Let’s Go to the Real Hub Universe

A big part of understanding any piece means getting into its guts and exploring some of what didn’t end up on the page. This is the stuff on the cutting room floor, if you will. Here, it’s all about the Real Hub Universe.

The Real Hub of the Universe

Boston is often referred to as “The Hub,” which is short for “The Hub of the Solar System” and also “The Hub of the Universe.” The original “Hub” is actually a physical place: the Massachusetts State House. Oliver Wendell Holmes coined the phrase in 1858.
Holmes wrote a series of articles in the Atlantic Monthly called The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table.
In Volume 1, Issue 6, he wrote: “[The] Boston State-House is the hub of the solar system. You couldn’t pry that out of a Boston man, if you had the tire of all creation straightened out for a crowbar.” The reference humorously (and arrogantly) implied that Boston was the center of everything commercial and intellectual at that time.

How Does the Real Hub Universe Tick?

I started writing the first book back in November of 2016. It was a NaNoWriMo project.

Because I like to outline my projects, particularly for NaNo, I was already thinking about it before I started officially writing.

At times, inspiration may come from a point I want to make. Another source of inspiration is characters.

But here, it is the thought experiment itself.

Knowing Holmes’s quote referring to Boston (see image), the first idea was, what if he really was right? Boston as the hub of the universe – for real? Could this shining city on a hill be almost a character?

And then I realized: there aren’t a lot of books or films really about the lower classes and the class contrasts of the Victorian Era. I mean—truly—beyond idealized fiction. After Gangs of New York, I was stumped.

Characters

Easily, the first piece was Ceilidh. I knew her name before I knew nearly anything else about her: Ceilidh O’Malley.

Ceilidh is the main character. But I didn’t want her to be perfectly stereotypically Irish. So, instead of a freckle-faced colleen, she’s pale as a ghost.

American Members of SPHERE

Much like in the Obolonk Universe, where there’s a secret society called HEART, Real Hub has SPHERE. SPHERE is an acronym for Society for Protecting Humans via Extraterrestrial Reduction and Evacuation.

There are generally a half a dozen SPHERE members on each continent (except for Antarctica) at any time. Up until Ceilidh’s arrival in America, they didn’t have much to do beyond have tea. But once she’s hired as the new scullery maid, SPHERE learns there are members of their organization and people like them who are dying—and scullery maids are taking the blame.

When the first book starts, the North American members of SPHERE are Judge John Lowell (the leader), Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, George Walker Weld, Henry Adams, and Winthrop Edwards. The only fictional one is Edwards, who I eventually replace with Alexander Graham Bell.

European and Other Members of SPHERE

Because SPHERE is everywhere, it had to have several members and even a history. In Europe, the leader is Dr. Devon Grace. Another European SPHERE member is Carlos Pedraza.

The Household Staffs

In America, the households are mainly very wealthy. And so they need to have servants.

The Edwards House

85 Mount Vernon Street - real hub of the universe

85 Mount Vernon Street – second Harrison Gray Otis House, which I use for the Edwards House.

When Ceilidh first arrives in America, she goes to work in the Edwards House, at 85 Mount Vernon Street.

Working outside are stable hand Bert (Albert) Stuart and stable boy Bobby Johnston. In the kitchen are cook Nancy Pratt, scullery maid Mable Darlington, and Ceilidh’s closest friend, scullery maid Frances Miller, Also inside are butler Christian Brooks and household manager Mrs. Dobbs.

Donald Smith has a kind of odd position which may or may not have existed at the time. Donald is the gardener, but he’s not attached to any particular household. He’s sitting pretty in a position which allows him to move from place to place—and have the equivalent of a girl in every port.

Donald can also play the households off each other whenever he feels they’re underpaying him.

While they aren’t exactly the same as the kitchen and outdoor staffs, the nurse and the governess aren’t members of the highest class, either. Polly Davis is the nurse and Amelia Porter is the governess.

Second Set of Servants at the Edwards House

In kitchen are cook Deborah Chester, scullery maids Betsy Robinson and Penny Brown. Outside are stable hands Victor Warner and Roger Price, and stable boy Harry Bradley. The butler is Louis Neil. The governess is Miss Winter.

The Lowell House

Since her time at the Edwards House is unpleasant (Mrs. Edwards is a horrible supervisor), Ceilidh leaves for the Lowell House, at 60 Beacon Street.

60 Beacon Street - real hub of the universe

This is the real 60 Beacon Street, which I make the Lowell House. According to various real estate websites, it was last sold in 2000 for a cool $3.5 million.

In the kitchen are cook Bessie McDonald Jensen, replacement cook Daisy Harrison, and scullery maid Abigail Wilson. Frances Miller briefly works in the scullery.

Working outside are stable hands Gerald Price and Timothy West, with stable boy Martin Norman.

John (Jack) Darlington is the butler, and Donald Smith works here on occasion, too.

There’s initially no need for a nurse here. But the Lowells’ son still needs a governess, Elizabeth Stark.

Other Servants

At Wisteria in Richmond, there is staff but, apart from Marcus the butler and fieldworkers Tanner and Molly, I don’t name them.

At Gracey Castle, the servants are cook Mrs. Charlotte Mallon, scullery maid Elspeth Dunn, baker Una Mallon (Charlotte’s daughter), valet Cormack Blair, butler Ewan Reed, and groom Niall Watson.

Crew of the Atlas

Captain Steven Underwood and his wife, Helen, help out Ceilidh. The Underwoods have three children, Pete, Samuel, and Cathy. But of course only Steven is aboard.

The cabin boy is Davey. The first mate is Mr. Quill. A sailor lost at sea is named Osgood.

Residents of Ballyvaughan

Ballyvaughan residents include a number of interrelated families.

The Barnes family essentially “owns” the town, making it much like a company town. The patriarch is Jack (his deceased wife was Nora). Their sons, from eldest to youngest are: Christopher (married to Harriet), Paul (the village priest), Alfred (he’s married but I never name his wife), Johnny, and Arthur.

The O’Malley family includes Mary (the matriarch), Ceilidh, and Maeve. Mary is half-first cousin to Jack Barnes. Ceilidh’s late father was Ryan O’Malley.

Friends to Ceilidh include Maggie Sullivan, who weds Brandon McKay. Brandon’s brother Keiran owns the pub. Another friend is Annie Duffy. Annie is probably Ceilidh’s cousin, as Duffy is Ceilidh’s mother’s maiden name.

Liam O’Shaughnessy is a neighbor, who emigrates to Philadelphia a few days after Ceilidh leaves. He’s likely another relation. Other pubgoers include Andy, Billy, Luke, and Michael (no last names).

Other Human Characters

Gregory Ashford is beau to Frances. His uncle (and business partner) is Horace Trask. He’s got a maiden Aunt Maude.

The children of Winthrop Edwards (and his wife, Margery Cabot Edwards) are Cecil, Jemima, and Oliver. Withrop’s brother is Dudley.

William Hadley (a real person I know) is a reporter. J. David Wheeler (another person I know) is a DA. The Lowell family includes wife Lucy (née Emerson), daughters Susan and Lucy, and sons John and James. There’s also Ellen Remy, her brother Andrew, and her illegitimate son, Richard Remy. Mr. Virdi (another person I know) is the librarian. Plus Chief of Police Barry Marsh (another real-life friend).

At the Chinese laundry, the Yick Wo family are Bai (the father), Mei (the mother), and Soo (their daughter, who speaks English).

Jacob Radford’s family includes his mother Dorothy (née Anson) and the Anson brothers—Mark, Luke, and John. Jake’s boss is the very real Allan Pinkerton.

The Time Frame

The first scene in the first book takes place on May 25, 1876. The last scene in the third novel takes place in May of 1882.

Where Does it all Take Place?

Starting in tiny Ballyvaughan, Ireland, the series travels to Cornwall in England and then Boston. Characters travel to Providence, Rhode Island and Richmond, Virginia in the US. There’s also travel in Europe, to Dunnottar Castle in Scotland near Stonehaven. I call it Gracey Castle. From Scotland, the characters go south, through France and eventually to Rome.

Although it’s not seen ‘on screen’. there are also trips to Greenland, Cincinnati, and Nixa, Missouri.

Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar Castle in Scotland (Gracey Castle in the books)

What’s in this Universe?

Part of the premise of the overall story arc is that SPHERE has a very good reason for existing. There are three separate alien species on Earth, and their factions continuously war with each other. Humans and our civilization are caught in the crossfire.

What Differentiates the Real Hub Universe from Other Books and Series I’ve Written?

While I inject romance into a lot of my work, it’s biggest in this series. When Ceilidh first lays eyes on Jake Radford, she immediately feels he’s the handsomest man she has ever seen.

Their courtship is a major driver of the action in the second book, The Real Heart of the Universe. That’s the only one of the three works that wasn’t originally a NaNo novel.

Is There Room in the Real Hub Universe for Sequels?

In some ways, I suppose there is, in that SPHERE is supposed to last forever. I also have a few short prequels. But I also feel that it ended well. Anything beyond the ending would likely feel like overkill.

But never say never, as there is a following generation which could work out for stories set as far into the future as the Roaring Twenties and both World Wars. My own science fiction Downton Abbey, I suppose.

… and then there’s the planned prequel…

The Real Hub Universe — Takeaways

I love this series, and people really love Ceilidh. She’s everywoman, and her character arc brings her further along than most of my characters’ do. People really seem to root for Ceilidh, and I love that.

Want to learn about more universes? Then head on over to the Universal Explorations page where you can get to another universe.

The Real Hub Universe—an Exploration Click To Tweet
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