Jessie: In Maine, dreaming up the plot of my next mystery!
I am just delighted to host Susan Van Kirk on the blog today! Not only is she a fellow writer and frequent commenter on the blog, she was a tremendous resource for my next release, Murder Cuts the Mustard! I mentioned in one of my posts here that I was planning to add a scene with bridge to the book but was very unsure about the nuts and bolts of the game. Susan came to the rescue when she emailed me and generously provided me with the information I needed about the finer points of bridge! Thanks so much, Susan!
Hiding the Evidence
I decided to clean my home office closet last week—my three-door-across-three-shelf-plus-lots-of-floor-space closet I have been throwing items into for the past fifteen years. It occurred to me that if I didn’t take care of this, at some point my three children would have to. I know this sounds thoughtful of me. Yes, I do try to be a kind person. However, somewhere in that overstocked closet was a box with all my high school diaries I needed to shred before an unforeseen catastrophe brought the children home.
Now what does this have to do with my new mystery, A Death at Tippitt Pond?
In my closet-cleaning days, I found boxes of various items belonging to my deceased family members. Photographs, jewelry, high school yearbooks from 1933, the sign-in book from my mother’s memorial service in 1972, the Dallas Morning News pin my sportswriter brother wore to work, the picture of the house I grew up in that no longer exists, and, oh, so many other artifacts reminding me of the passage of time and the family from whence I sprang. And photographs—so many photographs.
Besides this infinite mound of photographs, I found the stash of my father’s love letters to my mother when he was in Germany near the end of WWII. While chasing Hitler’s army to their final reward, he wrote these letters on lined paper with a ball-point pen. He poured out his dreams for their future, the love he felt for her, and the family they hoped to have. As I read them, I marveled at the fragility of human life and relationships: the possibility he might not have made it home (and two of us wouldn’t have been born), and the relief my mother must have felt each time she received one or more of these letters.
A Death at Tippitt Pond begins a new series with both mystery and history. Beth Russell, my protagonist, is a historical researcher and genealogist who hires out to well-known authors to do their research. (Now, that would be my dream job.) Ironically, she knows little about her own family tree, and as for relatives, well, she is alone in the world. When an unusual set of circumstances takes her from Long Island to Sweet Iron, Illinois, she is confronted with a past, a murder, and a family she didn’t know existed. As my friend and mystery writer, Molly MacRae puts it, “Suddenly everything you know about your life is wrong—and the truth is better but also shockingly worse.”
This first book in the Sweet Iron mysteries leaves me lots of room to maneuver. In A Death at Tippitt Pond, I explore the music, fashion, and attitudes of the late 1960s. Yes, it does make me mildly irritated to admit that a period I occupied in the last century is now considered past history. Chantilly perfume, anyone?
In my series Beth will explore a mystery in present-day Sweet Iron while she also researches her new family genealogy to find out about W.W. Tippitt, who ran both the newspaper in the 1850s and a stop on the Underground Railroad. After that, I have in mind relatives from the late 1800s, the early 1900s with its suffragette movement, and the huge wars.
History is about people and their lives. Intertwining a mystery plot with the rich context of historical periods is a challenging goal for me. And I love it.
Susan Van Kirk lives at the center of the universe—the Midwest—and writes during the ridiculously cold, snowy, icy winters. Why leave the house and break something? Her Endurance mysteries are humorous cozies about a retired school teacher in the small town of Endurance who finds herself in the middle of murders. Her new series about Beth Russell combines history and mystery in her debut, A Death at Tippitt Pond. Van Kirk taught for 44 years in high school and college, raised three children, has low blood pressure (a miracle after all that), and is blissfully retired. You can find out about her books at www.susanvankirk.com
Secrets long buried surround the murder of teenage Melanie Tippitt. The daughter of a wealthy family in a small town, her lifeless body was found floating in Tippitt Pond in the summer of 1971. Six people were there that day, and one was convicted of her murder. Case closed.
Now, forty-five years later, Beth Russell, a freelance researcher and genealogist, is brought to the town by a lawyer who believes Russell is the daughter of Melanie Tippitt and long-lost heir to the Tippitt fortune. Soon Beth finds herself surrounded by people who want her gone as soon as possible, people with a great deal to lose. The more they push the more determined Beth is to discover the truth. The ghostly presence of Melanie Tippitt, a stranger watching from the woods, and the discovery of secrets in Tippitt House make for a suspense-filled investigation where Beth discovers A Death at Tippitt Pond changed everything.
Readers, do you remember Chantilly perfume, bellbottom jeans, CPO jackets, miniskirts?