The Father of My Child

Right now I’m putting together a collection of Calendar Mystery short stories that go before, between or after the first three novels in the series. These books, January Jinx, Fatal February, and Mischief in March, feature business girl Minty Wilcox and dashing detective 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.

Along with the stories, I’m including nonfiction pieces about the people who inspired the characters in the works of fiction. Recently, as I worked with the collection, tentatively called Old Time Stories, I realized that I hadn’t written about the inspiration for Daniel Price. And I’d be remiss if I left him out though generally I’m not comfortable with talking about my private life in public. Still, here we go.

Physically, Daniel Price looks pretty much like my former husband George David Kincaid, who died in 2004 from complications of COPD. In fact, I was going to give Daniel the middle name of David before I realized that  my character’s middle name must be Alan after his grandfather, Alan Price, a character I based on Allen Pinkerton.

Daniel has David’s height and build: around 5’8” and 150 pounds with a sturdy physique. They have the same brownish, blondish, reddish hair. David liked to wear brownish reddish tweed, as does Daniel. David’s hair had a nice wave to it, but Daniel’s is fairly straight. One difference: David had beautiful hazel eyes with long lashes that made for the sweet, gentle butterfly kisses writing this has made me remember. Our daughter inherited both her father’s eye color and the lashes. (My series protagonist Minty Wilcox has hazel eyes, too.) But I’ve given Daniel Price deep dark brown eyes like mine. David was very near-sighted and usually wore glasses. Daniel doesn’t need them.

The fictional Daniel and the nonfictional David don’t resemble each other much in character, at least not right now. Daniel might surprise me as I continue writing the series. Daniel has his dark side, but he’s devoted to Minty and regularly defends her against other men’s derision. In fact, an early reader of January Jinx said Daniel was too indulgent with Minty. But he was quite smitten with her and most of us view our loved ones through rosy colored lenses at first. Plus Minty saves Daniel’s life in that book.

And there is a scene in Mischief in March where Daniel asks Minty, “Who’s the boss?” In other words, “Who will make the decisions once we’re married?” This was a question that David often asked me early in our marriage, in fun or apparently so.

Minty, I’m pleased to say, doesn’t put up with it for even a second before she says, “Why, Daniel Price, I’m flabbergasted that you even ask me that. We’ll make all the decisions together of course, except maybe for what sort of soap to buy.”

Daniel points out, “That’s not the way it is in most marriages. The man’s the boss of the household. He makes all the decisions, especially where money is concerned. As for soap, I insist on Palmolive.”

Minty responds, “And I prefer Ivory. But anyway, back to decisions, in my family Papa’s the boss on the ranch. But Mama’s the boss in town. And that includes decisions about how the household money will be spent. Besides, you and I are not most people, Daniel. In our marriage, you and I will have an equal say, about the important things anyway.”

Good for Minty, I say. I didn’t have that sort of spirit. But then as I’ve already said, my husband wasn’t the man that I insist Daniel Price will be. For one thing, fairly early on in our marriage, I learned that talking back to D very well might earn me abuse.

Here’s an example. In the early summer the year I was pregnant with our child, Dave and I were driving to a wedding reception. When he stopped the car at a light, I said something that he took amiss and he clubbed me in the back of my head with his fist. Right then, the driver of the car behind us started honking his horn before he swung his vehicle around ours onto the shoulder, and, obviously furious, he started shouting. For one thing, I was surprised that someone else would find David’s behavior so offensive. (By then I’d become used to David’s occasional abuse.) The light changed. D put the Volvo in gear. And we drove on. We never talked about this incident, ever.

My fictional Daniel is smart and clever and at times outrageously funny. And so was David except David’s humor usually came at another’s expense, a habit I abhor having grown up listening to my mother constantly rag and belittle my wonderful dad, whom I adored from the get-go. As a nurse my mother knew the cost of physical abuse, though not the psychic cost of verbal abuse. My husband didn’t have that restraint. He never sent me to the hospital, but he might have given time.

While Daniel has a fairly even temperament, David was bipolar. His typical reaction to stress was to become a maniac: loud, arrogant, up till all hours of the night until he’d had enough to drink that he could sleep. He was also supremely confident that he was in the right in any situation and I was wrong. In that household I was only entitled to my opinion if it matched his. And he claimed complete expertise on every subject including doing the laundry, as if he ever did it. Put simply, he wore me out when he was up and occasionally smacked me around. I took advantage of him when he was down, something I didn’t like about myself.

But there was a time toward the end of our marriage when I had one final glimpse of David as the man he might have been without the ups and downs.

At the time we lived in Lexington, Kentucky, where our daughter was born. David was going to graduate school on a full ride scholarship in Math. He was on an even keel, doing well in his classes and giving me no grief. But then he went off kilter again and plunged into depression. (This might have been partly due to Post Stress Syndrome Disorder from his serving in the Navy in the late 60’s. He went to ‘Nam though he only saw action from the distance as a non-combatant.) He started getting C’s in his classes and lost his scholarship. Luckily he got a job with the phone company in Wheeling, West Virginia. This unfortunately set him off into a prolonged manic spell.

I won’t go too much into the rest of that time of our lives except to say that the fall we went to Wheeling I had a vision of my life ahead. David would lose that job. And indeed he did because they couldn’t rely on him to be at work on time. And I would end up getting a really basic job in an office somewhere instead of becoming the college professor of English I aspired to. (By then I had a master’s degree and had taught writing and literature for a couple of years at Marshall University.) Meanwhile D would stay at home, smoking, drinking, and reading Playboy, a pattern of behavior he’d learned from his father. I would pay all the bills, take care of our daughter, do all or most of the household tasks except prepare the entrée for an occasional meal, and if I knew what was good for me, I’d provide him with sex at his demand.

My mother once said, “People don’t change. They just get worse,” a paradox I’ve come to see a lot of truth in. So I thought, Fine. If I have to do all of those things, at least I don’t have to spend the rest of my life having my child watch her father grind her mother down. And so I took our daughter and left him. Three months later some wag in the Records Office put February 14 on the divorce decree. But I don’t care. Leaving David is one of the smartest decisions I ever made, maybe the smartest.

But here’s a little scene the three of us together back in Lexington during our daughter’s first year when D and I were so pleased with her, the spitting image of her father when he was that age. Her crib was in the back bedroom that Dave used as his study. He’d lean over the crib and peek in at her. He called her “Woolly Bear” because of the fuzzy little onesies she wore. “Bear,” he’d croon. And she’d wiggle with delight and gurgle, and I’d smile to see them together. So that essentially is where Daniel Price comes from, from the man the father of my child might have been but rarely was.

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January Jinx is now available as a Kindle eBook for only $0.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4.  It’s also available in print as are Fatal February (available as a Kindle eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM) and Mischief in March (www.amazon. com/dp/B06XR1STRN). My daughter, the very talented Jessica Kincaid, did the covers for all three of these cozy historical mystery novels.

 

The Case of the Mysterious Back Pain

Lately, due to back pain, I’ve gotten behind on my current Work-in-Progress,  a historical mystery short story called “Detectives Honeymoon.”  Now, back pain isn’t unusual for indie authors. Lots of you out there are indie authors, so you probably know what I’m talking about.

But my recent back pain isn’t the typical lower back pain that comes from sitting and typing for long hours. I’ve had that kind and I don’t get it much anymore because I’ve got a special chair with two cushions in it.

Oh no, this new pain was up under my right shoulder blade. It felt like some big guy stood behind me and jammed his index and middle fingers into my back. At its worst, my back started hurting within the first half hour of starting my morning writing session. Plus, one day when I was driving home from an afternoon exercise class, the pain of keeping my hands and arms on the steering wheel at two and ten was so intense it reached eight on a ten-point scale, way past the point of being able to ignore it, just short of my screaming out loud.

So I tried to figure out what caused it and how to fix it because, honey, I’ve got lots of stories and books to write before I shuffle off this mortal coil. I tried adjusting the height of my special desk chair, took both pillows out, put one back in and then the other. No help at all. I switched out my special chair with a kitchen chair. That didn’t help either. I quit using weights at my exercise class. I even took the Spider Solitaire app off my phone. Zip effect.

So finally I broke down and went to see a nurse practitioner at my doctor’s office. She said the problem was muscular not a case of bone scraping bone. That was somewhat good news. She told me to keep taking Ibuprofen, up to six a day, and apply heat or cold. I hated the cold, but the heating pad felt good. Unfortunately, I don’t really have a way to write with the heating pad on my shoulder.

These things worked, along with walking, but only for a while before really I couldn’t stand to type for more than half an hour at a time without the pain getting to me.

But then one day, at my exercise class, I had an epiphany about the source of my back pain when the instructor lifted her right arm, crooked at the elbow, and twisted around to her right. “Now,” she said. “You should be feeling this right where your bra strap crosses your back below your shoulder blades.”

“Aha!” I said to myself. “That’s exactly where my back is killing me!” And now that I know what caused the injury in the first place, I’ve quit doing that part of that particular exercise.

Now, I suppose you want to tell me that I wouldn’t have had this problem at all if I didn’t dance for exercise. But I’m an endorphin junkie who enjoys the rush I get dancing four times a week. I get an even bigger rush when my characters make me laugh or cry. So I’m very happy to have solved this mystery and I can keep on writing that story and all the other stories I have in  mind.

Best, Juliet

The Art of Rewriting Fiction

Right now I’m working on a new short story called “The 9th Street Gang,” part of my calendar mystery series set in Kansas City starting in January 1899.  Here’s the cover for the story that about twenty of my friends and kin helped me with.

Now I’m revising the story itself. And it’s taking me longer than I expected thought it would. Why I should be surprised I really can’t say given the length of this hand-out, one of my favorites from when I taught writing at the college level. This particular version that I prepared for a post NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) workshop focuses on fiction, especially the novel. But really you can use it for any kind of writing you do. Reviewing the handout today is helping me out, so I thought I’d share it with you, too.

Congratulations! You’ve completed the first draft of your novel and the joy of creation still surges through your veins. But don’t rest on your laurels too long, for now you have to rewrite. No I don’t, you say. I just run the spell checker and shoot it off to an agent, right? Besides, did Shakespeare rewrite? Apparently not, but his contemporary and friend Ben Jonson said, “Would that he had blotted a thousand lines.”

So now comes the time to get busy “blotting a thousand lines” (or more) because rewriting is a vital part of writing, the part that “makes the work come alive,” to quote Nancy Pickard, author of several popular mystery novels including Kansas Book of the Year, The Virgin of Small Plains. During rewriting, you “re-envision” the work and bring it closer to your original intention, obscured or lost in the heat of creating the rough draft.

Though often the writer comes up with new material during the rewriting phase, generally this last stage involves more analysis than creation, less the right side of the brain than the left. While new writers often think they can’t write unless they get it right the first time, most professionals rely on rewriting to bring their work up to par.

Effective, interesting, and vital writing is clear, coherent, concise, concrete, correct, and varied. Rewriting helps you give your work these qualities.

Okay, okay, I’m convinced, you say. So how many revisions should I do? As many as it takes, the mentor answers. If you’ve completed a work that you first drafted largely in your head, such as a flash fiction short story, you might not need many overall revisions. On the other hand, many pros freely admit to doing up to twelve major revisions of their novels. The average romance author does two and a half to three drafts, but Nancy Pickard says that she rewrites virtually up to the day of publication.

To rewrite a piece of fiction, you cut, add, change, move, and combine. But verily I say unto you, the greatest of these is CUT.

In rewriting, concentrate on these areas in this order: content, style, and mechanics. Why this order? you ask. Simple. It makes sense to get the content right before you spend hours polishing a sentence (paragraph, scene, chapter) that you might have to cut later–or worse, refuse to cut (though it no longer fits the work) because you worked so hard on it. Take the advice of Tony Hillerman who used to labor over his first chapters until he discovered that later chapters changed the first ones too much for him to use them. (He claimed to have had a drawer full of discarded but wonderful first chapters.)

On the other hand, if you’re rewriting the content of your novel and notice a sentence you can improve quickly or an error to correct, go ahead. Similarly, if you think of a great new bit of dialogue in a later stage of revision, by all means add it. (But be sure to reread this added section carefully, for often errors abound in such passages.)

ADVICE

1) To keep up your momentum and improve your chances of completing your novel, work on it everyday.

2) To minimize the number of corrections to make later in the process, initially format your manuscript in the correct form for submission later on to an editor or for production as an eBook or POD.

3) Follow the rules of punctuation like putting periods and commas inside quotation marks, etc.

4) For ease in rewriting, make separate files for all the chapters of the work.

5) If you use Microsoft Word, go to the Authoring and Proofing Tools in the Preferences menu, and in the Spelling and Grammar menu, click on “Show readability statistics.” Run your spell checker on each chapter as you complete revising it. The information will be especially valuable to you in later phases of the revising process. This document, for example, has 4% passive voice (much higher than my usual fiction percentage of 0%), 63.1% Flesch Reading Ease (considerably lower than my usual fiction reading ease of 85%), and 8.7 Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. No, I’m not related to that Kincaid, and my fiction averages from 3.5 to 5.2 grade levels.

6) Cultivate good stylistic writing habits like avoiding passive voice and employing showing writing instead of telling writing.

Still, generally, as John Braine advises, it’s best to write the rough draft as fast as you can and take as much time as you need for revision. Danielle Steele, for instance, takes six months to research a novel and six months to rewrite, but she blasts through the rough draft in a month of crippling twenty-hour days.

REWRITING FOR IMPROVED CONTENT

When you’re ready to start rewriting your novel, be patient and don’t just dive into revising. Instead, sit down and read the book through. Then skim it and take notes on what you see and patterns you notice. For instance, does your novel have a clear “Who wants what?” established very early. Does your protagonist clearly “drive the plot car” overall? Is the outcome clear at the end?

Especially pay attention to the big issues of structure. For instance, does your novel have a clear beginning, middle and end? That is, does it have a hook in the opening and a plot point near the end of the beginning part to set up the major story line? Is there some sort of important development in the middle section of the novel, that is, about halfway through? Is there a plot point near the end of the middle part of the book that sets up the end of the book? Do some math to see where these plot points fall in relationship to the overall length.

Consider your narrative line. Once you start your story, do you continue in a straightforward line or do you switch back and forth in time, from past to present to future to past? Think about your audience and this maxim: The larger the market you want for your novel, the easier you want to make your novel to read. That is, employ the K.I.S.S rule especially when you’re writing popular fiction and want lots of people to read your book.

Consider the type of novel you’re writing and reader expectations for that genre. If you’re writing a categorical romance, for instance, do you have at least one love scene? If you’re writing a mystery, is there a body or at least a crime?

On the basis of your observations, prepare an outline or write a narrative synopsis. Advice: Do not consider your outline or synopsis as engraved in stone.

As you write a second draft and concentrate on content, you might want to CUT all or part of ground clutter (action that leads nowhere), sections of dialogue that run on too long, unneeded characters and everything related to them, sections of description that run on too long, scenes that contribute only slightly to the plot, extended sections of background or exposition, unneeded transitions between scenes, sections that tell the reader what to think instead of letting them draw their own conclusions, unneeded or overlong passages of thought, unneeded material between the climax and denouement, and any element that impedes the pace.

On the other hand, you might need to ADD details that explain later action, descriptions to make a character or setting come alive, character development and motivation, background information, more dialogue, significant action, reminders to the reader, foreshadowing, clues and red herrings, symbols and metaphors to highlight theme, and transitions between scenes.

Often you will want to CHANGE from telling writing into showing writing, from indirect to direct speech, from indirect to direct thought, or from one point of view to another.

Sometimes, too, you might find that, in drafting, you got in a rush and tried to do everything at once. So you might need to MOVE introductory exposition to later in the story, exposition closer to the action it relates to, and thematic commentary or epiphanies closer to the end. You might also need to move scenes and plot points.

Finally, you might need to COMBINE one character with another or one scene with another.

GETTING FEEDBACK

Once you have the content about right and can think of nothing much else to do to the work, let gentle, sympathetic, knowledgeable people (preferably not family members) read your novel and give you feedback on what it’s like to experience the work for the first time. When you get your novel back from your readers, look over their comments and rewrite to improve the content at least one more time.

Once the content seems about right, move on to the next phase of rewriting, the PEP phase. Advice: At this point it’s often best to put all your chapters into a single file at this point, so you can also spot glitches in formatting for your eBook or POD versions of your novel as you edit.

REWRITING FOR IMPROVED STYLE

Now, you will P(olish the style), E(dit for grammatical correctness), and P(roofread for misspellings and typos).

Verily, again I say unto you, the greatest of these is CUT. Overall, including cuts for both content and style, try to make your final version at least ten percent shorter than earlier drafts. (Some writers draft very long and cut out nearly half.)

For concision, CUT redundancies; one, two or even three adjectives out of every three; there is/are, which is/are, it is . . . that; excessive or elaborate dialogue tags; and most adverbs.

For clarity and coherence, you might need to ADD transitions and dialogue tags.

For clarity, vitality and ease of reading, CHANGE long sentences and paragraphs into shorter ones; big, fancy words into smaller ones; uncommon words into more usual ones; over-used words into less common words; passive voice into active voice; states of being verbs into action verbs; progressive verbs into straight present or past tense; general into specific; abstract into concrete; unclear pronouns into nouns; and fuzzy word choices into just the right words.

For clarity and variety, occasionally MOVE phrases from their usual spot into more unusual ones.

For coherence and variety, occasionally COMBINE many short sentences into longer ones and many simple sentences into compound or complex ones.

But as Strunk and White say in The Elements of Style, break any of these rules rather than commit a barbarity.

REWRITING FOR CORRECTNESS

Always edit a completed manuscript with extreme care because mechanical errors and misspellings betray you as an amateur to agents, editor and readers. If you can’t spell, learn! Use a spell checker (but still proofread for homonyms, like “too,” “to,” “two”). If you don’t know how to punctuate, take a review course. And no matter how sharp your editorial skills, always proofread your material several times before you submit it or publish it.

In the PEP phase, you might find it helpful to read your manuscript aloud. (James Michener and his editor read one of his big novels to each other five times.) Run your spelling/grammar checker and get your overall stats on readability, etc. It’s also good to use “find and replace” to locate your personal trouble spots (one of mine is over-using the word “then”). If you have fellow writers who proofread well, you might ask them to proofread our work. Or you could hire a professional proofreader or copy editor.

THE IMPORTANCE OF PROOFREADING

As Jack Riley topped the final rise before town, he saw the buzzards circling above him. Not this time, he thought, a half smile on his face. He had just been through eighty miles of the roughest dessert anywhere . . .

 

It’s NaNoWriMo!

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

A Family Story

A Family Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Business Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas City’s New England Building

Looking for Old K. C., Part 1

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Checking out sites for my calendar mysteries, set in Kansas City around 1900, can involve quite a bit of sleuthing. Take the New England Building at 9th Street and Wyandotte in Kansas City, MO, for instance.

While working on January Jinx, the first in the series, I decided to put Price Investigations in the New England Building instead of the New York Life Insurance Building, mostly because the upper floors of the latter were closed to visitors. (Indeed, when my friend Sally O and I sneaked down to the basement to scope out the placement for the café that appears in January Jinx, the building guard stood on the steps and called plaintively, “Ladies, ladies.” Giggling, we did come back upstairs and out of the building.) But on a later junket, I was able to get inside the New England Building and go up the steps to the second floor though not inside any of the offices.

The New England Building continues to serve as the site for Price Investigations in Fatal February, the second in the series, but now that I’m working on Mischief in March, I have some questions about the offices that I didn’t answer in my initial site visit. In particular, I’d like to actually see the inside of the New England Building’s most famous architectural feature, the oriel on the southwest corner, to figure out what George Mathison, the manager of my fictional detective agency, might have put in it, or indeed if it’s actually available to put anything inside it.

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I’d tried to figure out its size from the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps and tentatively decided, given the 60’ by 118’ overall size of the building, that the oriel is about five feet across at its widest. But the map gives no details about the floors above the first.

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An exquisite poster of the building made from an article in the American Architect and Building News that I found online shows the basic layouts of four of the floors. But the text isn’t distinct enough for me to find out details about the offices. Besides, now that I’m revising Mischief in March, I’m finding that Minty Wilcox, the heroine of the series, needs to navigate around more of the building than just up the stairs or elevator to the third floor.

So, recently I set off to the Kansas City site of the State Historical Society of Missouri, located in 302 Newcomb Hall on the University of Missouri-Kansas City to look at their collection of architectural drawings that included the New England Building.

An aside: doing historical research is so much easier these days than it was when I started the project in 2004. (Yikes!) Now you can scan documents to a flash drive instead of printing them out on a library machine. Also so much has been digitized and made available online, like the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, that you can download and print for free.

That’s the good news. The bad news about the scans of the drawings is they don’t have keys and most of the written info is too blurry to read when I blow the images up.

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Still, I was able to see inside the offices to figure out where the lights were and that most had little closets and sinks. Some suites had ladies and gents powder rooms. And after a quick referral back to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, I found that the building had steam heat. Comparing the office layout with the roof layout, which included chimneys, I figured out where the radiators were, so I now can appropriately arrange the furniture inside Price Investigations.

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See? I told you researching historical fiction requires sleuthing.

Unfortunately, there are two parallel dotted lines across the narrow entrance to the oriel that I don’t understand. I’m tentatively thinking there would be room maybe for the ever-popular Boston fern. But I don’t know for sure.

By now, you’ve probably noticed that historical fiction writers obsess over the smallest details. That’s because some expert out there might make a fuss online about a tiny error. And that mistake could destroy the old Kansas City I’m trying to bring to life in my calendar mysteries. So I worry about the tiny details.

And so if at all possible, I’d like to get inside the New England Building. This might not be easy because recently it was purchased for redevelopment as loft apartments. I’ll keep you posted on what I find out.

Best, Juliet

If you haven’t read the first two calendar mysteries featuring Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond in Kansas City where living could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago, you can buy them as trade paperbacks from Amazon or as Kindle eBooks:  January Jinx at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4 and Fatal February at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM

Making Progress

WiP Report # 17: Mischief in March

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Shown here is the working cover for the third book in my Calendar Mystery Series. (I’m keeping what the actual cover will look like as a secret for now since it’s a spoiler.) I’m happy to report that I recently completed the draft of Mischief in March, well sort of anyway.

The “sort of” comes from my ending the current draft with an outline for the last twenty pages instead of writing those scenes. I’m not beating myself up about it though. I’ve been at this point with at least one previous book and it turned out fine.

What happened was recently I found myself making excuses to do other things (like mowing the lawn, which you know has to be desperation) instead of working on MiM, dear MiM, such a fun project it’s been to work on. I do this pretty often as I write, in fact, whenever my subconscious mind is trying to tell me something about what I’ve just written. But one morning recently I woke up realizing what the problem with the current WiP is. I won’t actually know which characters I need to put in the climactic parts of the book until I’ve revised the book from the start and found out who they are. Also, I need to do some on-site research on the settings before I can move my characters around in those places.

So I’m happy with my decision to stop work on MiM temporarily. It has freed me up to knock off some of the smaller projects on my master plan. For example, I’ve almost finished editing a large print edition of Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories.

But now Minty Wilcox, the heroine of the Calendar mysteries, is calling to me from the wings of my mind and tapping her foot impatiently. “Come back,” she says. “How could you leave me and Daniel in the lurch on our . . .” Well, that’s all you get, dear reader except the assurance that I’ll get back to work on Mischief in March soon.

Best, Juliet

P. S. Check out this trailer for the new audio book of Cinderella, P. I. Around the World narrated by the very talented Alyx Morgan.