Today my guest is the multi-award winning novelist/speaker Jane Kirkpatrick of Oregon. Jane’s 20th novel, her 2011 release, is based on a true story of a mother and daughter’s historic walk from Spokane to New York City in 1896 in an effort to save the family farm. As the daughter breaks away from her traditional Norwegian roots, she discovers what family truly means. This is a story of schism, reconciliation and grace.
The Daughter’s Walk (Doubleday), which earned a Publishers Weekly starred review: “Kirkpatrick is a master at using fiction to illuminate history’s truths. This beautiful and compelling work of historical fiction deserves the widest possible audience.”
Today I asked Jane to share with us why she still travels to meet with her readers.
Why do I drive six hours one way for a book signing and speak at libraries even farther away? To meet fans, of course, to sell some books and to talk about the power of story. But mostly to inspire readers to listen to their own stories and maybe even write them down.
My first book was published the day before I turned 45 so I can speak a bit to following dreams even in later years. Twenty more novels and nonfiction titles are on the shelves now, most based on the lives of actual women in history.
Writing was a second career for me that blended with my mental health background. I write about the power of the landscapes we live in and long for; and through story, explore the landscapes of our minds. Spending time with readers and encouraging them to consider their landscapes and stories is as much a healing activity as the counseling I used to do.
Being in bookstores, libraries and historical societies answering questions is also energizing for me as a creative person. When someone asks “where do you draw your strength from?” I’m encouraged to wonder how my characters might answer such a question. Or I’m inspired when someone tells me (as they did last week) that following an event she and the four women who attended together and who work at the same place changed their screen savers to one of my quotes: “We seek neither convenience nor ease, but to live at the edge of possibility.” (That happens to be the sign on the gate of the remote ranch we lived at for 26 years).
That the characters I create, the people I write about, could move people is gratifying. One woman, an architect, told me she’d lost fifty pounds, ended a bad relationship and decided to pursue her love for children by designing schools and playgrounds. She said her changes began by reading my story of a Florida woman in the 1890s. I was inspired!
I learn to listen at these events. I find out what store owners are facing. I empathize with mothers and daughters working through issues not unlike the women in my latest book. I hear from men in the audience who tell me they found “community” in my books, other men they can admire. One even said that coming to the signing was his requested birthday present because he wanted to meet the person behind the stories.
It’s important for me as a historical novelist to pay attention to contemporary challenges because I hope to tell stories in such a way that the characters step out from other centuries to teach us and touch us with their lives. Getting out of my office and spending time with readers helps me remain relevant in 2011, although my stories might be set in 1911.
Educator Parker Palmer once wrote that people involved in parenting, teaching or healing are doing meaningful work. Driving hours to spend time with my fans is meaningful work.