Visiting the Past

Lea WaitMaine author Lea Wait writes acclaimed historical novels for children set in 19th century Maine. Stopping to Home, Seaward Born, Wintering Well, and Finest Kind are on recommended reading lists throughout the country and have been named to student choice award lists in 13 states. Wait also writes the Agatha finalist Shadows Antique Print Mystery series, the most recent of which is Shadows on a Cape Cod Wedding. For more information on Lea Wait and her books, see

Lea grew up in Maine and New Jersey, majored in drama and English at Chatham College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and earned her MA and DWD in American Civilization at New York University. While raising the four daughters she adopted as a single parent, Wait worked in public relations and strategic planning for AT&T. She is now married to artist Bob Thomas.

History, especially United States history, had always been my passion. I grew up in a house built in 1774. My graduate degrees are in American Civilization. I’m a fourth generation antique dealer. And, of course, I’ve always loved reading historical novels.

So it’s not surprising that although I do write a contemporary mystery series (the Shadows Antique Print series,) history creeps into all my work. And it’s the center of a special group of books I’ve written for ages eight and up set in the nineteenth century, in the seaport town of Wiscasset, Maine.

My goal with this group of books (which are standalones) is to give readers a peek into what daily life in the 19th century was like for ordinary people, and how a small town changed as politics, weather, immigration,  technology, communication and transportation changed.

Many of the people in my Wiscasset books are real people who lived in that town, and most of the events in the books really happened. (Yes: I spend a lot of time in local archives!)

My newest Wiscasset book will be published April 4. It’s called Uncertain Glory. It takes place between April 9 and April 23 of 1861. My protagonist, Joe Wood, is fourteen, and he really did publish the town’s newspaper for about a year, before going on to publish newspapers in several larger Maine towns. His friend Charlie Farrar, had trouble settling down: as an adult he wrote adventure stories for boys set in the Maine woods, and was a wilderness guide. My other two main characters are fictional, but based on people who lived during this period: Nell is a twelve-year-old girl touring spiritualist, and Owen is a nine-year-old African American boy who helps Joe with his press.

Writing accurately about the past always involves careful use of language and perceptions. In Uncertain Glory I show how the bombardment of Fort Sumter and the resulting start of the Civil War affected one small New England town. People wait by the telegraph office (the telegraph operator was really a woman) for news. Joe, of course, prints extra editions of his paper.

People guess what will happen next. Some are for the war; others against. Maine has no money for the militia Lincoln has called for. How will the money be raised? Who will volunteer? How long will the war last? The wealthiest man in town deals in cotton: he has an office in Charleston. Has he lost everything? The customs officer refuses to raise the United States flag over the Custom House because Lincoln declared war, and doesn’t support states’ rights.

All of those things really happened, and are included in Uncertain Glory.

Uncertain GloryBut on top of state and national events, the main characters have their own problems. Joe owes money for his publishing supplies and is afraid he’ll lose his business. Charlie wants to enlist, but is too young. Nell is suffering severe migraines but forced to perform – and while some people in town believe she can talk with the dead, others think she is a fraud. Owen is bullied by other boys when he brags his father will be the best soldier of all, and then is devastated when his father is not allowed to enlist. “No black soldiers,” was the word from Washington. Owen disappears, and no one can find him.

I won’t give away the book’s ending … because it’s about a real situation, in a real place and time, some of the issues confronting the characters are resolved. Some are not.

My hope is that by reading Uncertain Glory, readers, both young and old, will have taken a trip back to 1861, to meet the everyday men, women and children who are our history.


Lea’s other historical novels set in Wiscasset are:

Stopping to Home (set in 1806)
Seaward Born(1804-1807)
Wintering Well (1819-1820)
Finest Kind (1838)

And her Shadows on a Down East Summer is set in the summer of 1890, when two young Maine women posed for artist Winslow Homer on the coast of Maine. The next book in her Shadows series will be Shadows on a Maine Christmas, to be published 9/04/2014. Beginning with Twisted Threads in January, 2015 she will begin a new series, also spiced with history, about a needlework business in Haven Harbor, Maine.