Mystery Mondays: Susan Van Kirk on Writing After Retirement

Today on Mystery Mondays, author Susan Van Kirk talks to us about writing after retirement AND she’s giving away a copy of DEATH TAKES NO BRIBES to a randomly chosen commenter (limited to U.S., Canada, and the UK.). She’ll mail her book to the lucky winner. Any comments posted by Friday, June 9th, 2017 are eligible.

Over to Susan…

Always a Late Bloomer by Susan Van Kirk

Watershed events in my writing life have usually been marked with ages that end in zero. I guess you could say I came to writing late in life. It’s a trend. I went back to school and got my Master’s degree when I turned fifty. Maybe I’m just a late bloomer.

I began writing in 2006 when I was teaching at a local college. That year I turned sixty. Before that teaching job, I’d spent 34 years teaching high school English in a public school in the small town of Monmouth, located in west central Illinois. My first book was a creative nonfiction teaching memoir called The Education of a Teacher (Including Dirty Books and Pointed Looks.) The odd title is a result of the longest chapter in the book, a chapter describing a book challenge in my classroom. A set of parents wanted to throw out Kurt Vonnegut’s book, Breakfast of Champions, that their high school daughter was reading for a book report in my classroom. The story describes what happened next.

My teaching memoir came about because a college student suggested I write a story I had told in my education class. Eventually, I did write that story, and Teacher magazine bought it two days after I sent it. That began my writing career. I wrote fourteen other stories from my four decades in a high school classroom, and collected them in a book which has sold every quarter since September 2010. I began to think of myself as an author!

Once I retired from teaching, I decided to write a mystery because I’d always loved reading mysteries. I spent a year researching and reading about the craft of writing fiction, and then I began writing my Endurance Mysteries.

Three May Keep a Secret is the first book of the series. I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m terrible at coming up with titles. Since my main character, Grace Kimball, is a just-retired teacher who taught American Literature, I thought she would like Benjamin Franklin. His Poor Richard’s Almanac contains aphorisms about human behavior. “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead,” led to my first title. That was quickly followed by Marry in Haste, from Franklin’s “Marry in haste, repent at leisure.” The final novel in the series, just out June 1, is Death Takes No Bribes, another of Franklin’s sayings.

In between the first and second book, I self-published a novella about the detective in my series, TJ Sweeney. It does not have a Franklin title and is simply in e-book format: The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney.

The entire series takes place in the small, Midwestern town of Endurance. The town’s name indicates a major theme of the series: the strength and endurance of women. Grace Kimball, my protagonist, survived a tragedy during her college years, an experience so horrific she has been dogged by it ever since. After college, her beloved husband died young, leaving her with three children to raise alone. The first book of the series introduces her, TJ Sweeney, and their circle of friends. It also introduces a potential love interest, Jeff Maitlin. Oh, right. I almost forgot. A murder (or two) occurs. Before the story ends, even Grace Kimball is in deadly trouble. This first book of the series was bought in just two weeks by Five Star Publishing/Cengage.

Each book in the series has a theme or idea. The first book is about overcoming your past; the second is about why domestic abuse happens. The third book is about how the world has become so big that often people fall through the cracks and cause chaos. TJ Sweeney’s e-book novella puts her center stage, and concerns a cold case from the 1940s. The topic is hate crimes.

Now Five Star/Cengage has ended their entire mystery line, so I’m starting a new series and will be looking for a publisher once again at age seventy. So far, I have been terribly lucky, and I hope that streak continues.

I am just a late bloomer, sigh, and I am learning so much!



Retired teacher-turned-sleuth Grace Kimball returns to her old haunt with Detective TJ Sweeney to investigate Grace’s former colleagues. Could one of them be a killer?

The chemistry teacher who designed a poison unit? A spurned lover or her betrayed husband? A soon-to-be wealthy widow? Sweeney and Grace have plenty of suspects. To top that off, the drama teacher at the high school is producing “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

Meanwhile, Grace’s boyfriend and editor of the Endurance Register, Jeff Maitlin, has disappeared on some mysterious errand from his past. Then, Grace gets devastating news.

Death is stalking the halls of Endurance High School, and Grace Kimball and TJ Sweeney are only a few steps ahead.


IMG_0032Susan Van Kirk was educated at Knox College and the University of Illinois. Three May Keep a Secret, her first mystery novel about the small town of Endurance, was published in 2014 by Five Star Publishing/Cengage. The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney, is an e-book novella available on Amazon. Marry in Haste and Death Takes No Bribes are also available from Amazon in Kindle and paper formats.


Website and blog:


Twitter Handle:    @susan_vankirk




38 thoughts on “Mystery Mondays: Susan Van Kirk on Writing After Retirement

    1. Thanks, Jacqueline. Having been a teacher in my former life, I’m always for saying something as well as bringing in a little suspense, romance, and history. Women have helped me and been role models all my life. Only after I began writing did I realize that their strength resonated throughout my books. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. In 1993, we paid $1,500 for a kitchen stove with bells and whistles. Fifty-two years old, I assured Husband Bill the appliance would “see us out,” a popular phrase meaning it would be the last one we’d ever have to buy. In 2013, however, it had a problem and I called the Kitchen Aide people about repairing “my new stove.” The serial number showed my state-of-the-art stove was beyond its guaranteed-repair date. That’s when I realized that 70 truly was now the new 50. I tell audiences of elderly would-be writers that at 70 they just now have enough life experiences to make their stories interesting. Don’t try to fool us with that “late bloomer” stuff, girlfriend. You’re just now properly seasoned to write the great American novel. Now, you go, girl!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, I laughed so hard when I read this, Sharon. I recently remodeled my kitchen, and I had to replace a 1952 GE wall stove. Of course, no modern stoves would fit into the opening, so everything had to be redone. 65 years that stove fit in that wall and worked quite well until it began to suffer the aches and pains of time. But think about what parties and big events it witnessed! I like your thought that maybe “properly seasoned” is exactly where I am. I am going to remember that since I write about seniors. Thanks so much for giving a smile to my day!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Darlene, and supporting those of us who are going in new directions. And congratulations on having a first book published when you are 60! That is wonderful.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Congratulations, Susan, from a fellow late-bloomer! Although, I’ve dabbled in writing here and there all through my life, I only began to take it seriously in my fifties and sixties. This year, I’m celebrating my 70th birthday. It’s never too late to follow your passion.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m just a year ahead of you, Christa. Keep up the good work. My children appreciate the thought that I’m keeping my brain working. You too!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thanks for stopping in to leave a comment! I remember in those many years when I was working and raising children, I really just wanted things to stay consistent so I could cope with it all. But, you’re right. Reinventing and growing is now a great thing! Thanks for reminding us!


  5. Kristina, before we get into the evening hours here in Illinois, I want to thank you for letting me stop in and be a guest on your blog site. I appreciated the advice you gave in your book, “The Author’s Guide to Selling Books in Non-Bookstores,” and, in fact, I put some of it to good use last weekend. Thank you again, and good luck on your growing shelf of books.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ms. Van Kirk sounds like she’s had a wonderful and successful career history. I’ve had a book in mind that I want to write but I may have to wait until I retire to do so. I enjoyed visiting this blog. Have an amazing weekend.



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