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 Café 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 www.susanvankirk.com and her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SusanVanKirkAuthor