_the_Elephant_the_Johnsons.pdf

SEEING THE ELEPHANT, CHAPTER 1, 1ST 4 PAGES

 

 

Okay! Folks seem to enjoy coming to the blog to read new fiction from me. So I'm going to try my best to comply.

Here is an early draft of the first four pages of the next Saint Maggie novel.

When we last saw the Smiths and their diverse family, they had boarded a private coach (courtesy of Maggie's brother, Samuel) and were on their way home to New Jersey from Pennsylvania. The year is 1863 and Christmas is a few days away.

It is early morning and Maggie, Eli and their young children are just waking up on board the train.

Chapter_1.pdf

Train image downloaded from

https://www.etsy.com/listing/159842392/currier-ives-print-railroad-print?ref=market

LISTENING TO MY CHARACTERS

 

While all of us are waiting for me to come up with some new pre-publication/early draft material to post here, I thought I might blog a bit.

On February 6 I visited with a book club in New Castle, Delaware. First of all, hooray! I got my books out of New Jersey! Secondly, it was a fun afternoon, one that provided me with a couple of great blogging ideas.

 

One of the things we discussed was whether or not characters actually became real people to me. The answer is a simple yes. Most writers will tell you that after working with a character for a while, the character will take on a life of its own. This may have interesting implications. For instance, if an author is pursuing a plotting element that runs contrary to the character’s “self,” the author most likely will meet with resistance. The closest I can come to describing the phenomenon is to say that it resembles trying to get a piece of software to do something it is not designed to do. You keep getting a loud beep or a message saying the equivalent of “it does not compute.” For me, it often feels as if I am trying to push the character in a particular direction and the character responds by digging in his heels and refusing to budge.

 

This happened to me with the Saint Maggie series. I had finished WALK BY FAITH and was preparing to move forward with the next book. My plan had been to move everyone back to New Jersey. I had sketched out a plot, was all set to go, and – BAM – Maggie and Eli dug in their heels. No matter what I tried, nothing seemed to work. I kept getting the impression that no one wanted to return to Blaineton and were not at all ready for another adventure.

 

The crux of the problem, as I now understand it, lay in how I had concluded WALK BY FAITH. As one of the participants at the book club gathering correctly noted, I had tied things up too neatly at the end of the book. She was right and that was so cool. I love helpful criticism! It serves as confirmation that my “spidey senses” are on the money. Both the participant and my characters recognized that, having gone through the trauma of the Battle of Gettysburg, some significant healing had to occur before everyone could move on.

 

Pity the poor author! I didn’t recognize that simple truth for a good 120 pages! It was as if Maggie, Eli, and all the other members of the old boarding house kept shouting, “We’ve got issues!” I either couldn’t hear them or conveniently ignored them. Why on earth would I do that? Well, sometimes when an author is hot to get into the next book, she is too focused on production and forgets that she has created people with real feelings, attitudes, and needs. So it took me a while to hear what Maggie and family were saying. However, once I did, out came a book called A TIME TO HEAL.

 

If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t have included the epilogue in WALK BY FAITH. And when I revise the books – which I shall do some day – I will seriously review and possibly rewrite or even delete that tidy ending. However, my experience was a clear lesson to me to listen to my characters and to watch for signs of recalcitrance on their part. After all, I’m telling their story and I owe it to them to get it right.

THE CHRISTMAS VISITOR

 

And now for something completely different ... a piece from the Saint Maggie series. This is actually a 4th draft or so of a chapter in the next book, SEEING THE ELEPHANT, in which Maggie and family are visited by a strange little man on Christmas Eve. The story has its genesis in a short story I wrote as a gift for fans a couple of years ago, which I did post here. However, I liked the story so much, I put it into the new book - and plan to have Ira Glickberg as a character in the new book.

By way of background information, Maggie and family have moved from Pennsylvania back to Blaineton, NJ. It is Christmas Eve of 1863. While circumstances are about to change for them - Eli will be starting as the editor-in-chief at the Blaineton Register, the family does not yet have a penny to its name. Oldest daughter Lydia, who is one of two doctors at the newly-founded women and children's infirmary in Gettysburg, has returned to Blaineton with them to help the family settle in.

If you don't know the family, you will be introduced to them throughout the story: Maggie and her husband Eli; her daughters Lydia and Frankie (Frances); son Bob and baby Faith; Grandpa O'Reilly; Maggie's friends Nate and Emily Johnson and their son Natey; and Chester Carson,Eli's friend and colleague.

Chapter_2.pdf

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