Marching On

WiP Report # 17

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Sorry, but I couldn’t resist the pun in my title. You see, the current Work in Progress, the third in my Calendar Mysteries, takes place in Kansas City, a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago, in March 1900 and it’s called Mischief in March.

One of the most fun things about this WiP is working on it in springtime. Now I realize that probably daffodils and other flowers are blooming in 2016 three to four weeks earlier than they did in March 1900. Still, my heroine Minty Wilcox might very well see crocus like those pictured above blooming in a sheltered spot in front of her house.

Now, I must admit that I’m pretty far behind schedule on this book from where I’d hoped to be. My original concept for the series was to bring out a book a year during the month in the title. I managed to bring the eBook version of January Jinx out in January 2014 and the print version in January 2015. But I didn’t get Fatal February out until November 2015. (Sigh.)

Here are some reasons why I’m behind schedule.

1) If you’ve kept up with my periodic WiP Reports, you know that I wrote a 54,000 draft of Mischief in March during National Novel Writing Month 2015. But due to one thing and another, I didn’t get back to it until February 18.

2) And even then, it took me quite a while to regain my momentum. Tip to all you other writers out there: do it every day, so you don’t lose your momentum. So far my progress has been slow with an average production of 835 words per day. This is about half of the NaNoWriMo goal of 1,667 words a day.

3) As you might be able to tell from the photo of a corner store around 1900 below, I’m doing research as I go along. (In Mischief in March, Minty Wilcox, two of her country cousins, and the series villain visit a neighborhood grocery store similar to this one. Researching as I write also has slowed me down.

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But let’s shift to the upside here.

I’m telling myself that doing research as I go along might save me time in the long run since I’ll probably write fewer drafts than the ten or twelve January Jinx required. In fact, even though I did some research as I went along, Fatal February required only four drafts plus an overall line-by-line edit.

Some good news: last week my process sped up, and without even noticing, I blew through plot point 1, that is, the moment at which the hero (or heroes) begin the journey or the detective (or detectives) actively take on the case. That happened at 19,418 words on page 70. Multiply those stats by four and you get 77,672 words and 280 pages, a very nice size for a first draft. If I keep up the pace of 835 words a day, I should finish the current draft around the end of May.

If you haven’t read the first two in the series, January Jinx is available as an eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4 and Fatal February is available as an eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM. Both are available as trade paperbacks through Amazon.com.

If you have read the first two Calendar Mysteries that tell the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond, please review them on Amazon and Goodreads. As the old wisdom goes, word of mouth sells. (Of course sex sells, too. I’m working on getting some sex into Mischief in March. Minty and Daniel are definitely up for it.) And online reviews are the 21st Century version of word of mouth, one kind at least. Just a few sentences of positive comments help and I would appreciate it very much. All the best, Juliet

A Writer’s Year

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Among my collection of holiday socks, I have a pair that’s quite jolly, or maybe not so upbeat, depending on who’s looking at them. When I wear these socks, these socks say, “Ho Ho Ho Ho” to whoever looks at them. But when I look down at these socks on my feet, they lament, “Oh Oh Oh Oh.” (With these socks, as with many things in life, a lot depends on your point of view.)

But I’m happy to say, 2015 has been mostly on the “Ho Ho” side for me. And I’ve certainly been busy. Here are some highlights.

In January, I published the trade paperback version of January Jinx, the first in my Calendar Mysteries, set in Kansas City, a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago. You can find the eBook version of this novel at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4

Constantly scolding myself for being so behind schedule, I spent a lot of 2015 rewriting Fatal February until finally in November, I got it out as a Kindle eBook and as a trade paperback. On the other hand, as one of my friends observed, this book is really early for February 2016. (See? I told you. A lot depends on your point of view.) Regardless, the second in the series, it continues the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newlywed and beyond. Both books feature the beautiful covers my daughter Jessica created for them. You can find Fatal February at www.amazon.com/B017081JHM

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Also in November this year I participated in the National Novel Writing Month and produced what basically is a 54,000-word brainstorm of Mischief in March, the third Calendar Mystery.

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Now I’m going to back up a bit to share a piece of “Oh Oh” news. In July Mysteryscape bookstore closed its doors forever. It still pains me to drive by and see that empty storefront on 80th Street in old downtown Overland Park, Kansas. It was genuinely an important part of my life, personally and as a writer. Cheri LeBlond and Acia Morley sold my books and provided a center for the community of local mystery readers and writers. We all miss the bookstore very much.

But I won’t end on that downer.

I am very pleased to announce that Alyx Morgan, producer/narrator, and I have made an audiobook of Cinderella, P. I. Fairy Tale Mystery Stories, now available from iTunes, Amazon.com and Audible. (You can get it for free when you join Audible.)

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Here’s the link to the trailer Alyx made for this collection of fairy tale mystery stories for grown-ups that features Cinderella, twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball: https://youtu.be/hvucXhry3SM

A final “Ho Ho” note: after the pre-diabetes scare of March 2014, this year I continued to make progress in getting back to normal. The scary symptoms such as a killer sweet tooth have disappeared and the score on my A1C test has declined. On the down side, I must say that eating right and regular exercise take a lot of time and effort. (As of today I’ve attended Jazzercise 202 times this year.) But all the work is worth it in keeping me healthy. For after all, I have at least ten more books to write.

For updates on what’s going on with me, you’ll find me as juliet.kincaid on Facebook and at www.julietkincaid.com.

Wishing you very happy holidays and hoping that 2016 brings you many more “Ho Ho’s” than “Oh Oh’s,” Best, Juliet

Better Busy Than Bored

WiP Report # 15

Hi, All!

“Better busy than bored” has become my motto in life, maybe even more after retirement than before. Here’s what has kept me busy (and certainly not bored) lately.

FATAL FEBRUARY

The fourth draft of Fatal February, the second Calendar Mystery is done. (Way late. I’d planned–foolish me–on having it out in February 2015.) Still I revised 100,000 words in 26 days. That means I booked along at the pace of 3,846 words a day. (Yeah, that pun was intended. They usually are, you know, especially when people claim, “no pun intended.”)

But I didn’t have a lot new to add or too much to change this time through, just mostly tweaks. Somehow, though, I managed to add 7,000 more words. If I cut 10 percent–as Stephen King claims he always tries for in revising his books–that would bring the total down to 90,000 words. But we’ll see.

Here’s a picture of Draft 4 on top of Draft 3. Please notice that the new draft only has chapter tabs, not a whole bunch of tabs for corrections that create a hula skirt effect.

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I hope the fifth and final draft of the book won’t require much so I can get it done fast and out soon. It’s feeling about right to me except for the last few pages. Still, I’ve had lots of fun with Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price in their second outing. Sparks and repartee just seem to fly when they’re together.

Of course, there’s always something that slips by even the most cautious editor. For instance, recently, I pulled a sentence or two out of the book to use as an example in a writers’ group. And I discovered I’d left out the verb, unintentionally. Yikes. My early readers will tell me what else I messed up, I’m sure.

CINDERELLA, P. I. STORY COLLECTION AUDIOBOOK

This is really exciting news!

Several weeks ago I posted a request for auditions for Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories through Amazon’s ACX. Just about when I’d decided no one would bite, a wonderful lady named Alyx Morgan sent me a reading of the first five minutes of the first story in the collection. And hearing it, I found myself smiling even though I know that story very well. So we signed an agreement through ACX and she’s working on the audiobook. I’m really loving what Alyx is doing, making all my characters coming alive and all so different from each other.

Meanwhile, for assorted reasons, I decided to design a completely new cover for the audiobook instead of modifying the existing cover. That means this self-publisher has to climb yet another learning curve, this time in Photoshop. Huff, puff, get on up that hill. But practice makes perfect and all that stuff.

Here’s a peek at the audiobook cover. Yeah, I know the title isn’t quite centered. (I’ll fix it.) What do you think about it otherwise?

CPIaud81815I thought that a path through  woods would work since this collection contains stories in which Cinderella goes into forests. (I took the photo in an old Osage orange hedge row near my house.)

Best, Juliet–definitely busy instead of bored

Just a Few Little Things Left to Tweak

 WiP Report # 14

 Hi, All!

 On July the Fourth I entered the following in my daily journal/log. [I’ve added a few things here and there.]

I’ve been checking some stats for Fatal February, which I completed yesterday morning [the third draft, that is, on July 3]. At least I finished the current draft and rewarded myself by going to see Mad Max: Fury Road. It was terrific. What a trip.

I’ve been beating myself up about being so late on it. [It’s called Fatal February after all and I’d planned all along to get it out in February 2015. Drafting a completely different novel during NaNoWriMo, that is, National Novel Writing Month, and taking off the entire month of December threw me off.]

But when I look at the stats, I’ve concluded I didn’t do so badly after all. It’s 93,000 words long for one thing  [about 50 pages longer than Draft 2] and I started it on April 22. How many days? Let me count. 55 days. Well, that’s a hoot. It’s 1,691 a day, which is just about the NaNoWriMo 1,667 a day goal. I’m not counting the abundant brainstorms I did throughout the draft. I only had one brief log entry in the month of June, but I did put at least a few words down in my handwritten journal every day.

 I wish I could say I’m totally happy with the book, but I’m not. [I have a few little things to do on it here and there. Yeah, I know, I know. All the tabs that mark places that need fixing make the manuscript look like it’s wearing a brightly colored hula skirt.]

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Still, I think the next draft should just involve tweaks of what’s there instead of writing lots of new scenes as I did with this draft. I guess it was draft number 3. I need to break and do other things before I start through the book again to do Draft 4.

 I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

 Best, Juliet

What’s going on with Juliet?

Hi, All!

Check out my Author Spotlight at http://eepurl.com/beLexH  featuring my most recent book, January Jinx, a cozy historical mystery. Enjoy mystery and romance in Kansas City in 1899 in the first of the Calendar Mysteries that tell the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newlywed and beyond. January Jinx is available from Amazon.com in trade paperback and as an eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4 

Best, Juliet

P.S. “Cinderella, P. I.,” the first short story in my Cinderella, P. I. fairy tale mystery series, is available as a Kindle eBook February 19 through February 22 for FREE at www.amazon.com/dp/B00BAZPXEM

Diabetic? Who, Me? Part 3

Reducing the Risk

“The doctor says to keep doing what you’re doing and come see him in three months,” said my doctor’s nurse over the phone a few days after I’d had a follow-up blood test to the one of March 21, 2014, that showed me at high risk of developing diabetes.

All right! I thought.

Now, if you’ve read my original blog post of March 26, 2014 on the subject, you know that my initial response to the question “Diabetic? Who, Me?” was “No way” quickly followed by some research and the realization that I had indeed developed some symptoms of pre-diabetes including blurred vision, a ravenous appetite for sweets, and injuries slow to heal. And if you’ve read my follow-up blog of June 26, 2014, you’ve heard about some progress that I’ve made toward reducing my risk of developing diabetes.

Three months later, I’m happy report even more progress.

Following the eating plan designed just for me by a registered dietitian, I’ve lost a little more weight for about 12% of my starting weight. My BMI is now 22.7, well within the normal range. These stats sound good to me, so I’ve switched from weight-loss mode to weight-maintenance mode.

And I’m also happy to report, finally my waist measurement has dropped below 35 inches, pretty good for a woman whose waist has always been just two or three inches less than her hip measurement. (Like my Jazzercise instructor who came up with the line: I’m not shaped like an apple or a pear. No indeed, I’m shaped like a banana.)

The other day it just felt so good to put two pairs of slacks and a pair of shorts in the Goodwill giveaway bag because honestly I can’t keep them up anymore unless I tightly cinch my belt, not a stylish look. Right now, I’m wearing a new pair of cropped pants in the next size smaller than most left in my closet. And the belt I’m wearing is four notches in from where I used to buckle it. Hey, let me get up and do my happy dance.

Okay, that’s done and I’ll also report that my vision is no longer blurred and I don’t have any pain in my hands or even much stiffness. (T. V. has improved so I’m knitting more and that helps.) I did crave sweets the other evening, but I quickly dispelled the craving by eating a clementine.

All that said, I must admit to some disappointment when I actually read the report on my Hemoglobin A1c level. It has now dropped out of the high risk for diabetes zone into the increased zone, but only by two points, from 60 to 58.

Still that’s progress. And I will continue to do what I’ve been doing. Here are some things that have helped me make progress.

My daughter and I limit eating-out to three times a month. Most of our meals we prepare at home. One of my friends complimented me on the discipline required to lose weight. But honestly, it mostly just takes time: time to plan meals using my eating plan, to grocery shop, to fix meals, to clean up afterwards, and to record the calories and the carbohydrates I take in. A tip for success from me to you: Weight Watchers and Real Simple recipes help me get nutritious, enjoyable meals on the table fast.

Also, I try to stay on my feet and moving around at least three hours a day. My activities include walking the dog three times a day, Jazzercise three to four times a week, grocery shopping two or three times a week, and daily meal preparation. (Hey, it all counts.) Another tip from me to you: to avoid mid-exercise-class low blood sugar and subsequent collapse drooling flat-out on the floor, thirty minutes before class, I snack on a serving of Dannon Light & Fit Greek yogurt: 80 calories, 8 grams of carbs, 12 grams of protein. So good. (Peach is my favorite.)

Craig Johnson’s Any Other Name

Craig Johnson’s Any Other Name

Boy, howdy, can that man write!

A week or so ago, I needed something to read and so I started buffeting the nine or so new books close to my bed where I do most of my fiction reading. (So what if I spend lots of bucks buying hardcover fiction? As an addiction, my fiction fetish is comparatively cheap. Plus, unlike other consumables, you can experience the high of reading a really great novel more than once.)

Oddly, at first I couldn’t find anything to suit me. The next alphabet mystery? There are so few letters left now that I thought I’d save it a while longer. The latest, just published, from the brilliant Canadienne? I thought I’d save that one, too, since it will be another year before the next one. The next choice of my book club? Well, no, I like to read those closer to the discussion date.

And so, going lower in my stack, I came upon Craig Johnson’s Any Other Name. The acknowledgments set me back briefly since Johnson says right up front that this book takes place in the winter and at least three of his previous Walt Longmire mysteries include hip-deep snow and harrowing blizzards. I needn’t have worried, though, because Johnson uses winter especially well in Any Other Name. In fact, it might be my favorite for reasons I won’t describe because I’m not given to spoilers. But I bet you’ll love it, too.

But anyway, Johnson’s great personal charm that showed up even in the acknowledgments in giving floral names to his helpers for the book got me through my misgivings to the first page. And there Walt Longmire’s voice hooked me and I knew I’d found the book I wanted to read next. I never regretted my choice from first page to last.

The eleventh in the Walt Longmire series (counting the delightful novella Spirit of Steamboat) centers on the suicide death of an old friend of Lucian Connally, the retired sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. As Walt and Lucian look into this, other possible crimes emerge and the whole case becomes very complex. The weather, too. Meanwhile, Walt’s daughter Cady is about to have her first child way across the country in Philadelphia and from time to time she calls him to remind him he must be present for this event. This is not easy when he’s. . . . Never mind. You’ll find out.

In keeping with my standard blogging practice of sharing what I learn from the books I read that help me write my own, I’ll offer this. Johnson is a master of the set-up and follow-through. So when Walt and Lucian are stuck waiting for a long, long coal train to pass on page 1, you can be sure that trains will figure importantly in the plot of Any Other Name. Boy howdy, do they ever!

For your additional pleasure, I’ve attached my first blog installment about Craig Johnson’s work, originally posted in August of 2011, when I was working on Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel (now available as an eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI and as a trade paperback ISBN 978-0-9899504-1-1).

Craig Johnson’s Junkyard Dogs and Hell Is Empty

“Boy, howdy,” as Walt Longmire would say, is Craig Johnson ever a wonderful story-teller.

I’ve heard Craig Johnson speak twice, once on the book tour for Junkyard Dogs, the sixth in the series featuring Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire, and the second time for Hell Is Empty, the seventh. Both times were delightful.

Both times he visited here, he wore jeans, a casual shirt, boots and a cowboy hat, reflecting a genuine need since Mr. Johnson lives on a ranch and starts his work day with chores before he holes up to write. On his first visit, he’d recently returned from France where he’d received the Nouvel Observateur Prix du Roman Noir. (His mysteries are very popular in France.) While in Paris he had an encounter with a group of French school boys that I think of as “Le Cowboy at the Louvre,” a story Johnson told with great humor and flair.

I’ll give you highlights of Mr. Johnson’s other presentation at the end of this discussion. Before I start, here’s an update on the WiP.

This week I finished the fourth draft! A few whistles and a little applause, but don’t go on too long because I still have lots of work to do. One thing I’ve noticed is a big difference between the tone, voice, and style of the first half of the book and much of the second part. The former is pretty dark, formal, fairly literary. The latter is lighter, informal, chattier. In my fifth and I hope, final draft of this book, I really need to make those elements consistent throughout the book.

Right now, though, I’m wondering whether to go light or dark, but a comparison/contrast of Junkyard Dogs and Hell Is Empty gives me much needed guidance.

Hooks

Junkyard Dogs begins out-and-out pratfall funny as Walt Longmire tries to take in the fact that an old man had been up on the roof of a house on an icy midwinter day and secured by a rope to an Oldsmobile when his grandson’s wife drove off.

Hell Is Empty begins in a much darker way with Walt Longmire feeding a hamburger to Marcel Popp, one of three murderers the sheriff is helping to transport. Popp has just threatened to kill Longmire for the twenty-eighth time so far.

Characters

Aside from the regulars, many of the characters of Junkyard Dogs are comic as well. For instance, Geo Stewart, the old man hauled off the roof and dragged down the icy road, waves to a neighbor as he slides by. Stewart’s grandson Dwayne seems pretty dim and Dwayne’s wife Gina initially plays the vamp.

There’s nothing funny about the antagonists in Hell Is Empty. Besides Marcel Popp, the sheriff and his deputy are transporting Hector Otero, a murdering gangbanger from Houston, and most sinister of the three, Raynaud Shade, a Crow Indian who has visited the Bighorn Mountains before.

Plot development

The action of Junkyard Dogs continues in the comedic vein quite a ways into the book with the discovery of someone’s missing thumb in a cooler as well as a revelation about Walt’s former English teacher that I won’t share because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

In Hell Is Empty the action escalates and the body count eventually is very high. Not surprisingly given the title, Walt must travel into hell before the book’s over. Both books are winter tales, but the weather provides much more grueling obstacles for Walt to conquer in Hell Is Empty than in Junkyard Dogs. In many ways also the plot of the sixth book is grounded in reality while in the seventh Walt goes on what is, in many ways, a mystical and spiritual journey.

Settings

The settings of Junkyard Dogs tend toward the interior and the manmade. Several important scenes take place in a hospital, for instance. Settings also include a huge junkyard guarded by two wolf-dogs and filled with trashed cars, stacked one atop the other and going decade by decade back in time.

More of the scenes of Hell Is Empty take place outside where wind, darkness, and cold threaten Walt’s life. As in Randy Wayne White’s Deep Shadow, nature is an adversary in Hell Is Empty.

Style, tone, and voice

Both of Johnson’s books are first person narratives, that is, told by Walt Longmire in Longmire’s voice. But inevitably the more comedic characters and plot of Junkyard Dogs make that book lighter.

When I planned this installment, I thought I should just stick to Junkyard Dogs because, long-time lit major that I am, I kept trying to trace all the illusions to Dante in Hell Is Empty, not just in the overall plot but in the characters’ names. I mean, there’s a waitress named Beatrice, for goodness’ sake, and another one named Virgil. I was going crazy doing that.

I don’t mean to imply that Johnson sprinkled in the literary allusions superficially because he didn’t. The references are integral to the plot. He set it up from the start by having Walt’s deputy, Santiago Saizarbitoria, reading a battered copy of Dante’s Inferno that Walt later takes on his journey. The style of the book doesn’t come off as literary. And Johnson does what all good writers do when they rework stories like journeys to hell. He transforms it and makes it his own timeless story, yet of and for our times.

The lesson for my WiP

I’m thinking that since I’m reworking fairy tales, in particular those known to most people through Disney movies, I should stick to the lighter side. In other words, I should stick to the lighter tone, style, and voice of Junkyard Dogs instead of the darker side of Hell Is Empty.

And finally, as promised . . .

The second time I heard Johnson speak, the word had gotten out about how great he and his books are and the place was packed. Again, he displayed his wonderful sense of humor as he told us about his involvement with the production of Longmire, a series coming to A & E in 2012. It sounds great. I’m sure I’ll love it and I bet you’ll like it too.

This closing comment from 9/11/14. I have loved the Longmire series and thought Season 3 especially strong. And so the news that A & E has cancelled the series disheartens me. However, at this time, it’s possible that another channel will pick the series up.

Sally Berneathy’s The Ex Who Wouldn’t Die

Sally Berneathy’s Lively Ghost

Sally Berneathy puts us on a speeding Harley with Amanda Randolph at the pulse-pounding start of The Ex Who Wouldn’t Die, the first in her Charley’s ghost series. Sally keeps the action going through a terrible crash and Amanda’s rescue by her husband Charley, who cajoles her, berates her, and bullies her into crawling up an embankment to the road so someone will find her.

Only thing: Charley is acting weird. He says he can’t call 911 on her cell. And when she tries to grab him, she falls right through him. This is logical since Charley’s dead, murdered by someone who’s also out to kill Amanda.

I’ve written about the start of The Ex Who Wouldn’t Die partly to show how well it hooks the reader. But also Sally shows great range in this mystery with a light touch. In fact, some of my favorite parts are the quiet scenes in which we visit Charley’s family home. Again, Sally presents plenty of details–fried chicken on a flowered plate, the songs of the mockingbird Amanda hears from the porch–to let us experience the place in the country where Charley grew up. This house and Charley’s mom exude calm amid the calamities of Amanda’s life. And I found these sections powerful and touching. To me, these scenes are the heart of the book.

And overall, though this mystery focuses on a ghost, its pages are very much alive.

I also recommend Sally’s Death by Chocolate mystery series. Featuring another troublesome husband, those mysteries are also light–downright hilarious in spots.

Cinderella: Living Happily Ever After

Juliet Kincaid’s Cinderella, P. I. Fairy Tale Mysteries

Cinderella PI Kindle Cover 2-4-2013bMost of us heard or read fairy tales when we were young or view Disney versions of stories like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We still can and do as grown-ups. For instance, Disney recently has brought us Tangled, the story of Rapunzel, one of the folktales transcribed by the Brothers Grimm and published in 1812. On television we can watch Grimm or the family friendly Once Upon a Time. As many of you know, I’m writing a series of mysteries featuring Cinderella as a private detective twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball.

How did I come to write these mysteries?

Well, back in 1996 at a writing conference I heard someone say that it’s very hard to write a complete story in fewer than 2,000 words. (This obviously was before the rise of flash fiction that typically tops out at about 500 words.)

Shortly after that, with this challenge in mind, I set out to write a story in fewer than 2,000 words.

Why did I choose Cinderella?

Now, at the time, I happened to have a copy of Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum by Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen in my office at the community college where I taught writing for twenty-five years. This textbook includes a unit on fairy tales, specifically “Cinderella,” the best-known fairy tale in the world. Indeed, there are more than 700 versions of this fairy tale including traditional versions handed down from generation to generation before they were written down and published by folks like Charles Perrault in the Mother Goose Tales of 1697 and literary versions like Tanith Lee’s “When the Clock Strikes.”

FYI: the earliest version that scholars have a specific date for–between 850-860 A.D.–is the Chinese story of Yeh-hsien, who had tiny feet. One of the more recent versions is Marissa Meyer’s Young Adult novel Cinder, first published in January of 2012, in which Cinderella is a cyborg.

But back to the start of my journey with Cinderella, I’ve always been intrigued with the “happily ever after” tag that ends many fairy tales. I feel that if you’re bored you’re not happy. So what would keep Cinderella from getting bored in her life with Prince Charming? I asked myself. And as a reader of crime fiction, I promptly decided that my Cinderella would be a private investigator. (I was terribly naïve about how busy Royal families can keep with their duties, causes, etc.)

Before I started writing, I made some technical decisions to keep the story short. These included using a first person narrator who could provide background information succinctly without sounding like a manual. Also I chose present tense in preference to past tense, so I wouldn’t get mired in “haditis.” (After I heard an agent say she never represented fiction written in present tense, though, I switched to past tense.)

Once I made those decisions, my Cinderella started talking to me, as characters often do. And lucky for me, she has continued to do so through twenty-nine stories and two novels.

Also lucky for me, the fairy tale provides certain expectations that made writing go more easily.

For instance, most folktales use the same plot line. The protagonist wants something. In the classic Grimm version of the tale, for instance, Cinderella, called Ashputtle in this rendition, wants to go to the ball thrown by the King whose son is in need of a wife. To get there, Ashputtle must surmount several obstacles. But never fear, she prevails, dances with the Prince and after a few more challenges, marries him and lives happily ever after.

I also had a setting in time and place. My Cinderella’s world is sort of like our middle to late 19th century. People still got around in horse-driven carriages. But once my heroine started talking to me in a voice rather like my mother’s, I got in at least a few contemporary touches. That first story, for instance, starts with “So that morning, as usual, I’m out on the balcony on the treadmill, trying to run off a few extra pounds. . . .” The treadmill is mechanical, but her obsession with her weight is 21st century.

The basic plot supplied important characters. In her happily ever after, Cinderella has a charming husband, but she also still has her stepmother and stepsisters, collectively called the Steps in my mysteries. She also has a helper, a fairy godmother. In “Cinderella, P. I.,” though, the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak, and Cinderella helps her fairy godmother find her magic wand that’s gone missing.

When you work with such a rich tradition as folktales provide, often serendipity operates. For instance, in the first story I needed someplace for the fairy godmother to live. And what should appear in my head, but the little cottage in the woods formerly owned by the Three Bears. Plus I never quite know who will show up in these stories. For instance, when I needed to get my protagonist somewhere far away in a hurry in “Cinderella and the Usual Suspects,” she flew “Air Mother Goose.”

Along with the basics, the original story has certain logical yet sometimes unexamined elements. For instance, logic demands that our heroine’s name is actually Ella with “cinder” a pejorative prefix. Indeed, in my stories, Ella’s royal in-laws insist that the “Cinder” be dropped. Also, implicit in the basic tale is the story of an abused child and how she prevails over an unhappy childhood without losing her inherent kindness and sweetness of character.

One last thing, it’s logical that Ella missed out on her education and so she doesn’t speak like you’d expect a princess would. As a result, even as I wrote the last draft of Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel, I couldn’t always predict what my Cinderella would say and how she would say it. I hope she keep surprising me as she continues to live happily ever after in my stories and novels.

Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is currently available as a Kindle eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI and as a trade paperback: ISBN 978-0-9899504-1-1.

Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is now available as a Kindle eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00LGXFB2W.

Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mysteries is available as a Kindle eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI.

COMING SOON: two more story collections featuring Cinderella twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball: Cinderella Around the World and Cinderella and the Holy Grail.

 

AUTHOR BLOG CHAIN

Author’s Blog Chain

My friend Lisa Daly has tagged me to follow her in the author blog chain. I’m very excited about the publication of her first novel, Mystery, Ink: A Novel Way to Die. You can find more information about it on Lisa’s website: http://www.lisakaydaly.com.

Here are my answers to four basic questions about my work.

1. What are you currently working on?

Right now I’m about a quarter of the way through the first complete draft of Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel. (I’ve already written parts of it.) It’s the second of two novels about Cinderella, twenty years, three kids and a few extra pounds after the ball. In the first she’s been convicted of a heinous crime she didn’t commit and exiled far to the north of the Kingdom of AzureSky. And she has to escape the walls that confine her. In Wings she flies home on Mother Goose to save her loved ones and to set the Kingdom straight after a villain and his minions have severely messed it up.

2. How does your work differ from others?

Typically, stories about Cinderella are for the young. Mine are for grown-ups, though they often contain some of the whimsy, charm and humor that people of all ages like in fairy tales. Though firmly in the fantasy realm, the Cinderella, P. I. novels and stories have a contemporary edge and are also mysteries.

Besides the Cinderella, P. I. novels and stories, I have begun publishing a series of historical mysteries set in Kansas City beginning with January Jinx in 1899. In these books, I’m trying for a light approach to historical fiction. I include humor, let my protagonist flirt with a good-looking stranger, and avoid extreme violence.

3. Why do you write what you write?

The simplest answer is that I habitually read mysteries, so that’s why I write mystery fiction. My second favorite fiction genre to read is fantasy. This partly explains my gravitation to fairy tale fiction. (I wrote “Cinderella, P. I.,” the first story in the series in 1996, long before the debut of Once Upon a Time and Grimm on television.)

The longer and more complex answer is that I’ve always enjoyed reading fiction that allows me to escape from my fairly pedestrian life, that is, to go on adventures in faraway places, long-ago times, and never-never-lands with characters I can identify with. I don’t like being in the heads of creepy people and I prefer happy endings to sad ones. I enjoy humor and wit. And I try to write the same sorts of fiction as I like to read.

4. How does your writing process work?

As a retired teacher of writing, ironically I find this question a little hard to answer. I guess this is because what gets me started on a story can be so mysterious. For instance, I wrote the first Cinderella, P. I. story as an experiment. I’d been to a writers’ conference and heard someone say it’s very hard to write a complete short story in fewer than 2,000 words. (This was before the rise of flash fiction.) So I decided to try to write one. I fixed on Cinderella as a protagonist because a textbook I used in a course I taught had eight different versions of the fairy tale. Plus I was intrigued with “happily ever after.” To my mind, if you’re bored, you can’t be happy, so what could Cinderella do twenty years, three kids and a few extra pounds after the ball that would keep her busy instead of bored? Well, solve cases. I decided to use first person, so any exposition would sound like dialogue, and present tense to avoid using “had” too often. Then of course, my Ella started talking to me, and the story took off.

A few pointed questions help me on my way. Here they are and in the order I like to ask them. Who wants (or needs) what? Does (s)he succeed? [“Yes” and “no” are less fun than “yes but” and “no but.”] What obstacles can I throw in this individual’s path?

Once I get tentative answers to these questions, I start shaping the plot according to standard plot structure described in books like Robert J. Ray’s The Weekend Novelist: Part 1, the Set-up; Part 2, the Development; and Part 3, the Resolution. Part 1 needs a hook to start the story and to grab the reader’s attention and plot point one to set up Part 2; Part 2 needs to develop the set-up plus a midpoint or turning point and plot point two to set up the ending in Part 2; Part 3 needs a crisis and a resolution/denouement. When I have only a few obstacles, aka plot complications, I write a story. Lots of obstacles and I write a novel.

Once I’m involved in a project like Wings, I try to work on it everyday so I don’t lose my momentum. Also, I try to follow the common advice to write the initial draft from start to finish as fast as I can. The revising process takes longer as I do lots of revisions, often attacking different issues in different drafts. For example, I try to fill “plot holes” in earlier drafts and work on style including readability in later ones. Early drafts go fairly slow. Later ones can go very fast.

You know what? There is another question, sort of a Question 3b. Why do you write? My answer? Writing makes me happy. It’s as simple as that.

You can buy Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories as a Kindle eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI) or trade paperback. Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is available as an eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI) and trade paperback. January Jinx is now available as a Kindle eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4) and the trade paperback is coming soon.

It’s my pleasure to end my contribution to this Authors’ Blog Chain by tagging my friend Theresa Hupp.

MTHupp pic

Theresa is a writer of fiction (novels and short stories), essays and poetry.  She is currently working on a series of novels about the Oregon Trail in 1847 and life in Oregon and California during the Gold Rush. You’ll have to read her post next week to find out why she is writing historical fiction on this era of American history. She has worked as an attorney, a mediator, and a Human Resources executive and consultant. You can follow her blog, Story and History, at http://mthupp.wordpress.com/ or follow her on Facebook at Theresa Hupp, Author, at https://www.facebook.com/TheresaHuppAuthor

Theresa is the author of Family Recipe, a collection of essays, stories, and poems about family life.

Family Recipe cover Hupp

 http://www.amazon.com/Family-Recipe-stories-essays-families/dp/0985324406/ref=la_B009H8QIT8_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1392327751&sr=1-2