A Magnificent Mystery

Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent Memoirs

Starting with A Natural History of Dragons and ending with the recently published Within the Sanctuary of Wings, Marie Brennan’s five-book series, the imagined memoirs of a woman naturalist in an imagined alternate world, offers a lot to the reader.

1) For one thing, from their stunning covers to their lovely interior drawings, they are physically beautiful books. See for yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2) For another, they’re fun.

Lots of this comes from Lady Trent’s starchy voice as she retells the major events of her long life in which she doesn’t behave properly.

More fun comes from figuring out what the places and peoples of our world are equivalent to in hers. For instance, she comes from Scirland that much resembles our own Scotland. I’ll let you have the fun of figuring out what other place names in her books parallel those in ours.

Though she comes from a society that severely limits the lives of its women, she goes on lots of adventures.

3) The science is sound and interesting. Though the series is classified as fantasy, because of the dragons, I suppose, in several ways the books are more like science fiction. For instance, the dragons are real biological creatures. And over their evolution, they’ve adapted, like mammals, to many of the ecological niches of their world including the air, the seas, jungles, deserts, and mountains.

4) Throughout the five books, Lady Trent plants clues that lead to solving the great mystery of her world.

But you’ll get no spoilers from me.

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 Registered Nurse

 

About a quarter of the way into January Jinx, the first book in my calendar mystery series, my heroine Minty Wilcox and the mysterious Daniel Price, who boards at her house, visit a cigar factory in the West Bottoms of Kansas City. It’s a very short scene in which “the deftness of the young girls rolling aromatic tobacco into smooth cylinders impressed [Minty]. A half hour later and clutching a newly made cigar in a glass tube . . . , she emerged to find Daniel Price waiting for her.”

Though brief, it’s in the book for a very special reason. You see, when my mother, Melicent Perkins Smith Willman, was a teenager in the mid-1920’s, she worked in a cigar factory. Her mother, Juliet Perkins Smith, a widow with several young children still at home, needed my mother’s help to make ends meet. Because my mother was so good at making cigars, her mother wanted her to continue doing that work after she graduated from high school. My mom resented this, especially after her mother took the five dollars my mom had saved for new shoes to buy the younger kids in the family shoes instead.

So when my mom was seventeen, she left school and moved out of her mother’s house and into the boarding house run by her maternal grandmother, Laura Wilcox Perkins. (I regularly look to my family tree for character names, so it’s absolutely no accident that Minty’s mother’s name is Laura Girard Wilcox.) Soon after that, my mother started nurses’ training at Middlesex Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ. She graduated in June of 1932, at age 21, and became a registered nurse the next year. My mother was very proud of being an R. N., and for years, up into her 80’s, she always bragged that she let her registration lapse “just last year.”

Besides wanting to be independent, my mother chose to become a nurse for another practical reason. Back then, nurses’ training included room and board in exchange for working in the hospital. This was very welcome to a widow’s kid, especially after the stock market crash of October 1929.

But I’m certain my mom also wanted to become a nurse for a reason much closer to her heart. You see, in June 1921, when my mother was ten years old, her father Miles Smith was walking by the side of a road on his way to his club when a truck hit a car and the car spun out and hit him. He died two weeks or so later, not of his injuries, but of pneumonia. Once when Mom and I were talking about the manner of his death, I said, “You know, these days they could have saved him.” And then she said, quite grimly as she probably thought of losing her father when she was still a child, “I know it.”

My mother practiced nursing for several years until, on a summer vacation with a friend to Mingo County, WV, she met my dad. They married the next year on what my dad always called his lucky day, July 11, 1937.

Once she married my dad, my mother didn’t practice nursing very often outside of the home. But she did nurse my father, Homer Dale Willman, Sr., through eleven surgeries and illnesses, including a serious bout of flu when he was in his late forties, his first heart attack when he was about fifty-one, and the partial removal of a kidney when he was in his early sixties. In spite of his illnesses and thanks to my mom, my dad lived to be eighty-seven.

I wasn’t sick much, but I was an active kid. So Mom patched up my scrapes and tended to me the year I had blisters from poison ivy so bad that I couldn’t walk for ten days.

I also have my mother to thank for a healthy diet throughout my childhood and beyond since, back when she went through training, nurses studied all aspects of the field including dietetics, so they could properly feed their patients. Also she did without a new winter coat most years, so that I could take ballet and other dancing lessons from the age of seven. Because of the healthy diet and plentiful exercise I had during my youth and have sustained into my seventies, I credit my mother for the good health I have enjoyed throughout my life.

She also gave me excellent advice on childcare after I too became a mother.

And so, belatedly not just for the most recent Mother’s Day but many others as well, I’d like to salute my mother, Melicent Perkins Smith Willman, dubbed “Middie” for midget by her dad and “Susie” by mine, as in “if you knew Susie like I knew Susie, oh oh oh what a girl.” Thank you, Mom, for everything.

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.

Mischief in March is here!

This excerpt from Juliet Kincaid’s third calendar mystery, Mischief in March, presents some of what Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price come to call their “improper courtship.”

Precisely four weeks before on Valentine’s Day, right after they announced their engagement to her family, Minty  led Daniel into the parlor and told him about her intention of starting an “investigation into all things Daniel Price.”

That night, after saying, “And there’s no time like the present to start,” Minty removed his tie and unbuttoned his collar and his shirt down a button while he stood there like a lamb, even when, on tiptoes she kissed him on his neck where it curved down into his left shoulder.

Instantly she discovered that the manly Mr. Price was as ticklish as a little boy in that particular spot. He sounded just as silly as a kid when he giggled, too. And so there was nothing for it but for her to yank his shirttails out, reach under his shirt, and tickle his ribs, thus reducing him to helpless laughter on the floor.

Of course Minty’s discovery required that Daniel be permitted to look for the ticklish places upon her person as well. It was only by the firmest discipline and the thickness of her corset that she remained unmoved by those attempts.

In the days since Valentine’s Day, what Daniel came to call their improper courtship and their mutual investigation into each other’s physical persons had progressed from tickling to kissing to general, all-purpose canoodling, and finally to examining each other’s scars.

Minty started that phase of the investigation by showing Daniel the curved scar on her left index finger she received when she first tried to skin a potato with a paring knife.

And then Daniel rolled up his right sleeve so Minty could see the scar on his bicep he got tangling with the barbed wire on a fence in his flight away from a neighbor’s pumpkin patch one fall night long before.

In the weeks following, she pulled up her skirt, rolled up her pantaloons, though only as far as her knees, and rolled down her left stocking so he could touch the deep pit on her shin she got when she fell on a rocky hillside back home at the ranch. She also let him examine the scar on the edge of her right hand that came from tripping on a paving stone, dropping a jelly jar she was carrying, and hitting a pointed shard of glass with her hand.

He in turn over the weeks guided her discovery of his scars . . .

Now, on the evening of March Fourteenth, when they returned to the Wilcox parlor from their fruitless search for Miss Shackleton’s will, they lit only the lamp on the table in the center of the room before they retreated to the sofa in the shadows. This served as a preventative measure so they could set themselves to rights in case someone burst into the parlor without knocking on the door and caught them in disarray.

That evening, Daniel sat so close to Minty in the corner of the sofa a gnat couldn’t squeeze between them. His left arm lay across her shoulder and his mustache tickled her cheek.

Minty had thought Daniel had no more injuries to investigate until she reached into his shirt he’d unbuttoned for her that night and felt yet another scar on his collarbone on the right side. “What’s this?” she said.

“It’s nothing, Minty. Please stop.”

She unfastened the next button, opened his shirt wide, and felt the long, furrowed scar. “That must have been a severe injury,” she said. “A little higher and the blade or whatever it was might have cut your throat. What happened? How did you get that scar? Why didn’t you tell me about it before?”

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As their wedding day rapidly approaches, Minty Wilcox still has many questions about her fiance, Daniel Price. Could he really have killed a man? What else is he hiding about his past? Why has he never told her he’s rich? And for goodness’ sake, where are they going on their honeymoon?

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Mischief in March, Book 3 of the Calendar Mystery Series, is now available as a Kindle eBook  for only $3.99 or free on Kindle Unlimited at www.amazon.com/dp/B06XR1STRH

Praise for January Jinx, Book 1 of 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.

Buy January Jinx for $3.99 (or get it for free on Kindle Unlimited) now at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4

Praise for Fatal February  Book 2 of the Calendar Mystery Series.

In the year 1900, Minty Wilcox has been hired by a private detective agency, her on again/off again beau’s employer, as a stenographer. For this spunky gal, typing and taking shorthand aren’t enough. She wants to be an operative. So, of course, author Juliet Kincaid, accommodates her protagonist by letting her delve into a missing person/murder case, sometimes sanctioned, but often not, by her boss. The ins and outs of the investigation, Minty’s romantic ups and downs, and her inside out family situations are fun to follow. It’s also interesting to learn about the physical layout and the social customs of Kansas City at the turn of the last century. Good follow-up to January Jinx, the first mystery in the series.

Buy Fatal February for $3.99 (or get it for free on Kindle Unlimited) now at www,amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM

Almost Done Doing Mischief

WiP Report # 19

This morning—I’m very pleased to say—I finished the current draft of Mischief in March, the third in my Calendar Mystery series featuring mystery and romance in Kansas City, a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago. January Jinx, Fatal February, Mischief in March, nine other novels and possibly some short stories to follow, tell the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond. (We authors must practice our elevator speeches as much as possible.) Tomorrow I’ll start the final edit.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with this book. It’s very much the favorite among the ten or so novels I’ve at least drafted so far. The characters still surprise me and make me laugh or sometimes cry.

But I did have a  thorny problem to resolve in this draft. I went way too far in naming my characters.

At this point, I must thank those who read the first half of the previous draft of MiM, as I call it, and gave me helpful feedback: Ann F, Barbara O, Denise G, Joyce B, Peg N, and Valerie B.

Special thanks to Valerie for the effort she went to in creating the charts shown here. Whew! What a lot of work for her to do for another writer’s book, but what a help these charts were to me. As the first one shows, I introduced two-dozen characters in Chapter One. That’s a lot! As the second chart shows, I used names that started with the letter M thirteen times in the first half of the book! Yikes!

Once Valerie pointed out the errors of my ways, I addressed the problem.

1) I cut a number of characters from MiM altogether including characters who appeared in previous books, but didn’t in MiM.

2) I limited the number of characters appearing in any one chapter and tried to introduce them one or two at a time instead of all at once.

3) I only named the characters when they physically appeared instead of referring to them by name earlier.

4) I didn’t name minor characters like an elevator attendant.

5) By studying Valerie’s second chart, I identified the letters of the alphabet I used too often and the ones I hadn’t used much if at all. And so, the Sullenbergers in the earlier draft now are the Quillens and the book now has a Zappa and a Ziegenhorn.

Mischief in March will be out soon. If you haven’t read January Jinx, you can buy it for $3.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4. You can also buy Fatal February for $4.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM. Please note, British friends, that Fatal February will be available for only £0.99 at www.amazon.co.uk/B017081JHM from February 27, 2017, until March 4, 2017.

Best, Juliet