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
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
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:
Recently, while working on a prequel story for my calendar mystery series called “The Barn Door” that takes place on the 4th of July weekend in 1898, I decided to give one of the characters a vegetable garden. And that led me to think about my dad and his gardens. Here’s my piece on that subject, originally published on my website in 2011 as “My Father’s Gardens.”
My father, Homer Dale Willman, Sr., used to say, “When the Corps hired me, they took a great farmer and made him into a half-assed engineer.”
Still, though he worked over twenty years for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, my father always had a garden if only three strips around the patio. Until his last summer, he grew at least a little something, maybe vibrant begonias, a geranium in a big pot, a climbing rose, possibly hollyhocks, usually mint so he could watch the telecast of the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May with an icy julep in hand. And always, always, he had a tomato plant or two.
Back in the fifties and sixties, the prime years of his backyard gardens, he put lots of effort into his tomatoes. We lived in the tri-state region of Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia where winters were mild (though Dad always hoped for some snow to put nitrogen into the dirt). After the ground warmed and softened along about Easter, Dad took his shovel out to his garden patch to prepare the soil.
My mom used to kid my dad about “digging to China” because to him preparation meant digging a pit eighteen inches across and three feet deep for each tomato plant. He partially refilled each hole with compost, manure and other nourishing substances mixed with loose dirt.
The newly planted tomato plants–named Big Boy, Better Boy, Early Boy and Rutgers–looked scrawny so far apart, their sparse leaves insufficient to fuel growth. They did grow though. Usually by the Fourth of July, Dad would push aside those leaves, releasing the acrid odor that set our stomachs to growling, and with a gentle tug, pick the first tomato of the season. Mom, Dad, my brother Dale, and I fought over that first tomato, so ripe the skin peeled off clean and biting the tongue with its acidity. By late summer, the plants, lovingly tied to their stakes with strips of old sheet, stood eight feet high and loaded with tomatoes Mom canned, made juice with or begged neighbors to haul away.
Maybe the secret of Dad’s tomatoes lay in his compost pile that he researched, built and maintained like a true engineer. The compost pile I remember best was a four-foot cube of vegetable peels and melon rinds, musty grass clippings, twigs, lime, and goat manure he got as partial payment for a ship model he built for a friend who owned a herd of goats.
Dad made a hole in the center of the compost pile so air got inside and furthered the controlled decay. Once, out of curiosity, he tied some string to a thermometer and lowered it into the hole. In less than a minute, the thermometer broke. Later, with Mom’s candy thermometer, Dad discovered that the compost pile had reached 135 degrees.
Usually, Dad scaled his gardens small, but back in the late forties when we lived in the aptly named Garden Court, he almost filled the back yard with his vegetable plot. Forty by sixty feet, it ran from the house back almost to the tree-lined creek. Pieces of string stretched between sticks defined the plot so meticulously it looked like Dad had laid the garden out with a surveyor’s transit.
Dad bragged about that garden having fifty different varieties of plants. They included tomatoes of course, potatoes, corn, green peppers, red peppers, scallions, onions, cucumbers, and Black-seeded Simpson leaf lettuce. Instead of cantaloupe, that Dad said didn’t prosper in our climate, he grew muskmelons. Radishes started the growing season and beets finished it. Many of the vegetables I’ve forgotten now, but I still love to recite exotic names like zucchini, kohlrabi, and cocazelle.
We all got involved in Dad’s gardens. One year we had so much cabbage that Mom canned it. Dad paid Dale a penny a hundred head to pick bugs and beetles out of the garden. Dad never let me forget that those pretty yellow hollyhocks I picked one year were actually squash blossoms. Once, we tried to shell tough-hulled soybeans by putting them through Mom’s washer wringer. The beans popped out the other side and Dale and I chased them as they bounced around the kitchen floor.
My father’s gardens . . . Whenever I think of them, I see a picture of him in my mind.
Small-boned, with a mustache, my father wears a billed cap to keep his scalp from burning, a tan shirt dark with sweat under the arms, tan pants cut off and neatly hemmed above his knobby knees, and muddy shoes too worn to wear to work anymore. He leans against a shovel stuck into a pile of dirt. And dreaming of fresh tomatoes by the Fourth of July, he grins.
I don’t have a picture of my dad in his gardening togs, but here’s one of him, taken around 1973 when he was 70, that shows his wonderful grin.
January Jinx, Fatal February, and Mischief in March, the first three calendar mysteries set in Kansas City a hundred years or so ago, are available as eBooks and trade paperbacks from Amazon.com. Look for “The Barn Door,” a calendar mystery prequel short story, coming soon as a Kindle eBook.
A Family Story
Part of the backstory for my calendar mysteries explains how Minty Wilcox, her mother, and the two youngest members of the family came to live in Kansas City. This story focuses on Minty’s youngest brother, Eddie, born with a clubfoot. When Eddie was around six or so and going to a country school, the other kids made fun of him for the way he walked. Similar to the way Lord Byron was said to move, first he thrust one foot forward and then dragged the other up next to it.
After Eddie came home from school crying day after day, his mother Laura Girard Wilcox moved her youngest three children (Minty, Eddie, and Peach) into Kansas City where she could find much better medical care than she could in rural Kansas at the time. Her effort paid off, and several operations partly cured Eddie’s condition though when we first see him in January Jinx, he wears special shoes and sometimes limps.
The boy with the clubfoot is based on my great uncle Croswell Doane Perkins, also born with a clubfoot. Not long after my uncle Doane’s birth on October 15, 1884, our great grandmother Laura Wilcox Perkins sold the family farm in Hobart, NY, and moved to New Brunswick, NJ. From there, she took her baby son by train into New York City for several surgeries, so he spent much of his infancy with a foot and leg inside casts.
Please note that the family story credits only my great grandmother Perkins with saving our uncle Doane from a cripple’s life. It doesn’t mention our great grandfather Charles Samuel Perkins, born around 1844. My cousin Sarah Faye Morse recently checked the family records for me and confirmed that Charles S. Perkins fathered two more children with his Laura and died in 1905. So he undoubtedly was around in 1884/5 to help make important decisions like selling the family farm and moving his family from the place his forbears settled in the late 18th century if not earlier. But perhaps my mother, born on November 1, 1910, and Faye’s mother, born on March 12, 1913, omitted our great grandfather Perkins from the story because he died before they had a chance to meet him.
Suffice it to say, both our great grandparents Perkins made considerable sacrifices to ensure that their fourth-born child lived and prospered. Indeed, after he grew up and got married, our great uncle Doane won dancing contests with his wife. Or so the family story goes . . .
In this photograph, taken around 1896, Uncle Doane is the boy on the right, slightly behind his mother, Laura Perkins. The girl in the back is my great aunt Melicent Perkins. The young woman on the left is my grandmother Juliet Perkins Smith, for whom I’m named. The little boy in front is the youngest boy, Charles Andrew Perkins, and the little girl is Faye Marguerite Perkins, for whom my cousin is named.
January Jinx, Fatal February, and Mischief in March, the first three novels in the calendar mystery series that feature Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond in Kansas City a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago, are available as Kindle eBooks and trade paperbacks at Amazon.com.
Inside the New England Building
(See my blog post of August 25, 2016, for Part 1.)
When I began researching and writing my calendar mystery series set in Kansas City around a hundred years ago, I decided to place the detective agency my heroine Minty Wilcox works for in the historic New England Building, a handsome brownstone seven-story structure with a distinctive oriel on its southwest corner. It was the first building in Kansas City to have elevators.
Originally, Price Investigations was on an upper floor of the New York Life Insurance Building. But during a site visit several years ago, I discovered that I couldn’t get above the first floor of the New York Life Building, so I decided to move the agency just a little west on Ninth Street to the New England Life Insurance Building on Wyandotte. When I visited that building several years ago, I climbed the stairs inside to the third floor and looked around. But I didn’t go inside any of the offices. Still, taking a leap of imagination, I decided to place the agency in the third floor office that had the oriel.
This location served me well for the end of January Jinx and all of Fatal February. However, once I started Mischief in March, I realized I would have to know the interior layout of that two-room office suite because in the course of the first part of the book, it would become a crime scene! Yikes! The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, an exquisite poster of the building showing four of its seven floors, and the original architectural drawings offered limited help. Particularly troublesome was that pesky oriel. Was it big enough for a chair? I wondered, or just for a Boston fern?
And so I decided I simply had to get into that building and walk around in that space. However, by that time, a new wrinkle to my search had developed. The New England Building had become a construction site as it was being converted into apartments and thus was off limits to the public.
Nevertheless, I called the company that now owns the building and they said they’d give me a tour. Another problem arose. When I actually got inside the New England Building, I discovered most of the interior walls were gone, but there still were marks on the floor showing where they’d been, so I got a feeling for the space. Here’s a shot of an original door with the mail slot and one of the fireplaces with a cast iron mantel.
And I got inside the oriel. It turns out it’s big enough to hold an easy chair where the agency manager might sit to read the Kansas City Star, and maybe also a potted Boston fern. But the big surprise to me, something I wouldn’t have known until I actually went there, is the oriel is two stories high both outside and inside as well. Here are some pictures. Isn’t that oriel the coolest thing?
January Jinx is available as a trade paperback and as a Kindle eBook for $3.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4
Fatal February is available as a trade paperback and as a Kindle eBook for $3.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM
Mischief in March will soon be available as a trade paperback and now is available as a Kindle eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B06XR1STRN for $3.99.
WiP Report # 19
This morning—I’m very pleased to say—I finished the current draft of Mischief in March, the third in my Calendar Mystery series featuring mystery and romance in Kansas City, a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago. January Jinx, Fatal February, Mischief in March, nine other novels and possibly some short stories to follow, tell the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond. (We authors must practice our elevator speeches as much as possible.) Tomorrow I’ll start the final edit.
Overall, I’m quite pleased with this book. It’s very much the favorite among the ten or so novels I’ve at least drafted so far. The characters still surprise me and make me laugh or sometimes cry.
But I did have a thorny problem to resolve in this draft. I went way too far in naming my characters.
At this point, I must thank those who read the first half of the previous draft of MiM, as I call it, and gave me helpful feedback: Ann F, Barbara O, Denise G, Joyce B, Peg N, and Valerie B.
Special thanks to Valerie for the effort she went to in creating the charts shown here. Whew! What a lot of work for her to do for another writer’s book, but what a help these charts were to me. As the first one shows, I introduced two-dozen characters in Chapter One. That’s a lot! As the second chart shows, I used names that started with the letter M thirteen times in the first half of the book! Yikes!
Once Valerie pointed out the errors of my ways, I addressed the problem.
1) I cut a number of characters from MiM altogether including characters who appeared in previous books, but didn’t in MiM.
2) I limited the number of characters appearing in any one chapter and tried to introduce them one or two at a time instead of all at once.
3) I only named the characters when they physically appeared instead of referring to them by name earlier.
4) I didn’t name minor characters like an elevator attendant.
5) By studying Valerie’s second chart, I identified the letters of the alphabet I used too often and the ones I hadn’t used much if at all. And so, the Sullenbergers in the earlier draft now are the Quillens and the book now has a Zappa and a Ziegenhorn.
Mischief in March will be out soon. If you haven’t read January Jinx, you can buy it for $3.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4. You can also buy Fatal February for $4.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM. Please note, British friends, that Fatal February will be available for only £0.99 at www.amazon.co.uk/B017081JHM from February 27, 2017, until March 4, 2017.
Making a long distance telephone call in 1900 was pretty complicated.
For instance, in Mischief in March, the third in my Calendar mystery series, when Minty Wilcox wants to make a call from Kansas City to her uncle Charles in St. Joseph, MO, she can’t just grab her cell or even pick up her home phone and do it. Instead, she has to go through a fairly long process.
1) A day or so before Minty wants to make her call, she goes to the Coates House Hotel to make an appointment. She also pays for the call up front. At 50 cents, or about $50 today, it was expensive, too.
2) In the interim between making the appointment for the call and making the call, the operator sets up the connections on the lines to the destination for the call. (When the first commercial telephone exchanges opened began providing service in 1878, the operators were young men or boys. They soon proved to be too impatient for the job, so by 1900 most telephone operators were women.)
3) The next day Minty returns to the hotel and goes inside a telephone booth, also called a “silence cabinet.” When the telephone rings, she picks up the earpiece from the wall phone. And finally, after the operator completes the connection, Minty talks to her uncle Charles.
We can count our blessings that long distance calling is so easy these days.
January Jinx, the first Calendar mystery, is available for $3.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4 and Fatal February, the second, is available for $4.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM. Both eBooks are free from Kindle Unlimited. Look for Mischief in March coming in 2017.
WiP Report # 18
What I’ve named “my week from H3LL” threatened to turn me all Scroogish as I began the annual trek through the holidays this year.
You see, during the first week of every month, I usually have four meetings and a lunch in addition to my usual weekly activities of attending an art class; teaching a novel writing class; self-maintenance like going to four Jazzercise classes; running a household; and continuing my career as a self-published author.
But the first week of December 2016 became a week from H3LL for me even though I cut a meeting and a class.
Here are the extra things I did during the first week of December 2016.
1) I went to lunch not once but twice. (I spent the second lunch worrying about completing chore # 4 listed below in a timely fashion.)
2) I copyrighted and promoted the last book in my Cinderella, P. I. fairy tale mystery series.
3) I participated in an indie author event. Here I am, dressed up as Minty Wilcox, the heroine of my Calendar Mystery series, with fellow indie authors Joyce Ann Brown and Terry Showalter at Readers World in Lees Summit, MO, on December 3, 2016.
4) Recently, we bought a new car that I licensed on December 5.
5) I had to appear for jury duty at federal court. (I’m happy to report that I was dismissed so that I didn’t have to cancel any more of my novel-writing classes.)
All these tasks didn’t help me at all as I struggled to find time for the goal I’d set for myself—completing the current draft of my WiP, Mischief in March, the third novel in my Calendar Mystery series.
To add to the stress of performing these tasks, even the fun ones like a very special holiday dinner book club meeting, I developed insomnia. My novelist’s habit of creating worst-case scenarios at every turn compounded the stress. (You don’t want to hear the worst-case scenarios I’ve come up with since Donald J. Trump got elected.)
Still, I hung in there and I completed it though on the second Monday of the month, not the first. At 102,000 words, this draft is a bit longer than I like. But I’m pretty pleased with it otherwise. (An early reader said, “Mischief in March had a delightful sauciness to it.” Thank you so much, Peg.)
So now I’ve cast bah-humbugs aside and set myself free to enjoy holiday tasks like signing and addressing greeting cards and decorating a tiny Christmas tree.
Happy holidays to all of you, my friends.
P. S. You’ll find Cinderella, P. I., First Case to Last for $2.99 and free on Kindle Unlimited at www.amazon.com/dp/B01MXC0MED
P. S. S. My New Year’s resolution is to cut way back on extra commitments in 2017, especially those scheduled for the first week of the month, so I can write more. What’s yours?
Looking for Old K. C., Part 1
Checking out sites for my calendar mysteries, set in Kansas City around 1900, can involve quite a bit of sleuthing. Take the New England Building at 9th Street and Wyandotte in Kansas City, MO, for instance.
While working on January Jinx, the first in the series, I decided to put Price Investigations in the New England Building instead of the New York Life Insurance Building, mostly because the upper floors of the latter were closed to visitors. (Indeed, when my friend Sally O and I sneaked down to the basement to scope out the placement for the café that appears in January Jinx, the building guard stood on the steps and called plaintively, “Ladies, ladies.” Giggling, we did come back upstairs and out of the building.) But on a later junket, I was able to get inside the New England Building and go up the steps to the second floor though not inside any of the offices.
The New England Building continues to serve as the site for Price Investigations in Fatal February, the second in the series, but now that I’m working on Mischief in March, I have some questions about the offices that I didn’t answer in my initial site visit. In particular, I’d like to actually see the inside of the New England Building’s most famous architectural feature, the oriel on the southwest corner, to figure out what George Mathison, the manager of my fictional detective agency, might have put in it, or indeed if it’s actually available to put anything inside it.
I’d tried to figure out its size from the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps and tentatively decided, given the 60’ by 118’ overall size of the building, that the oriel is about five feet across at its widest. But the map gives no details about the floors above the first.
An exquisite poster of the building made from an article in the American Architect and Building News that I found online shows the basic layouts of four of the floors. But the text isn’t distinct enough for me to find out details about the offices. Besides, now that I’m revising Mischief in March, I’m finding that Minty Wilcox, the heroine of the series, needs to navigate around more of the building than just up the stairs or elevator to the third floor.
So, recently I set off to the Kansas City site of the State Historical Society of Missouri, located in 302 Newcomb Hall on the University of Missouri-Kansas City to look at their collection of architectural drawings that included the New England Building.
An aside: doing historical research is so much easier these days than it was when I started the project in 2004. (Yikes!) Now you can scan documents to a flash drive instead of printing them out on a library machine. Also so much has been digitized and made available online, like the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, that you can download and print for free.
That’s the good news. The bad news about the scans of the drawings is they don’t have keys and most of the written info is too blurry to read when I blow the images up.
Still, I was able to see inside the offices to figure out where the lights were and that most had little closets and sinks. Some suites had ladies and gents powder rooms. And after a quick referral back to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, I found that the building had steam heat. Comparing the office layout with the roof layout, which included chimneys, I figured out where the radiators were, so I now can appropriately arrange the furniture inside Price Investigations.
See? I told you researching historical fiction requires sleuthing.
Unfortunately, there are two parallel dotted lines across the narrow entrance to the oriel that I don’t understand. I’m tentatively thinking there would be room maybe for the ever-popular Boston fern. But I don’t know for sure.
By now, you’ve probably noticed that historical fiction writers obsess over the smallest details. That’s because some expert out there might make a fuss online about a tiny error. And that mistake could destroy the old Kansas City I’m trying to bring to life in my calendar mysteries. So I worry about the tiny details.
And so if at all possible, I’d like to get inside the New England Building. This might not be easy because recently it was purchased for redevelopment as loft apartments. I’ll keep you posted on what I find out.
If you haven’t read the first two calendar mysteries featuring Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond in Kansas City where living could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago, you can buy them as trade paperbacks from Amazon or as Kindle eBooks: January Jinx at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4 and Fatal February at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM
WiP Report # 17: Mischief in March
Shown here is the working cover for the third book in my Calendar Mystery Series. (I’m keeping what the actual cover will look like as a secret for now since it’s a spoiler.) I’m happy to report that I recently completed the draft of Mischief in March, well sort of anyway.
The “sort of” comes from my ending the current draft with an outline for the last twenty pages instead of writing those scenes. I’m not beating myself up about it though. I’ve been at this point with at least one previous book and it turned out fine.
What happened was recently I found myself making excuses to do other things (like mowing the lawn, which you know has to be desperation) instead of working on MiM, dear MiM, such a fun project it’s been to work on. I do this pretty often as I write, in fact, whenever my subconscious mind is trying to tell me something about what I’ve just written. But one morning recently I woke up realizing what the problem with the current WiP is. I won’t actually know which characters I need to put in the climactic parts of the book until I’ve revised the book from the start and found out who they are. Also, I need to do some on-site research on the settings before I can move my characters around in those places.
So I’m happy with my decision to stop work on MiM temporarily. It has freed me up to knock off some of the smaller projects on my master plan. For example, I’ve almost finished editing a large print edition of Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories.
But now Minty Wilcox, the heroine of the Calendar mysteries, is calling to me from the wings of my mind and tapping her foot impatiently. “Come back,” she says. “How could you leave me and Daniel in the lurch on our . . .” Well, that’s all you get, dear reader except the assurance that I’ll get back to work on Mischief in March soon.
P. S. Check out this trailer for the new audio book of Cinderella, P. I. Around the World narrated by the very talented Alyx Morgan.