Legacy

Hello, Everyone!

Gosh, it’s been a long time since I talked to some of you, so this will serve as a catch-up about my activities as an indie author in 2018. It was very busy for me, partly because I made an ambitious resolution at the start of the year to bring out something new, free or discounted every month. And I did it! Here are highlights of the new stuff.

 

In April, I finished and published a brand new calendar mystery short story called “The 9th Street Gang.” It features Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price pursuing a pesky young gang in Kansas City in February 1900 just after they became engaged in Mischief in March. Click on the cover  to buy it for only $0.99.

 

In May, I published another short, “Detectives’ Honeymoon” that picks up exactly where Mischief in March leaves off. It resolves that little cliffhanger at the end of the novel and follows what turns out to be an unusual honeymoon. Click on the cover to buy it for only $0.99.

In July, I published Old Time Stories, a collection of fiction and nonfiction. It includes six calendar mystery short stories like the two mentioned earlier plus the previously unpublished story called “The Shackleton Ghost.” It also includes nonfiction pieces about the people and places that inspired my fiction. Click on the cover to buy the eBook for $3.99. (The print version is available for $10.)

And for those of you Minty and Daniel fans who wondered what happened to the April calendar mystery novel, I drafted it in November as a NaNoWriMo2018 project. I hope to publish it in April 2019.

 

(Note: the digital version of January Jinx, in which my heroine Minty Wilcox confronts all sorts of problems trying to get a suitable job for a woman in old Kansas City, will cost you only $0.99 in the U. S. at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4 or in the UK for £0.99 at www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00HSSSBE4 from December 27, 2018 to January 3, 2019. It’s also available in print.

 

The project I completed and published in 2018 that I’m proudest of isn’t fiction at all. It’s Novel Basics, an Illustrated Guide to Writing a Novel, and very close to my heart as a longtime novel reader, writer, and teacher. Here’s a brief description of that book:

Let Dr. Juliet Kincaid talk you through her unique method of brainstorming a novel with twenty cards in the first part of Novel Basics. Then follow through with her expert guidance on time management, as well as drafting and revising a novel. Altogether, Novel Basics provides a compact yet complete practical guide to writing a novel, whether it’s your first or your fifteenth.

In this book, I describe the novel as a tool of infinite possibilities, a sort of Swiss Army knife with a million blades. And I view the book as my legacy for future novelists no matter who you are or where or when you write your novels.

Novel Basics is now available as an eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B07K2LXFRP for $3.99 and in print (9781730833991) for $8.99.

Best, Juliet (aka Dr. J)

WiP Report: DONE!

I’m very pleased to announce that I finished my NaNoWriMo2018 project yesterday afternoon, certified it on the website, and printed my certificate. Whoop! Whoop!

To celebrate, this morning I’m wearing my NaNoWriMo2018 tee shirt for the first time. Also earlier I let myself linger over coffee and the daily Sudoku puzzle instead of flying into the home office, cranking up the Mac, and begin pounding away at the keys.

Something really interesting happened during NaNoWriMo this year. A week or so ago, I was floundering around trying to see my way through the plot of Apart in April, the fifth book in my Calendar Mystery series. Then I decided to use the methods I describe in Novel Basics, the book on novel writing that I recently published. When I did, my characters started talking to each other,  and I could see them moving through at least one of the settings. Super exciting!

Now, I can’t say that my NaNoWriMo project is a complete draft of a novel. In fact, yesterday I left off after brainstorming the climactic scene of the book. So I still have three more major scenes to draft and lots of other work to do before I’ve finished even the preliminaries for writing the book. (I’m aiming for an April 2019 publication date.)

Still, I’ve reached a major stage. Now I can relax a little before I have to think much about Christmas-shopping, addressing and mailing cards, decorating the house, partying with friends.

But first . . .

Backing up to Halloween, I must confess that I got in a hurry with Novel Basics by publishing the eBook version at eight in the evening on October 31 while my daughter gave out candy to trick-or-treaters, so that on November 1, I could start working on the 50,000 words of my NaNoWriMo whatever-you-want-to-call-it—marathon, sprint write, brainstorm, really rough partial draft.

Using Novel Basics reminded me of some things I forgot to put in that book that I tell students whenever I teach the class in person. So now I have to revise that book, proofread it, republish the eBook, format the print version, do its cover, and get it out as well ASAP. Oh yeah, and I need to make postcards to give to my friends at a meeting this coming Saturday and . . . See ya!

 

WiP Report: Two Thirds of the Way There

Somehow it doesn’t seem quite right that apparently I caught a cold when I went to the medical center a couple of weeks ago to have an MRI on my sore shoulder. (I tore some muscles in it, probably when I got too enthusiastic at an exercise class two or three months ago. The pain of that in combination with a hungry cat getting me out of bed way too early led to weeks and weeks of sleep deprivation, clearly a drag on this old body.)

Still, I’ve noticed that working on Apart in April, my NaNoWriMo2018 project, has an analgesic effect on me, so I forget about my aches, pains, and congested nose when I work on it. The writing is going well, and yesterday, I reached the two-thirds mark of the endeavor with 36,293 words, about 3,000 words ahead of schedule.

This NaNoWriMo project seems to be going better than my three previous ones. I’ve had the idea for it for quite a while. I even did some brainstorming and research for it in the spring of 2017. Also, this is the fifth book in the series, so I already have many characters and settings that I can use. I don’t need to create them from scratch.

The latter factor can be both good and bad. This project is going faster than the others, true, but sometimes knowing so much about the people and places of the book leads me astray.

For instance, this past week I got all excited about putting in a scene in which 1) my protagonist, Minty Wilcox Price, has tea with 2) her mother, 3) the woman Minty’s uncle recently married, and 4) Minty’s husband’s aunt. The four women meet in a tearoom recently set up in the house next door to the house where Minty grew up by 5) a woman who appears in Mischief in March and they’re served by 6) the nosy series antagonist who works there.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,“ the part of my brain I call my imp* says, “You can have Woman 6 say snarky things and Women 2 through 4 can suggest that Minty wear a disguise, so after tea Minty and Women 2 through 4 will troop over to the pawnshop you created in ‘The 9th Street Gang’ and . . .”

“Wait!” says the other side of my brain that I call my ump.* “How are you going to use women 2 through 6 later in this new book?”

“Well, I don’t know,” my imp says, pouting a little. “Maybe I won’t. Oh, you’re no fun!”

My ump shrugs. “I don’t care,” she says.

And then by that sort of miracle that often happens when I’m writing, my imp says, “I guess since most of the book takes place in St. Joseph, not Kansas City, I really only need Woman 3 because she moved to St. Joe. Oh and I know, she can help Minty with her disguise and . . .”

After that lots of things about the book that have appeared very disorganized so far fell into place and this morning I’m anxious to get back to it. Best, Juliet

*I describe the imp and the ump in Novel Basics, an Illustrated Guide to Writing a Novel, now available as a Kindle eBook at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07K2LXFRP

Juliet’s Calendar Mystery series tells the story of business girl Minty Wilcox and detective Daniel Price in old Kansas City, a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago. You’ll find the four previous books and several short stories all listed on Juliet’s Amazon Author Central Page: https://www.amazon.com/Juliet-Kincaid/e/B00DB4HWRG

 

 

NaNoWriMo2018: Day 7

I begin Day 7 of NaNoWriMo2018 with 11,211 words written so far and a big surprise for myself. (That’s something I love about drafting a novel. Really it’s a voyage of discovery into the untold reaches of my mind.)

Specifically, once I got started, I found out that Apart in April, Book 5 in my cozy historical mystery series, doesn’t follow the advice I give in Novel Basics, An Illustrated Guide to Writing a Novel.

What advice? you ask. Why, to Keep It Simple, Student. (Yeah, I know the second S usually stands for stupid. But I happen to believe the world could do with a bit more civility. Don’t you?)

Now back to the subject at hand . . . In the first section, Novel Basics presents my unusual method of brainstorming a novel with twenty 3” by 5” index cards. (It’s fun. It’s fast. Bet you’ll like it.) I call Card # 1 “the heart card” because it asks the essential question that every story must answer to succeed: “Who wants what?”

Well, I see that I need to back up a little bit and describe my Calendar Mystery series before I travel on. So far the series includes the novels January Jinx, Fatal February, and my personal favorite Mischief in March, plus six short stories, five published as Kindle Short Reads and all six in the collection Old Time Stories. (The collection also includes nonfiction about the people and places that have inspired my fiction.) And altogether the series tells the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newlywed and beyond in Kansas City, a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago. (Yeah, I’ve been working on the description for a while.)

Now back to the cards . . . To my surprise, early in working on Apart in April, I discovered that it has a double heart. That is, it has two answers to the question, “Who wants what?” Daniel wants to find his runaway wife Minty. And Minty wants to solve a case on her own without her husband’s help. What fun! Now I’m off to work on it some more.

Novel Basics, a compact yet complete guide to writing a novel from brainstorming through rewriting, is now available as an eBook for $4.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07K2LXFRP

You can also find the books and stories in my cozy historical mystery series at https://www.amazon.com/Juliet-Kincaid/e/B00DB4HWRG/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

New for NaNoWriMo2018

Novel Basics: An Illustrated Guide to Writing a Novel

Have you always wanted to write a novel, but haven’t even known how to start?

Or perhaps you’ve written short stories, but the sheer size of the novel scares you off.

Maybe you have a novel you drafted twenty years ago tucked away in a drawer or even several first chapters of novels you didn’t complete or a filing cabinet full of drafted novels you could never interest an agent or an editor in.

Maybe you started a novel during National Novel Writing Month, but didn’t finish it. Or maybe you did write those 50,000 words and got your NaNoWriMo diploma, but you don’t know what to do with those words.

Or perhaps you’re the author of a brilliant, published, and well-received first novel, but you just can’t get your sophomore effort together.

Perhaps you’re the author of a best-selling series for which you still have a ton of ideas, but the notion for a new novel has crept into your head and you’d like to explore its potential.

Maybe you’ve been working on a nonfiction book about growing up or a shocking event in your hometown and now you think it might work better as a novel.

Maybe you don’t fit any of these slots, but still you have an idea, probably sparked by that powerful question “What if?” that just won’t leave you alone.

Regardless of which category you might fit into, Dr. Juliet Kincaid’s NOVEL BASICS will guide you through the process of brainstorming a novel fast with twenty index cards. The book also includes practical tips on time management, the process of drafting a novel, and revising a novel as well.

As for qualifications, Dr. J, as her students called her, has a plenty of experience with the novel. She has more read than 3,000 of them and counting. Her dissertation on fiction in diary form was labeled remarkably free of jargon. She’s written more than a dozen novels and she’s published five so far. Thirty-five years of experience teaching writing at the college level have honed her communication skills.

The book NOVEL BASICS is based in part on Dr. J’s popular workshop of the same name. Here are two testimonials from former students of the course for Juliet’s unusual approach to brainstorming a novel.

Novel Basics is the perfect kick start for new novelists to prepare before writing the first line and continuing through the middle to the conclusion. Important story elements are presented in the logical, easy-to-follow order the writer should consider them. Experienced authors can also benefit from this new approach for their next projects. Mary-Lane Kamberg, award-winning professional writer, speaker, and editor and co-leader of the Kansas City Writers Group and founder and director of I Love to Write Camps for young writers.

Starting with a simple question (“Who wants what?”), this method offers writers a step-by-step guide to organizing and plotting a novel. Kincaid’s approach helps writers think about critical points beforehand so the writing process will be smoother and more productive. Cheryl Brinkman Johnson

NOVEL BASICS is now available just in time for NaNoWriMo2018 as a Kindle eBook for $4.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07K2LXFRP

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 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

My Father, the Story Thief

With stories, my dad was like a magpie. Anything flashy he took. Often he polished them to his own particular shine, too.

For example, if you climb up our family tree on Daddy’s side far enough, way back to the 1760’s and then hop over to a stubby branch that started in 1763 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and ended in 1808 in Natchez, Mississippi, you’ve found Lewis Wetzel.

My dad freely made his own the stories about Wetzel that author Zane Grey told in his novel Betty Zane, first published in 1903, the year of my father’s birth. (Dad’s mustache looked like a white caterpillar wiggled whenever he bragged that he “was born in the year of Kitty Hawk, but I lived to see men on the moon.”) Grey based his book on family stories about his ancestor—the brave, young Betty Zane. She saved the day for settlers sheltered at Fort Henry, close to present-day Wheeling, West Virginia, when she slipped through the enemy forces, ran home and fetched gunpowder and ammunition back in her apron. Both Grey and my dad described Wetzel as the heroic Indian fighter who helped turn the tide against the British armies and their Indian allies. Thus, he won the gratitude of American settlers near the Ohio River.

In my dad’s version of the biography, Wetzel became an Indian fighter after some Indians ambushed and murdered all of his family but him. According to other sources, real events didn’t fall out quite that way. Indians did indeed kill Lew Wetzel’s father, but Wetzel had become an Indian fighter several years before that. When he was just thirteen, some Indian scouts wounded and then captured him along with his younger brother near the family farm. The boys escaped, but this event turned Wetzel into a stone-cold Indian killer.

Events of my life have brought me close to Lewis Wetzel twice. For a few weeks in the autumn of 1971, with my husband and my infant daughter, I lived in the Western Panhandle of West Virginia a mile or two from Big Wheeling Creek. Two hundred years, before the Wetzel family farmed land along the same creek. The man who rented us half a nineteenth-century farmhouse ten miles east of Wheeling let us store David’s bicycle in the original house on the property, a long, low, stone building with a dirt-floored room on either side of a fireplace.

Lew Wetzel might have visited that very house, backed into a narrow valley with a clearing in front of it. So, primed by my father’s stories, I created a mental picture of him there. Wetzel wore buckskins and hid his long, blond braids out of sight under his hat, so “the Indians wouldn’t see his hair and go after him,” Dad said. (Indians longed to take that fair-haired scalp in revenge for his taking so many of their black-haired scalps, but none of them ever managed it.) My dad said Lewis Wetzel never learned to speak English well, but spoke Pennsylvania Dutch. Probably Wetzel didn’t say much at all as he leaned in a corner of that crude house. He squinted his eyes against the smoke from the fireplace and relished the hard cider the settler’s wife handed him in a pewter mug. Dogs lay at ease at his feet and the children stared at him, open-mouthed in awe from all the stories their fathers had told them about the legendary Lewis Wetzel. Maybe a brave lad sneaked up to touch the long rifle he reloaded and used with deadly accuracy, even while he ran, or his tomahawk that had killed countless Indians, or his scalping knife. The women in the house mostly stayed away from him at least until someone thought to loan him a violin. He was a famous fiddler, his reels and jigs speaking to pioneer folk in ways he couldn’t through words.

Regardless, he wouldn’t stay long in that low, two-roomed house before he took off running east through Big Wheeling Creek, that rushed then, as it did when I lived near it two hundred years later, clear and cold over rounded stones.

The other time I came close to Lewis Wetzel was downright eerie. Some friends of mine threw a costume party with instructions to come as “our favorite Revolutionary.” Naturally, because of Dad’s stories, I instantly thought of Lewis Wetzel. So I made myself some fake buckskins, bought a black felt hat and a blond wig for a few bucks at a local five and dime (gone now). I also donned moccasin-style bedroom slippers and a rabbit fur vest I happened to own. I stuck a rubber tomahawk in a hand-woven belt and went off to my party. Later, as I danced in that costume with that blond hair swinging over my face, I felt as if Lewis Wetzel was inside me looking out through my eyes, searching for Indians to scalp. It creeped me so much I broke into a cold sweat and I ripped the hat and wig off my head fast.

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As I said, Dad mostly stole his stories of Lewis Wetzel from Zane Grey, but some of his tales Dad acquired honestly. One of my favorites comes from the 1930’s when Dad was a surveyor up in the mountains of West Virginia. Dad is the short guy in the middle.

(From those days living in a two-story wooden dormitory at the camp, Dad got his insistence that the only proper surface for cards and poker chips was an army blanket, on a cot or on the kitchen table, depending on the circumstance.)

One time as Dad’s crew surveyed the routes for fire roads in the national parks up in those steep West Virginian hills, they found some old stone markers, leaning every which way, set by a surveyor who came through there in the 1760’s, back along those ancient pathways through the river gaps in the Allegheny Mountains, first laid down by deer. The Indians followed these tracks. Settlers in their lumbering wagons, pulled by oxen, called one of them the National Road. (Dad said that some of our ancestors–the Wetzels? I sometimes wonder–made the arduous journey from Long Swamp, Pennsylvania, across those mountains, probably on one of those roads, to settle in Clarion County near the western border of the state.) Nowadays eighteen-wheelers and automobiles hurtle east and west along the interstates built on these ancient routes.

Looking at those old stone mile markers, one of Dad’s buddies said, “This fellow sure was a lousy surveyor. Look how crooked these markers are. And they don’t line up at all.”

“Well, sir, you’re wrong about that,” my dad said. “He was a great surveyor. You’ve got to take into account the way creeks have eroded the land hereabouts and the hills have slumped in the past hundred and fifty years. When you do, you’ll see that surveyor had a true eye and did wonderful work, especially considering the equipment he used.”

Then Dad would briefly pause for effect before he delivered the kicker to this story. “That surveyor was George Washington, you know.” (Chill bumps would rise all up and down my arms whenever Dad told me this story.)

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But I know for a fact that Dad stole one of his best stories. Before I tell it, though, I have to lay in some background.

In 1936, Dad was still a surveyor, only for the water company instead of the CCC, when a pretty young nurse and her friend came down from New Jersey to the Monongahela National Forest of West Virginia for a vacation. An old snapshot labeled “July 19, 1936, Mingo Mountain” in my mother’s small, neat handwriting shows Mom and Dad leaning against a waist-high tree stump.

They married almost exactly a year later on “Seven Eleven Thirty-seven,” which Dad, into numerology in his seventies, always declared his lucky day and a truly lucky number.

Sometime in the fifties, perhaps after a visit to a museum in New Jersey, Dad stole the story of Miles Smith and Sir Digby Legard’s two beautiful daughters from Mom’s side of the family tree. Of course, he proceeded to make this story so thoroughly his own that my daughter grew up thinking it came from his side of the family instead of her grandmother’s.

My cousin, Sarah Faye Meurer, our mothers’ family genealogist, and I have speculated about this yarn back and forth by e-mail and I’ve decided that the way my dad tells the story and the way it happened were quite different. My cousin discovered information about Miles Smith, Esquire, in a book called Journal of the Tour in the United States of America 1794-1795 by William Strickland who traveled with Miles Smith and his family from Britain to America aboard The Fair American in 1794. The Smith family’s departure from England seems motivated partly by Miles’ troubled relationship with his father-in-law, Sir Digby Legard. (The spelling of the last name, sometimes with two d’s and sometimes with only one, varies from place to place on the family tree.) Miles’ family included his wife Jane Legard, who’d recently given birth to a baby boy that died and was buried at sea on August 24, 1794, and five or six other children. (The records are unclear on that score.) In the fall of 1794, soon after their arrival, Miles traveled with Strickland who described him as “an interesting companion, whose good humour alleviated the fatigues of a journey.” But Smith had to return to his family “who under the new circumstances of a new country, might want his assistance,” a bit of an understatement, I think.

In fact, Jane died on September 11, 1795, a little over a year after coming to America. (Quite possibly, life here or caring for her kids that Strickland described as “Savages” was too much for her.) After Jane’s death, Strickland arranged Miles’ marriage to Sir Digby’s younger daughter, Henrietta Charlotte. Though she was thirty-eight, she and Miles had a daughter and a son together. Henrietta died before Miles, who didn’t marry a third time, maybe because Sir Digby was fresh out of daughters.

Of course, the way my dad told this story was a lot different. His Miles Smith, far from being a lawyer, family man, and gentleman sheep farmer, greatly resembled Sir Walter Scott’s young Lochinvar, come riding out of the West. As my dad told the tale (and I pictured it), Miles Smith, dashingly dressed, drop-dead handsome, his hair long and blond and flowing, sailed to Britain from a savage new world where single-handedly he’d fought off hordes of Indians and hacked a homestead from the wilderness. After Miles landed in England, he laid eyes on Sir Digby Legard’s beautiful older daughter, in a virginally white gown with a Juliet cap on her dark tresses, as she stood on a moonlit balcony of a grand mansion. Instantly he fell in love with her. Once he’d climbed up the rose vines to her, she fell in love with him. So he swept her up in his arms, carried her down the vines and set her in front of him on his horse. Embracing her with his brawny arms, he galloped away with her to the ship that sailed off into the sunset. When Jane died tragically (with no mention of the five or six savage children), Miles Smith sailed back to England to make off with Jane’s equally beautiful younger sister Henrietta (replay of virginally white gown, Juliet cap, moonlit balcony, etc.) much to Sir Digby Legard’s anger and dismay.

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Not at all surprisingly, my father and parts of his stories appear in my stories and novels. For example, Cinderella’s dad in my Cinderella, P. I. fairy tale mysteries for grown-up is a civil engineer like my father and physically greatly resembles my father. Ambrose Gibbs, a Kansas City police officer who appears in January Jinx, the first novel in my calendar historical mystery series, and Mischief in March, the third, looks like my daddy, too. It’s not at all by accident that the garment factory in Fatal February, the second book of the calendar mysteries, is named Digby, Ledgard, and Smith. In“The Barn Door,” a forthcoming prequel short story to the calendar mysteries, a character has a wiggly white mustache like my dad’s. Finally, and in a very real way, almost every time I write dialogue for the characters in my calendar mysteries, I hear the story-telling voice of my father, Homer Dale Willman, Sr., who was  born on November 27, 1903, and who died on June 19, 1991.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy

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The Cinderella, P. I. fairy tale mystery novels and story collections and calendar historical mystery novels are available as eBooks and trade paperbacks from Amazon.com. Here’s the link to my Amazon Author Central page:

https://www.amazon.com/Juliet-Kincaid/e/B00DB4HWRG/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1