Though Jan Dirksen isn’t a Yankton native, she’s as familiar with the town as many, spending much of the summer months visiting the community. Her husband’s family has gathered in Yankton in July for the last 26 years, staying at the Lewis & Clark resort at the lake. The vacation is so important that approximately 35 family members attend each year. Dirksen and her own family have also visited Yankton three to four times each summer, spending time with her sister, who lives on the bluffs on the Nebraska side of the river.
“Yankton is kind of our go to place in the summertime; it has been for years,” she comments.
So much so, that Dirksen, a Sioux Falls resident, decided to use the community as the setting for her first novel, “Summer Sisters,” and explains that the book is a combination of fiction and semi autobiography about two sisters and events that take place during their frequent family visits to Yankton.
She explains how the process began for her. An avid reader, she loves to read books with a summer beach setting. Late last summer, toward the end of August, after reading two books in a row by new authors, she realized that she might be able to write something better. Though the thought of writing a book had never crossed her mind, she recalls back to school days where she was complimented often on her writing skills.
“I think I was just so bored last year, with the whole covid thing, (being) stuck in the house.” When she sat at the computer one evening to test her skills as a novelist, the words flowed from her fingertips as her creativity churned. She found herself writing the first three chapters that evening. With no outline planned, the novel started off impromptu for the first half before she had an idea in mind for the rest of the book.
She wanted to book to be a light, enjoyable read. “I want to have a fun, fictional read, that actually takes place in South Dakota. That was my purpose throughout the whole thing, just to write a local, fiction story that would bring joy to people’s lives.”
While writing the book, she took advantage of any random thought that came to her, no matter when it struck. It wasn’t uncommon for her to get out of bed at night to tackle the book with another idea. Writing in the evening wasn’t unusual for her; she found it her best time for free time while her husband, a firefighter, was often working.
She wrote the book in five months and published it shortly thereafter. “When I got the first book in the mail, it was like ‘wow!’ Almost like giving birth to a child! It was more meaningful to me than I ever thought it would be.”
She’s considering writing another novel, with Yankton included in a group of various settings.
The setting of the book came easily to her, as the family has many favorites they see and do. Most of their visits are spent at the lake, riding on a boat or jet skis for the day. The have their favorite local restaurants and she explains that they especially enjoy the environment at Murdo’s, peaceful and calm. So much so that she references it particularly, along with the Lewis & Clark Resort. These are frequent stops and are a priority during each visit.
The family has their annual traditions: a visit to the go-kart track, golfing for the guys and lake time for the ladies. Years ago, her husband’s family began an annual bean bag tournament during the last two nights of their stay. The tradition stuck and they’ve since amped the competition with a gaudy traveling trophy for the winner.
She laughs, “The bean bag tournament is always a big deal for the family.”
Her fondest memory of each visit is the day everyone meets before heading to the lake. The vacation always starts on a Monday, and they meet promptly at 1:00 p.m. at the Wendy’s parking lot. Though it doesn’t sound like much of an event, she explains the excitement as family members start coming in, kids running toward their cousins and wrapping them in hugs.
“It’s not just Yankton, not just being there, it’s family time too. Those family bonds are really strong and really important.”
She rates Yankton as the best among other lakes in the area and feels fortunate for their visits. “Just to be able to go to a place like Yankton, where it’s gorgeous. It has so much to offer, and people don’t even realize it’s there.”