It’s NaNoWriMo!

Just a quick note to say that I won’t be around a lot November 1 through 30 because it’s National Novel Writing Month. Best, Juliet

New Calendar Mystery Story!

TWO BIRTHDAYS

An Old Kansas City Story

June 22, 1899

Price Investigations Office

Kansas City, Missouri

The office door opening that afternoon startled Minty Wilcox and she almost looked up to see who it was. But then she thought, I’d better keep my head down and look busy. It won’t do for Mr. Mathison to catch me reading a mystery novel when I’m supposed to be hard at work. Indeed, George Mathison, the manager of the Kansas City branch of the Price Investigations Agency, was quite strict about the office staff keeping busy, especially Minty, the newest member of the staff.

Not that there was much work to do at the moment, no one there to take dictation from, no operative reports to type, no papers to file.

Still, Minty closed the black book, a favorite of hers that she liked to reread that time of year, and hid it in her top desk drawer. After that, she began typing furiously at her ancient blind-strike Remington typewriting machine. As a precaution earlier, she’d loaded a blank piece of paper in the typewriter. A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, she typed. A quick . . .

“Where’s Mrs. B?” a man asked.

After Minty lifted her hands from the keyboard and looked up, her heart started going pitty pat.

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Two Birthdays, an old Kansas City story

After Minty Wilcox has worked for six months or so at Price Investigations as a stenographer/typist, the dashing detective Daniel Price appears in the office and carries her off to take notes on a new case the agency has been hired for. But once he starts filling Minty in on the details of the case, some of the information sounds strangely familiar. And she begins to wonder what he’s really up to on her twentieth birthday, June 22, 1899.

Praise for January Jinx, Book 1 in the Calendar Mystery series

The delightful, creative, and charming January Jinx introduces a terrific character in Minty Wilcox, a good old-fashioned cozy mystery persona who will surely be able to carry the planned-for series. It’s Minty who drives the readable narrative, and author Juliet Kincaid keeps the pace steady and fast at the same time for quite a readable experience. The writing is appropriate for the historical setting without ever being gimmicky or archaic . . . The unique setting of 1899 Kansas City is full of flavor that never overwhelms the story and the characters. With a terrific, original, but still comfortable series concept, there are certainly big things afoot for Juliet Kincaid and Minty Wilcox’s Calendar Mysteries.

“Two Birthdays,” a Calendar Mystery short story featuring Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price getting to know each other, is now available for your Kindle for $0.99 (and always free from KindleUnlimited)* at www.amazon.com/dp/B076JS3D2Y

*This fun story will be available for free to all on October 20 through 22, and October 26 and 27.

 

 

Minty Wilcox to the Rescue

Lost Dog

An Old Kansas City Story

Tuesday, July 5, 1898, shortly after noon

Kansas City, Missouri

As Minty Wilcox hurried home, she mentally reviewed the symbols from Mr. Gregg’s shorthand system she’d studied that morning at the Kansas City Business College. A pretty woman of nineteen years, she wore a white jumper dress with navy blue trim around the square neck—over a shirtwaist of course for modesty—that gave the dress a nautical air. A jaunty seersucker sailor hat with a blue and white band sat on top of her light brown hair and she carried the old waterproof black bag she’d used in high school over her shoulder.

She’d just crossed Tenth Street when shouts up ahead on the avenue pulled her out of her reverie. On the steps of a vast white Victorian pile near the other end of the block, a woman in black held up a broom as if it were a baseball bat. It looked like she meant to take a swing with it at two children standing on the sidewalk below.

“My gosh!” Minty said when she recognized the children as her youngest siblings and the woman as their neighbor as Agnes Shackleton. Minty promptly lifted her skirts to mid-calf and ran sprinted the rest of the way down Penn.

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In this prequel short story to her calendar mystery series that feature mystery,  romance, and touches of humor here and there in old Kansas City, Juliet Kincaid introduces Minty Wilcox, her female protagonist. Intent on gaining the skills she needs for a career as a business girl, typing and taking dictation in short hand, Minty nevertheless runs into considerable interference with her goal. A mean-spirited neighbor accosts Minty’s younger brother and sister and a sweet little lost dog. Minty’s mother doesn’t approve of her daughter’s plans to have a career. And several flirtatious gents distract Minty from her tasks.

Read the story as an eBook for only $0.99 (or for free on Kindle Unlimited) at www.amazon.com/dp/B0752SWBG1

Hollyhocks and Tomatoes

Like Hector Jones, a character in “The Barn Door,” my father always had tomatoes and hollyhocks in his gardens, no matter how large or small. He must have done this sketch from memory because it’s dated 11-16-39 in his neat civil engineer’s hand.

“The Barn Door,” a prequel story to my calendar mystery series set in Kansas City a hundred years or so ago is still FREE today, 07/08/2017, at www.amazon.com/dp/B073G7ZXMP.

 

 

A New Calendar Mystery Story

When Hector Jones needs a detective on the 4th of July weekend in 1898, he hires Daniel Price, in “The Barn Door,” a NEW prequel short story to my calendar mystery series. It’s FREE July 4 through 8th  at www.amazon.com/dp/B073G7ZXMP

 

The Gardener

Recently, while working on a prequel story for my calendar mystery series called “The Barn Door” that takes place on the 4th of July weekend in 1898, I decided to give one of the characters a vegetable garden. And that led me to think about my dad and his gardens. Here’s my piece on that subject, originally published on my website in 2011 as “My Father’s Gardens.”

My father, Homer Dale Willman, Sr., used to say, “When the Corps hired me, they took a great farmer and made him into a half-assed engineer.”

Still, though he worked over twenty years for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, my father always had a garden if only three strips around the patio. Until his last summer, he grew at least a little something, maybe vibrant begonias, a geranium in a big pot, a climbing rose, possibly hollyhocks, usually mint so he could watch the telecast of the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May with an icy julep in hand. And always, always, he had a tomato plant or two.

Back in the fifties and sixties, the prime years of his backyard gardens, he put lots of effort into his tomatoes. We lived in the tri-state region of Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia where winters were mild (though Dad always hoped for some snow to put nitrogen into the dirt). After the ground warmed and softened along about Easter, Dad took his shovel out to his garden patch to prepare the soil.

My mom used to kid my dad about “digging to China” because to him preparation meant digging a pit eighteen inches across and three feet deep for each tomato plant. He partially refilled each hole with compost, manure and other nourishing substances mixed with loose dirt.

The newly planted tomato plants–named Big Boy, Better Boy, Early Boy and Rutgers–looked scrawny so far apart, their sparse leaves insufficient to fuel growth. They did grow though. Usually by the Fourth of July, Dad would push aside those leaves, releasing the acrid odor that set our stomachs to growling, and with a gentle tug, pick the first tomato of the season. Mom, Dad, my brother Dale, and I fought over that first tomato, so ripe the skin peeled off clean and biting the tongue with its acidity. By late summer, the plants, lovingly tied to their stakes with strips of old sheet, stood eight feet high and loaded with tomatoes Mom canned, made juice with or begged neighbors to haul away.

Maybe the secret of Dad’s tomatoes lay in his compost pile that he researched, built and maintained like a true engineer. The compost pile I remember best was a four-foot cube of vegetable peels and melon rinds, musty grass clippings, twigs, lime, and goat manure he got as partial payment for a ship model he built for a friend who owned a herd of goats.

Dad made a hole in the center of the compost pile so air got inside and furthered the controlled decay. Once, out of curiosity, he tied some string to a thermometer and lowered it into the hole. In less than a minute, the thermometer broke. Later, with Mom’s candy thermometer, Dad discovered that the compost pile had reached 135 degrees.

Usually, Dad scaled his gardens small, but back in the late forties when we lived in the aptly named Garden Court, he almost filled the back yard with his vegetable plot. Forty by sixty feet, it ran from the house back almost to the tree-lined creek. Pieces of string stretched between sticks defined the plot so meticulously it looked like Dad had laid the garden out with a surveyor’s transit.

Dad bragged about that garden having fifty different varieties of plants. They included tomatoes of course, potatoes, corn, green peppers, red peppers, scallions, onions, cucumbers, and Black-seeded Simpson leaf lettuce. Instead of cantaloupe, that Dad said didn’t prosper in our climate, he grew muskmelons. Radishes started the growing season and beets finished it. Many of the vegetables I’ve forgotten now, but I still love to recite exotic names like zucchini, kohlrabi, and cocazelle.

We all got involved in Dad’s gardens. One year we had so much cabbage that Mom canned it. Dad paid Dale a penny a hundred head to pick bugs and beetles out of the garden. Dad never let me forget that those pretty yellow hollyhocks I picked one year were actually squash blossoms. Once, we tried to shell tough-hulled soybeans by putting them through Mom’s washer wringer. The beans popped out the other side and Dale and I chased them as they bounced around the kitchen floor.

My father’s gardens . . . Whenever I think of them, I see a picture of him in my mind.

Small-boned, with a mustache, my father wears a billed cap to keep his scalp from burning, a tan shirt dark with sweat under the arms, tan pants cut off and neatly hemmed above his knobby knees, and muddy shoes too worn to wear to work anymore. He leans against a shovel stuck into a pile of dirt. And dreaming of fresh tomatoes by the Fourth of July, he grins.

I don’t have a picture of my dad in his gardening togs, but here’s one of him, taken around 1973 when he was 70, that shows his wonderful grin.

January Jinx, Fatal February, and Mischief in March, the first three calendar mysteries set in Kansas City a hundred years or so ago, are available as eBooks and trade paperbacks from Amazon.com. Look for “The Barn Door,” a calendar mystery prequel short story, coming soon as a Kindle eBook.

A Family Story

A Family Story

Part of the backstory for my calendar mysteries explains how Minty Wilcox, her mother, and the two youngest members of the family came to live in Kansas City. This story focuses on Minty’s youngest brother, Eddie, born with a clubfoot. When Eddie was around six or so and going to a country school, the other kids made fun of him for the way he walked. Similar to the way Lord Byron was said to move, first he thrust one foot forward and then dragged the other up next to it.

After Eddie came home from school crying day after day, his mother Laura Girard Wilcox moved her youngest three children (Minty, Eddie, and Peach) into Kansas City where she could find much better medical care than she could in rural Kansas at the time. Her effort paid off, and several operations partly cured Eddie’s condition though when we first see him in January Jinx, he wears special shoes and sometimes limps.

The boy with the clubfoot is based on my great uncle Croswell Doane Perkins, also born with a clubfoot. Not long after my uncle Doane’s birth on October 15, 1884, our great grandmother Laura Wilcox Perkins sold the family farm in Hobart, NY, and moved to New Brunswick, NJ. From there, she took her baby son by train into New York City for several surgeries, so he spent much of his infancy with a foot and leg inside casts.

Please note that the family story credits only my great grandmother Perkins with saving our uncle Doane from a cripple’s life. It doesn’t mention our great grandfather Charles Samuel Perkins, born around 1844. My cousin Sarah Faye Morse recently checked the family records for me and confirmed that Charles S. Perkins fathered two more children with his Laura and died in 1905. So he undoubtedly was around in 1884/5 to help make important decisions like selling the family farm and moving his family from the place his forbears settled in the late 18th century if not earlier. But perhaps my mother, born on November 1, 1910, and Faye’s mother, born on March 12, 1913, omitted our great grandfather Perkins from the story because he died before they had a chance to meet him.

Suffice it to say, both our great grandparents Perkins made considerable sacrifices to ensure that their fourth-born child lived and prospered. Indeed, after he grew up and got married, our great uncle Doane won dancing contests with his wife. Or so the family story goes . . .

In this photograph, taken around 1896, Uncle Doane is the boy on the right, slightly behind his mother, Laura Perkins. The girl in the back is my great aunt Melicent Perkins. The young woman on the left is my grandmother Juliet Perkins Smith, for whom I’m named. The little boy in front is the youngest boy, Charles Andrew Perkins, and the little girl is Faye Marguerite Perkins, for whom my cousin is named.

January Jinx, Fatal February, and Mischief in March, the first three novels in the calendar mystery series that feature Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond in Kansas City  a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago, are available as Kindle eBooks and trade paperbacks at Amazon.com.

 

 

The Business Girl

Earlier this year when I was working on Mischief in March, the third book in my calendar mystery series, I decided to find out if my heroine, Minty Wilcox, could have read the Ladies’ Home Journal in March 1900. So I launched a Google search and found out that sure enough she could.

In doing so, I stumbled upon a book called The Business Girl in Every Phase of her Life by Ruth Ashmore. Based on an advice column for young women in the Ladies’ Home Journal, the book first appeared in 1898. Written in the voice of a sympathetic older woman, it offers the business girl advice on twelve issues. These include behaving properly in the work place, getting along with her boss, living away from home, forming friendships, taking care of her clothes, and managing her money.

Now, one of the things I love about researching and writing historical fiction is making happy discoveries like this one. In this instance, I soon realized that Minty Wilcox, newly graduated from high school in 1898, would have read The Business Girl. And she would have taken its advice to heart in her decision to become a stenographer/typist, so she could help with the household’s finances and to make her own way in the world.

The real Eureka moment came for me when I realized that my great-aunt Melicent Perkins, on whom Minty Wilcox is based, undoubtedly read The Business Girl. Born on June 22, 1880, Aunt Melicent graduated from high school in 1898, went to business school, and then to work for the Daily Home News newspaper in New Brunswick, NJ in 1900. She worked there until she retired sixty-seven years later as the executive secretary/treasurer. She never married, perhaps because she, like the business girl Mrs. Ashmore addresses in the preface of the book, never met “her ideal” or because she had too many family responsibilities to wed.

(I have quite a different future in mind for Minty.)

I have two photographs of my aunt Melicent when she was young. Here she is, looking eager and perhaps a little nervous about her future when she graduated from high school, and some time later, looking serene and confident as the business girl.

Mischief in March is available for free for your Kindle reader from May 11 through May 14, Mother’s Day, at www.amazon.com/dp/B06XR1STRN

M. Louisa Locke’s Maids of Misfortune

Maids of Misfortune by M. Louisa Locke, a review by Juliet Kincaid

This historical novel, set in San Francisco in 1879, hooks you from the start with the widowed Annie Fuller receiving a letter claiming that she owes some gent the sum of $1,380 for a loan made to her late husband. If you keep in mind the statistic that what you could buy for a penny in 1900 would cost you a dollar in 2000, you’ll realize just how shocked Mrs. Fuller must have been with an unexpected debt of the equivalent of $138,000.

Dr. Locke follows through on her strong opening with the revelation that Mrs. Fuller supplements her income running a boarding house by giving advice on investing and personal matters as Madam Sibyl, a clairvoyant. Sibyl charges $2 (or $200 in 2000 dollars) a sitting and worth every penny of it, at least according to her favorite client, who sadly has died under suspicious circumstances. And so Annie goes undercover as the new hire maid to find out what really happened to him in this lively first book in Dr. Locke’s Victorian San Francisco Mystery series.

A couple of quibbles . . . Descriptions of San Francisco seem a bit thin, though of course lots of that city as it was in 1879 disappeared in the great earthquake and subsequent fires of April 18, 1906. The romantic subplot with a handsome lawyer who soon shows up seems somewhat conventional. These reservations disappeared, though, as I read Uneasy Spirits and Bloody Lessons, the next two novels in the series as well as her collection of Victorian San Francisco stories. Obviously I remain hooked by the engaging Annie Fuller and I suspect that other fans of historical mysteries will enjoy the series as well.

FYI: Maids of Misfortune is permanently free for Kindle, Nook, and other eBook readers.