What a pleasure it is to welcome cozy mystery writer Susan Van Kirk as she shares what it’s like to begin a new mystery series and create a whole new world of characters. Susan is also president of the online Guppy chapter of Sisters in Crime, a wonderful writing community that brings pre-published and multi-published writers together for encouragement, support, and advice.
Below is Susan’s essay, followed by her bio.
For the past ten years I’ve written a series called the Endurance Mysteries. Harlequin Worldwide Mystery republished the Endurance series in mass market paperbacks, with the fourth—The Witch’s Child—coming out next year. I’m planning to write a fifth Endurance book later this year. But right now,’m moving in a new direction and writing a new series called the Art Center Mysteries, starting with Death in a Pale Hue. It will come out from Level Best Books on June 7.
A new series means I must invent recurring characters and situations that knit the plots together. This is a tremendous change from having those Endurance characters in my head for multiple books. The new series centers around Jill Madison, thirty-year-old oil painter, who returns to her hometown of Apple Grove to be executive director of an art center named for her mother, a famous sculptor. Unfortunately, Jill’s big plans don’t go as smoothly as she’d hoped. Big time.
The Adele Marsden Center for the Arts is a nonprofit overseen by a board of directors. Not all of them believe Jill is up to the job. Chief among the doubters is Ivan F. Truelove III, who constantly sends Jill emails micromanaging her days. After someone breaks into her art center, Jill surveys the damage. Then,
Almost as if he’d heard my thoughts, the board president’s number
came up on my phone. Ivan Truelove. What a misnomer of a name
and the bane of my existence. With great satisfaction I tapped the
‘decline’ button. Sometimes it was better to put off unpleasantness.
The biggest point of contention between Jill and “Ivan the Terrible” is the stairs that go down to the basement of the art center. Ivan doesn’t want to spend the money to make them safer. He claims they have good liability insurance. He’s about to find out.
While Ivan helps knit the plot together with his micromanaging ways, the actual job of running the art center is important. Jill, her manager, Louise Sandoval, and her student intern, Jordan Grant, do the planning. This is the first time Jill has ever run an art exhibit, and she’s worried she won’t be up to the task. What if no one sends in artwork? Where will they find a juror? What will they do about refreshments? Then there are the classes that will begin in a few weeks. Teachers, art projects, dates and times? These details are running in the background as the murder mystery unfolds. Oh, yes. A body shows up.
Finally, I had to create characters who would be supportive of Jill. She has two brothers, both older than she is. Their parents were killed in an accident six years earlier, so the adult children have had to create a new family order without their parents at the top. The oldest, Tom Madison, is the detective at the Apple Grove Police Department. Overly protective of his sister, he has the “Law and Order” theme as his ringtone on Jill’s phone. Andy, the wild child of the family, encourages Jill to be a free spirit. He runs a gift shop with his partner, Lance, and they also play in a rock band. His ringtone on Jill’s phone is “Welcome to the Jungle.” You might say the brothers aren’t anything alike. Angie Emerson, Jill’s forever friend all through school, also lives in town, and she and her husband run a bar where Jill sometimes hangs out and Andy’s and Lance’s band plays. Jill and Angie have quite a history getting into all kinds of mischief. Like Andy, Angie encourages Jill to investigate when the murder occurs, and this leads to harrowing episodes. As Angie says, “Just like the old days.”
I’m currently writing the second book in the series, Death in a Bygone Hue, and now I once again have a town, characters, and plot I can build on. But I must remember I’m not in Endurance anymore. I’m sure that’s why “find and replace” was invented.
Do you readers like to read a new series by an author whose earlier series you’ve already read?
Susan Van Kirk is the president of the online Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime and a writer of cozy/traditional mysteries. She lives at the center of the universe—the Midwest—and writes during the ridiculously cold and icy winters. Why leave the house and break something? Van Kirk taught forty-four years in high school and college and raised three children. Miraculously, she has low blood pressure.
Her Endurance mysteries include Three May Keep a Secret, Marry in Haste, The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney, Death Takes No Bribes and The Witch’s Child. Her Sweet Iron mystery is A Death at Tippitt Pond. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. Website: www.susanvankirk.com