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Interview: April 13, 2001

April 13, 2001

Millions of readers have discovered Jan Karon's fictional town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. With the publication of A COMMON LIFE, the sixth volume in the series, they have good reason to be joyous. This much-anticipated book goes back in time to recount the wedding and courtship of the beloved characters Father Tim and Cynthia Coppersmith. Join's Shannon McKenna as she chats with Karon about the year's biggest wedding, the great citizens of Mitford, and her writing life.

BRC: When you wrote AT HOME IN MITFORD, did you envision that it would launch such a successful and popular series?

JK: Never! I thought I might have a modest audience of readers like myself. I find it marvelous that millions of people love books in which there is no profanity, murder, mayhem --- you get the idea!

BRC: Father Tim proposes at the end of A LIGHT IN THE WINDOW, and in THESE, HIGH GREEN HILLS he and Cynthia are married when the book opens. Why did you choose not to work the wedding into one of these books? Did you always have the idea that you would devote an entire book to the wedding?

JK: It never occurred to me that I would devote a book to the courtship/wedding. Frankly, it was too much trouble to include such an exhausting and complex social function at the end of A LIGHT IN THE WINDOW. I did write about it, at last, because I thought it might be fun...and it WAS! I love weddings.

BRC: There have been three books in the series since the time the wedding took place. Was it difficult for you to write about an event that took place in the past and to remember what happened to the characters before and after the wedding?

JK: Not really. And I enjoyed having Miss Sadie to visit with again!

BRC: In A COMMON LIFE it's the descriptive details that make the characters come to life and make them seem so real --- like Dooley and his love of fried baloney, Cynthia and her children's books, and Esther Bolick and her orange marmalade cake. Do you have a technique that helps you achieve this?

JK: Nope. I just know the characters and stay true to who they are. I'm also willing to let my characters grow, develop, and change if necessary. Dooley has grown away from fried baloney --- and into the "stuff" that characterizes his persona.

BRC: Did you grow up in a small town like Mitford?

JK: Yes. And I live in one, as well. It's good for our health, I feel, to live in true community.

BRC: Does the town in which you currently live, Blowing Rock, North Carolina, bear any resemblance to the fictional Mitford?

JK: All small towns bear resemblance to Mitford, in my experience. Mitford has a universality that speaks, in some way, to an astonishing variety of readers.

BRC: Do you know how many more books there will be in the Mitford Years series?

JK: Two more novels, a bedside companion, a cookbook, and coming this fall, Father Tim's handwritten journal of his favorite quotes from poets, writers, prophets, theologians, etc. Also this fall --- a Mitford Christmas book, a "stocking stuffer."

BRC: Is it true that there is a Mitford television series in development? Will you write the script?

JK: So far, no series looms. But we are doing a Sunday night movie, and I will not write the script (I will watch the script like a hawk, however, through three drafts).

BRC: Do you like touring to promote your books? Tell us about a memorable event from one of your tours.

JK: Touring is exhausting. But I also love it. After an event, a large, shy man approached me and took my hand. "I just wanted to thank you, Mrs. Karon. I was [the character] Buck Leeper." He walked away. I was deeply moved by a man who was telling me in this way that his life had somehow been changed by my work.

BRC: Where do you do your writing?

JK: At home, overlooking an old orchard --- at a desk the size of a Greyhound bus terminal!

BRC: What are you reading right now?

JK: JIM THE BOY. It's great!