Raised on a North Carolina farm, Jan Karon had a lifelong dream to be an author, penning her first novel as a young girl. However, she didn’t pursue that dream until she turned 50, when she left her career in advertising to begin the hard work of learning to write fiction. After struggling for ideas, Jan awoke one night with an image of an Episcopal priest firmly fixed in her mind. That inspired the character of Father Tim Kavanaugh, the central figure in a series of stories set in the fictional town of Mitford. Jan has now released the 14th title in the bestselling Mitford series, To Be Where You Are (G.P. Putnam’s Sons). Here, Jan answers our questions about her midlife career transition, her bucket list, and her beloved Mitford friends…
You wrote your first novel at age 10. What was it about, and what inspired you to take on such an ambitious project?
It was about a young woman named Emmaline, based solidly upon Scarlett O’Hara. I had just seen the movie and read the book, which is a lot of fodder for a young mind. I had been given the heartfelt understanding at age ten that I would be an author.
Before becoming an author, you had an accomplished career in advertising. The transition from your success in that field to becoming a published novelist wasn’t the easiest. What kept you going during the lean times?
What kept me going was prayer and the sense that I wasn’t to “look back.” My faith became a truer relationship during that time. I had difficulty writing my first novel and had to abandon it; that’s when the Mitford story began to come to me. I spent a couple of years in the valley, which is the place of fertility, and I began to learn the wisdom of “giving thanks in everything.”
What advice would you give to a young, aspiring novelist?
Sit down. Begin. Goethe said, “Whatever you would do, begin it. Boldness has a courage, genius and magic in it.” Once you have found courage to begin, I recommend following Nietzsche’s “long obedience in the same direction.” Without perseverance, we are sunk.
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