My Father’s Gardens

While working on a prequel story for my calendar mystery series called “The Barn Door” that takes place on the 4th of July weekend in 1898, I decided to give one of the characters a vegetable garden. And that led me to think about my dad and his gardens.

My father, Homer Dale Willman, Sr., used to say, “When the Corps hired me, they took a great farmer and made him into a half-assed engineer.”

Still, though he worked over twenty years for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, my father always had a garden if only three strips around the patio. Until his last summer, he grew at least a little something, maybe vibrant begonias, a geranium in a big pot, a climbing rose, possibly hollyhocks, usually mint so he could watch the telecast of the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May with an icy julep in hand. And always, always, he had a tomato plant or two.

Back in the fifties and sixties, the prime years of his backyard gardens, he put lots of effort into his tomatoes. We lived in the tri-state region of Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia where winters were mild (though Dad always hoped for some snow to put nitrogen into the dirt). After the ground warmed and softened along about Easter, Dad took his shovel out to his garden patch to prepare the soil.

My mom used to kid my dad about “digging to China” because to him preparation meant digging a pit eighteen inches across and three feet deep for each tomato plant. He partially refilled each hole with compost, manure and other nourishing substances mixed with loose dirt.

The newly planted tomato plants–named Big Boy, Better Boy, Early Boy and Rutgers–looked scrawny so far apart, their sparse leaves insufficient to fuel growth. They did grow though. Usually by the Fourth of July, Dad would push aside those leaves, releasing the acrid odor that set our stomachs to growling, and with a gentle tug, pick the first tomato of the season. Mom, Dad, my brother Dale, and I fought over that first tomato, so ripe the skin peeled off clean and biting the tongue with its acidity. By late summer, the plants, lovingly tied to their stakes with strips of old sheet, stood eight feet high and loaded with tomatoes Mom canned, made juice with or begged neighbors to haul away.

Maybe the secret of Dad’s tomatoes lay in his compost pile that he researched, built and maintained like a true engineer. The compost pile I remember best was a four-foot cube of vegetable peels and melon rinds, musty grass clippings, twigs, lime, and goat manure he got as partial payment for a ship model he built for a friend who owned a herd of goats.

Dad made a hole in the center of the compost pile so air got inside and furthered the controlled decay. Once, out of curiosity, he tied some string to a thermometer and lowered it into the hole. In less than a minute, the thermometer broke. Later, with Mom’s candy thermometer, Dad discovered that the compost pile had reached 135 degrees.

Usually, Dad scaled his gardens small, but back in the late forties when we lived in the aptly named Garden Court, he almost filled the back yard with his vegetable plot. Forty by sixty feet, it ran from the house back almost to the tree-lined creek. Pieces of string stretched between sticks defined the plot so meticulously it looked like Dad had laid the garden out with a surveyor’s transit.

Dad bragged about that garden having fifty different varieties of plants. They included tomatoes of course, potatoes, corn, green peppers, red peppers, scallions, onions, cucumbers, and Black-seeded Simpson leaf lettuce. Instead of cantaloupe, that Dad said didn’t prosper in our climate, he grew muskmelons. Radishes started the growing season and beets finished it. Many of the vegetables I’ve forgotten now, but I still love to recite exotic names like zucchini, kohlrabi, and cocazelle.

We all got involved in Dad’s gardens. One year we had so much cabbage that Mom canned it. Dad paid Dale a penny a hundred head to pick bugs and beetles out of the garden. Dad never let me forget that those pretty yellow hollyhocks I picked one year were actually squash blossoms. Once, we tried to shell tough-hulled soybeans by putting them through Mom’s washer wringer. The beans popped out the other side and Dale and I chased them as they bounced around the kitchen floor.

My father’s gardens . . . Whenever I think of them, I see a picture of him in my mind.

Small-boned, with a mustache, my father wears a billed cap to keep his scalp from burning, a tan shirt dark with sweat under the arms, tan pants cut off and neatly hemmed above his knobby knees, and muddy shoes too worn to wear to work anymore. He leans against a shovel stuck into a pile of dirt. And dreaming of fresh tomatoes by the Fourth of July, he grins.

Happy Father’s Day 2018, Daddy

I don’t have a picture of my dad in his gardening togs, but here’s one of him, taken around 1973 when he was 70, that shows his wonderful grin.

January Jinx, Fatal February, and Mischief in March, the first three calendar mysteries set in Kansas City a hundred years or so ago, are available as eBooks and trade paperbacks from Amazon.com. Look for “The Barn Door,” a calendar mystery prequel short story, now available as a Kindle eBook. You’ll find all of these  plus more on my Amazon Author Central page: www.Amazon.com/Juliet-Kincaid/e/B00DB4HWRG

 

 

Suitable Jobs for Women in 1900

Some times we historical fiction writers get so locked into the old days we write about, we forget that our contemporaries might not have the foggiest notion of what we’re talking about.

For instance, I’ve written a new short story called “Detectives’ Honeymoon.” And I’ve been promoting it with this blurb: “After resolving the mysteries of Mischief In March, Book 3 of the Calendar Mystery series, the newly wedded Daniel and Minty Price set off on their honeymoon. But due to a number of unforeseen circumstances, a Harvey Girl, and a would-be Sherlock Holmes, they come to fear they won’t have a honeymoon at all.” The “would-be Sherlock Holmes” still flies, but one of my Facebook friends asked me what a Harvey Girl was. So here’s a bit of history on suitable jobs for women in 1900 that ends with a description of a Harvey Girl.

Back in March 1900 when Mischief in March and “Detectives’ Honeymoon” take place, women still didn’t have many options for respectable employment  outside the home. But still women did work. In Kansas City, with a population of 50,000 in 1900, for instance, 5,000 women worked outside the home. Here are some respectable jobs for women back then.

1) Quite a few worked in Kansas City’s burgeoning garment industry, which I used as the major setting for Fatal February, Book 2 of my Calendar Mystery series.

2) Many were educators, working as “schoolmarms” in one-room school houses in the area, though Mary Louise Barstow and Ada Brann founded their own school for girls in the Quality Hill area of Kansas City around 1884. (Their school has moved several times, but it still exists as a co-ed institution.)

3) Some women went into nursing. A few became doctors.

4) Many women worked outside the home as business girls in assorted capacities, part of typing pools for insurance companies, for instance. Trained stenographers like my heroine Minty Wilcox and my own great aunt Melicent Perkins who inspired her could demand top dollar free-lancing their skills.

5) Women worked in assorted retail establishments around Kansas City like Emery, Bird, Thayer Dry Goods where Minty took her younger siblings to shop for shoes in January Jinx, Book 1 of my Calendar Mystery series.

6) Some women even owned their own businesses, a millinery shop or dressmaker’s, for two instances. Miss Ellen Schooley helped run the family stationer’s shop where Minty Wilcox goes for office supplies.

7) By 1900, most telephone operators in Kansas City and everywhere else in the world for that matter were women, young men having been found too rude and impatient for the work. Mrs. Flora Snodgrass, who lives at the Wilcox home as a boarder along with her husband Lemuel, is a telephone operator.

8) Although Kate Warne worked undercover in the South for Allen Pinkerton during the Civil War, by 1900 very few women worked in law enforcement. Mr. George Mathison, the manager of Price Investigations and Minty Wilcox’s boss, is firmly against female operatives in all three books of my Calendar Mystery series so far.

9) But by 1900 being a Harvey Girl had become a most suitable job for a woman, mostly because of the very high standards Fred Harvey held for his employees including the waitresses who served meals in the restaurants he established along the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe Railroad. Before 1878, when Harvey took over a lunchroom above the train station in Topeka, Kansas, a traveler on railroads beyond Kansas City faced a vast food desert hundreds of miles long. If you didn’t bring your own food for the trip to Denver, for instance, or you did, but you ran out because the train was delayed, you would be very hungry by the time you reached your destination. Or you could risk food poisoning at a whistle stop along the way. By 1900, though, you would find a Harvey House, a top-grade eating establishment every hundred miles along the line. At a Harvey House you could count on getting a fine meal including anything you’d expect in the best New York City establishment served by young, efficient, intelligent, absolutely clean and tidy Harvey Girls of impeccable character. And you got good value for your seventy-five cents dinner, for Harvey Houses were known for slicing their pies into four pieces instead of the usual six.

If you’d like to learn more about the Harvey Girls, read Lesley Poling-Kempes’ lively book The Harvey Girls: Women Who Opened the West. You might also enjoy The Harvey Girls film with Judy Garland. And by all means, please get your very own copy of “Detectives’ Honeymoon,” the latest installment in my Calendar Mystery series, now available for only $0.99 at wwww.amazon.com/dp/B07D89JXN.

You can find other books and stories in my Calendar Mystery series at www.amazon.com/Juliet-Kincaid/e/B00DB4HWRG

Honeymoon Plans Go Awry

After resolving the mysteries of MISCHIEF IN MARCH, Book 3 of the Calendar Mystery series, newlyweds Daniel and Minty Price set off on their honeymoon. But due to a number of unforeseen circumstances, a Harvey Girl, and a would-be Sherlock Holmes,

 

 

they come to fear that they won’t have a honeymoon at all, in “Detectives’ Honeymoon,” the latest short story in the Calendar Mystery series featuring mystery and romance in old Kansas City. This story is now available for you to pre-order for only $0.99 (and free on Kindle Unlimited) at www.amazon.com/dp/B07D8H9JXN

“Detectives’ Honeymoon” begins exactly where Mischief in March, Book 3 of the Calendar Mystery series, leaves off. Here’s a sample.

A young woman, hands folded over her chest and ice blue eyes staring at the ceiling, lay on the bed that Daniel had bought for their new home. Fully clothed from shoes to a white bow ribbon in her blond hair, the woman wore a simple black dress with a long, white bib apron over it. Her white collar looked clean and freshly starched.

“Is she dead?” Minty asked.

Daniel bent over the bed and felt the woman’s wrist. “Yes, she is. Very dead.”

“Oh, dear,” Minty said. “Poor girl.” She covered her mouth with her hand, shaking slightly, and then dropping it, she said, “You know what, Mr. Price? I think she’s one of Fred Harvey’s girls.”

“I believe you’re right, Mrs. Price,” Daniel said.

 

 

 

 

Good news about January Jinx

GOOD NEWS! The first book in my calendar historical mystery series now has a low price in thirteen countries across the globe. For example, my Aussie friends, if you go to the Kindle store on Amazon.com.au and type in January Jinx, you can get this fun cozy historical mystery for a mere $1.29 in your dollars.

 

 

And like all of my short stories and novels, January Jinx is always free on Kindle Unlimited. Click here to get this fun read, American friends: www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4

 

 

 

 

Last day for FREE mystery story

Sunday April 8 is the last day to get “The 9th Street Gang,” the latest short story in my calendar mystery series, for FREE.

Join the fun as newly engaged Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price pursue a gang of thieves plaguing Kansas City in February 1900. Minty tries to focus on the case, but her wayward thoughts about the secret married couples keep to themselves distract her. Not only that, but her boss objects to her attempts to be a detective and any show of affection for Daniel inside the office or out.

Get your copy of “The 9th Street Gang” for FREE now at www.amazon.com/dp/B079YYVTTX

New short story

“The 9th Street Gang,” Juliet Kincaid’s latest calendar mystery short story, is now available for only #99cents at www.amazon.com/dp/B079YYVTTX or a penny less than a pound at www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B079YYVTTX but it’s always free on Kindle Unlimited.

“The 9th Street Gang,” an Old Kansas City Story

Happy to be wearing her old brown coat that the wet snow wouldn’t hurt and galoshes over her boots because of the slush underfoot, Minty Wilcox marched along 9th Street at Daniel Price’s side.

Daniel had bundled up in his tan overcoat, pulled his brown fedora down over his forehead, and wrapped a black muffler around the lower part of his face, so she could see only the red tip of his strong, aquiline nose and one dark brown eye squinting against the snow.

He’s my fiancé, Minty thought. We’re engaged! In just a few weeks time, I’ll be Mrs. Daniel Price. And I’ll be in on that secret married couples keep to themselves. Just thinking about solving that mystery set up a tingling in her lower parts . . .

In their first case together as a detective couple, newly engaged Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price pursue a gang of thieves plaguing Kansas City in February 1900. Distractions include the objections of their boss to any show at all of their affection for each other inside the office and out, Minty’s growing attraction to Daniel, and her wayward thoughts about the secret married couples keep to themselves. Join the fun, mystery and romance of this Calendar Mystery short story and along the way meet the son of a famous outlaw.

Praise for January Jinx, the first book in Juliet Kincaid’s Calendar Mystery series
The delightful, creative, and charming January Jinx introduces a terrific character in Minty Wilcox, a good old-fashioned cozy mystery persona who will surely be able to carry the planned-for series. It’s Minty who drives the readable narrative, and author Juliet Kincaid keeps the pace steady and fast at the same time for quite a readable experience. The writing is appropriate for the historical setting without ever being gimmicky or archaic . . . The unique setting of 1899 Kansas City is full of flavor that never overwhelms the story and the characters. With a terrific, original, but still comfortable series concept, there are certainly big things afoot for Juliet Kincaid and Minty Wilcox’s Calendar Mysteries.

Click on this link to learn more about Juliet Kincaid and her publications and how to buy them: https://www.amazon.com/Juliet-Kincaid/e/B00DB4HWRG/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

 

 

Job Hunting Jinxed in Old Kansas City

Buy January Jinx, the first book in the Calendar Mystery series, now at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4

The first chance Minty Wilcox gets in January 1899, she sets off to find a stenographer’s job in Kansas City. But her search is jinxed from the start. And in spite of her efforts to clear her name, bad luck spreads like a nasty cold from Minty to her family and to Daniel Price, their mysterious boarder as well. Minty feels that she brought all these troubles to her family and friends, so she must set things right. This won’t be easy in Kansas City that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago.

From January Jinx . . .

Mama slammed the kettle down onto the Grand Windsor Range. “What were you doing in the West Bottoms, Minty?”

Mama only banged the pots and pans around when she was truly agitated. The gas sucked the flame from the match and Minty jumped, but she kept her gaze on her hands twisting a napkin into a wet noodle. “I was looking for work. Besides, I didn’t actually get to the West Bottoms.”

“You were headed there on the stairs! And if you had made it to the bottom of the stairs, what then? Would you have crossed the tracks on foot? Oh, Minty, don’t you know how dangerous that is?”

“I’m sorry, Mama. I didn’t think it through.”

“I guess not. And why didn’t you take the car? Don’t tell me you went off this morning without a penny to your name?”

“I had fare both ways. I gave the soldier a nickel for breakfast at Mrs. McLean’s Up-to-Date Café. He looked like he was starving, Mama.” Minty recalled the soldier as she’d first laid eyes on him that morning. Slight of build, he stood near the fence along a Ninth Street mansion that needed paint. His sand-colored shirt, with gold cloth edging collar and cuffs and gold buttons down the front, had reassured her. How could she have known so much harm could come from her generosity? “All the soldiers who fought with Teddy Roosevelt at San Juan Hill are heroes.”

“Of that I have no doubt.”

“The sheriff took the other nickel.”

“That sheriff sounds like a common thief to me, making off with Uncle Edward’s watch like that. Are you sure he’s a sheriff? What’s his name? Where is he the sheriff?”

“He said he’s Sheriff Clayton Cole of Campbell, Kansas.”

“I never heard of Campbell, Kansas.” Across the kitchen, Mama flung open a cabinet so hard the door smacked into the next cabinet. On tiptoe Mama felt around the second shelf, but their maid Gerta had obviously pushed the plates too far back and out of Mama’s reach. “Where’s the stool?” Mama asked. “Oh, yes, the children took it into the parlor.”

Earlier, in the parlor, Mr. Price had impressed Mama with his credentials, with his arrangements for employment in town, and most of all with the thirty dollars deposit, a full month’s rent in advance. Then he left his satchel in the big bedroom upstairs and went off somewhere. He didn’t say where. A bit of a mystery, he was, with his unstated destination, his magician’s tricks and his new overcoat from Emery, Bird, Thayer, right downtown in Kansas City, though he claimed to have only just arrived from Chicago. Not that his goings-on interested Minty . . .

Praise for January Jinx

The delightful, creative, and charming January Jinx introduces a terrific character in Minty Wilcox, a good old-fashioned cozy mystery persona who will surely be able to carry the planned-for series. It’s Minty who drives the readable narrative, and author Juliet Kincaid keeps the pace steady and fast at the same time for quite a readable experience. The writing is appropriate for the historical setting without ever being gimmicky or archaic . . . The unique setting of 1899 Kansas City is full of flavor that never overwhelms the story and the characters. With a terrific, original, but still comfortable series concept, there are certainly big things afoot for Juliet Kincaid and Minty Wilcox’s Calendar Mysteries.

 

 

 

Writers’ New Year’s Resolutions

Like many others, I’ve been looking ahead to the new year and trying to settle on some goals for my writing. At times, this seems like an invitation for me to gallop off in all directions, as the saying goes, or worse yet, spin my wheels in familiar ruts. So I’ve asked for help from my writer friends. (Thanks, everyone!) Here are their resolutions in order of receipt.

Peg Nichols, a dear friend and fellow knitter, offered this charming resolution: Sitting, knitting, gives me space to dream up plots, invent characters, construct grammatically-correct sentences and paragraphs, but because of snide, snarky criticisms from my so-called friends—who are just jealous of my New York Times bestsellers successes (or will be if ever I get there)—I am limiting my knitting goals to only those articles I can achieve with the garter stitch. If you can’t understand why this will greatly simplify my knitting (as opposed to purling) and encourage my writing, ask any of your other knitter friends. Also, I’m going to be more diligent about keeping my ink well full to the screw top, and my quill pen sharpened. (I gave up trying to find more ribbons for my typewriter several years ago.)

Mark Scheel, author of The Pebble: Life, Love, Politics and Geezer Wisdom and the blog series on The Grant Journal and Scriggler, said, Well, sounds like fun. I don’t make resolutions anymore as most I’ve fulfilled. Those few I haven’t I’ve given up on. Ha. But try this one: “To not yield to the lazy temptation of allowing day-to-day distractions to override one’s writing schedule or the focus on one’s present writing project.”

Theresa Hupp, author of historical novels Lead Me Home and Now I’m Found and the forthcoming Forever Mine, all set in the American West, gave these three New Year’s Resolutions (goals) for 2018: 1. Publish my third historical novel, Forever Mine (a first quarter goal). 2. Draft a fourth historical novel (the first draft to be written and reviewed with my critique group by the end of the year. I only have a vague outline done now) 3. Invest in my writing by marketing my books more vigorously, including with paid advertising based on a budget (throughout the year, and I’ve already started!)

Denise M. Hartman, author of Killed in Kruger and the Blanche Binkley mysteries, resolves to start a new murder mystery in 2018 after releasing the last Blanche Binkley book in March of 2017. It is time to begin again!

Well, I guess I’ve passed the buck long enough, and so I must offer my New Year’s resolution. Juliet Kincaid resolves to have something new, free, or discounted available for my readers every month in 2018. So far I’ve lined up specific projects through August and I hope to launch the first book in a new series this fall. Sounds like I’d better get cracking, don’t you agree?

What’s your resolution for 2018?

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

For mystery and romance in old Kansas City—that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago—try Juliet’s calendar mystery novels and short stories. Click on the Calendar Mystery page for details.

Free Short Story

Here’s a snippet from “The Barn Door,” a prequel story to my calendar mystery series, set in old Kansas City, that features an old gent named Hector Jones in need of a detective.

The elevator operator had started to close the door when someone shouted, “Wait for me” from outside and a clean-shaven man of medium height stepped onto the car. He didn’t remove his dark blue cap. “Thanks for waiting, Robbie,” the man said.
“Sure thing, Mr. Price,” the elevator operator said. “Going to the Ninth Floor, as usual?” he asked before he shut the elevator door.
Price? Hector Jones thought.
“Yes indeed,” the man said, now standing near the front of the car on the right with his back to Hector.
Hector lowered his gaze and studied Price from the heels of his brown boots, the left one scuffed, to his dark gray mixed Kentucky jean pants, baggy in the seat. A pair of sturdy farmer’s suspenders crossed a patch of his white shirt a little darker with sweat than the rest of it.
The attendant turned and looked at Hector. “Which floor you going to, sir?”
“As it happens, I’m going to the Ninth Floor as well, to Price Investigations,” Jones said.
The man in front of Jones turned and took off his cap. “I’m Daniel Price,” he said.

Take a break from expensive Christmas shopping and also get a change in the weather a lot cheaper than flying to Bermuda, and read my calendar mystery short story “The Barn Door” set on the July 4th weekend in 1898. This prequel story to my calendar mystery novels is FREE 12/08/17  #FreebieFriday through  #ShortStorySunday 12/10/17. Enjoy mystery and some possible romance in old Kansas City, a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago by getting “The Barn Door” for FREE at www.amazon.com/dp/B073G7ZXMP.

New Calendar Mystery Story!

TWO BIRTHDAYS

An Old Kansas City Story

June 22, 1899

Price Investigations Office

Kansas City, Missouri

The office door opening that afternoon startled Minty Wilcox and she almost looked up to see who it was. But then she thought, I’d better keep my head down and look busy. It won’t do for Mr. Mathison to catch me reading a mystery novel when I’m supposed to be hard at work. Indeed, George Mathison, the manager of the Kansas City branch of the Price Investigations Agency, was quite strict about the office staff keeping busy, especially Minty, the newest member of the staff.

Not that there was much work to do at the moment, no one there to take dictation from, no operative reports to type, no papers to file.

Still, Minty closed the black book, a favorite of hers that she liked to reread that time of year, and hid it in her top desk drawer. After that, she began typing furiously at her ancient blind-strike Remington typewriting machine. As a precaution earlier, she’d loaded a blank piece of paper in the typewriter. A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, she typed. A quick . . .

“Where’s Mrs. B?” a man asked.

After Minty lifted her hands from the keyboard and looked up, her heart started going pitty pat.

<> <> <>

Two Birthdays, an old Kansas City story

After Minty Wilcox has worked for six months or so at Price Investigations as a stenographer/typist, the dashing detective Daniel Price appears in the office and carries her off to take notes on a new case the agency has been hired for. But once he starts filling Minty in on the details of the case, some of the information sounds strangely familiar. And she begins to wonder what he’s really up to on her twentieth birthday, June 22, 1899.

Praise for January Jinx, Book 1 in the Calendar Mystery series

The delightful, creative, and charming January Jinx introduces a terrific character in Minty Wilcox, a good old-fashioned cozy mystery persona who will surely be able to carry the planned-for series. It’s Minty who drives the readable narrative, and author Juliet Kincaid keeps the pace steady and fast at the same time for quite a readable experience. The writing is appropriate for the historical setting without ever being gimmicky or archaic . . . The unique setting of 1899 Kansas City is full of flavor that never overwhelms the story and the characters. With a terrific, original, but still comfortable series concept, there are certainly big things afoot for Juliet Kincaid and Minty Wilcox’s Calendar Mysteries.

“Two Birthdays,” a Calendar Mystery short story featuring Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price getting to know each other, is now available for your Kindle for $0.99 (and always free from KindleUnlimited)* at www.amazon.com/dp/B076JS3D2Y

*This fun story will be available for free to all on October 20 through 22, and October 26 and 27.