Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Susan Van Kirk - Guest Author

Today’s guest author is Susan Van Kirk. The five words she uses to describe her writing are personal, funny, suspenseful, cozy/traditional, and engaging. She describes herself as practical, persistent, reader, overachiever, and history-lover. (Ed. note: I had to hyphenate history lover meet the five-word criteria and somehow come to the conclusion that cozy/traditional is one word. I’m thinking that although Susan was a schoolteacher for many years, perhaps it wasn’t math? JLet’s find out more about her.

You have a table for four at your favorite restaurant and can invite any three people, living, dead or fictional. Who are your guests (and why) and where are you eating (and why)?

This is a tough, tough question because I can only have four. [Really, Jim? Only four?] Sigh. I was a high school teacher of American Literature, so two of my guests would come from that period of my life and the other two would be personal.

First would be Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672). A resident of Massachusetts Bay Colony, she had a strong faith in God and love of her family. This included eight children (No kidding—she defied the high childbirth death percentages eight times.) And yet, despite the weariness of those long days without the luxuries we know, she wrote poetry, probably at night by the light of a candle. I admire her so much that I would love to share a meal with her.

Second would be Henry David Thoreau. He might not be a huge talker unless we got into a discussion of politics and moral values. I admire his Yankee stubbornness, his love of nature, and his confidence in what he believed to be right. It’s takes a lot of courage to stand against unjust laws, and I’d like to ask him about that. [Though I’m from the Midwest, I obviously love New England.]

My third guest would be my own mother. At the risk of sounding maudlin, I would like to talk with her because she died when I was only twenty-six, and she never got to see her grandchildren or great-grandchildren. I’d like to fill her in on how they have turned out. I know she would be proud of them.

Finally, the fourth guest is all about the restaurant. I’m not a huge world traveler, but my older son took me to Rome in 2011, and there we had the best meal I have ever had in my life. So this time I would take my son back, and we would eat at a lovely family-owned place, Ristorante Giovanni. What a treat that would be to return and taste that scrumptious food with all of these interesting guests.

[I love that answer, except for the fact Susan will apparently be waiting the table since she has already seated four people!]

Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?

My most productive venue is my home office. I call it “the office that Cliffs Notes built” because I wrote CNs a few times and, sadly, made so much more money than I did as a public school teacher. It funded my office addition. In the summer I can watch the day lilies in my garden and in the winter look out at the snow from my warm office with a cup of hot tea. It’s my most productive place because it’s away from the street, at the back of my house, and it’s very quiet. Occasionally, the neighbor’s children play in their fenced-in yard and it is pleasant to hear their laughter, reminding me of my own children. In this office, I have my laptop, printer, reference books, and a huge bulletin board that takes up a very long wall.

What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?

I used to be a morning person. No more. In fact, I wrote a blog about that here

Since I retired from teaching, I now have long, slow mornings and generally write after lunch. I accomplish various errands and social media early, and then I’m ready to write without concern.

How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?

My reading depends on the month and my deadlines. I read anywhere from three to six books a month. However, last month it took me a week to polish off Greg Iles’ The Bone Tree at 803 pages [and I did little else.] I often read mysteries whether I’m writing or not. My own books are marketed as cozies, but as they progress they are moving toward a traditional feel.

I love Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder series and Charles Finch’s Charles Lenox series, the latest of which is The Laws of Murder. Besides mysteries, I love to read historical fiction, and recently I read Anne Perry’s five books about WWI, The Invention of Wings, and Dead Wake. Obviously, I need to find a way to combine mystery and history.

What themes do you regularly employ in your writing?

Themes in my mysteries: The strength of women and their relationships and support of each other; the comfort of living in a small town with its eccentric characters; the importance of having values you believe in and follow despite the opposition of others; and overcoming the past and its regrets.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

My published book, Three May Keep a Secret, came from an event in my past. Years ago, a friend of mine was killed in a college fire. My main character, Grace Kimball, is a survivor of such a fire, but it has haunted her because her roommates died. In my first mystery, she must overcome her fears to save her life. The sequel, Marry in Haste, comes out next year, and more traditional than cozy, it tackles the psychological effects of domestic abuse—both in the present and in the late 1800s. I’ve witnessed domestic abuse with people I know and love, and I wanted to research it to understand it better. The 19th century part of the plot is influenced by my love of history.

What motivates your protagonist (if not a series, then use the protagonist of your most recent novel)? What influenced who they are today?

Grace Kimball is motivated by all the themes listed above. She just retired from teaching, but feels a strong loyalty to her former students and colleagues. In Three May Keep a Secret, a former colleague is murdered, and Grace finds herself in the middle of the murder investigation. In Marry in Haste, a former student is accused of murdering her abusive husband and Grace does not believe she could have done this.

Grace is a curious blend of two seemingly opposite qualities. She is a strong and forceful woman because she has endured the early death of her husband and raising three children on her own. On the other hand, she is also very naïve. She believes and looks for the best in others. That’s the only way she could have been an effective teacher. But she is often disappointed, and usually ends up in a bad situation because of this second quality. Much of the humor in my series comes from Grace’s encounters with former students in her town. The reader gets to hear what Grace remembers about their crazy adolescent years.

[Ever wonder what your former teachers think about when they encounter you?]

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?

Most recently, someone told me to go to Malice Domestic. (I’d already had the good advice to join SinC and the Guppies group [Ed. note: Sisters in Crime and a chapter of SinC].) I really enjoyed MD, met a lot of authors I admire, learned a great deal about the business of writing, interviewed the wonderful Hallie Ephron [that interview will appear in the July newsletter, First Draft], and I plan to go again. This was great advice, and it came from my freelance editor, Lourdes Venard.

For more information about Susan and her books, check out her website at www.susanvankirk.com, catch me on my Facebook Author’s Page https://www.facebook.com/SusanVanKirkAuthor, on GoodReads, Pinterest (The Endurance Mysteries), and on Twitter https://twitter.com/susan_vankirk
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Here's a quick blurb for Three May Keep a Secret

Grace Kimball, recently retired teacher in the small town of Endurance, Illinois, is haunted by a dark, past event, an experience so terrifying she has never been able to put it behind her.

When shoddy journalist, Brenda Norris, is murdered in a suspicious fire, Grace is hired by the newspaper editor, Jeff Maitlin, to fill in for Brenda, researching the town’s history. Unfortunately, that past hides dark secrets. When yet a second murder occurs, Grace’s friend, T.J. Sweeney, a homicide detective, races against time to find a killer. Even Grace’s life will be threatened by her worst nightmare.

Against a backdrop of the town’s 175th founder’s celebration, Grace and Jeff find an undeniable attraction for each other. But can she trust this mystery man with no past?



26 comments:

  1. Thanks, Jim, for having me on your website today. Now the entire world will know how math-challenged I am. Perhaps that is why I am an avid reader and writer--I only have to number pages and I can do that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Susan, I'm delighted to host you today. And rest assured, you are not the only author who has forgotten to leave a spot for themselves at the table. :)

      ~ jIM

      Delete
    2. Believe me, Jim, I could probably talk, listen, and sling pasta.

      Delete
  2. Three May Keep a Secret sounds interesting and so do you, Susan. I love your choice for the fourth guest at your special dinner - your reason for the choice and the dining place.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Sandy. I have great memories from that wonderful restaurant. It would be fun to go back.

      Delete
  3. Susan and Jim, enjoyed this very much but I have to disagree that Susan writes because she can't do math. I am definitely math-challenged, but I often think of writing as working out a problem in words rather than numbers. Love that she ended up waiting the table at her own dinner party.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am also computer challenged since I've written this three times and it won't publish.
      Actually, teaching and writing are similar because they are all about problem-solving. Fortunately, I don't have to add up grades to write. And I did have waitressing experience in a work/study job in college at 33 cents an hour. So, sure, I can cater this shindig.

      Delete
  4. I love Susan's choices for dinner guests. As a born and raised New Englander, I'm naturally biased in favor of our writers. And I love the idea of including her family at the dinner.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Susan. Believe me, I have a lot more New Englanders in mind, but Jim would only give me four, and now it turns out three! I love the idea of my mom meeting ANY of my children.

      Delete
  5. Nice, thank you.
    Each time I read one of these I wonder how the people who are invited to dinner would get along with each other. Could Anne and Henry actually enjoy a meal together? Probably. But some of the other choices maybe not.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Boy, that's a good question. But, you don't want to have too many people that are alike. Perhaps these very different people from three different centuries would have quite a lively conversation just explaining the words they use and the huge differences in their times.

      Delete
  6. Strong interview. Makes me want to read Susan's work. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, please do, Sharon (-: Loved to chat today online with people commenting on Jim's blog. Thanks so much for the kind comment.

      Delete
  7. You wrote Cliff's Notes? That sounds fun. You would have to read the uncondensed version first, I guess, then it would be like writing a synopsis (to put it in novelist terms).

    I consider that table for 4 a trick question! Anyway, it's not that hard to add a chair.

    Another great interview!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, Kaye, you always make me laugh. Yes, I wrote CNs and had a great time doing it, although I was only paid as a contract player. It took a lot of research, especially into the critical interpretations of various time periods. Anyway, I figured if I did that I would not only get paid, but I could also tell when my high school students were plagiarizing my words.
      And yes, I think that math is a trick question! I should complain to Jim because I would rather not consider that I mis-read the question. Four was hard enough, but three??? It is really difficult to consider which people you will have to eliminate. I am with you. I think adding a chair is great. Or......chairs?

      Delete
    2. It was not a trick question. A table of four is a table of four. Now I admit that around friends and in the right kind of restaurant you can steal a chair (or even two) from another table and crowd in -- but you didn't specify that possible escape route.

      Besides, think of all the fun we've had discussing this issue!

      Delete
  8. Nice interview Susan. I really feel as if I've gotten to know you. And I hear you about not being a morning person :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Judy, I used to feel guilty when I read about this writer or that writer getting up at three o'clock in the morning to get a lot of writing in. But then I have to stop and consider that I'm retired. I used to be grading essays at three o'clock in the morning. So, I think I am getting over the guilt. I'm also looking forward to your "The Hangman's Noose" coming out this summer.

      Delete
  9. About the table for four--has anyone gotten that right yet?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes Kaye -- the vast majority of people have given three and only three invitations. You can go and check each of the interviews and report back your findings. :)

      Delete
    2. This tells me that Susan and I are special!

      Delete
    3. Of course you are -- what made you think otherwise?

      Delete
    4. Thanks, Kaye, for defending my math skills. I think I'm going to have to admit that Jim is right. Oh, well. I had a great time answering your questions, Jim, and thanks again for having me on.

      Delete
    5. He's always right about the numbers, darn it!

      Delete