As I sit in my office looking out at the rain and wind in our Illinois spring, I am reminded that the little town in my mysteries, Endurance, is based on the spot where I live. Right now the ornamental trees and shrubs are in full bloom, and the gingko tree in my front yard is just starting to grow its interesting triangular-shaped leaves. Mother Nature is definitely changing courses and revving up the green colors to move into summer. Nature is something we can’t hurry.
In recent weeks, I drove east of town looking for the trees and bushes to bud out and become spring-like so I could get the last photo banner for my website at www.susanvankirk.com. For several weeks now, I figured we could get the spring photo, but it seemed to take forever to get rid of the dark browns of winter and break into the buds of spring.
During three previous seasons, I picked up my photographer, Lori Seals, and we did what she calls “a drive-by shooting” to take a photo for the banner on my website. It was my thought to have a banner for each season. Then I asked her to Photoshop my picture and laptop in on top of the landscape and also add a road sign to Endurance. I found the “road to Endurance” by driving down a number of country locations in the area. Nothing looked exactly right. I wanted a curve and a lot of trees as well as the look of a rural highway. Eventually, I found the exact thing I was looking for: a road I had driven many times to head into the Lake Bracken area about twelve miles east of my little town.
So Lori the Photographer and I drove over there on four separate seasonal occasions, and, because we had nowhere to park, I dropped her off and she took the picture while I drove on and found a turnaround spot. Once we were stopped by trains, and once she saw a mother deer and babies near the road. But now we are finished with the four seasons and the banner for spring will be up next week.
Setting is very important in my mysteries. My little town of Endurance (population 15,000), is a character in itself. It has a history which I have written into the first two books in the series, and it has a present-day, Midwestern atmosphere with plenty of unique, small-town characters. The first book runs from summer through fall, the second book takes place during the winter, and the third book (my work in progress) continues the same winter and into the spring. Weather and seasons are important in the lives of the characters. Believe me, weather is usually a highlight in Midwest conversations because it changes almost hourly.
I’ll miss these drives with Lori because they afforded good opportunities to catch up on our lives, and I also used them to ask her questions about marketing. Her husband was a student of mine—of course—and it’s always interesting to check on how his doctorate dissertation is going. It seems strange, but not unusual, that I had a history with him (teacher/student) before he met Lori, got married, and had two children. That happens to Grace Kimball, my main character, all the time too.