Friday, November 21, 2014

Sense of Place by Susan Van Kirk

Thank you, Marilyn, for hosting me on your blog today.

I have to admit I was a huge fan of the television series Friday Night Lights, whose 63 episodes aired from 2006-2011. It told the story of a high school football team in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas. Running for six seasons, FNL centered around a coach, Eric Taylor, his wife, Tami, and a group of football players whose talents, decisions, and circumstances led them to a wider life beyond Dillon or a narrower life staying home. When it ended, I felt like I had lost a group of friends. Why?

After much thought, I believe the town, its culture and expectations, and its human relationships reminded me of “a sense of place.” I understood and felt comfortable in that small town and with its characters—some with a huge sense of decency and selflessness, and others guided by narcissism and selfishness. It felt familiar.

A good book is like that too. Reaching the last page, I hate to leave that place and time.

For Robert Frost a sense of place was New England with its birches, snow, pastures, and streams. For William Faulkner and Eudora Welty, it was the South with its brooding knowledge of the past. John Steinbeck’s sense of place was the California arroyos and the Hoovervilles of the Great Depression. For Nathaniel Hawthorne, the Salem area with its witches and dark forests provided a setting and sense of the familiar. Sometimes I wonder if we haven’t lost—in this amazingly interconnected and digital world—a sense of place. Some might call it “home.”

I hope readers of my first cozy mystery, Three May Keep a Secret, will feel that same sense of place in my small town of Endurance, Illinois. I chose the name “Endurance” because I wanted to acknowledge both the past and present of my little town. Hardy Presbyterian stock settled this town by traveling through all kinds of hazards and difficult terrain. Despite the tiny origins of Endurance, more and more settlers arrived and survived harsh winters and the difficulties of starting a new life on the prairie. Now, Endurance is a town of 15,000 souls.

“Endurance” also describes the strong heroine of my novel. Grace Kimball has survived some terrible life experiences that have only made her stronger. A fire in college killed her roommates and left a scar on her hand, but she survived. Her husband died in his thirties of an unexpected heart attack, leaving her to raise three children alone. But she survived and endured. Now, she will face another daunting experience: a killer is on the loose in her town, and even her own life will be threatened before all is said and done.

Creating that town has been fun.

Endurance has institutions that—typical of the Midwest—arise from its name. We see the Endurance Historical Society, Endurance High School, the Endurance Public Library, Endurance College, the First National Bank of Endurance, and the town’s newspaper, the Endurance Register.

Then there are the businesses. Many of the scenes take place at a local sports bar named “Tully’s.” Bill Tully owns the restaurant/bar, and he named it for himself. Other names I chose because of their sounds, and those would include Patsy’s Pub and Dirty Dave’s. Downtown you’ll visit the CafĂ© on the Square, Little People’s Day Care Center, Gimble’s Paint and Wallpaper Store, and Harlow’s Book Store. Oh, and Endurance also has the Homestretch Funeral Home and the Shady Meadows Cemetery.

Despite the welcoming names, Endurance is a town of secrets. Grace Kimball, newly retired from teaching and now working part time at the Endurance Register, will discover that truth when she lifts a rock with her research of the town’s history, and uncovers secrets people don’t want her to let out. Appropriately, one of Grace’s friends quotes Ben Franklin: “Three may keep a secret… if two of them are dead.”


Susan Van Kirk was educated at Knox College and the University of Illinois. After college, she taught high school English for thirty-four years in the small town of Monmouth, Illinois [pop. 10,000].

She taught an additional ten years at Monmouth College. Her short story, “War and Remembrance,” was published by Teacher Magazine and became one of the chapters in her creative nonfiction memoir, The Education of a Teacher (Including Dirty Books and Pointed Looks).

Her first cozy mystery about the town of Endurance, Three May Keep a Secret, launched from Five Star Publishing on 11/19/2014.  She has just finished writing her second Endurance mystery, Marry in Haste. Visit her website at and her Facebook page at

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fourth Week of Blog Tour for River Spirits

Yes, we are already to the 4th and last week of the blog tour for River Spirits.

The Author’s Life (Mine)

How Real are my Main Characters?

Food in my Series

Why I Keep on Writing

Use of Cop Lingo/or Not

Nov. 27  Thanksgiving

Deputy Tempe Crabtree as a Mystery Series

The Hairy Man


What Makes a Mystery Writer, particular way of look at things? Looking for Clues? Why? Writing Obsession.

 It will take a few days to let anyone who is trying to catch-up and then I'll figure out who made the most comments through out this blog tour. I will announce the winner on this blog and Facebook and Twitter.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

An Interview with Kimberlee Larsen Clarke and Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer

How did you first get involved with Thumper and the Fern Lake Mysteries?

Kimberlee: I’ve had nightmares and migraine headaches all my life and never knew what might be the cause until last year when I returned to Fern Lake, and learned that my father was murdered when I was a baby and that I witnessed the murder. I met an author writing a book about my father’s murder. We joined forces with a homicide detected and while we pursued the cold case murder, Brett and I fell in love.

The cat at the lodge was called Black Cat, but my little girl renamed him Thumper. Looking back over the incidents, he actually helped up solve some of the mysteries surrounding my father’s death. We suspected a number of people, but solving the case was less than successful. I stayed in Fern Lake, restored my family’s old Victorian mansion and bought a book store.

What is the setting for Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer?

 Kimberlee: Just recently, my grandmother invited us to a family reunion at her Texas horse ranch. She said she would name her beneficiary while we’re here. I don’t care much about the money, but I did want to meet my relatives, as being an orphan, I never really knew my family.
So here we are on the ranch. It’s beautiful, jagged mountains in the distance, flowering cactus and shrubs on the plains and beyond the stone fences, we saw a wild herd of horses led by a beautiful black stallion the folks call Quantum.

Tell us about your first day at the ranch.

 Meeting Grandmother was a shock. In one breath she welcomed us to the ranch, and in the next, she insulted my cousin, Dorian and made her certified Search and Rescue dog, Sam, sleep on the porch.
The first day on the ranch, Sam and I took a walk on the desert and I came face to face with Quantum’s herd. It was the most magical moment when he came right up and sniffed my hand. I actually felt a connection between me and him and the desert. Not so much, when I ran into a rattlesnake. If Sam hadn’t been with me, I don’t what would have happened.
Thumper is quite ‘taken’ with Grandmother’s cat, Noe-Noe, obviously love at first sight. Who knows what he’s going to do when it’s time to go home and leave her behind.

Who are the villains in your story?

Kimberlee: Grandmother’s attorney, Wilbur Breckinridge, is a sleazy guy who harps about the Children’s Charity he started, much funded by Grandmother’s generosity. You can tell that he is furious over her decision to change her will, giving the ranch to either me or Dorian instead of his charity. He scares me, when he talks about how much the children will suffer when she changes the will. I wonder if he’s capable of doing something drastic to prevent...  But I mustn’t think that way.
The stable master, Harold, is another concern. I swear he reminds me of Ted Herman, the man we suspected last year of killing my father. But that’s not possible, since Ted died in the Cayman Islands….or did he?  You don’t suppose Ted could have faked his death and living here on Grandmother’s ranch, do you?

What obstacles does Kimberlee face in Texas?

Kimberlee: Grandmother fell and we found out more troublesome things about the Children’s Charity. We think the attorney is embezzling Grandmother’s money. We’re looking into Harold background and not much liking what we find. After a run-in with Grandmother, I’d give anything to leave, but we’re stuck here until we resolve some of these issues. How much worse can things get? Embezzling, false identities, a bitchy injured grandmother? Good grief. I’d give anything if we’d never come.

Is there going to be another story with Thumper, the cat with the memories?

Kimberlee: The third Black Cat Mystery, Black Cat and the Accidental Angel, coming out next spring, is extensively written through Thumper’s point of view. Thumper loses his memory. He and his soul-mate deal with a completely different set of trials and tribulations on a vineyard and emu farm in Nevada City. As problems increase, the cats must face increasing danger protecting the people they have come to love and Thumper learns there are more important things than knowing your real name.

Elaine Faber  writes a series called, Black Cat Mysteries. Her short stories have appeared in national magazines and in multiple anthologies.

She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Cat Writers Association and Inspire Christian Writers, where she serves as an librarian and an editor on their annual anthology. (website and blog site) Available on Amazon in paperback and e-book

That was a fun interview, Elaine. The book sounds great. Thanks for stopping by once again--and bringing Kimberlee with you.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Third Week of Blog Tour for River Spirits

Week #3 for River Spirits Blog Tour:

The Supportive Mystery Writing Community

Where I Get My Energy

Avoiding the Jessica Fletcher Syndrome

Promotion Tips

Where Do the Minor Characters Come From?

What Might be Next for Tempe

Excerpt and links

I do hope you are enjoying this tour as much as I am.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Outbreak...Breakdown, A Forensic/Medical Author's Take on Ebola and the CDC

Outbreak… Breakdown
A Forensic/Medical Author’s Take on Ebola and the CDC

My book, Louisiana Fever, involves the spread of a bleeding disease known as Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever. This is a real disease that, like its close relative, Ebola, is caused by an infectious virus.  And having researched this thoroughly (and having come from a forensic/health background) I feel compelled to weigh in on the Ebola outbreak.

When I was plotting Louisiana Fever, I figured I ought to have a character in the book that was once an infectious disease specialist at the CDC.  It seemed like a logical idea because the CDC is this country’s unquestioned champion against virulent organisms, an organization staffed with experts that know every nuance of tropical viruses and how they can be controlled.

To make sure my writing about the CDC would have an authentic ring to it, I asked the public relations office of the CDC if I might be given a tour of the place.  “Sorry,” I was told.  “We don’t give tours.”  Considering how many dangerous viruses are stored in the various labs there, that seemed like a good policy, even to me.  So there would be no tour.  But then I heard from someone in my department at the U. of Tennessee Medical Center that one of our former graduate students now worked at the CDC.  I began to wonder if this connection might work to my advantage. 

And it certainly did.  The former student was now a virology section chief. A SECTION CHIEF…. Holy cow! This could be my way in.  But would the man be generous by nature and sympathetic to writers?  He proved to be both of those.

On the day of my visit, I reported to the security office as instructed.  There, I had to wait until my host came to escort me into the bowels of the place… no wandering around on my own with a visitor’s badge.  That day I saw the hot zone in action and spoke with experts in many fields of virology, even spent some time with the world expert on porcine retroviruses.  At the end of my visit—including all the cumbersome clinical protocols I had to engage in both before and during said visit—I not only left feeling more educated, but actually more safe and secure that no tropical virus would ever be a threat to this country… not with the meticulous, detail-oriented, security conscious, microbe fighters at the CDC watching out for us.      

So, it’s with much regret and… yes, even a little fear, that I witnessed the head of the CDC recently assuring us that the Ebola virus is very difficult to transmit and that we know exactly how to control it.  Instead of (what looked like) his clumsy attempts to soothe an ignorant and paranoid public, the CDC head should have given a blunt assessment, educated everyone like adults, and encouraged them to exercise precaution. Then, seemingly in answer, two nurses who cared for the index patient from Liberia become Ebola positive.  And the CDC clears one of those nurses to take a commercial airline flight, even though she was in the early stages of Ebola infection…depressing.  From a medical professional standpoint, this was practically criminal negligence. At present, the disease is not transmitted by air ("airborne"), but any scientist worth his/her salt cannot account for mutations the virus may undergo.  This is why the job of the CDC is to contain harmful microbes, issue protocols to protect the public against them and ultimately eradicate them... period.  It is not to be PR professionals for television cameras and fostering carelessness.

I’m still convinced that the combined knowledge and brainpower of the CDC staff will be a major impediment to any virus taking over this country.  But Ebola probably has some tricks we haven’t seen yet. That means we may lose a few more battles before we can declare that this particular threat is behind us.

Meanwhile, how is development of that Ebola vaccine coming?

D. J. Donaldson

D.J. Donaldson is a retired professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology at the University of Tennessee, Health Science Center—where he taught and published dozens of papers on wound-healing and other health issues.  He is the author of Louisiana Fever, one of the seven in the Andy Broussard/Kit Franklyn series of forensic mystery thrillers.

Louisiana Fever:


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Report on Book Sales at the Porterville Art Association Boutique

This was the first time I got to use this new display rack, and I love it! It left so much more room for me to have my cards and guest book.

We had a great Friday. Lots of people were downtown shopping and came into the art gallery to see what was going on. I sold a lot of books. Saturday was rather dead, though I did sell books--6 right after the doors opened and 4 more just before they closed. 

It was a great venue! Table and chairs provided. Surrounded by beautiful art on the walls, and lots of wonderful crafts. Everyone was friendly.

And something else that is important at these things--a really nice bathroom. Don't laugh--many of the outdoor venues only have port-a-potties.

I do pay membership dues to the PAA, and that's why I get to join them.

This year I've done several in-person events like this--and each one had their pluses and minuses.

I'll probably keep on doing them because I love talking to and gaining new readers.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


The main sources of ideas for novels are the imaginations of the authors. But what revs up their imaginations?

Pet peeves, news headlines, travel, special interest columns in Sunday papers, and people encountered daily are all sources of novel ideas. The list is endless.

The ideas for MALIGNANCY, my medical thriller released in October, came from two sources: my trip to Cuba in 2013 and my pet peeve that there are so few woman protagonists in thrillers and suspense novels. The women who populate suspense and thrillers are often young action heroines, like Lara Croft or Super Woman, or old women, like Miss Jane Marple. That leaves out women from thirty to sixty-five. According to the US Census in 2000, about fifty percent of females in the U.S. are between thirty and sixty-five.

In other words, authors should populate their novels with more smart, fit women in their forties and older. Characters who could be played by Helen Mirren, Sigourney Weaver, Salma Hayek, Marcia Gaye Hardin, and Alfre Woodard. Now that’s a novel idea.

The birthing of MALIGNANCY
Among the propaganda spouted by Cuban tour guide in 2013 was the statement: Cuban researchers had patented a drug for cancer. When I got home, I investigated her claim and found it was true.

This patent for a vaccine against a rare type of lung cancer demonstrates Cuban scientists are doing competitive science and understand the importance of commercialization of their research. I also discovered U.S. scientists were trying to augment existing scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, despite the embargo on Cuba. (Check out the editorial “Science diplomacy with Cuba” in the journal Science on June 6, 2014.)

I thought Sara Almquist, as an epidemiologist and heroine of my previous medical thrillers Coming Flu and Ignore the Pain, would be the perfect protagonist to do a little “scientific diplomacy” in Cuba. Let’s face it, a twenty or even thirty-something heroine hasn’t had time to get a Ph.D. and gain enough experiences to be an international science consultant.

Here’s a blurb on MALIGNANCY. Men disguised as police officers shoot at Sara Almquist twice in one day. Albuquerque police suspect Jim Mazzone, a drug czar who Sara has tangled with several times, will order more hits on Sara. Thus when colleagues in the State Department invite Sara to arrange scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, she jumps at the chance to get out of town and to see the mysterious Xave Zack, who rescued her in Bolivia. Maybe, she should question their motives.

Read Malignancy and imagine Helen Mirren or Marcia Gaye Hardin as Sara Almquist. Now that’s another novel idea.

Malignancy is available at Amazon and Oak Tree Press:

Bio: As a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I honed my story-telling skills as I lectured to bleary-eyed students at 8:30 in the morning. Students remember chemical reactions better when the instructor attaches stories to the processes. 

Now I have two great passions – my Japanese Chin dog, Bug, and travel. I’ve included both in my novels. You can learn more about me at my website: and blog (JL Greger’s Bugs): I also answer question directed to:

From Marilyn:

This books sounds great! Anxious to read it. Good post, my Deputy Tempe Crabtree falls in the early forties range.