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.

 

 

What to Write? What to Write?

JK’s NaNoWriMo 2017, Part 1

I’ve done National Novel Writing Month twice before, in 2014 and 2015*, and completed my 50,000 words both times. But I skipped November 2016 because I was deep into revising Mischief in March, my NaNoWriMo 2015 project, the third book in my calendar historical mystery series, so I could get it out in March 2017. (It’s a darling book, so much fun, the favorite of the dozen or so novels I’ve at least drafted over the last thirty+ years. I highly recommend it.)

*Confession of a NaNoWriter: I sort of cheated on my words in 2015. I copied and pasted quite a few of them from research sources, and the whole 50,000 words or so turned out to be more of a huge brain storm than a draft. But still that worked for me.

Once I’d finished writing, editing, publishing, re-editing, and republishing Mischief in March, I entered the ‘tween book doldrums that I despise. A sign of this was that I started Camp NaNoWriMo in July 2017, but I bailed after I’d rewritten fewer than 7,500 words of a stand-alone novel set mostly in something like a Renaissance Festival that I first wrote back in the ‘90’s in two very different versions with different protagonists. And you know what? I thought the book wasn’t strong enough to do well in today’s highly competitive market. Plus, I just wasn’t enjoying working with those characters. Still, I’ve always liked the title for the original version of the book, a fairly standard detective mystery novel—Death in Shining Armor—and the slightly less fun, but fairly catchy title for the highly revised second version, a stand-alone woman-in-jeopardy book—Die by the Sword.

After I abandoned that false re-start, I went back into my ‘tween books depression again as I dithered around with four different possible NaNoWriMo projects.

Should I try again with Death in Shining Armor/Die by the Sword?

Should I return to my 2014 NaNoWriMo project, Fall into Murder, a contemporary mystery focusing with a community college setting? (Actually, I started taking notes on this one with an eye to an autumn 2018 publication date.)

Should I press on to the April book in the Calendar Mystery series? That possibility spoke to me. I have a strong concept for that novel and the characters were still talking to me in some fun calendar mystery short stories I’ve started writing and publishing. But I rather doubted that I could finish the book in time to publish it by the end of April 2018.

Or should I go way, way back in my files to a project I first completed in the late ‘80’s—an epic historical novel set in China of the Warring States period with a Greek male and a Chinese female leads?

And then something interesting happened during one of the walks my daughter and I take most mornings. I was whining on and on about which project to pursue next when my daughter said, “Stop! Turn around! Look at me!”

“Okay?” I said once I’d followed her orders.

“Look at yourself!”

“Okay? What am I supposed to see?”

“When you were talking about those other books, your shoulders got all slumped over. But when you talked about the big China book, you straightened up and you got excited.”

And so, the epic historical novel will be NaNoWriMo 2017 project. I’ll tell you more about my process and my project in later blogs.

P. S. I have a ton of delicious fiction available as eBooks and trade paperbacks through Amazon. Check them out on my Amazon Author Central page at https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_ebooks_1?ie=UTF8&text=Juliet+Kincaid&search-alias=digital-text&field-author=Juliet+Kincaid&sort=relevancerank

Nancy Martin’s Miss Ruffles

A JKWryter Fav

Long a fan of Nancy Martin’s Blackbird Sisters Mysteries, recently I came upon her stand-alone mystery, Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything while trolling the mystery section at my local library. I’m very glad I checked it out because this mystery has all the elements I’ve enjoyed in Ms. Martin’s other work, plus more.

1) A resourceful, kind, likeable female amateur sleuth. In this book the lead is Sunny McKillip who becomes a dog’s caretaker. Miss Ruffles is a small, feisty, noisy cattle-herding dog, as yet untrained, that clearly shows her opinion for all she meets. If you pass approval, you get licks. If you don’t, you get growls and nips.

2) Spot-on observations like this one: “enough flowers for a royal wedding.”

3) Top writing skills: I really admired the way Ms. Martin introduced the major suspects of the mystery in Chapter 1 at the funeral of the very wealthy Honeybelle Hensley and then the supporting characters when Sunny walks Miss Ruffles home through the town.

4) A lively well-constructed mystery plot that climaxes in a hilarious, laugh-out-loud big scene with plenty of surprises along the way. (Miss Martin’s books aren’t formulaic.)

5) A manly, yet imperfect possible love interest.

To this mix, Ms. Martin added some fresh elements.

1) A setting different from her usual East Coast, Philadelphia area: a little Texas town called Mule Stop and its inhabitants.

2) A protagonist/narrator who’s an outsider, not an insider: As Sunny struggles to get to know the strange culture in which she finds herself, she casts a sharp eye on its foibles and the secrets of its inhabitants.

3) The dog is great.

I really liked Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything and highly recommend it.

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Juliet Kincaid writes the calendar historical mysteries set in Kansas City, a place that could get deadly a hundred years ago or so and the Cinderella, P. I. fairy tale mysteries for grown-ups featuring a favorite character twenty years, three kids and a few extra pounds after the ball. These stories and novels are available as eBooks and trade paperbacks from Amazon. Here’s the link to Juliet’s Amazon Author’s Central page: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_ebooks_1?ie=UTF8&text=Juliet+Kincaid&search-alias=digital-text&field-author=Juliet+Kincaid&sort=relevancerank

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.

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.

Edward Marston’s Exciting Railway Detective

The Railway Detective by Edward Marston

A Review by Juliet Kincaid

The first in Edward Marston’s Detective Inspector Colbeck Mystery series, The Railway Detective has lots to offer the historical mystery fan.

Marston brings mid-19th century Britain to life with vivid descriptions of places like London’s Devil’s Acre, for one example, and for another, the Crystal Palace, the site of the Great Exhibition in 1851.

Marston’s gentleman detective Robert Colbeck is both capable and clever. Marston presents lower class characters like a moneylender named Isadore Vout with gritty, almost Dickensian detail. Nut he also gives us members of the growing middle class and the gentry. He provides Colbeck with a love interest, the lovely Madeleine, a damsel in some distress.

The story includes exciting action like a train robbery and train wreck near the start of the book.

The plot is solid overall, but this reviewer has one slight quibble with it, though. Time and time again, Marston lets Colbeck pursue leads right up to almost catching a bad guy, only for him to be a little too late. At points like those, Marston cuts from the action with the detective to a scene with the current bad guy. To my mind, these are slight plot spoilers that bleed away some suspense and tension here and there. I sort of changed my mind about this, though, when near the end of the book . . . Well, you’ll get no spoilers from me.

If you’re hankering after a visit to Victorian England, I strongly recommend The Railway Detective.

 

Looking for Old Kansas City, Part 2

Inside the New England Building

(See my blog post of August 25, 2016, for Part 1.)

When I began researching and writing my calendar mystery series set in Kansas City around a hundred years ago, I decided to place the detective agency my heroine Minty Wilcox works for in the historic New England Building, a handsome brownstone seven-story structure with a distinctive oriel on its southwest corner. It was the first building in Kansas City to have elevators.

Originally, Price Investigations was on an upper floor of the New York Life Insurance Building. But during a site visit several years ago, I discovered that I couldn’t get above the first floor of the New York Life Building, so I decided to move the agency just a little west on Ninth Street to the New England Life Insurance Building on Wyandotte. When I visited that building several years ago, I climbed the stairs inside to the third floor and looked around. But I didn’t go inside any of the offices. Still, taking a leap of imagination, I decided to place the agency in the third floor office that had the oriel.

This location served me well for the end of January Jinx and all of Fatal February. However, once I started Mischief in March, I realized I would have to know the interior layout of that two-room office suite because in the course of the first part of the book, it would become a crime scene! Yikes! The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, an exquisite poster of the building showing four of its seven floors, and the original architectural drawings offered limited help. Particularly troublesome was that pesky oriel. Was it big enough for a chair? I wondered, or just for a Boston fern?

And so I decided I simply had to get into that building and walk around in that space. However, by that time, a new wrinkle to my search had developed. The New England Building had become a construction site as it was being converted into apartments and thus was off limits to the public.

Nevertheless, I called the company that now owns the building and they said they’d give me a tour. Another problem arose. When I actually got inside the New England Building, I discovered most of the interior walls were gone, but there still were marks on the floor showing where they’d been, so I got a feeling for the space. Here’s a shot of an original door with the mail slot and one of the fireplaces with a cast iron mantel.

And I got inside the oriel. It turns out it’s big enough to hold an easy chair where the agency manager might sit to read the Kansas City Star, and maybe also a potted Boston fern. But the big surprise to me, something I wouldn’t have known until I actually went there, is the oriel is two stories high both outside and inside as well. Here are some pictures. Isn’t that oriel the coolest thing?

 

 

 

 

 

 

January Jinx is available as a trade paperback and as a Kindle eBook for $3.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4

Fatal February is available as a trade paperback and as a Kindle eBook for $3.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM

Mischief in March will soon be available as a trade paperback and now is available as a Kindle eBook  at www.amazon.com/dp/B06XR1STRN  for $3.99.