“A wanderer is only at home in the hearts of those who love him.” This line from Annie’s Stories by Cindy Thomson is what Annie’s Irish father used to say before he passed away in early 1900. Annie remembers him fondly.
As do others. For her father Marty Gallagher was an Irish seanchaí (shan-a-key). The seanchaithe (plural) were the storytellers, the keepers of historical lore. Originally, pre-1600s, they served by keeping track of laws, genealogies, history, poetry, songs, and folklore.
These bards were highly esteemed, second to kings, for they carried all their knowledge with them, as fountains of oral history. Later, the role evolved into more informal, traditional storytellers who wondered from town to town.
Now that Annie immigrated to America, she has only his tabletop writing desk and a handful of handwritten stories to remember her father by. Ones he wrote just for her.
And she’s about to be introduced to another storyteller through a book that’s all the rage in 1900 and 1901: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
NOTE: Annie’s Stories was published in 2014. At the outset, I said I wasn’t only including new releases on this blog. New books come out all the time, and there’s no way I can keep up with them. Since I read each featured book prior to posting, I need time to form my review, write questions, and receive each author’s answers. Therefore, I focus on books I like and can recommend, in my preferred genres (mostly), whether they come out in 2022 or five years ago. In this case, eight years ago. A good novel is a good novel, no matter when it’s written.
Annie’s Stories back cover blurb (Book 2 of 3: Ellis Island)
The year is 1901, the literary sensation The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is taking New York City by storm, and everyone wonders where the next great book will come from. But to Annie Gallagher, stories are more than entertainment—they’re a sweet reminder of her storyteller father. After his death, Annie fled Ireland for the land of dreams, finding work at Hawkins House.
But when a fellow boarder with something to hide is accused of misconduct and authorities threaten to shut down the boardinghouse, Annie fears she may lose her new friends, her housekeeping job . . . and her means of funding her dream: a memorial library to honor her father. Furthermore, the friendly postman shows a little too much interest in Annie—and in her father’s unpublished stories. In fact, he suspects these tales may hold a grand secret.
Though the postman’s intentions seem pure, Annie wants to share her father’s stories on her own terms. Determined to prove herself, Annie must forge her own path to aid her friend and create the future she’s always envisioned . . . where dreams really do come true.
To be honest, the first thing that drew me to this story was the Wizard of Oz connection. As an Oz and L. Frank Baum fan, I was curious how Cindy Thomson would weave this story into the novel. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published in late 1900, in time for Christmas. Thousands of children across the country woke up to their first introduction to Oz under the Christmas tree that year. In no time at all, multiple printings enticed more readers to Oz.
The book was pivotal in children’s literature. W.W. Denslow’s colorful, eye-catching illustrations set new standards in the children’s book publishing industry. Baum’s story was written purely for entertainment purposes, not the usual Victorian fare of moralizing tales.
Baum had just begun to establish himself as an author of children’s books, beginning with Mother Goose in Prose (1897), Father Goose, His Book (1899), and three other children’s books besides The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). In 1902, The Wizard of Oz extravaganza came to the stage in Chicago. It traveled for nine years across the country, including New York City. Along came thirteen more Oz books and several film renditions of Oz before MGM’s movie sensation hit theaters in 1939.
Learn more about The Wizard of Oz and its author L. Frank Baum on my Journey to Imagination blog:
The early 1900s is a fascinating time of change and growth. Immigrants continue to flood New York City after greetings from the Statue of Liberty. New inventions are taking hold and changing daily life: light bulbs, telephones, automobiles, and aeroplanes, for starters. Women’s roles are changing as women fight for suffrage and other rights.
Incidentally, one of the most influential women in the struggle for suffrage was Matilda Joslyn Gage. Many people haven’t heard of her, but she worked alongside Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton for decades.
And she just happened to be L. Frank Baum’s mother-in-law. Gage encouraged Baum’s writings and, in fact, influenced aspects of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Read more about her here on my Journey to Imagination blog.
Though Annie’s Stories is book number two of a three-book series, it functions as a standalone. One of the other boardinghouse immigrants, Grace McCaffery from Ireland, is featured in Grace’s Pictures, book one. Joining the boardinghouse later, Sofia is the protagonist in book three: Sofia’s Tune.
Period details of Victorian houses, current fashions, and American history solidify the setting: botanical prints, Gibson-style hats, and references to Queen Victoria, the Coney Island flood, and President McKinley’s assassination.
The story swept me to New York City and the plight of young immigrant girls, Annie in particular. Fortunately, the girls at this boardinghouse have Mrs. Agnes Hawkins as an advocate, doing her part to keep them out of shabby tenements and away from shysters.
Annie Gallagher arrived from her beloved Ireland after her father’s death and after enduring a wretched time in the abusive Magdalene Laundry, a prison-like institution for unwed mothers or unwanted girls needing correction. Magdalene Laundries existed in Ireland from the 1700s to 1996.
Annie’s mother was Roman Catholic and her father Protestant. That didn’t set well with either family, which led to conflicts that wounded Annie, leaving scars.
Fortunately, Father Weldon (brother of Agnes Hawkins) rescues twenty-year-old Annie and sends her to America to be a housekeeper at Hawkins House.
The only thing Annie brings from Ireland is a collection of stories her father had written just for her, and his tabletop writing desk. Annie is treated well here and gets along well with fellow boarders Kirsten Wagner (from Germany) and Grace McCaffery. But since her life had just crumbled, she doesn’t feel at home yet.
As housekeeper, Annie does fine until her troublesome cousin Aileen comes to Hawkins House, too. Since Aileen and her evil father were responsible for Annie’s time at the horrific Magdalene Laundry, Aileen’s arrival might thwart Annie’s fresh start and plans to save money for a memorial library in her da’s name.
Stephen Adams, the friendly mailman, is a daily bright spot. An avid reader, he devours novels of George MacDonald and Dickens’ and “that Luther Redmond fellow,” as well as the futuristic ideas of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. He interests Annie in reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz along with him.
Stephen, too, has much to overcome. He’s still paying off the undertaker for his parents’ burials. He eats cold beans in his cold apartment, but reading gets him by—even as his landlord raises the rent. As a former newsboy who used to spend a lot of time on the streets, he helps kids around the neighborhood.
Stephen definitely doesn’t want to be the failure his father was. Only one thing might help: Davis, who owns the building and Davis Publishing, tells Stephen to find and bring him a decent manuscript in exchange for half-price rent. Something as good as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
As Stephen seeks the next bestseller, Annie’s fellow boarder Kirsten is being followed, Kirsten’s questionable brother Jonas wants to visit, folks threaten to shut down the boardinghouse, and Pinkerton detectives get involved. Annie fears the disintegration of her dreams. Call in Mrs. Hawkins (AKA The Hawk) for reinforcements. But is there anything she can do to help?
I appreciated the role of storytellers in this book, and learning about the seanchaithe, the “keepers of the memory.” I particularly enjoyed how The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is woven throughout. Annie’s transition to NYC reflects themes of Dorothy’s trip to Oz, adding some sweet touches. Whether or not you’re an Oz fan, the story is enjoyable.
Join me for some Q & A with Cindy Thomson.
Questions regarding Annie’s Stories
Annie’s Stories is #2 in the Ellis Island series. What inspired you to write about immigrants to the United States at the turn of the century?
Cindy: I love history and genealogy and these are the people who built up the country during the industrial revolution, so I feel like we are all a part of their histories. Honestly, it was my agent at the time who suggested I write about immigrants during the Ellis Island years. Irish immigrants, since he knew I wanted to write about Irish characters. He knew an editor who wanted that.
Annie immigrated from Ireland. What is your personal connection to Ireland?
Cindy: I have Irish roots but they go way back. They are Scots-Irish from the north. I visited twice and feel quite at home there. I’m going back in 2023. This will be a special bus tour trip that you all are welcome to join me on. We’ll be visiting sites where I set my book Brigid of Ireland plus other sites that are significant to St. Brigid or influenced by her legacy. (Find out more here.)
Where do your initial story ideas originate from–character, plot, setting, or themes? Which of those was the initial impetus for writing Annie’s Stories? Seems like an immigrant story dovetails nicely into themes from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Did you plan from the outset for L. Frank Baum’s story to play a part in this novel, or did that evolve as you wrote?
Character. I always start there, although setting is a close second because it’s the era and the historical events that shape the characters. For Annie’s Stories, I thought of a young girl who would be influenced by something extremely popular at the time (same with Grace’s Pictures and the Brownie camera.) Annie read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and related to Dorothy being far from home in a very strange place, as New York City would have been for someone from rural Ireland.
Were you already familiar with the early 1900s before you wrote Annie’s Stories? What intrigues you most about that time period? What elements did you want to include from the get-go?
Cindy: I was somewhat familiar because my grandmother was born in 1900 and since I’m intrigued by genealogy and the stories of the past, I had learned a bit about the time period. It was a time when there was no, or very little, middle class. The difference between the very rich and the extremely poor was so stark. I wanted to explore that a little and to show how people coped and how much charitable work was happening at the time. There were immigrant aid societies and individuals who took it upon themselves to rescue and get these new immigrants on their feet.
What kind of research did you do?
Cindy: Well, let’s see. I went to Manhattan and Ellis Island. I studied maps at the New York Public Library. I talked to some museum curators both here and in Ireland. I read a lot, both fiction and nonfiction, particularly contemporary accounts, including newspapers from the era. I spent a lot of time imagining the circumstances that would have compelled a single unattached young lady to immigrate to New York City. It’s been a while since I wrote that series but those are things I remember doing.
How is Annie’s Stories similar to and different from the other books in the Ellis Island series (Grace’s Pictures and Sofia’s Tune)?
Cindy: They are all set in the same boarding house run by a woman named Agnes Hawkins (who has her own story in a prequel readers can get for free for signing up for my newsletter.) You will find Annie and Grace in all three books, but each book tells that main character’s story, along with the story of a male protagonist. They are set between 1900 and 1903.
Questions about Cindy’s writing
Do you have a favorite of the books you’ve written? Which one and why?
Cindy: The one I just finished, lol! Seriously I think you have to fall in love with your latest in order to write a good story. I do have a soft spot for my first novel, Brigid of Ireland, just because readers continue to find that story and tell me they like it. I don’t consider it my best, but the character of Brigid was (and is) so compelling to me that I cannot forget her.
What books have been most influential for you as a writer? Was there a book that sparked or confirmed your desire to be a novelist?
Cindy: As far as books on the craft, here are some:
- Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
- Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon
- Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
- On Writing by Stephen King
Spiritually, because I need to fill the well in order to write, there have been many. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, books by Henri Nouwen, Phillip Yancey, and John O’Donohue, Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor, the work of Marion Stroud (who I got to meet and talk with one year at an ACFW conference. She passed away a few years ago).
Are you an outliner or a pantser? Share a little about your novel writing process, and the length of time it takes to complete a book.
Cindy: I’m a pantser who is finally learning to accept that. I do need some kind of outline, though, and I almost always know the ending before I start. I can’t tell you how long it takes me to complete a book. There is no normal for me anymore.
Five years ago I started babysitting my grandchild full time and while she’s now in kindergarten there are three more I watch. The last novel I completed took me about a year and a half, but part of that was during the pandemic lockdown when I had all the time in the world to write. The short answer is it takes me a year to write a novel, but I’m not committing to that.
Are you planning to write more historical fiction related to the Irish? Can you share something about a future project or the direction you want to go?
Cindy: Yes, although the story I’m working on currently only has the Irish as the character’s ancestors. I completed a novel that is partially set in Ireland in 1950 with flashbacks to the Great War, the Irish Civil War, and the Great Depression and features Irish folks. That story is submitted to some agents. I have no idea where it will end up yet. I’m sure my upcoming stories will have some kind of Irish influence and that my trip in 2023 will spark some ideas.
How did you get interested in genealogy and what genealogical discoveries have you made?
Cindy: I suppose it came from boredom. On many of family trips to visit my grandmother when I was a teenager there were no other kids my age around. To occupy myself I looked through her old family photo albums and wondered who those people were. I started collecting information. When she passed away no one else wanted those photos so they came to me and I think I got the greatest treasure.
I discovered that my grandmother’s family was not Irish as my dad always thought, but Welsh. They wouldn’t have known that because they’ve been in this country since about 1632. They were whalers in Wales and then whalers in Nantucket. They didn’t come to Ohio until 1813 and then to Indiana after the Civil War. It was only the Indiana family that my grandmother and my dad ever knew about.
Another branch came from Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland (long before Northern Ireland was separate from the Republic of Ireland) and the story of that family coming to America immediately before the Revolutionary War became my first novel (never published.) I did get to visit the area in person, though!
How did you come up with the concept for your group blog, NovelPASTimes?
Cindy: We love historical fiction and we wanted to help promote it. It has seen several changes in format and in contributors since we started it in 2005. (Check out NovelPASTimes here. )
How did the Faith & Fellowship Book Festival start and how has it developed? What are your aspirations for it?
Cindy: I had the germ of the idea after the ACFW conference in Minneapolis where they held a book signing at the Mall of America. It was a huge success. I had been attending some book festivals in my state and kept getting placed beside Yolonda Tonette Sanders. In the fall of 2016 in Cincinnati she sat between me and another novelist who had written a political thriller. That author also happened to be the head of a political party in Ohio. You remember that election?
Yolonda had no interest in politics so she turned to chat with me and I mentioned that it would be great to have a festival like that one but for Christian books. But I didn’t know how to start one. She said she didn’t either but we could both not know what we were doing together. Our first three were held near Columbus, OH, at my church. Then we were virtual and found we could reach more readers that way.
We also started a book award, the Angel Book Awards. Our goal is simply to connect readers with Christian books and authors. Our speakers are authors many people are familiar with but they will also find other great books they may not have found otherwise and hear the inspiration behind those books. We want it to grow and keep reaching readers with books that honor God. (Check out the Festival here.)
What’s your best advice for aspiring novelists?
Cindy: Write as much as you can. (I’m not judging if you can’t write every day. I can’t.) And read a lot. It’s my opinion that you can’t grow as a writer if you aren’t reading really great books.
Back to Laura . . . On a similar note . . .
If you enjoy Annie’s Stories, you might enjoy my novel Fifteen Minutes with Mr. Baum. Set in Holland, Michigan, this split time novel alternates between 1980 and the early 1900s–same as Annie’s Stories. Mr. Baum’s storytelling through The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and other books demonstrates how certain timeless stories reach across barriers and impact lives.
The story capitalizes on turn-of-the-century technological developments, Baum’s Wizard of Oz success, and the ups and downs that followed. I’m recruiting a launch team to obtain pre-publication reviews. Go here to learn more and watch the book trailer.
My novel, All That Is Hidden, shows how stories and wisdom of generations past come to bear on the troubles of 1968 in a small rural town–similar to the way Annie’s father’s stories impacted her. Learn more about my recently relaunched novel here.
I invite you to join my monthly newsletter for updates, freebies, and giveaways. Sign up and I’ll send you a free gift: www.StandoutStoriesNewsletter.com
Cindy Thomson Bio
Known for the inspirational Celtic theme employed in most of her books, Cindy Thomson is the author of both novels and non-fiction books. She is co-founder of the Faith & Fellowship Book Festival and vice president of the Mordecai Brown Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to promote the legacy of this early twentieth century Hall of Fame baseball pitcher. She owns the team blog Novel PASTimes, a venue for readers of historical fiction. A genealogy enthusiast and traveler to Ireland, she writes from her home in Ohio. Visit her online at CindysWriting.com, on Facebook: Facebook.com/Cindyswriting, Twitter: @cindyswriting, Pinterest: @cindyswriting and Book Bub: @cindyswriting.
- Cindy’s website
- Novel PASTimes–interviews with book characters from historical fiction. On January 13, my character Jennie Hamilton from All That Is Hidden was interviewed.
- Faith & Fellowship Book Festival
- Interested in the 2023 trip to Ireland?
- Annie’s Stories
Join me next time for a visit with author Barb Britton.
Meanwhile, feel free to comment below. Have you read Annie’s Stories? Do you have a favorite family story that has been passed down? Or do you have a more recent one that you hope will be passed down through the years? OR . . . have you written down any of your family stories?