HYDE PARK — In Kirsten Jensen’s imagination, Hyde Park is a dark landscape of abandoned churches where snowdrifts can hide a corpse.
Jensen, who writes murder mysteries under the pen name K.B. Jensen, recently finished her first novel, “Painting with Fire." The book is about Claudia Wilson, who becomes fixated on discovering the truth after discovering the body of a man brutally murdered in front of her East Hyde Park apartment.
“It’s kind of the parallel-universe Hyde Park,” Jensen said. “I love my neighborhood, but it doesn’t have the body count of my fictional Hyde Park.”
In Jensen’s Hyde Park, St. Stephen’s Church still looms heavy and vacant on Blackstone Avenue, but the nights are filled with sirens. Neighbors battling over domestic violence charges in a lugubrious court system populate this fictional lakefront neighborhood.
“I just hope people are able to separate fiction from reality,” Jensen said.
But there is an injection of South Side life in “Painting with Fire.”
Jensen said she drew heavily on her experience as a general assignment reporter for the Times of Northwest Indiana covering the Southeast Side of the city and the south suburbs to populate her fictional world.
The main character, Claudia, does have something of a reporter’s spirit, too, seeking truth under the assumption that justice will follow.
“Ultimately, knowledge leads to justice,” Jensen said.
She said that drive for knowledge that motivates her protagonist was directly drawn from her own experience reporting on a murder six years ago that was never solved.
“What happened? I never found out and it really bothered me,” Jensen said. “I still see it as a tragedy, it still bothers me just as much as it did then because that was a real murder.”
She said writing the book was cathartic, but not about that murder. She said the four years she spent on “Painting with Fire” allowed an escape from her daily duties as a freelance journalist.
“It was freeing not to have to write the truth,” Jensen said. “But it was hard to let the truth go.”
She said, unlike real life, the book provides the satisfaction of a twist at the end and a clear resolution to a tragedy.
Jensen said she eschewed the mainstream publishing industry and decided to self-publish her book. Without much fanfare the book went up as an e-book on Amazon in February and has been downloaded more than 8,000 times.
Jensen will start making the rounds for readings at neighborhood bookstores next month to sell copies of the paperback.
I Paint My Mind art gallery, 2545 W. Diversey Ave., will host a book launch party for “Painting with Fire” from 4-6 p.m. on June 1.
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