FREE MYSTERY SHORT

Two Birthdays

An Old Kansas City Story

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.

For instead of George Mathison, Daniel Price, one of the agency operatives, stood in the open door. A young man of medium height, he wore a straw boater, a white shirt with a black straight tie knotted under its stiff collar, a white vest, and white trousers.

“Oh, Dan . . .” Minty caught herself in time. Mr. Mathison was ever so strict about employees maintaining proper decorum. He had also forbidden employees to fraternize with each other during business hours—or at any time, for that matter. It certainly wouldn’t do for the agency’s most newly hired employee to err in that respect.

“Why, Mr. Price,” Minty said. “Mrs. Bradford took the afternoon off. She said she had an important errand to run.”

Daniel Price took off his hat and ran his hand over his reddish brown hair, parted in the middle. His neatly trimmed beard and mustache were also reddish brown. “Golly,” he said. “I really need someone to help me.” He closed the door behind himself and hung his boater on the coat tree next to Minty’s parasol.

“I’m sorry that Mrs. Bradford isn’t here,” Minty said. “Is it something I might help you with?” Minty stood up, went around her desk, and took a couple of steps toward the door.

“Perhaps.” He brushed his beard. “You see. I have an appointment with Mr. Ferd Heim, Jr. at the brewery across town.” Daniel fumbled with the gold chain that crossed his vest and pulled out his pocket watch along with a couple of keys.

Minty looked down at her pendant watch at the end of a light chain and pinned to the front of her shirtwaist, white with garnet red pin stripes. She flipped her watch over and read the time. “Why, it’s already half past four.”

“And my appointment with Mr. Heim is for five o’clock. Well, you will have to do, Miss Minty.”

 

And so Daniel Price lures Minty Wilcox off on a case that starts to sound strangely familiar as he tells her about it and she wonders what he really is up to.

Click here to get “Two Birthdays” for FREE from June 20 through June 24: www.amazon.com/dp/B076JS3D2Y

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

International Women’s Day: Strong Women in Fiction

Recently, I was with a group of women fiction writers, and someone mentioned International Women’s Day on March 8, 2018. The authors at this meeting realized we all write about strong women. So to celebrate the occasion this year, each of us agreed to post an excerpt from our writing featuring one of our strong female characters. And we want to share all our characters with you.

I’m sharing the start of “Lost Dog,” a prequel story to my historical mysteries that introduces the series protagonist, Minty Wilcox, along with several other continuing characters in the stories and books. So here she comes to the rescue of . . . Well, read on and you’ll find out.

Lost Dog

An Old Kansas City Story

Tuesday, July 5, 1898, shortly after noon

Kansas City, Missouri

As Minty Wilcox hurried home, she mentally reviewed the symbols from Mr. Gregg’s shorthand system she’d studied that morning at the Kansas City Business College. A pretty woman of nineteen years, she wore a white dress with navy blue trim around the square neck that gave the dress a nautical air. A jaunty seersucker sailor hat with a blue and white band sat on top of her light brown hair and she carried a black school bag over her shoulder.

She’d just crossed Tenth Street when shouts up ahead on the avenue pulled her out of her reverie.

On the steps of a big white Victorian house near the other end of the block, a woman in black held up a broom as if it were a baseball bat. It looked like she meant to take a swing with it at two children standing on the sidewalk below.

“My gosh!” Minty said when she recognized the children as her youngest siblings and the woman as their neighbor as Agnes Shackleton. Minty promptly lifted her skirts to mid-calf and ran the rest of the way down Penn.

Just after Minty reached Eddie, a slim, brown-haired boy in a white shirt and knee pants, and Peach, a little blonde who wore a plaid dress of mixed browns and tans, Miss Shackleton said, “Get off my property.” She swung the broom at Peach.

Minty caught the bristle end of the broom only an inch away from her youngest sister’s head, wrenched the broom out of the woman’s hands, and threw it in the street.

Off balance, Miss Shackleton stumbled down the steps onto the walk. “What do you think you’re doing?” she said.

“How dare you take a broom to my sister?” Minty said.

“But, but . . . ,” the woman sputtered. Then, perhaps recognizing Minty’s anger, she turned, retreated to the middle of the stairs and turned to face Minty again. Tall and gloomy in a black dress with huge leg o’ mutton sleeves several years out of date, Agnes Shackleton had gray hair split by a center part. As usual, her long, bony face wore a sour look. “She was on my property,” she said. “The boy, too.”

“My brother and sister are on the sidewalk now,” Minty said. “And it’s public property.”

“They were on my steps before and they were attacking me.”

Minty might have laughed at that if she hadn’t been boiling mad. “I doubt that very much,” she said.

Miss Shackleton gave Minty a long hard stare before she said, “Well, that girl is most impertinent.”

Minty could see how some might find Peach impertinent because she often spoke before she thought. But Minty wouldn’t concede anything to Miss Shackleton who said, “I suggest, Miss Wilcox, that you control these gutter snipes that your mother allows to run wild on the streets making noise at all hours of the day and night.”

Her back decidedly up, Minty said, “My brother and sister aren’t gutter snipes, Miss Shackleton. And I will thank you to quit calling them names.”

“Minty, what’s a gutter snipe?” asked Peach, so dubbed at birth by their father because she was such a peach of a girl.

“Somebody who’s not very nice,” Eddie said. An earnest boy of thirteen, the youngest of Minty’s four brothers limped up to Minty. He wore special shoes for the clubfoot he was born with that later was repaired, at least in part, by several surgeries.

“How come they’re not nice?” Peach said.

“We’ll talk about it later, Peach,” Minty said, her breathing and heartbeat finally slowing. She turned back toward Miss Shackleton. “If you’re talking about last night, lots of people were out and about to see the fireworks. So what if they set off a few firecrackers? Lots of people did.” Including me, Minty added to herself. It was so much fun, but then Miss Shackleton seemed to have lost the ability to have fun—if she’d ever had it, that is.

Miss Shackleton sniffed. “I shouldn’t be surprised at their behavior. Your mother runs a disreputable establishment with people in and out all hours of the day and night.”

“She does not,” Minty said. “Our boarders are very respectable. And Mama has a rule that everyone must be home by ten, even the grown-ups, except for special occasions like Independence Day.”

“Well, they were shouting at me,” Miss Shackleton said.

“Probably for good reason, Miss Shackleton,” Minty said. She turned her head a little before she said, “Eddie, what’s going on?”

Before Eddie could answer, Peach said, “She was trying to kill the doggy. Maybe she did already.”

“What dog?” Minty asked.

To read the rest of “Lost Dog ,”  click on the following link. (It’s only 99 cents to buy and always free on Kindle Unlimited)  www.amazon.com/dp/B0752SWBG1

For the posts from the other women authors in our group about their strong women characters, please follow the links below:

Joyce Brown, author of cozy mysteries  http://www.joyceannbrown.com/blog/international-womens-day-strong-women-in-fiction

Darlene Deluca, author of women’s fiction and romance: https://darlenedeluca.com/2018/03/07/international-womens-day-strong-women-in-fiction/

Pamela B. Eglinski, author of suspense and historical fiction

Theresa Hupp, author of historical fiction

If you like the excerpts these authors have posted, then let them know in a comment on their blogs. Writers always enjoy hearing from readers

Happy International Women’s Day!

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

 

 

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 . . .

 

Minty Wilcox to the Rescue

Lost Dog

An Old Kansas City Story

Tuesday, July 5, 1898, shortly after noon

Kansas City, Missouri

As Minty Wilcox hurried home, she mentally reviewed the symbols from Mr. Gregg’s shorthand system she’d studied that morning at the Kansas City Business College. A pretty woman of nineteen years, she wore a white jumper dress with navy blue trim around the square neck—over a shirtwaist of course for modesty—that gave the dress a nautical air. A jaunty seersucker sailor hat with a blue and white band sat on top of her light brown hair and she carried the old waterproof black bag she’d used in high school over her shoulder.

She’d just crossed Tenth Street when shouts up ahead on the avenue pulled her out of her reverie. On the steps of a vast white Victorian pile near the other end of the block, a woman in black held up a broom as if it were a baseball bat. It looked like she meant to take a swing with it at two children standing on the sidewalk below.

“My gosh!” Minty said when she recognized the children as her youngest siblings and the woman as their neighbor as Agnes Shackleton. Minty promptly lifted her skirts to mid-calf and ran sprinted the rest of the way down Penn.

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In this prequel short story to her calendar mystery series that feature mystery,  romance, and touches of humor here and there in old Kansas City, Juliet Kincaid introduces Minty Wilcox, her female protagonist. Intent on gaining the skills she needs for a career as a business girl, typing and taking dictation in short hand, Minty nevertheless runs into considerable interference with her goal. A mean-spirited neighbor accosts Minty’s younger brother and sister and a sweet little lost dog. Minty’s mother doesn’t approve of her daughter’s plans to have a career. And several flirtatious gents distract Minty from her tasks.

Read the story as an eBook for only $0.99 (or for free on Kindle Unlimited) at www.amazon.com/dp/B0752SWBG1

A House in the Country

A Reminiscence

Whenever we went for a drive on Sunday afternoons and on long trips, too, back in the 50’s, Dad stamped white horses. If he spotted a white horse in a field by the side of the road, he’d lift his right hand from the steering wheel, lick the end of his index finger, punch it against the palm of his left hand still on the wheel, and slam his right fist against his palm to seal the deal.

On our rides, Dad and I competed to see who stamped the most white horses. So he liked to wait until we’d almost passed the horse and it was almost out of sight to stamp it, so I’d miss it and he’d win. He’d chuckle like crazy as I’d turn my head to look for the white horse and say, “Where is it? Where is it? I missed it. Oh darn it, Daddy.”

(Two can play that game.)

I don’t imagine we stamped too many white horses on a drive in Clarion County PA that we took close to the Fourth of July in 1955.

My dad’s mother, Grandmother Willman, wearing a faded, short-sleeved house dress, but as stiff-necked as usual, came with us. She wanted to find the house her husband grew up in. Though the area hadn’t changed as much as it would in the next decade with the building of the interstates and the subsequent development along them, it had been a very long time, sixty years or more, since she visited that house. You forget lots in sixty years, something I understand much more now than I did when I was fourteen going on fifteen, a supple young thing who didn’t understand how age stiffens necks.

Our usual seating arrangement in the car was Dad at the wheel. Mom rode shotgun. Our dog, a short-legged beagle mix with a big brown spot in the middle of her white back, sat in Mom’s lap. I rode in the back.

On that particular ride, Grandmother Willman sat in front, so she could give Dad directions. Mom, Dotty, and I rode in back.

Mom was obviously pissed off about the seating arrangements. She glared through her glasses with her snapping black eyes at the back of her mother-in-law’s head, covered with silky white hair pinned in two braided crescents that crisscrossed each other just above her seamed neck.

Mom always said Grandmother Willman was a bitch because before Dad married Mom, Dad sent most of the money he made working for the CCC home to his mother to save for him.

Or so he thought until his wedding to Mom on 7/11/37, he asked his mother for his money, and Grandmother Willman said, “Money? What money? I don’t have any of your money.” Whenever Mom told this story, she bellowed those exact same words in the exact same way. And so my dad had to take out a loan of $200, a substantial sum back then during the Depression, to start his married life with my mom.

I’m certain Grandmother Willman disapproved of my mom just as much. They were so different, the one a stern, church-going, teetotal countrywoman and the other a city girl with a New Jersey accent who didn’t attend church much, not even on Easter and Christmas, except for the social stuff like the annual picnic. Also Mom used words like “bitch” and “shit” and didn’t mind the occasional beer or cocktail.

Grandmother Willman’s disapproval of the girl Dad married the second time around passed down to me. Though my mom was a world-class housekeeper and kept a far tidier house than any of my dad’s sisters and his mom, she wasn’t teaching me crucial womanly kitchen skills. (She didn’t want me underfoot when she was in the kitchen fixing supper.) Also my mom earned her living as a nurse before she and Dad got married.

I was headed down the same wrong path of wanting to go to college and to earn my living instead of getting married, making babies, and keeping house.

But that day, given a choice between staying back at the family farm with Dad’s relatives that she barely knew and going somewhere, anywhere, in the car, Mom shut her mouth and glowered at her mother-in-law from the back seat. She was probably just waiting for Grandmother Willman to say something or do something Mom could bitch to my dad about for days, weeks, months, and years to come. (“And that’s another thing that burns my ass off about your mother, Homer,” she’d say.

The drive, maybe punctuated by Dad and me stamping a white horse or two, took a while because Grandmother Willman was unsure of the directions. It must have been a point of pride that in the end she did remember where the house was and finally the car bumped along a lane past a new farmhouse, white with bright blue shutters, till we came to an old house inside a square of dirt with a rickety barbed wire fence around it. Even I who’d never seen the house before was shocked by its condition.

“This must be it, Mother,” Dad said as he pulled the car close to the fence. He turned off the engine, opened his door and got out without closing the door on that side. He stared across the top of the car.

Mom squeezed against me as she looked out the window on my side of the car. “Is that really it?” she said. “I can’t say much for it.”

Staring at the old house, I tried to figure out what was wrong with it. Well, for one thing, it was the gray of weathered wood without any paint at all. There wasn’t anything green around it. Unlike my father’s mother’s family farmhouse, it didn’t have a pond sitting in front of it. And then I realized what I didn’t see, too. It sat alone inside that fence without a single outbuilding, spring house, outhouse or corn crib, shed or barn.

After a while, Grandmother Willman said, “I believe the people that own the place now are using the old house as a barn.”

“I think you’re right, Mother,” Dad said, his voice a little distant from outside the car. He turned and poked his head back in. “I tell you what. Why don’t we look around? The cows aren’t in the barnyard and I’m sure the new owners won’t mind.”

“Yes, let’s,” Mom said. “I hate to think we came all this way for nothing.”

Mom opened the door. The floppy-eared Dottie spilled out. My mom slammed the door and I jumped out my side. Grandmother Willman was the last out, helped by my dad though I don’t think she stopped looking at that falling-down house the whole time.

Dad went ahead and unlatched the wide gate, shut by a loop of wire, held the gate open while we trooped through, then closed it. A little closer, I saw that the windows didn’t have a bit of glass anymore though a rag of a curtain blew through a window on the second floor.

Glad to be out of the car, I ran ahead of the others, up the narrow stone steps and through the doorway (no door left) straight into the house. Momentum carried me through what must have been the kitchen and parlor, up narrow steps to a hall and into a bedroom. Finally, the sight of faded wallpaper shredded down the walls, straw littering the floor, mouse droppings, and the stink of must and decay stopped me. This is horrible, I thought. Finding the house in this condition was worse than not finding it at all. It was like walking inside a corpse.

I heard my mom and dad marching around downstairs, as they tried to figure out the layout of the house, but I couldn’t stand breathing the close, rotten air of that house anymore. By the time I got back outside, Grandmother Willman was there, too, gazing at the house through wire-rimmed glasses that reflected the sunlight so I couldn’t see her eyes.

I heard her voice shake, though, as she pointed toward a nearly leafless, thorny plant growing by the steps. “That’s a blackberry bush,” she said. “My mother-in-law made the best pies with the berries from that bush.”

Suddenly, I felt sorry for Grandmother Willman, in her faded house dress, stiffly corseted underneath, in her black granny shoes and stockings, as she remembered all the people she’d known and loved who’d lived in that now dead house, alone and solitary in a barren field.

 

The Registered Nurse

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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