Welcome Jane Kirkpatrick, author of The Memory Weaver, to Author Spotlight! Keep reading to find out how you can enter to win a copy of Jane’s latest release.
I always loved words. We lived on a dairy farm and one day I saw this fluttering thing at a mud hole while my sister and I were herding cows home. I asked her what that was and she said it was a butterfly. I knew what butter was and what a fly was and I thought that was a pretty funny name for what I saw. That began my interest in words and writing, I suspect. Later it was teachers saying I had a unique way of writing things and eventually someone said I had a gift. The rest is history as they say.
Aside from a cup of good, strong coffee, what helps you get all of your “brain cylinders” firing so you can write well?
I’m not much of a coffee drinker! Words get my juices flowing. I read poetry (Mary Oliver, Brian Doyle, etc) or short devotionals (Frederick Buechner) before I start writing and wow, that wakes me up to language—its beauty and grace and evocative affects. Those words make me want to move people in my own work.
Why do you write?
I write because these stories grab me, mostly about historical women, and they don’t let me go. Plus, 30 years ago when my husband and I made our decision to leave our home and jobs and move to 160 acres of rattlesnake and rock to begin a grand adventure in homesteading, when I prayed about what I would do there (besides eat!) the word God gave me was “write.” Until that point I had only written academic or administrative words, but that word urged me take a writing class at a community college and voila! Some of my assignments were published and the teacher, now an award-winning columnist and writer (52 Life Lessons from It’s a Wonderful Life, Bob Welch) told me I had a gift. He and I now teach writing classes together. What a treasure. So I write because I want to be faithful.
What are you best known for … writing or otherwise?
My stand-up comedy! Actually, people do like to hear me speak and we laugh a lot at retreats, book events, fund-raisers that I do. In my community, I’m known for my interest in and compassion for indigenous people and my passion for writing about historical women authentically with accurate history.
What book have you reread the most?
English Creek by Ivan Doig. It’s a coming of age story set in Montana in the 1930s and it speaks to great loss and forgiveness told with beauty and a celebration of the western landscape.
Best author moment? Worst author moment?
Best author moment: being on stage with Ivan Doig and Barry Lopez, both National Book Award winners, at a big trade show where the three of us were interviewed about storytelling and life. Worst: reading an article about a book club that had chosen one of my books and how much they hated it. It’s still in print, that book, and many people love it but at that moment of reading how people hated it in my home community, well, it forced me to “cowgirl up” as we say in the west and to trust that God was in the story and in my telling so it would be all right. And it has been.
Right this moment, what does your office look like?
A mess! I’m co-chairing a national conference and also agreed to judge a writing contest so I’m getting entires to read, and I’ve got silent auction items stacking up. All that while promoting my new book, and awaiting edits for the book I just turned in.
What book is on the top of your TBR pile?
Burdy by Karen Spears Zacharias.
If you could write any book–on any topic–and be guaranteed a publishing contract, what topic would it be? (Or genre?)
I have to say I’m so fortunate because I get to write the books I love and have contracts ahead with Revell to write about historical women, many who were ordinary but lived extraordinary lives.
The Memory Weaver is a story of a mother and daughter and a tragedy and how memories can hold us hostage or transform us. It’s based on the lives of Eliza Spalding, one of the first missionaries in the west and her daughter who survived a massacre and hostage-taking in 1847 and how those events and memories affected the lives of Eliza as a young mother coming to terms with what happened when she was only 10 years old.
Anything new for you on the book horizon?
Always! I just finished another book about three generations of women who crossed the Oregon Trail and made new lives. The oldest was 66 when she left Missouri and despite some great challenges went on to start a university that is still strong and thriving today!
What’s your favorite writing snack?
Chocolate. I reward myself with a piece of dark chocolate AND I get to read a chapter in a book I’m reading that I don’t allow myself to read unless I’ce stayed in the room and worked on my own book!
Can a person make a living as a writer?
Eventually, with the support of others, God willing and with a day job for many years. Many of us live not on royalties but on small advances. Oh it also helps not to have a high end life-style.
What are your biggest distractions?
Taking the dogs for walks….I like to do that. And having to eat….
What do you least like about being a writer? Most like?
I feel so privileged to be allowed to tell the stories I get to tell which are mostly about the lives of actual historical women. And that they resonate with people across age and experience. Least like? Hmmm, I think the emails I face, wanting to respond in a timely manner yet I really just want to write.
What advice would you give to new writers?
Follow your passion! Be willing to enter and live your stories. Find pleasure in the privilege of telling the story regardless of whether it gets published. As Flannery O’Connor wrote, I paraphrase, if we can’t write for money we can write for our salvation!
What is the smartest writing advice you ever got?
To make the best product I could by writing well and working well with my agent, editors, marketing, etc. who are my team and who want me to succeed as much as I do. And second, to understand that the story is what matters, not that I wrote it. That’s what I will need to promote, the story, not myself. This was my successful brother’s advice and it’s been wise and wonderful,
Who’s your favorite character you’ve written so far?
Oh so hard to decide! But I think Jane Sherar. She was my first character and we shared several things: we were both married to men 16 years our senior. We were both trying to make a life in a remote western landscape. We were both childless. And we both worked with the same Indian tribe for many, many years. Writing her taught me a great deal about myself but then all the characters do that! I always think I’m writing a certain story and when I’m finished I say, oh, so that’s why I was supposed to write this story, that’s the lesson I was meant to learn.
Are you an introvert? Extrovert? In-between?
I’m an introvert, quiet and without people around is where I gain my strength. But I also love people, love leading retreats, making presentations and encouraging people. But at the end of those days of intense time with others I’m happy to go home and live inside my stories. Someone once said that writing was very lonely. But I am never less alone than when I’m writing.
If your house were on fire, what one thing would you save?
This is awful, but the documents descendants have given me for research because I’d hate to deprive them of their trust in me by sharing old photos, letters, etc. I did once have to prepare for an evacuation during a range fire that eventually was driven around our home by back-firing firemen. I took our pets, jewelry that had belonged to my mom and grandmother, a photo album, some Indian pottery I treasure, some papers of importance and the thumb drive that held my work in progress! Everything else is really replaceable, right? Everything except lives.
My great adventure has been…
Building a life on 160 acres of rattlesnake and rock where there were 12′ tall sagebrush, snakes, a beautiful river, and the promise of a spring. We made a life there and spent 27 years there, 7 miles from our mailbox and 11 miles from a paved road. I captured some of that adventure in Homestead. It changed my spiritual life, marriage, career forever.
The one thing I hope to discover is…
My purpose in life. I think I have a pathway and I will never really know, but I’d like to.
If I could go anywhere, it would be…
Back to Burundi, Africa, to spend more time with the Indigenous Batwa people who have been so marginalized by their government. They were moved out of the rainforests but not given Identity Cards which means they have no citizenship, aren’t able to work for pay, only food; can’t marry; can’t vote; can’t get birth certificates for their children cant send their kids to school and more. Now their government is in turmoil. Our faith community has raised money for three villages (that I was privileged to visit in February) who now have ID cards and have had marriage ceremonies and their kids have birth certificates. But commerce has nearly ceased and violence has raised it’s ugly head and they are on the verge of starvation. I’m not sure yet what God has called me to do except to find ways to get them food (which we have!) and to raise awareness of their needs as “the least of these.”
Flourless Chocolate cake with a raspberry on the side!