Monmouth author publishes fourth book in series 'The Witch's Child' – Galesburg Register-Mail

MONMOUTH — Local author Susan Van Kirk’s Endurance Mystery series follows the exploits of a retired teacher in a small Midwestern town who often helps her former student, now a detective, solve murders. 
The fourth book in the series, “The Witch’s Child,” was published Friday as a paperback and e-book.
In this book, another former student returns to Endurance with the body of her mother, a self-proclaimed witch found guilty 10 years earlier in a double homicide, rekindling anger in the small town amid another murder trial. 
The plot unfolds alongside vicious whispers and malicious rumors in local coffee shops, pushy reporters looking for a story and clashing opinions on social media.
Van Kirk, a Galesburg native and Monmouth native retired from a 44-year teaching career herself, talked with The Register-Mail about her writing career and her work, in which readers will see glimpses of local history and communities. 
Tell us about your transition from longtime teacher to mystery novelist.
Fifteen years ago, if you’d told me I’d be writing mysteries and selling thousands of copies, I would have been astonished. Reading books has been a passion of mine since I began with Dick and Jane primers at Silas Willard School. Throughout my life in Galesburg, you’d be hard pressed to find me without a book in my hands. Toward the end of my teaching years at Monmouth College, I wrote a creative nonfiction book about my four-decade career in teaching. One of my students had suggested I author a book, a thought I found daunting. But I did take his advice, and my memoir centered around 15 stories about specific students I’d taught. I called it “The Education of a Teacher (Including Dirty Books and Pointed Looks.) “
I enjoyed the writing so much I decided when I finished my career at the college in 2011, I’d spend a year reading about the craft of fiction beginning with Stephen King’s wonderful book, “On Writing.” I’ve always loved mysteries so that would be my genre. By the end of that year, my fictional town of Endurance had formed in my head while Grace Kimball, my retired-teacher protagonist, was my best friend and conversation partner. I’d joined a national organization called Sisters in Crime, an experience that led to my wonderful editor, Lourdes Venard. I couldn’t get an agent — that would come later — but my first Endurance book, “Three May Keep a Secret,” secured publication in only two weeks from Five Star Publishing. 
How closely is Endurance, the small town in this series, based on local communities? What real-life pieces of Monmouth and Galesburg might readers see in “The Witch’s Child”?
Funny you should ask this. Before my non-Endurance mystery, “A Death at Tippitt Pond,” came out, I had an article accepted for “Mystery Scene Magazine” about how I came from an area that had so much history — Lincoln, Beecher Chapel, Spoon River, Knox College and the Lincoln-Douglas debates. I continued that thought in my Endurance stories.
The basis of Grace Kimball’s dream that haunts her in the first book came from a memory of an off-campus death the year after I left Knox College. Writers often ask themselves, “What if?” about events from their actual pasts, and that’s precisely where I began to explain Grace’s past.
Because I grew up in Galesburg, Endurance also has a history of the railroad, and The Depot restaurant in Endurance celebrates that history. The huge Victorian house Jeff Maitlin buys in “Marry in Haste” was a house I lived in when I first moved to Monmouth. It appears in every book after the first one in the series. I loved investigating the history of the real house, who had owned it and how it had changed over the years. A fictional scene at the courthouse comes straight out of a scene in my own life at the Warren County Courthouse, complete with a cloud of dust from an 1800s property register.
Places and the history of our area went into my town of Endurance. Anyone who knows Monmouth knows what a nightmare it is to drive defensively around the Public Square. That made the cut for Endurance. Every small town has a Nub Swenson who drives 10 miles an hour when you’re behind him and late for an appointment. Bill Tully’s sports bar in “Three May Keep a Secret” is much like Petey’s, a local sports bar that used to be in Monmouth. The pioneer, college-founding history of Endurance is much like the dual histories of Monmouth and Galesburg. “Death Takes No Bribes” borrowed the layout of the high school (with a bit of fictional refurbishing) where I had taught.
“The Witch’s Child” has scenes in these settings, but also continues the atmosphere of a small town where gossip flies faster than the internet, and speculation about a murder revs up to the point of craziness. The police press conference takes place at the high school gymnasium, the public library and a local coffee shop get their days in the spotlight, and the Endurance Register has its share of “Letters to the Editor,” a few quite intelligent and others … well …” Please don’t get me wrong — I love small towns and “The Witch’s Child” adds a touch of magic to the mix. 
This is the fourth book in this series. Are there similar themes among the books in addition to having the same protagonist?
While I write a genre called “cozy mysteries,” my books are more traditional cozies. I don’t add crafts or recipes or knitting. Instead, I often quietly add social issues that are important to me. My overall themes are about women who are strong and support each other, standing up for what’s right, and overcoming tragedy our pasts while moving forward. Each book also has its own themes. The hardest to write was about women and abuse, both a hundred years ago and now. That was in my second book, “Marry in Haste.” “Death Takes No Bribes” commented on the infernal testing and teacher evaluation in the current education climate; and my e-book novella, “The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney,” explored the racist backstory of my biracial detective. “The Witch’s Child” tackles our attitudes and misunderstandings about people who are different from us, and how social media platforms sure don’t help that. However, my books are meant to entertain. I don’t hit the reader over the head with these heavier issues. I sneak them in, along with murder clues.
Besides these themes, the Endurance Mysteries have your usual mystery blend of greed, secrets, shocking revelations, extortion, financial fraud, threats, lies and manipulation, and, of course, murder. This is so much fun!
What can readers expect from your new series coming next summer?
While continuing the Endurance Mysteries, I’ll begin a three-book contract with Level Best Books. The first book, “Death in a Pale Hue” (an Art Center Mystery), follows artist Jill Madison as she returns to her hometown of Apple Grove to restart her life and manage a new community art center. 
But she no sooner accepts the job than a burglar makes off with an expensive sculpture, and an uninvited corpse turns up in the basement.
Strangely, we have an art center in Monmouth. What a treasure of information. The second and third books will come out a year apart, so June 2022, 2023 and 2024. 
Where can readers find the books locally and what events are planned?
Locally, the books are available at Wordsmith Bookshoppe and the Galesburg Public Library, and The Buchanan Center for the Arts and the Warren County Public Library in Monmouth. Book signings are coming up on these dates from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Warren County Public Library; from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 29 Security Savings and Loan in Monmouth; from 1 to 3 p.m. Nov. 6 at Wordsmith Bookshoppe in Galesburg.
For more information, visit www.susanvankirk.com.

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