The woman in charge of the mail in a small, west central Iowa town has created some small town characters who’re playing major roles in her success as a novelist. Stuart, Iowa, postmaster Shirley Damsgaard had her first novel — “Witch Way to Murder” — published in 2005. Her second novel — “Charmed to Death” — was published this month and a third comes out in August.
All are part of a series that features a small town Iowa librarian with psychic powers. The main character’s grandmother is a witch. Damsgaard, who is 52, had an aunt who started writing at 16 and didn’t stop ’til she died at age 92. “And I had always wanted to do the same thing but I didn’t feel I wasn’t qualified, that I knew enough, that people would laugh,” she says. “You know, I had no background in writing as far as college or anything like that so at the encouragement my cousin, Ellen, up in Minnesota, I decided to give it a try and I’ve been extremely lucky.”
Damsgaard says at first she tried to write a romance novel, but it was terrible so she decided to try a mystery. About five years ago she enrolled in a writing class in Dubuque and that’s where she created what became her first published novel. Damsgaard starts out with a blue print for each book. “I have a general idea, a general outline but in the process of writing and I’m sure all the writers out there will understand this, but your characters surprise you.
You will start a certain scene and think the scene is going to go a particular way, but your characters kind of take over and a lot of times they will go in a different direction than you had originally anticipated,” she says. “That’s exciting when that happens.”
Damsgaard will read aloud from her novels during an appearance at the Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City June 22nd at seven p.m.