Jane Kirkpatrick will be the Main Speaker at Inscribe’s Fall Conference 2008
Jane lives in Oregon on 160 acres that she calls “our little rattlesnake and rock ranch,” 25 miles from the nearest town. I recently asked her a few questions. Here are her answers.
ML - Who are some of your favourite writers?
JK - I enjoy Linda Hall (whatever she writes, I'll read!), B.J. Hoff, Barbara Kingsolver, Kathleen Norris, Marilyn Robinson, Parker Palmer, Sue Grafton, P.D. James, Molly Wolf, Sandra Dallas and poets like Mary Oliver and William Stafford, Rilke and Thomas Merton among others. I really enjoyed listening to Rudy Wiebe at the Word Guild conference last year and bought a couple of his books.
ML - How long have you written? Was it always a passion?
JK - I always loved words, the way they sounded, how funny they could be. I loved Rudloph the Red Nose Reindeer, for example, because of the last line: "You'll go down in history." I thought history was some place you got to visit that was really cool since Rudolph got to go there! My teachers were complimentary of my writing and I knew words had power, they could change people or get them to do things like give money to organizations that mattered to me (I'd write campaign funding letters, for example). It wasn't until we moved to our ranch in 1984 that I heard that inner voice telling me to write. My first book was published in 1991, the first novel in 1995.
ML - Did you deliberately choose your genre of Historical fiction – or did it choose you?
JK - It chose me. I believe absolutely in the power of story, fiction, historical fiction, to truly touch people's lives. People are prepared to be entertained or to learn something new but they don't have their guard up as they might with a contemporary novel and so they discover, hopefully gently, that a woman who lived 150 years ago has something to say to them today. The Greek word for comfort means “to come along beside” and one of the Hebrew definitions of parable comes from the word pebble that means “to toss along beside.” That's what I think a good story does, comes along beside us and bring us comfort.
ML - Do you ever feel blocked as a writer? If so how do you overcome it?
JK - I've never had the luxury. I have this sign on my computer: "You don't have time for that." It's a reminder that I have deadlines, that I can't wait for inspiration and I can't listen to negative voices that would silence my writing. I sometimes will end a workday mid-sentence so I always have a place to start. I'll show up - I consider that my greatest commitment and I trust that I'm not going to be there alone in the telling.
ML- Now that you have had several books published do you consider yourself a writer who “has arrived?”
JK - No and yes. I realize that others might look at me with the number of books published and still in print and say that I've made it. But each time I begin another book, I have to overcome the anxieties of whether I can actually tell THIS story. I have the gift of looking at the shelf of titles to know that I have done it before, but each story has it's own challenges and delights. It's always a journey and I always have to lean on God. There are always more "goals" one can set as well: to get on the NY Times Bestsellers list, for example. But I remind myself that it is not my job to write the great American novel nor to get Oprah to know my name. It's my job to show up, to assume the position of a writer and to tell the stories I've been given the best way I know how and to trust that I'm not alone in the telling. When I do that on any given day, then I feel like I've "made it."
ML - What is your favourite part of being a writer? What is your least favourite part?
JK - Writing feels like prayer to me and I am grateful that the reading I do to inform my writing has helped me grow spiritually. Story-telling is an extension of my desire to heal and bring wholeness to people's lives through story. To be able to spend long hours doing what I love is a gift beyond measure; that what I write sometimes touches people in positive ways is icing on a cake I didn't even bake.
My least favorite part is coordinating the speaking engagements, making flight arrangements, etc. the sort of stuff that means I'll have to say no to someone and yes to someone else. I hate having to do that.
ML - Do you do much marketing for your books? If so what kinds of things do you do?
JK - I speak a great deal, at fund-raising events, at women's groups, internationally to educators and mental health professionals. The books are a part of that but it's the themes of healing and wholeness that I talk about. I submit the books for competitions and have been gratified often with the results. I travel a lot when a book first comes out and speak at lot at museums and historical societies as well. I maintain a web presence with a website that I write a monthly essay of encouragement on http://www.jkbooks.com/ and I have a blog http://www.janekirkpatrick.blogspot.com/ but I'm not that good about keeping it current. I have a Shoutlife page as well. I do lots of mailings when the new book comes out each spring. I pray a lot :) and I have a prayer team who prays for my work that it will reach the lives God intends for it. And then I let it go because I could go crazy trying to do all the good things that good marketers do.
ML - What are you working on now?
JK - Final edits of the third book in a series (my 14th novel) that comes out in April called A Mending at the Edge; production of a gift book called Aurora: An American Experience in Quilts and Craft that will come out in September. Two of my books still in print are being reissued in the fall and I have a manuscript due April 1 for a book that will come out in April of 2009. Rudy Wiebe helped that one get started by reminding us in Guelph to "writer our own people." I'm leading some writing workshops so there is preparation for that and I have a pretty heavy speaking schedule beginning in April. It keeps me out of trouble. My husband cooks, thank goodness!
ML - Share a story of God’s involvement in your writing life.
JK - For a novel I was researching, I wanted to include the story of the first book printed west of the Rocky Mountains – it was the Book of Matthew, a primer of Nez Perce, a native language. I knew the printing press had been sent from Hawaii to the Nez Perce but nothing more about it. So I couldn't use it. Then we went to a wedding and I sat next to a chaplain at the local hospital. We talked about where he'd come from and he said "My people came from Hawaii." How nice, I told him and ate another mint. "They were printers," he said. Now my ears were perked. "In fact, my great grandparents brought the first printing press --"
"From the Hawaiian Islands to the Nez Perce in 1838" I finished for him.
"How would you know that?" he gasped. "I've been looking for you," I told him. He had a copy of a diary and it was fabulous, all the information I needed. Who else could have put that man in my path? That affirmation of God's presence keeps me writing through tons of doldrums.
ML - What advice would you give those who are just beginning to write?
JK - Just begin. Silence the harpies who sit behind you telling you not to bother. A specific thing I did when I wrote for magazines and newspapers was to make a list of the 10 best markets and then send my piece out to the first and mark the date. When it came back, I'd read it once and then within 24 hours send it to the next name on the list. I rarely made it to # 10 before it was bought. That was NOT because I was such a great writer but because the hardest thing to do is send a piece out after we've had a rejection and yet we cannot get published unless we risk that. If an editor put a personal note on the rejection with some suggestions I always did what they asked. Editors who take the time to do that see promise and that's what we want them to see. Believe in yourself and gather up a community who will help you celebrate small successes as well as the large ones. And trust that you're not alone in the telling.