If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

August Interviews

8/5 Lucy Burdette, The Key Lime Crime

8/12 Maggie Toussaint, All Done With It

8/19 Julie Mulhern, Killer Queen

8/26 Debra Goldstein, Three Treats Too Many

August Guest Bloggers

8/8 Leslie Wheeler

8/15 Jean Rabe

August Interviews

8/22 Kait Carson

8/29 WWK Authors--What We're Reading Now


Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!

Look Margaret S. Hamilton's short stories in the new Mid-Century Murder by Darkhouse Books. Margaret's story is titled "4BR/3.5BA Contemporary."

Grace Topping's second novel in Laura Bishop staging series, Staging Wars, was released by Henery Press on April 28th. Look for the interview here from April 29th.

Annette Dashofy's 10th Zoe Chambers mystery, Til Death, will be released on June 16th. Look for the interview here on June 17.


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Susan Van Kirk Interview by E. B. Davis

Everyone in the small town of Sweet Iron knew the teenage daughter of Judge Tippitt and his wife, Jolene. Melanie Tippitt’s exotic green eyes sprinkled with gold flecks only added to her haunting beauty. That is why her shocking murder in the summer of 1971 shattered the innocence of the town. Soon, the inhabitants sighed with relief when the murderer was sent to prison. Case closed.

Four decades later, Elizabeth Russell arrives in Sweet Iron with plans for a brief visit. She extends her stay when she discovers reasons to research the Tippitt family genealogy and the disturbing tragedy of their daughter’s murder. Her decision disturbs the tranquility of the town and challenges the truth of what happened that day at Tippitt Pond…

Case closed. Or was it?

I’ve interviewed Susan Van Kirk before on WWK because her writing and characters draw readers into the plots. A Death At Tippitt Pond hooked me from the first page.

Here’s the first hook: A forty-seven-year-old New York researcher is contacted by a lawyer’s agent about an inheritance from someone she doesn’t know in a place she’s never been and has no family. Ticket paid by the estate. Between projects and enticed by intrigue, she accepts and comes to the small town of Sweet Iron, IL telling friends she’ll be back within a week. Famous last words….

And that was just the first chapter. There are many more hooks that compel readers forward until the end is near and whodunnit is revealed. But there are still unanswered questions, which I hope, will necessitate Susan to write more about these characters—by reader mandate!

Please welcome Susan Van Kirk back to WWK.                    E. B. Davis


Is Sweet Iron, IL based on another town?

Not exactly. Sweet Iron is a bit larger than Endurance, the town in my earlier series, and the population is somewhere between the town I live in now, Monmouth, Illinois, and the town I grew up in—Galesburg, Illinois. But all the small towns I write about are eventually an amalgamation of the area in which I’ve lived—west central Illinois.

How did the Tippitts find their way to Sweet Iron?

Molly Grayson, the librarian at Sweet Iron’s McClendan College, gives Elizabeth (Beth) Russell a history lesson about that. The Tippitt family was part of the second group of settlers arriving in Sweet Iron. The first group found their way from Pennsylvania in the 1830s. Thomas Johannes Bergmann was the leader, and his family had made their fortune in iron in the early 1800s in Philadelphia. But owner-worker strife and strikes became commonplace in the iron foundries, and Bergmann foresaw more of the same in the future. An adventurous visionary, he moved his wife and five children to the new state of Illinois and founded Sweet Iron, named for his wife’s family—Sweet—and the product that had made him wealthy. By the time William Webster Tippitt showed up with his family in the early 1840s, the town was a thriving wilderness outpost, and Tippitt brought his young wife. They settled into the little town, becoming involved in the politics and governing, and founding the first newspaper. One of the characters in A Death at Tippitt Pond, Jefferson Webster Tippitt, is named for this newspaper editor of the mid-1800s.

Were all adoptions sealed in the sixties?

Virtually all legal adoptions in the 1960s were closed, meaning the original birth certificate was either sealed or expunged, and the parents who adopted the child were listed on the new birth certificate. Information about the birth parents was unavailable. Previously, adoption had been more open, resulting in privacy issues. By 1960, twenty-eight states had laws stating that the original birth certificate could only be seen by court order. State and federal governments tightened the restrictions during that decade. By the 1970s, open adoptions became more acceptable, and today it is rare to have closed adoptions. My character, Beth Russell, was conceived in 1968 in small-town Illinois where closed adoptions would still have been more common. She discovers early in the story that she was adopted. (Sorry. Spoiler. Can’t help it.)

Why has Elizabeth always been plagued by anxiety?

Here are Elizabeth’s thoughts: “Deep down, Beth had always known something was wrong. She could remember a conversation with her well-meaning friend, Gabrielle, who said, ‘But I have grandparents and aunts and uncles and four brothers and three sisters and nieces and nephews too numerous to mention. At last count, I think that overwhelms your zero. Don’t you find it strange?’ It was true her parents kept her close to home. No history. No relatives. If she were honest, even she found it strange.”
Beth had grown up with a few friends in upstate New York, but ironically, despite being a genealogist, she knows nothing of her own history. Add to that her green eyes with gold speckles. Where did those come from? Her calm father had died when she was fourteen, leaving her in the care of her paranoid mother who was always anxious about something. But what?
Finally, Beth had a horrifying memory of an experience that would make anyone anxious. Despite her confidence in the freelance work she does for authors, she is not so sure about her personal life.

How does Elizabeth react when the DNA analysis comes back positive?

She is literally in shock. This can’t be true. She had two parents—the Russells—in upstate New York. She knows nothing about this family in Illinois. However, the more she thinks about it, the more she remembers her gut feeling that something was wrong. This adoption might be the reason her mother was so paranoid. The Russells were the only parents she ever knew. Now she finds out she has biological parents, and no one—not even the Russells—told her the truth. She feels betrayed and angry at first. Even worse, none of these people are alive so she can yell at them or ask them why.

Why was Kyle Warner, a detective for the Sweet Iron PD, charged with taking Elizabeth’s DNA sample for testing?

The Tippitt family lawyer wants to make sure everything is done legally, and he wants someone he can trust. Kyle Warner is being paid handsomely on his day off to take this DNA sample to a private lab. They can make no mistakes because a great deal of money is riding on this identification.

I was surprised that Elizabeth, who suffers from anxiety, had no trouble sleeping at the old Tippitt house. Why?

You would think she would be awake all night with these huge changes in her life—strange town, strange house, strange story about who she is. The first night Elizabeth thinks she’ll never get to sleep, especially since this small town is totally quiet at night—little traffic on the streets, few people out and about, and few people in town that Elizabeth would even know. At one point, she even thinks about getting a small fan to help her sleep. But the minute her head hits the pillow, she’s out. Why? She may not be alone in Tippitt House.

[Spoiler Alert] Elizabeth is told that her mother was murdered by her father. Why doesn’t she except that as fact?

She does at first. In fact, if she is angry at her adopted parents for keeping this secret, she is even more upset that her biological father is a murderer. Because of him, she will never meet the mother who first held her in her arms. As time goes by, however, Elizabeth begins meeting people in town who knew her parents. When she listens to their stories, a shadow of a doubt crosses her mind.
We must also understand that Beth was raised by a lawyer-father whom she often compares to Atticus Finch. He taught her about justice and righting wrongs, and those lessons weigh heavily on her mind. She is an excellent researcher in high demand because of her reputation. So her desire to see justice and the skills of her job make her the perfect person to research the past and consider what happened that day at Tippitt Pond. Did they get it right?

What type of evidence can be found through genealogical records?

Genealogy has a lot to do with connecting dots and making assumptions. Finding the evidence to substantiate those assumptions is what genealogists do. Beth can find databases that list births, deaths, and marriages. That’s basic. Then she will need to explore letters, diaries, newspapers, and various artifacts that will help her connect the dots. Church records of baptisms are sometimes helpful sources. However, it works both ways. Evidence often leads to more questions and theories that she must try to verify. It can be a very frustrating experience that leads her in circles. In this series, I plan to have Beth explore some of the past members of the Tippitt family. Delving into the past helps her better understand the present.

How does Elizabeth know who to trust?

She is faced with a town she doesn’t know, people she’s never met before, and bits and pieces of information from which to draw conclusions about her biological family. Lies and secrets abound. Motives and fears add to the information she weighs. Fortunately, she strikes up a relationship with Molly Grayson, the college librarian, and Beth bounces her impressions off Molly’s experience in the town. As she meets the people who were there at Tippitt Pond that day, or she is introduced to people who knew her parents, she considers her first impressions of them. She’s travelled extensively in her work life, so she is good at reading body language. Using the skepticism she learned from her father, she excels at knowing lies when she hears them. Depending on what she finds out, she could be a threat to someone.

Elizabeth fled Spring Harbor, NY, her hometown, because everyone knew everyone’s business. Is this one element a factor in her decision to stay or leave Sweet Iron?

Absolutely. She left her hometown for that reason and fled to college, graduate school, and New York City. Very comfortable in a condo in Sea Cliff, Long Island, she commutes easily to the New York City Public Library for research and enjoys Broadway productions, lunches out with her friends, and all the wonderful amenities of a huge city. She can be anonymous. No one knows her business. When we first meet her in the lawyer’s office in Sweet Iron, she is considering whether she can catch a plane back to New York that same day once she talks to him. At various points in her unplanned, extended stay, she is amused, annoyed, or angry in her reactions to this small town where everyone knows who she is—“the lady with the weird eyes.” She makes no secret of her desire to go back to New York where her “real life” and her friends are.

Is Tippitt house haunted? Or is Elizabeth haunted?

Perhaps a little of both.

I wasn’t sure if A Death At Tippitt Pond was a stand- alone. But it is labeled as A Sweet Iron Mystery. Is this the start of a new series? What’s next for Elizabeth and her new friends?

Yes, it is going to be a series. Each of the books will have a present-day plot with Elizabeth and her new community, but each will also go back in time to some historical events. I’m planning her research in the next book to go back to William Webster Tippitt, who built Tippitt House in the decade before the Civil War.


Jim Jackson said...

Susan – congratulations, it sounds like a great combination of a modern tale with historical insights.

Susan said...

Thank you, Jim. Whenever Elaine interviews me, she asks such insightful questions, and they cause me to think about ideas I hadn't considered before. Thank you, Elaine!

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Welcome! Congratulations on your new release.

Susan said...

Thank you, Margaret. And also thanks for the sharing of the info!

Grace Topping said...

Congratulations, Susan, on the release of your most recent book. It certainly sounds like a page turner.

Judy Penz Sheluk said...

Great interview. Loved this book!

M. S. Spencer said...

Sounds like a great book--and what a good name for a town!

Warren Bull said...

Very interesting book. Thanks!

Connie Berry said...

Congratulations, Susan! I love your description.

KM Rockwood said...

I haven't read the book yet, but it's definitely on my summer reading list.

Susan said...

Gosh, what an outpouring of affection for my clever heroine, Beth Russell. Obviously, I need to get started researching the next one! Thank you, everyone.

Beth said...

Loved this interview with insightful questions and intriguing answers. Ditto to all the comments, Susan and Elaine!

Shari Randall said...

I'm definitely intrigued by the book and series! Thank you, EB and Susan, for the terrific interview.