Saturday, July 23, 2016

What We're Writing Week: Julia's Writing!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Yep, that's my big news this WWWW. Thanks to a nice writing retreat at my parent's house, where my mom and dad spoiled me by tip-toeing around quietly and making all my meals, I kick-started the book again and am making progress. Yay! So here's the beginning of a recently-written chapter set in 1952.

Originally, I had the 1952 story taking place in late winter, but I decided for various in-story reasons to nudge it up to late summer, the same time of year that serves as the setting for the 1972 and present-day mysteries. I must say, I have a lot of fun delving back into the early fifties - now I understand why Rhys and Susan do what they do! As much as I enjoy dabbling in historical mystery - and reading them!- I still can't see tackling a whole novel set in the past. Too much work!

      In civvies, the kid looked even younger. Harry had suggested the Liddle boy – and boy howdy, he bet the kid would hate to hear that – meet him at his office, but Jack was worried someone might notice and word would come back to his bosses at the State Troopers barracks. Harry didn't blame him, really. Millers Kill was a small town in a county full – or not full – of small towns, and if everybody didn't know everybody else's business, it wasn't from lack of trying.

      Which is why he was sitting on a wooden bench near the fence of the draft horses ring, watching farmers compete their teams in pulling contests. They were mostly for show nowadays, harnessed up for hay rides and sleigh rides, their tails and manes brushed and braided by little 4-H girls. The Washington County Fair was the only place they could show what they were meant to do: haul the immensely heavy loads no lighter horse could have managed. Harry remembered helping his father log out their forested land back in the twenties, Ben and Bob maneuvering four or five cut trees at a time through the woods as neatly as you'd please. Can't get a machine to do that.

      “Chief Liddle?”

      He could hear the kid before he saw him, and then Jack emerged from around a cluster of youngsters and crossed to the bench. He was in light pants cinched up with suspenders, tie knot halfway down his open-necked shirt, jacket over his arm and what looked like his daddy's hat on his head.

      Jack snatched it off and fanned himself with it as he plopped down next to Harry. “Oh, gosh, this shade feels good. I can't believe the heat today.”

      “It's a scorcher, all right. I'll be glad to see September.” Harry reached for the bag Jack had set at his feet. “Is this it?”

      The kid nudged it towards Harry. “Yeah. One of the secretaries kind of likes me, and she mimeographed the pages for me.”

      Harry opened the bag, and the faint scent of the machine's ink drifted into the air and was gone, washed into the odors of sweat and horseflesh and popcorn. He pulled out the papers: detectives' report, coroner's report, Jack's report, and best of all, pictures. Harry shuffled through photos of the dead girl, in situ on McEachron Road and in the morgue, a close-up of her face, and one of her dress, showing the design and the label at the neck. “You didn't get these from a mimeograph.”

      “I swapped a favor with the guy who does the developing.”

      “Must have been some favor.” Making unauthorized copies of crime scene photos could get a chemist fired, mostly to discourage them from getting a second paycheck from the scandal sheets.

      “You don't want to know.” Jack grinned. With his shirt undone and his yellow hair flopping to one side, he looked like a Dutch pirate.

      Harry sighed. “Tell me about this one.” He held up the photo of the dress.


  1. This excerpt makes me feel as if I’m right in the middle of the County Fair . . . and now I really want to know what Chief Liddle wants to know about the dress.

    Thanks for sharing this piece of the story . . . I’m really looking forward to reading the book!

  2. Oh, goodie! I love it when you do a flashback structure. Please, please keep going on retreat, Julia. Hey, you can have my house all to yourself for a week in August - we're going to Maine. ;^) Just let me know.

  3. Yay Julia! keep those words coming, we're so happy to see them on the page!

  4. YAY YAY YAY! Love this voice... such a pleasure to read.

  5. What a wonderful excerpt. Yeah, I have a new respect for folks who do entire historical novels. I wrote one short story and while I enjoyed it - man, I don't think I could do a whole novel.

    I keep saying I need to make time to catch up on all your novels, Julia. Things keep getting in the way like, and getting the kids to do their summer reading, and my own writing.

    Anybody got a time-turner? Or a T.A.R.D.I.S.?

  6. Hurrah!!! What a way to start my morning--love this peek, Julia!! You can come to my house, too, if you want--I'll make the boys double-up, put the cats in the basement, and feed you, too--but you'll probably want more than pb&j and kool-aid--about all I have the energy for right now!!

  7. Oh frabjous day callooh callay! I have been jonesing for the next Claire/Russ adventure. Thant you for the tidbit.

  8. How terrific! How do you think when you're in this voice, Julia?

  9. Yes! Please tell us all about that photo!

    Julia, you big tease. :-) So happy for you, that you could kick the story back in gear.

  10. Greatly looking forward to the book - read 'em all, but the bit about the mimeograph machine would have me scratching my head. I used to use a mimeograph as a volunteer at my kids school. You have to make a stencil of every single page, then run the stencil through the machine to make the copy. That process for a whole file would have taken many hours. So really? The idea that someone would make a stencil of every page in a police file doesn't compute - no matter how good a friend it is. Mimeograph were great for making 50 copies of a single page - but as for copying a whole file? I won't be the only reader scratching my head....

  11. Julia, LOVE the tidbit!! I love the way you experiment with structure, too, and nobody write dialog like you. So hurry the hell up. Go on retreat again. Go to Edith's house for a week!!! Or find a good B&B! So glad to see you writing! xxx

  12. Anonymous - thanks for the fact check! I looked into whether mimeographs were used back in '52, but I didn't realize they were as labor-intensive as you outlined. Jack will have to nab the third carbon copy, instead.

    (As an aside, when I wrote this, I was struck by how hard it was to get my head into a time when one couldn't easily have multiple copies of anything. Xerox definitely changed the mental map of the world.)

    Hank, I think I'm channeling my inner weary 58 year old man with Harry McNeal. One thing I discovered about the character is that he always looks back, reminiscing about the past. I love writing him, and I'd love to do an entire Millers Kill book set in the early 30s with Harry as police chief.

    FChurch and Edith - I may take you up on those offers!

  13. Yeesh. I hate to date myself but all our tests in high school came off the mimeograph machine. At least in first period you could sniff the fumes. I'm waiting for more Millers Kill, Julia. That reminded me of some nonsense that happened years ago when we still lived in Ohio. Some woman of limited intellect (my take on it) decided that towns with Kill in their names should change it as it was too violent. My husband and I instantly renamed Killbuck as Kissbuck. Of course we didn't let the townspeople know since we didn't live there.

  14. Love love love this teaser!! (I used mimeo in my first teaching years, and my roommate and I had an "underground" newspaper in college -- we used the mimeo in the student government office, typing between the lines on old masters!!)

  15. Oh, Julia, you do the best dialogue! Your characters just come alive to me as they speak. I'm so happy that you are back to the story and in writing gear. How nice that your parents provided an isolated working space for you and meals. I love when you do the back story of Miller's Kill, and even though 1952 was two years before I was born, the county fair atmosphere was much the same when I was a child.

    The horrible mimeograph machine. It was still going strong when I did my student teaching in 1976. That smell, that purple ink, that way too much trouble. So easy to click a button and have a nice, neat copy appear now.

    I am champing at the bit to read more about that dress and this story, Julia. I hope you have some more productive retreats.

  16. What a great story. Having been born in 1952 and having spent a good deal of time on my great-grandfather's farm in upstate NY your story vividly brought back my experiences at country fairs. Keep writing, Julia! Oh, Anonymous picked up on the mimeo. We had one in school and we often used to cut the stencils. I loved the smell of the machine. Thinking back, that stuff was probably awful for you, but it smelled great and meant school to me. Brilliant to substitute the third carbon.

  17. Big shout out to Julia's parents, and thanks for the appetizer! Amazingly evocative! Can't wait to see where it all leads!

  18. The photos wouldn't pose nearly the same challenge as the reports. I guess newspapers were typeset, so you can't go that route. But I wonder if they printed photos in the paper then, and how they were reproduced. Or in magazines.

    Of course, anyone could copy negatives of photos, which is why, God help me, I still have some in this house. Just in case someone wanted to make a copy of that awful photo of me and my mother with our bubble haircuts, short Sunday dresses, and hats with veils, right? 😊