I'm pleased to feature Jane Kirkpatrick on the blog today. I was in a book club with several friends. We shared other books besides the ones we were reading. One friend introduced me to the works of one of her favorite authors--Jane Kirkpatrick. Several months later, I went to my agent's web site looking for some information and found that Jane and I share the same agent.
Like most writers, there’s a bit of me in all my characters. I have some of their quirks and foibles but I hope I have some of their strengths as well. Even the antagonists have a bit of me in them…it’s a great place to put my dark side and hope it never shows up anywhere but in the manuscript. But because many of my characters are based on real, ordinary people, I also try to get into their heads and make them real given the historical record and what their descendants say about them through their stories.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
When I was 16 at a music camp I pretended to be someone I wasn’t for an entire week. It was a practical joke but I was surprised how easy the lies came and I did tell people in the end my “real” story. A little scary, too; but it taught me how close to the edge one can be with the truth and how important integrity really is. I also spent a day with a bee handler wearing bee handling clothes, gathering honey, talking to the bees. That was a delight! He said I was good with them and that the bees can tell a person who is authentic. I was pleased given my first example of quirky!
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I always loved words and wrote little poems when I was young. But I didn’t call myself a writer until well after my first book (nonfiction) was published and I’d had several articles published. It was when I chose to listen to the story that had been calling my name and to write it even though I’d never written fiction and wasn’t sure I could. That’s the day that when someone asked what I did I answered, “I’m a writer.” I was nearly 50 years old at the time :-) A late bloomer indeed.
Actually, my first book was published when I was 50 years old. Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I read everything! I love creative nonfiction such as The Devil in the White City by Eric Larsen and Barbara Kingsolver’s nonfiction. I love her fiction as well. Molly Gloss, a National Book Award finalist some years back, is a superb writer. She has a book coming out set in WWI in the west that is fabulous. (I’ve had a peek preview). I like Laurie R. King’s and P.D. James’s mysteries along with Sue Grafton. Marilyn Robinson’s Gilead was stunning. Historical novels are a favorite especially during the mid-1800s. I like Irene Bennet Brown, B.J. Hoff. I just finished reading The Memory Keeper’s Daughter and Water for Elephants. Both were fabulous but I have to say the writing in Memory Keeper’s was outstanding. It reminded me of Three Junes another book I really loved. There are about fourteen books stacked up next to my bed. But I can only read about three paragraphs before I’m sound asleep!
My to-be-read pile is really tall, even though I read a lot. What other books have you written, whether published or not?
I’ve written thirteen published novels and two non-fiction books. A fourteenth novel will be out in the spring. And I have a novel in my drawer called Oprah Doesn’t Know My Name. It’s my whining book I call it. It’s a story of a woman trying to get Oprah to look at her manuscript --because people are always saying to me, “You should get Oprah to choose your books” as though I had any control over that :-) So I thought I’d write a book about the antics of someone hoping to be discovered and the lengths she goes to be noticed. Bad book. But it was fun to write.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
T. S. Elliot said we must all find “a still place in a turning world.” For me that’s prayer. It’s exercise. It’s finding reasons to laugh every day. It’s breathing deeply and reminding myself that what I do is a gift I’ve been given and gifts are best if received, witnessed to, honored and then passed on. I have a supportive family, wonderful friends. I honor the Sabbath even with a deadline looming.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
Most of my books are based on the lives of real people so I use their actual names. Because people had large families in the 19th century, and often named their daughters and sons for their parents, I often have lots of characters with the same names! So I have a character list in the front of each book for readers. And I’ll use nicknames. For my fictional characters I use names from old diaries, from journals, from historical accounts I’ve read so I have authentic names. And sometimes I just use my friends' names.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
I’ve really been trying to figure this out since I first read the question. I think it is being flexible enough and willing to live with ambivalence enough to quit my job as a mental health director 22 years ago and move with my husband to rattlesnake and rock ranch (actually it’s called Chukar Ridge Ranch, named for a small partridge-like bird that roams the rimrocks and breaks of the John Day River that we live on) because we believed it was something we were called to do. Because of that I began writing. And because we’re here, we had a place to bring our grandchild on two occasions to help raise her while her parents were impaired. They are in recovery and she is in college and I think being able to use resources to make that happen for her life and for theirs is an accomplishment I’m most proud of.
I agree. My husband and I often help our kids or grandkids. If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
This is easy. A porpoise. Because they’re graceful (I’m not! I still can’t wear white without getting dirty and I stumble on rocks and am just plain awkward!) and because they’re really curious and they’re friendly and compassionate and they enjoy playing for playing’s sake and they are helpers without being asked. And they’re beautiful.
What is your favorite food?
Oh so hard. I’d say dark chocolate.
There's a basket of dark chocolate on my coffee table for the people who attend the critique group that meets in my home. Of course, now we have someone who likes milk chocolate, so we have a bowl of that, too. What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
It was telling myself that I could not write a story I wanted to write because it was a story about someone else’s family; it would have to be fictionalized and I hadn’t ever written fiction; and it needed historical research and I wasn’t a historian. So the story languished for several years living in my head but going nowhere. Then one day as I lamented that SOMEONE should tell that story, my husband said if I thought it was a great story I should just write it down and see what happened. I was working and commuting two hours one way and away from home three days a week so committed to God that I would show up at the computer by 5:00 AM each day and write for three hours then go to “work” until the story was written and that whatever happened when I arrived at 5:00 AM, I’d leave to him. The amazing thing is that even though at 4 AM when the alarm went off I thought I could never get up (I wasn’t a morning person), but having made that commitment got me to show up. I discovered that showing up is really what it means to be a writer. That novel, my first, won a national award and two years ago won a statewide award after 10 years in print. It wasn’t me; it was the story that touched people. I just showed up to tell it.
What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
Sometimes we have to live the story and write about it later. So don’t be hard on yourself if you aren’t able to write every day or if you keep getting rejecting letters. A wise person suggested to me that when I finished a piece to make a list of ten markets I thought would be good and to send it out to number one and date it. When the rejection letter comes back, read it ONCE and within 24 hours, send it the second market on the list. I did this and I rarely got to #10 before the story sold. I think because when I was feeling good about the work I found the markets and keeping the work out there is the only way to find a publisher. So I’d recommend something like that to trick ourselves into not listening to the harpies that tell us what we wrote is trash.
This is the second book in a trilogy A Tendering in the Storm is based on the life of a real family, an actual historical woman and the Christian communal society she lived in during the 1850s-1870s. It’s a story about grief to some extent and how grief has many siblings: guilt, rejection, isolation, anger, putting ourselves into exile. The main character is Emma Wager Giesy, a German-American who wanted what each of us wants, to be heard, to have her voice honored; and to do the best she could for her family without losing herself in the process. What she learns about receiving help I think speaks to many of us who are strong-willed and think we must do all things ourselves without help. I just learned that the first book in the series, A Clearing in the Wild, earned the Finalist award as part of theWILLA Literary Awards for Historical fiction so that’s cool. The WILLAs are in honor of Willa Cather, a 19th century editor, essayist, children’s writer, poet and novelist.
How can readers find you on the Internet?
My website is www.jkbooks.com. My blog is www.janekirkpatrick.blogspot.com. I also contributed to the Chi Libris blog for a number of years with contributions about writing. www.chilibris.blogspot.com and contribute to the Women Writing the West blog at www.womenwritingthewest.org. I have a Shoutlife! Page, www.shoutlife.com. My books are available in lots of places on the internet and hopefully at your nearest local bookstore (but I am realistic about that so hopefully you’ll find me somewhere, maybe even in the library). Thanks for letting me spend time with you.
And thank you, Jane, for spending this time with us.
Readers, be sure and leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of A Tendering in the Storm.
There's still time to leave a comment on these interviews:
Sharon Hinck - The Restorer's Son
Lonnie D. Story - The Meeting of Anni Adams
Tom McCann - The Tree Nobody Wanted
Tosca Lee - Demon
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