MICHIGAN CITY – On the cover of Janet Beutner’s new book, “When Lilacs Bloom,” stands a Victorian-style home from the mid-1800s.
It’s a real building – located at 2803 Franklin St. in Michigan City – that’s now part of the Rising Phoenix Gallery. In the 1960s, Beutner lived there with her family.
“You don’t recognize it now because in 1961, when I was at my grandparents' house, we came home and my parents had taken off the porch and built a business (Quality T.V.) on the front,” she said.
But in the fictional 1867 of her book, it's the home of protagonist Susanna Jacklyn, and part of the development of Michigan City, which Beutner set out to capture in her novel.
“My main character actually is from Michigan City,” she said. “The book’s historical fiction. She’s born in 1867, grows up in the then developing Michigan City. Her family is not wealthy, but they’re well to do … eventually, at 18, she gets married and unfortunately, her husband passes away early, leaving her with two sons. And wanting more adventure in her life, she starts searching for something else out there.”
And that “something else” is where the adventure begins, leading to the Ursuline Convent in Quebec City, Canada, and eventually a prison cell, in a whirlwind of events involving romance, betrayal and unexpected turns.
Released earlier this year, “When Lilacs Bloom” is Beutner’s second book, and was a couple of years in development as she studied the time period in both Michigan City and Quebec City.
Beutner, who at one point headed up the Michigan City Junior Achievement program and was Business Department chair at Brown Mackie College, previously published the children’s book, “Zip & Zap: A Zebra Christmas Story.”
“This is quite a departure,” she said. “Once I finished ‘Zip & Zap,’ I had already wanted to write a novel, and what really kind of inspired me was taking a trip to Quebec City and the old city (Old Quebec), and seeing all the history. When I got back home, I started writing the end of the novel, which ends in Quebec City, and started to add in everything else.”
The book opens in a prison in Quebec, and Beutner said the narrative takes the reader on a journey explaining how the protagonist, a single mother from Michigan City, ends up there, facing possible charges as an accomplice to murder.
“There’s so many historical things that actually, when I decided to write the book, we went back and I visited what was the old jail and the Ursuline Convent and kind of got the feel of the city,” she said. “The bed and breakfast we were staying at was built in the early 1800s, so there were just a lot of historical things in the city, which I incorporated in the book. In the book, she does visit the Ursuline nuns, and one of them plays a role (in the narrative).”
Beutner will hold a book signing for “When Lilacs Bloom” on Sunday, June 30, from 1-4 p.m. at the place where part of the book is based, Rising Phoenix Gallery. Her son, Tim Bauer, will be returning with free smoothies based on recipes from his former business, Quality Beet, named after Quality T.V.
Beutner said Jacklyn’s adventures are part of a trilogy, with the second book available in late 2019.
“When Lilacs Bloom” is available for purchase at Rising Phoenix Gallery, 2803 Franklin St.; Visit Michigan City La Porte at Marquette Mall; and The Nest, 803 Franklin St. It’s also available online at etsy.com/shop/ZipandZap.
Beutner can be reached at email@example.com.