Summer went by so fast that I spent very little time in one of my favorite summer activities: reading in the old-fashioned front porch swing. But what few books I was able to cross off my reading list were worth the effort.

For the first time in my entire long life I read a book of fiction that had been written by someone I know. My work-related reading, which by definition is non-fiction, has been often authored by colleagues or others with whom I have some kind of acquaintance. And of course I have never even met my favorite fiction authors. So when my cousin, Ginger Hirt, who is also a very good friend, announced that her book had come off the production line, I was elated and anxious to get started reading it. The only knowledge I had about the novel was that it had something to do with a church organist. That made sense, I thought, because Ginger herself is a very professional one. Somewhere along the line, she also mentioned she had settled on a title, "The Preacher's Wife Drinks a Little." That was very intriguing, of course.

I expected to like the book, which I did. But more important, I realized not too long after I started it that what I was reading seemed to be very autobiographical. I was reading about my cousin's early married life. I didn't want to finish the book, because I was learning a lot. Even though we were well acquainted as children, we went different ways. By the time she got married, we lived over a thousand miles apart; she was in New Mexico and I was in Chicago and Minnesota. Needless to say, we rarely saw each other back then. And we didn't have social media to fill the gap.

There were some signposts in the novel that were obviously from Cousin Ginger's background. For instance, in my mother's restaurant there was a sign over the entrance to the dining room that it was "Ole's Gotcha Room." My father's name was Ole, and when customers went in there, he had them. Well, technically he didn't because his part of the business was not the restaurant, but the sign was cute and an attention-getter. In the novel, The OlesGotcha Gazette is the name of the local newspaper. I think this usage for a newspaper is clever; think of the gotchas that might appear in a small town newspaper!

The book is loaded with interesting characters, much like those that inhabit any town, small or large. But even though they are right there in front of the rest of us in our daily lives, I don't think most of us stop to think about them and their oddities or even much about their strengths and weaknesses. We just take them for granted. But a writer has to place them in the plot, and in so doing gives us a rather rounded picture of the people on this stage, so to speak, of a story.

When she gave me a copy of this first novel, Ginger hinted that I would find myself in the book. That wasn't obvious to me, but in thinking about it after I finished, I made a couple of guesses as to which character might have been based a little bit on me. But again maybe that was just wishful thinking on my part.

I have concluded that writing fiction must be more difficult than the kind of non-fiction and research writing that I do. It takes a good imagination, something that is likely not a strong point for many people. And it takes something else: good powers of observation.

I had not thought about it before, but now I realize that likely all fiction writers "write what they know," or in other words, they write from their own experiences. Since I don't feel I have the ability-or the patience-to write fiction, I wonder if those writers ever run out of experiences, or if they keep voluptuous notes to save for later use.

Cousin Ginger tells me there is a sequel to this first book already underway. If I see her taking notes in social settings, I'll now know why.

And maybe I will more easily recognize myself in the second one.

Ginger Hirt's book, "The Preacher's Wife Drinks a Little," can be purchased online from its publisher (Authorhouse, 2013, Bloomington, Ind.) or from other online booksellers, or from me!