Guest Blogger Susan Van Kirk: The Mix-Ups of Multiple Mysteries

The Mix-Ups of Multiple Mysteries by Susan Van Kirk

Several years ago, when I spent winters in Phoenix, I heard multiple marvelous mystery writers at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore. On one occasion, I listened to a gentleman who was writing a series with four books published. Several times people asked questions about events that happened to his characters, and he had trouble remembering which book contained the deeds in question. That’s odd, I thought. You would think a person would remember what he wrote.

Nowadays, I find I must eat my words. I’ve now written three mystery series, two of them published and the third off to publishers. The first series took place in the small town of Endurance with a protagonist, Grace Kimball, age 56, dating a newspaper editor, Jeff Maitlin, during the three novels. In the second series, Sweet Iron is the small town where Beth Russell goes to find out about an inheritance. Beth, age 48 when that series begins, is interested in a police detective named Kyle Warner. The first book of the Apple Grove series isn’t out yet, but its protagonist, Jill Madison, is the youngest of all—age 30. She is a painter and curator of an art center, and she meets a young doctor named Sam Finch, but their relationship is just getting off the ground.

Today, I’m working on the plot for the second Sweet Iron series and I think I may need a coroner. That’s easy, I think. There’s Alexander P. Atkins, III, who is quite a crazy character straight out of the wild West. Oh, no, wait. TJ Sweeney talked to him. That was in The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney in the Endurance series. Well, there’s Abe Calipher, spiffy dresser and always carrying a cup of coffee from some coffee shop. Hmmm. He won’t work because he’s in Death in a Pale Hue. Did I have a coroner in the Sweet Iron series? I guess I didn’t. No coroner, so I may have to invent yet another coroner.

I also have three protagonists. Grace Kimball is most like me, a retired schoolteacher, but younger than I am. She’s a cautious woman and curious about everything. A widow, she has been single and raised three now-adult children. Grace has a circle of friends who support her, and a detective friend, TJ Sweeney, who was a former student. A trip to her downtown will elicit many humorous conversations with former students.

Beth Russell, from the Sweet Iron Series, is a bit of a loner, although she’s becoming more social as the series continues. She’s a historical researcher and genealogist, and shares Grace’s intellectual curiosity. Beth has developed a circle of friends very slowly as she becomes more involved in the life of the town. Her past has been unlucky in love, but that doesn’t seem to stop her from falling for the town detective.

In the small town of Apple Grove, Jill Madison is the youngest protagonist at 30, and I occasionally must call my daughter-in-law, who is also 30, to ask her questions about how she reacts to things and uses language from a different generation than mine. Jill deals with depression caused by a past event, but she is doing much better now that she is back in her hometown with her family supporting her. Unlike her more intellectual protagonist-cousins, she is an oil painter who takes some stupid chances when she gets involved in a murder investigation.

A different day, a different book to work on, and I work a little harder now to remember who is where with which love interest. Sigh.

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Susan Van Kirk is President of the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime and a writer of cozy 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, and Death Takes No Bribes. Her Sweet Iron mystery is A Death at Tippitt Pond. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.




18 thoughts on “Guest Blogger Susan Van Kirk: The Mix-Ups of Multiple Mysteries”

  1. Susan,
    Welcome. I love all your series and often wondered how you juggled them. I have trouble keeping my characters and motivations straight, so it was interesting to see how that impacts you.

  2. Hello, Debra. Thanks so much for having me on as a guest. Juggling three series is a lot like actually being a juggler. Every so often I catch myself writing something that should be in another book. Fortunately, I have beta readers who catch these silly things.

  3. Keeping characters and details straight is hard in one series. I couldn’t imagine how difficult it would be with multiple series. From your books I’ve read, you are doing a good job with it.

    1. I agree. Susan’s characters are complex and rich. They grow from book to book, but each series has very different characters. She is doing a great job with keeping them separate and building upon them.

    2. Thank you, Grace. I value your ability to keep details straight, so I know you could manage this far more easily than I. But I’d like to continue reading your current series.

  4. Uh-oh. I’m already confusing the name of one book with another in my one and only series! I admire all writers who write multiple series. So much to keep track of!

    1. Exactly. I even confuse things from book to book in my own…. I just did a promo for the Three Treats Too Many facebook party that is being held on August 18, held up the book and called it Three Bites Too Many. ugh!

  5. Fun to read about a writer’s plot process. Although the medium is words, artists share some of the same decisions about overlapping duplication. Debra, thank you for introducing us to Susan. Look forward to my first read and it must start in the small town of Apple Grove with Jill Madison.

  6. Interesting discussion of your three series, Susan. You seem to have a pretty good grasp of the differences between your main characters. I wonder, though, if you’ve had any issues with voice, mostly because that’s been a problem for me with my two series. When I first started trying to write Kathryn, the heroine of my second series of Berkshire Hilltown Mysteries, she sounded too much like Miranda, the heroine of the first series of Living History Mysteries. I finally decided that switching from Miranda’s first person voice to close third for Kathryn would help, and it did. It also enabled me to get into the heads of other characters, which opened up the story in ways that I think made it stronger.
    Good luck with your new series!

    1. I’m sure Susan will reply later, but Leslie, I had a similar problem between series (or because they were orphaned, standalones). I did the same thing. Wrote one in third and one in first and that’s what enabled me to make the voices different.

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