Phenomenal Flavia

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A Guest Post by Diann Markley

On Saturday January 16, 2016, at the meeting of the Mystery Writing Group of the Border Crimes Chapter of Sisters in Crime, my friend Diann Markley presented a thorough and very insightful analysis of Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Here are highlights of her presentation.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley is the story of a precocious eleven-year-old girl living in England in the 1950’s. Bradley has several problems to overcome in making Flavia de Luce believable as an amateur investigator.

The police are neither incompetent nor comical, yet as with any main character, Flavia must be the one to solve the mystery. The author carefully sets up this outcome by having Flavia’s mother vanish in the wilds of Tibet while her father, suffering from wartime PTSD, is only peripherally involved with his child, leaving her free to come and go with little to no supervision.

And she does have transportation–an ancient bike she has named Gladys.

Having lived her entire life in the town of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia has contacts and inside knowledge of the residents not readily available to Inspector Lewis. Flavia is quite willing to flip her braids and flash her braces to convince witnesses she is only a sweet little girl they can spill any secrets to. Then there is her understanding of chemistry and a lab in which to do experiments. These confirm her suspicions on how the murder occurred. It doesn’t hurt a bit that Flavia is the one to find the dying man but conveniently forgets to mention his last words to the police.

Altogether a great read on a winter’s day! Diann Markley

The Mystery Writing Group of the Border Crimes Chapter of Sisters in Crime meets on the third Saturday of the month. All SinC members are welcome. Here’s our schedule for the next two months.

February 20: Ann Friedman will lead a discussion of Ellis Peters’ The Raven in the Foregate.

March 19: Juliet Kincaid will lead a discussion of Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.

If you’re a mystery fan, please share this blog with your friends and sign up through RSS to receive notifications for more blogs.

Best, Juliet

The Care and Feeding of Writers

Insights into the Life of an Indie Author

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Let’s say that you have a new favorite indie author. You loved the first two novels in her epic fantasy series filled with great action and fascinating characters, especially the sassy, yet dangerous female dragon that lurks in the river near the castle. But it’s been months and months since the last book came out. Where’s the third? Doesn’t she know how much you want to read it? What is that writer doing?

Believe me. She wants to get the third epic fantasy novel to you as soon as possible. But besides writing, revising, and editing that book, she’s running the business of being an independently published author. Her many tasks include book production and promoting.

At this point, you might say, “But wait. Can’t she hire people to do some of this stuff?”

She could, but quite possibly she can’t afford to. Sad to say, the world of indie publishing is like the Wild, Wild West. Mostly, the folks making money aren’t the folks out there panning for gold in the publishing stream, but the suppliers of goods and services.

And it’s fairly certain that your indie author is busy following at least some of these common pieces of advice: “You need a web site and you must post a blog on it once a week. Build your email list. You need author’s pages on Facebook and Goodreads. You have to tweet, link in, branch out, circle on Google, pin stuff up on Pinterest, post pictures on Instagram, and every once in while get a video of yourself up on YouTube.”

“But whoa there, indie author,” her advisors also say. “Slow down. Don’t get carried away. You can’t overdo the promotions because if you do, your emails will get marked as spam. You’ll be unfriended on Facebook and unfollowed on Twitter. Really you should only actively promote your work in every seventh email, tweet, or Facebook post. And anyway, you shouldn’t bother with any of this because it doesn’t work for authors to promote their own work.”

So what’s the poor indie author supposed to do? you wonder. How about this? You help her promote her work, so she can spend more time on that third book you long to read.

Here are some few simple things that will help her get the word out about her books and build a fan base for them.

1) When the author emails you about her new blog on her web site, forward the message to your friends to help her build her email list.

2) Subscribe to her web site, so you can keep up with her posts without her having to email you every time she posts a blog.

3) Retweet her tweets on Twitter.

4) Friend her personal page on Facebook, like her author’s page, and share her promotions with your friends.

5) Follow her on Goodreads and start some discussions there about how much you love her work.

Last and most important of all, review those first two epic fantasies on Goodreads, Amazon and other sites where she publishes her work. Here are some tips for your reviews.

1) Avoid spoilers. Instead, you might provide a pithy quotation that gives the flavor of the work.

2) You don’t have to say a lot. Two or three sentences are fine.

3) Judge the work within the author’s intention for it and its genre. For example, don’t slam a sweet cozy mystery set in a quaint little town with magical cats, patterns for knitted scarves, and recipes for chocolate cookies to die for because the book doesn’t have the mean streets and grit of the noir that you prefer.

4) Make sure you know what you’re talking about before you launch a negative comment about the writer’s expertise.

5) When you write a review, proofread it before you send it off. An error like saying “to much” when you should have said “too much” instantly discredits you as a reviewer.

6) Don’t nitpick. Instead, focus on what you liked best about the work.

7) We indie authors want only five-star reviews. But if you can’t honestly give an author that many, please don’t go lower than four stars.

Gentle readers, please know that writers are delicate creatures. We tend to dwell upon the few times we’ve been kicked instead of all the times we’ve been stroked. If you want us to continue to write the works that bring you laughter and tears, action and adventure, narrow escapes, heroes to admire, villains to scorn, stories to entertain you, and novels to make you wise, you have to nurture us.

All the best, Juliet

Currently, I’m promoting the audio book of Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories for grown-up, delightfully narrated by Alyx Morgan. It’s now available from iTunes, Amazon, and Audible. (It’s free when you join Audible.) You can listen to a sample at http://www.audible.com/pd/Mysteries-Thrillers/Cinderella-P-I-and-Other-Fairy-Tale-Mystery-Stories-Audiobook/B01977EVJ2/ref=a_search_c4_1_1_srTtl?qid=1450382804&sr=1-1

Twitter: JulietKincaid    Facebook: juliet.kincaid    Goodreads: Juliet_Kincaid

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

The No. 1 Lady Detective

A J K Writer Favorite

Among my recent emails I found one from Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency located in Gaborone, Botswana, Africa. In the fashion typical of the messages we write and receive during the holiday season, the letter begins by telling the momentous events in Mma Ramotswe’s life. She ended her letter by wishing me, her dear friend and sister, “the love that we feel for those with whom we make our journey through life.”

The only thing that kept me from busting out of the house and over to Mysteryscape to buy Alexander McCall Smith’s latest, The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, in which Mma Ramotswe recounts her adventures on vacation, was the fact Mysteryscape closed this year. (All who patronized that wonderful bookstore miss it terribly.)

Oddly enough, I was slow to come around to the charms of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. A decade or so ago, a librarian friend of mine who reviews books recommended it to me. But when I tried to read the first book in the series, I put it down again right away. The book didn’t start in the proper way for a mystery. Instead of a crime scene and a dead body, it began with a bio of the detective. What’s up with that? I thought. I returned it, unread, to the library.

After a few years, after the first book had become an international best seller and the series very popular, I told myself, “You’d better check this out, J.” But I couldn’t find any of the books at the closest Borders, another late and lamented bookstore. And I tried more than once. Surely such a popular series should be here somewhere, I thought. But still I couldn’t find it. Then one day as I zipped past the mystery section at Borders, I spotted the distinctive and charming cover of the first in the series in the M’s. For months I’d looked for it under S. There’s no hyphen in there. How was I to know they alphabetized it under M?

This time I bought the book, read it, and loved it. And it changed my life. Really? you ask. Well, yes, because it showed me a fresh and different way to structure a mystery novel and, even more important, it brought me out of a funk during which I wrote no fiction for going on three years. Me, the long time fiction fan? That was a really serious depression I was in. So I thank Precious Ramotswe and Alexander McCall Smith for getting me back to writing fiction, my life-long passion, the thing I do primarily because it makes me happy.

So what did I learn from reading The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency?

1) I saw that in that book Mma Ramotswe had several cases presented very much like individual short stories. This structure encouraged me to go back to a series of twenty-nine short stories I’d written with Cinderella as a detective twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball to see if I could make a novel out of some of them.

2) Another lesson I learned was how McCall Smith used Mma Ramotswe’s life, her loves, and her friends, to tie the book together from start to finish.

3) And the best lesson of all, especially for a writer who wants to write a mystery series? I saw how important it is for a series to have a strong detective that readers willingly identify with to carry them through each book and on to the next and the ones after that.

The season’s joy and blessings to you, Precious Ramotswe, and to your creator Alexander McCall Smith, and to you, my readers.

Best, Juliet

The No. 1 Lady Detective inspired me to write Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel, and Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel, both now available as eBooks and trade paperbacks from Amazon. Twelve of my original stories appear in Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories and eight more appear in Cinderella, P. I. Around the World. Both collections are also available from Amazon as eBooks and paperbacks. The third and final book in the series, Cinderella’s Last Case and Other Stories, will appear in 2016. And look for the audiobook of Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories coming soon from Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

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Encouraging Review of January Jinx

Jan.Jinx.e-bookHey, gang!

I just had to share the encouraging review that Judge 16 wrote for January Jinx that I submitted to the Writer’s Digest contest for self-published books this year.

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 4
Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 2
Production Quality and Cover Design: 2
Plot and Story Appeal: 3
Character Appeal and Development: 5
Voice and Writing Style: 4

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 book is definitely good enough to deserve a better package. The cover and bound-manuscript interior of the book itself doesn’t do justice to the narrative. Likewise, a more thorough copy edit would have helped trim out some of the manuscript aspects of it, like underlines instead of italics, and other typos, etc. could have been smoothed out. The plot is a bit expected though not predictable, and as long as Juliet Kincaid allows herself to mature as a storyteller, readers will follow her through this book and onward.

The unique setting of 1899 Kansas City is full of flavor that never overwhelms the story and 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.

Isn’t this a great review? Thank you so much, Judge 16, for your encouraging review.

In case you’d like to check January Jinx out for yourself, here’s the link: www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4. January Jinx is also available as a trade paperback from Amazon.com.

In closing, I’d like to announce that Fatal February, the second Calendar Mystery, is now available as a trade paperback at Amazon.com and as an eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM  Best, Juliet

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Still Busy

WiP Report # 16

Properly I can’t call this a WiP Report since I’m between writing projects. But I’m still busy as you’ll see.

First, I’m very pleased to announce that on September 29, I completed Fatal February, the second Calendar Mystery. I revised a draft 96,292 words long in 12 days. Now that’s what I call booking. When I finished, I did my version of the happy dance, sort of happy monkey hooting and armpit scratch. Like the first in the series, January Jinx, the novel offers mystery and romance in old Kansas City. And I’m very happy with it.

Then I got busy with the tasks self-publishers do. For instance, I filed the book for copyright with the Library of Congress, prepared the physical copy of text for publication in both eBook and print versions, and registered the ISBN for the eBook version. I also arranged for Fatal February to go up for pre-sale between now and November 20 when it will become available as an Amazon Kindle eBook. (The trade paperback version will be along soon.)

Here is the front cover of Fatal February. Doesn’t my daughter do beautiful work?

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Other irons I currently have in the fire include the audiobook version of Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories, the second book in my fairy tale mystery series. Alyx Morgan, my producer/narrator and I hope to have it available by December 1.

Besides these things, right now I’m helping to organize a Kansas City Local Authors Fair to take place at the InterUrban ArtHouse at 8001 Conser, Overland Park, KS 66204 from 6 until 8 on November 20. If all goes well, I’ll launch the trade paperback version of Fatal February during this event.

And last, I’m gearing up to draft Mischief in March, the third Calendar Mystery, during NaNoWriMo 2015. Translation: National Novel Writing Month occurs in November every year when a whole bunch of novel fanatics like me try to write 50,000-word novels in 30 days. Mischief in March continues the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond in Kansas City, that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago.

Best, Juliet

If you’d like to pre-order Fatal February, click on this link: www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM. If you haven’t read January Jinx, it’s available for only $.99 now through Halloween and only $3.99 thereafter. Click on this link to buy it: www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4.

 

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

Myself as a Work in Progress

IMG_0972WiP Report # 13

Boy, howdy, how time flies.

When I recently checked my files, I discovered that it’s been a year and nine months since WiP Report # 12 in which I reflected on my decision to quit trying to go the traditional route of getting published with the help of an agent and editors.

As I looked over that blog installment, I couldn’t help but reflect on how far I’ve come as a self-publisher since I posted it. By July 25, 2013, when I posted that blog, I’d published only five Cinderella, P. I. fairy tale mystery short stories as Kindle eBooks. I had also nearly finished writing Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel. But as I said in the blog, besides publishing Walls, I wanted to revise and publish Wings, its sequel; two or three Cinderella, P. I. story collections; and up to five more novels sooner or later. Also I wanted to write a contemporary series with a baby boomer amateur detective “before I check out.”

There’s nothing like the devil on your tail or at least time’s winged chariot bearing down on you to speed matters up. And it certainly helped that I’ve been writing with the aim of being a published author since 1986, so I had about ten novels and other completed manuscripts in my files.

Still, I’m a little amazed to report that in the year between October 9, 2013, when I published Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel as a Kindle eBook and October 9, 2014, I published three novels altogether including January Jinx, the first in a historical mystery series; two story collections, and an additional short story. All this added up to more than 300,000 words or the equivalent of 1,100 print pages. Plus in National Novel Writing Month, November 2014, I drafted a 50,000 novel set in a community college and tentatively called Fall into Murder. In the months since December 1, I’ve written another draft of Fatal February, the second Calendar Mystery. I missed my February 2015 deadline to publish Fatal February, but still I aim to have it out this year along with a third Cinderella, P. I. story collection, possibly a collection of essays about mystery fiction that I originally wrote for this blog, and a stand-alone thriller called Death in Shining Armor. Besides the sheer output, I’ve also taken on more of the tasks of self-publishing such as doing some of my own covers and formatting instead of hiring someone to do those things for me.

Perhaps most important, I’ve gained a lot of confidence in myself as a writer and self-publisher. For example, I used to get all bent out of shape with “hi tec anxiety,” but not so much anymore. I still beat myself up sometimes about my low sales figures, but they’re improving.

FYI: These five books are all available as Kindle eBooks and trade paperbacks at Amazon.com. If you enjoy these novels and stories, please review them. Even a few positive words help.

Till next time. Best, Juliet.

P. S. Didn’t my daughter do a beautiful job on the cover of January Jinx?

A SPRING SURPRISE

IMG_0931IMG_0932Not long ago my friend Joan who lives next door to me bought me a Happy Easter plaque to hang on my front door. It looks great and adds a cheery, seasonal note to the house. But I got to looking at the little table next to the chair on the front porch and decided the table looked really bare and a little sad, taking away some from the bunny plaque. The table and my porch overall needed something else, a pot of pansies maybe.

Now I have to confess that spring is my favorite season, so full of surprises. Purple crocuses pop up and bloom seemingly overnight. Forsythia quickly go from drab grayish brown clumps to firework sprays of yellow. Suddenly while I wasn’t looking, magnolias have lifted their pink bowls to catch the soft spring rain. And inspired by this beauty, I head to the garden center to buy maybe $300+ worth of herbs, vegetable plants, and flowers.

But the household budget is tight this spring and I have to limit my plant buying to enough annuals to fill a few hanging plots and the essential herbs: basil and parsley. (Happily, my chives have come back in the pot where they live and I’ve already used them in coleslaw.) Due to the chronic depredations of rabbits and squirrels on tomatoes and lettuce in spite of the wire cages I surround those plants with, I no longer have a vegetable garden.

Still, the other day I decided to stop by the Ace Hardware on my way home from the library to see if they had any plants for sale yet and if so, to see if I could afford a little something for the table on my porch.

Sure enough when I pulled up outside the hardware store the other day, I saw an array of pots and planters filled with colorful flowers, not just pansies, but other kinds, too. Out of the car in a flash, I paced up and down the display and settled on a small planter containing a yellow primula on one end, a red primula on the other end, and a gorgeous orange something I don’t know the name of in the middle. The planter cost $15.95, but I had a $5 rewards card. That would help.

Tenderly I picked the planter up and carried it inside to the cash register. I presented my rewards and Ace cards to the young man behind the counter. He rang it up and handed me a receipt for $3.99.

“Uh,” I said. “That’s it?”

Smiling, he nodded.

“That’s really it?” I said.

“That’s it,” he said.

Grinning, I carried the planter I’d gotten for free out of the hardware store. I love spring. It’s so full of beautiful surprises.

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