I’m happy to welcome author Susan Van Kirk. Today, Susan shares her writing journey and latest release, A Death at Tippitt Pond.
The publishing business is a constant road of ups and downs. Nothing is smooth or predictable. I suppose this has given me some empathy for publishers and admiration for successful writers, but it has also led to a mountain-and-valley kind of existence. Along with the ups and downs, it is tough to do well in this business without some help from friends.
I didn’t set out to be a writer, but once I began writing I discovered I love it. When I was teaching college classes, one of my students suggested I write an inspirational story I’d told in class. So I did. Within two weeks, Teacher magazine emailed to say they’d publish it. Wow! I had no clue it could be this easy.
You see where this is going, right?
I have read mysteries since fifth grade when I plowed through thousands of pages of Sherlock Holmes stories. Once I retired from teaching in 2011, I decided to spend a year reading about writing mysteries. This led to my series, The Endurance Mysteries, based on a small, Midwest town largely resembling my own. Secrets, history, a few murders, and a little romance propelled the stories of Grace Kimball, retired teacher, and her former student, Detective TJ Sweeney, who often asks for Grace’s help. And so it began.
In these early days, I joined a national group called Sisters in Crime, along with their subgroup, the Guppies, and through those groups I found a fantastic editor named Lourdes Venard of Comma Sense editing. That was the best money I ever spent. And, I might add, both writing groups, along with Lourdes, have given me excellent advice when navigating the business of publishing.
I sent off the manuscript for Three May Keep a Secret, my first Endurance mystery, and within two weeks I had a publisher: Five Star Publishing. I was in heaven. Once again, I thought, “It can’t be this easy.” They also bought my second book in the series, Marry in Haste. I was on top of the world because my college major had been history, and I could put some of my enjoyable research into these books. Marry in Haste goes back a hundred years with a double plot about the lives of two women.
I was feeling successful. Top of the mountain.
Then, disaster struck. Five Star Publishing decided not to publish mysteries anymore. I was “orphaned.” Trying to find a publisher for the third book, Death Takes No Bribes, was impossible. I decided to self-publish, as I had done with a novella about my detective. Time to go to Plan B.
I’ve read so many stories from authors who have persisted, who have refused to take “no” for a final answer. Perhaps the stories of those who quit are simply lost. The publishing business is amazingly slow, and a writer can wait months to hear from publishers if she hears from them at all. I didn’t want to be one of those lost stories.
So, Plan B. I wrote a new series I call the Sweet Iron mysteries. Again, I went on a long search for small publishers. A Death at Tippitt Pond, the first of the Sweet Iron mysteries, came out last June from a small publisher named Encircle Publications. I’m working on the second book in that series now.
Besides writing, an author must make decisions about how she will publish. I’ve always favored traditional publishing because I live in a small town in the Midwest with few avenues for sales. However, constantly trying to find publishers becomes a time-consuming effort, and I lose valuable writing time. This past week I signed with an agent, something I never thought would occur. I feel like Sally Fields exclaiming, “You really like [my novel!]” Over the past five years, I’ve queried 300+ agents with no success. It finally happened, thankfully, and I can now anticipate more time to write. Another peak after a lot of valleys.
Joining the national mystery groups made these successes possible. I also began going to Malice Domestic, a book conference once a year in Bethesda, Maryland. Through those experiences, I met quite a few people who have helped me along the way. This year I am heading to San Diego to attend West Coast Crime, a completely different audience. Meeting people in the mystery-writing world is a wonderful experience, and it has helped my writing considerably.
All the ups and downs have been worth it, and I’m currently working on my second book in the Sweet Iron series. Thankful for the blessings I’ve received, I never take for granted that I’ll be on top as time goes by. Trying to help others along the way, as I have been helped, is also part of my writing life. I simply keep putting one foot in front of the other, one page down and the next coming up, one chapter finished and the following one started, and keep on keeping on.
Everyone in the small town of Sweet Iron knew the teenage daughter of Judge Tippitt and his wife, Jolene. Melanie Tippitt’s exotic green eyes sprinkled with gold flecks only added to her haunting beauty. That is why her shocking murder in the summer of 1971 shattered the innocence of the town. Soon, the inhabitants sighed with relief when the murderer was sent to prison. Case closed. Four decades later, historical researcher and genealogist, Elizabeth Russell, arrives in Sweet Iron with plans for a brief visit. She extends her stay when she discovers reasons to research the Tippitt family genealogy and the disturbing tragedy of their daughter’s murder. Her decision cracks the tranquility of the town and challenges the truth of what happened that day at Tippitt Pond … Case closed. Or was it?
I live at the center of the universe—the Midwest—and write during the ridiculously cold, snowy, and icy winters. Why leave the house and break something? I have a history degree from Knox College and a graduate degree from the University of Illinois. My first book was a memoir called The Education of a Teacher (Including Dirty Books and Pointed Looks.) My newest series—the Sweet Iron Mysteries—combines history, genealogy, and mystery in the debut, A Death at Tippitt Pond. I taught for 44 years in high school and college and raised three children as a single parent. Strangely, after all that, I have low blood pressure and am blissfully retired.
Where to find Susan…