A Leap of Faith
by C. K. Thomas
A dove has made her nest under the eve of our back porch, a situation I’m sure Jan Karon would find delightful. I read Karon’s books to enjoy and learn from her excellent prose, but honestly, I love the peaceful feelings her stories always engender.
Jan Karon, author of the Mitford Series, took a big leap of faith when she gave up a lucrative career in advertising to become a novelist. In December 2005, she spoke to a gathering of book lovers at National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. about this career metamorphosis.
Early in the talk she describes an incident from her childhood that found her “preaching” to no one in particular from her grandmother’s back porch steps. That day’s “gift of gab” invoked in her a desire to become a pastor. Girls, she was soon made to understand, could not seek to become members of the clergy. Instead, Karen found solace in writing about her faith, rather than speaking about it.
After abandoning her 30-year career, she worked for two years with unsatisfying results on a novel. The bills were piling up, and she had little hope that her adventure into authorship would go anywhere. She speaks of sending fervent and focused prayers to God about her dilemma and says her eventual writing successes haven’t dampened her will to continue to consult with God.
Karon tells of lying awake in her bed, when an image of a priest walking down a small-town street under an awning came vividly into her mind. She immediately jumped up and penned the beginning lines to her first novel about Father Tim and the imaginary town she named Mitford. The title of the novel that started what is now approaching a 12-book series became At Home in Mitford.
The Mitford novels aren’t in any way preachy. Karon creates a town and its citizens in whom her readers soon become immersed. Her characters face problems and joys readers can’t help but find believable. She says sometimes her characters surprise or even terrify her and points to a Carl Sandburg quote about writing: “No surprise in the author – no surprise in the reader.”
Remarks Karon made about keeping her characters straight in her mind certainly rang true for me. Some 700 characters populate her series, and remembering each one’s descriptions and particulars can be difficult. Personally, I have resorted to making a spreadsheet, complete with each character’s description, age, and traits, as a reference for future books in the series I write.
I’m hopeful that the thought of reading novels where the main character is a 60-something Episcopal Priest won’t be off-putting for you. When I pick up a Karon book, I plan to be entertained, but more importantly to be cradled in the hope that a place like Mitford really does exist somewhere. These are peaceful books, but not without strife and unresolved situations hovering around the edges with eventual outcomes readers can’t wait to discover.
As Karon points out in her lecture, you will recognize four familiar themes underpinning the stories: unconditional love, forgiveness, grace, and redemption. You will also discover Father Tim’s prayer that never fails. If you’re curious enough to read the first book in the series, I’d be interested to know if you decide to move on to the second book. If you’re already a Mitford fan, I’d love to hear your impressions.
Here is a link to Karon’s lecture at the National Cathedral, Writing and Wrestling with the Heart. If you prefer to use the link on Karon’s website, go to mitfordbooks.com and choose Multi-Media to access the video.
C.K. Thomas lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Before retiring, she worked for Phoenix Newspapers while raising three children and later as communications editor for a large United Methodist Church. The Storm Women is her fourth novel and the third in the Arrowstar series about adventurous women of the desert Southwest. Follow her blog: We-Tired and Writing Blog.