Jane Kirkpatrick tenders a tale

I have to admit I don't often read genre fiction. But I love it when books come along that transcend their categories.

Jane Kirkpatrick has written a fine bunch of historical novels. Her books also get categorized as literary, religious, and western. They're good reads; that's the thing to know.

I'm pleased as one pioneer-descended, literary religious gal can be to get to share an interview I did last week with Jane.

We referred to her newest book, A Tendering in the Storm. In this second installment of the Change and Cherish series, "Emma Giesy, a strong-willed German-American, believes her young family will thrive in the light of their newfound freedom, after she and her husband branch off from their close-knit and repressive religious community in the spring of 1856."

DH: For our interview, Jane, I aim to match the loose theme of my blog title, Stories Happen. My intent's been to emphasize the stories from our creaturely lives. We see ourselves writing the stories that happen, whether fiction or fact, written down or not. And yet also from our perspective they "just happen" to us. I believe our Creator is authoring our lives more painstakingly than any human writer, but we get to "read" the stories in journeys of discovery. This leads to my first question for you.

I've often heard that writers of fiction draw their characters' traits from themselves and people they know. How does researching historical people and imagining their life stories intersect with your own life and relationships? Would you say your characters are mainly synthesized from your contemporary "stories", or are their traits mostly drawn from the historical evidences you've found?

JK: When I begin thinking about a story it's usually through a character. I ask myself "What was she doing there and would I have ever ended up there?" or "What would I have done in that circumstance?" so in that way I'm interjected early on into the story. But as I research, find out dates of events in that person's life, when they married or if they didn't; when they lost a parent or a child or when they made a major life change, then I try to understand what was happening in their lives and write their story without imposing mine onto them. When I finish though, I'm always surprised at how that story, the one I thought was about this or that, was really a story meant to help me deal with some issue in my own life, maybe one I've set aside and hadn't even considered before. It's one of the gifts of writing, I think, that we unveil things about ourselves at the same time.

DH: In this latest installment of Emma Giesy's story, "tendering" comes up in various forms, as noun, verb, adjective, and so on. Is there a story behind that word's importance to this tale?

JK: At first we were looking for a title that matched the rhythm of the first "A Clearing in the Wild" so "A Tendering in the Storm" fit. I wanted a word that exemplified tenderness, fragile qualities because Emma faces many vulnerabilities. Tender does mean fragile but it also means what you do to meat, for example, to make it more palatable, to soften it as in tenderizing. And then there's the tender related to a boat, a tender transitions people from a larger vessel to the shore and this was a transitional book in the series. Tender also brings images of caring and compassion. All those were factors affecting Emma's journey in this second book of the series. After the book was finished, I was reading in a historical fabric book, looking up something totally different, but in the glossary I found the word "tendering." Boy, was I surprised! It means the disintegration of fabric after exposure to caustic materials. For this story, it was the perfect word because Emma is exposed to caustic things, some of her own making -- some of her misunderstanding, some through her grief. So yes, the word has had special meaning for this story.

DH: I read in one interview that a new story was calling your name. How does that happen, and when do you know it's time to answer?

JK: Ah, that is the BIG question. Sometimes a fragment of information will just catch my attention and it might be years later before I realize that's the story I should tell. I wrote about a landscape here in Oregon that attracted a murder, an east Indian cult and then a non-denominational Christian kids' camp. It struck me as so strange and I wanted to know what was going on there! I'd had brief contact with the landscape shortly after moving to Oregon; then I knew some people involved in the cult; and finally, met people involved in the camp. Eventually, the time seemed right to tell that story as "A Land of Sheltered Promise" but that time didn't happen for close to 20 years after I thought, "Gee, I wondered how that happened?" I have contracts for new books so I'm always aware, listening to stories...and sometimes people bring them to me, maybe more than one person suggesting the same story and when that happens I really pay attention.

DH: Please give a brief sketch of your life at home on Starvation Lane. Do you think the landscape and context out there lend you any advantage as a writer?

JK: We live pretty far away from people. Our nearest neighbor is seven miles away; nearest town is 25 miles and we buy our groceries or if we want to see a movie, it's 52 miles one way. I travel a lot for research and for promoting books so when I get home, I'm grateful to be here. For seventeen years I communted 100 miles to work on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. I was also writing then doing so at 5 AM, then going to work at 8 AM, coming home to research and go to bed early. I found that writing before I went to work energized me for the entire day. It was as though no matter what else happened that day, I'd spent time in writing which was almost like prayer for me. For the past five years, I've been fortunate enough to stay home, sort of. I lead women's retreats and I speak at church events, for fund-raisers, university groups, libraries etc. which I love doing but I try to keep the time limited to the second half of the year and spend the first half writing and researching and re-writing during the second half. We also have a kind of working ranch, a few cows, make hay, that sort of thing. There's always something breaking down, the vet is 50 miles away and we have two dogs and a cat that need tending etc. Our son -- my husband's son -- works for us full time so it isn't that I have to do physical work very often in moving cattle or whatever; but I am aware of the seasons and the demands of the land in order to be a good steward of it. I can close myself off into this office for hours at a time while my husband is resting or helping as he can outside. That's a luxury for writing as I can enter my story and stay there. Sometimes I'll have worked on a scene with snow and it's cold and then I look outside and wonder what happened to it! Well, in August, the snow just melted! It's a privilege to have that kind of family support to write; and a blessing to be doing something I so love to do that time just slips by. I like it best when we buy groceries and know we might be here for a month (as we were one January). That's just fine with me!

DH: What advice can you share with those of us bloggers who dabble often with words and wonder whether or not to invest our energy in written expression? What did your basic process toward publication look like (5-year plan; just happened; spiritual encounter; etc.)?

JK: Someone once said that if you don't have to write, don't. I like that even though I think ocassional writing, blogging for fun, journaling, are very fine and very healing ways to create even if no one ever sees what you've written. If you blog, others will see what you write and your words can touch others in powerful ways. But if you HAVE to write, you will. It may be a story, an event, a time in your life, but when that time comes, you won't wonder if it's worth the energy. For now, many people are "living" their stories that they'll write about later and that's worthy work.

As for my own writing/publication journey: I always knew that words were powerful. They could engage people, make them think, could hurt people. As an administrator, I knew that words could move people because I wrote letters and reports and people would call and ask how they could help. I didn't imagine I'd write novels. My career began when we decided to follow our hearts and move to this property. I was really concerned about what I'd do here. My skills were as a therapist, an administrator, someone engaged in negotiations and public service. There was no one here but my husband and some rattlesnakes, the latter having no interest in negotiating -- and sometimes my husband doesn't like to negotiate either! It really was a spiritual answer to a question I asked one night in our family room, all alone. "What will I do there?" I asked and the word I heard was "write." I took community college classes (two of them) before we moved and had Bob Welch, a fine writer, as my first instructor. What could have been better? A second instructor was Bob Shotwell, a former newspaper editor and then a freelancer for the Oregonian Newspaper in Oregon. Both these men said they thought I could sell my stuff and I did! I thought I'd write features, essays, things like that. But it was a friend who said when they got my letters about our life here (we didn't have a phone for quite awhile so I wrote to people) that they didn't read them right away; instead, they saved them until after dinner, turned the TV off and read them out loud because they were like chapters in a book. That was the beginning of my book publishing. Homestead came out in 1991. The first novel came four years later. I was 45 years old when that first book came out. I like to think that when I couldn't NOT write, I found a way to tell the stories. It just took that long for me to hear the call and to discover that story-telling and work in mental health are very similar activities. They both heal and allow creativity though community and spirit. I'm very fortunate indeed.

DH: Thanks so much, Jane. I'm looking forward (and so is my mom, of course), to reading your third book about Emma.

JK: Thanks for asking, Deanna! That third book will be out next April and there'll be a corrollary book about the quilts and crafts of the Aurora Colony out in 2008 (September). It's called Stitching Stories. I hope you'll like it too. Thanks for inviting me to share time with your readers.

**Update on the fire story at Jane's ranch here. (It's out; they're okay.)**


Cherie said…
Wonderful. Thanks for sharing!
Deanna said…
Have you read any of her stories, Cherie? I think you'd like Jane's style.
Cherie said…
Never have. I used to read those types of novels all the time when I was in my teens and 20's but they just don't hold an appeal for me anymore. I rarely read fiction these days, except the old classics that I'm working my way through.

I enjoyed the interview though!
Cecily said…
I liked what she said about HAVING to write. People keep telling me there's a book in me, but right now I don't know what the book's about! Maybe one day I'll HAVE to write and then it will just come and I'll know. :)
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