For our readers who may not know, will you tell again how the Mitford series began? I’m talking about the catalyst that made you want to create these wholesome stories, and then also the story of Father Tim introducing himself to you.
I seldom read a contemporary bestseller, and decided I needed to lighten up and read contemporary authors. I chose a book from the shelves of my small-town library. Holy smoke! Obviously, there was no balm in Gilead.
I decided to write a book I would like to read, and I had an odd inspiration from a mental image of a priest walking down a village street. Not much to go on, but I got up and went … to my computer, at 2 a.m.
Two chapters later, I took the manuscript to my local newspaper editor. “What do you think I have here?” I asked, because I really didn’t know. He said, “I don’t know either, but let’s run it.” For two years, “At Home in Mitford” was published weekly in a newspaper then costing a dime. People liked it.
As Margaret Mitchell famously said, “In a weak moment, I have written a novel.” Okay, so it took two years to write, but there it was. A book! And it took two years to sell it.
Dear reader, this is a long story. The short story is, people like having a book that provided laughter and refuge. No cussin’, no graphic sex, no mayhem. Just ordinary people living ordinary lives. Revolutionary!
Why do you think readers have been so drawn to these stories about ordinary, small-town life?
They can relax in a Mitford book because they feel safe. And they get to see this universal small town through the same pair of eyes, almost all the time, through fourteen novels. So they build a relationship with Father Tim, and he is nice enough to be with. Has a sense of humor, a genuine ardor for giving of himself, and knows how to be pretty honest with himself and others. There are worse ways to spend reading hours!
For you, what has been the most fulfilling part of writing this series? What has been the hardest part?
The fulfillment is there all the time because my stories are essentially character-driven. I like nothing better than going “inside the skin” of a character, seeing them interact with other characters. They are pretty darned real to me and live in my head as if in the upstairs room of a house.
Maybe the hardest part of writing for me is separating my writing life from my actual life. These two lives wage an intense competition for my time and energies. I will spare you the details.
Which character has surprised you the most?
Ah. I find nearly all of them surprising. Which is a good thing, as I like to be surprised. Maybe young Grace Murphy has been the most delightful surprise. She is mentioned in Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, and is “going on seven” in the new novel. I have loved finding her out.
Can you give our readers a teaser of what to expect from To Be Where You Are? And is Father Tim coming to terms with retirement, after several years of struggle?
Well, yes, he thought he was through with all that agonizing and having nothing “major” to do. And then, of course….
With all of your achievements, what remains on your bucket list? What dreams is God enlivening in your heart now?
I would like to explore art, my first love. Would enjoy living in France for two months. Maybe the same in Italy.
I wish to explore the possibility of writing a historical novel or a collection of short stories. Definitely not an autobiography, although I have designed the cover.
What are you looking forward to doing this year?
Letting my soul catch up with my body. Savoring this life God has so generously given me.
Thank you for your time with us, and is there anything I didn’t ask that you would like our readers to know?
Allow me to repeat what Goethe said, “Whatever you would do, begin it. Boldness has courage, genius and magic in it.”
Thank you so much for inviting me into your lovely magazine. What a brilliant idea to give us your curated guide to worthy reading.
Jan Karon is the author of the bestselling series of nine Mitford novels featuring Father Timothy Kavanagh, an Episcopal priest, and the fictional village of Mitford. There are over 40 million Mitford and Father Tim novels, childrens books, and CDs in print.
Visit Jan Karon’s author page here: https://www.familyfiction.com/authors/jan-karon
To Be Where You Are
A Mitford Novel
G.P. Putnam’s Sons