Best-selling author of the Mitford series, which has sold more than 16 million books
Nominated for an ABBY by the American Booksellers Association in 1996, 1997, and 1998
Former successful writer in advertising
Also, sign up to get the free 700 Club fact sheet 'Jan Karon's Tastes of Mitford' for Puny's Cornbread and Louella's Fried Chicken
Before selling millions of her heartwarming books about life in the fictional small North Carolina town of Mitford, Jan Karon had a successful writing career in advertising. Despite her success, she yearned to become an author. Becoming an author was a childhood dream that she first attempted at age 10.
In 1990 Jan left her career to move to the mountain village of Blowing Rock, N.C., and write books. “I stepped out on faith to follow my lifelong dream of being an author,” she says. “I made real sacrifices and took big risks. But living, it seems to me, is largely about risk.” Jan writes about Christian characters in a way that is entertaining and tender. Who would have thought that a best-selling series’ main character would be a 60+ year-old Episcopal priest named Father Tim Kavanaugh?
One quickly notices the amount of good food featured throughout Jan’s books. Why? First, food is a great way of communicating, Jan says. “When I write about Dooley loving fried baloney sandwiches, you can connect with that,” she says. Food is something we all understand; it’s a common language. And it is one more way readers are encouraged to feel “At Home in Mitford,” the name of her first book. There’s another reason why food is endlessly referenced in the Mitford books. When Jan stepped out on faith to become an author, she planned to earn her living as a freelance writer while learning how to write a novel. Two things happened: One, she says, “I found that I had absolutely nothing to say.” And two, the economy went into a serious downturn, which meant ad agencies weren’t hiring freelancers. So after stepping out on faith, Jan discovered she knew nothing about writing books, money wasn’t coming in, and the bills were piling up. A dream turned to a nightmare? Yes and no.
Out of the Valley
“What happened during this long and anxious period is that God was drawing me closer to Himself, strengthening my faith, and encouraging my trust,” Jan says. “We know nothing grows on the high mountain peaks; fertility lies in the valleys.”
After journeying with her through a very long valley, the Lord brought her out with “something to say.” One night while lying in bed, the mental image of a priest walking down a village street came to her. In her imagination, Jan followed him as he walked. He went to a dog named Barnabas, and they went to a boy named Dooley. “That’s when I got out of bed and went to my desk and started to write,” Jan says.
Who would want to write a book about a balding, overweight, 60-something small-town priest? And who would want to read it? Although Jan wasn’t exactly thrilled about writing about the subject, she knew this was something she would like to read. Money was still tight.
“My first novel is loaded with food references largely because my cupboards were bare, and I was writing hungry,” she says. “No self-pity here, however. I could wear my size 10s!”
Jan says this is when she learned to make soup from chicken bones, a recipe found in the book. “It has a sort of World War II spirit, which some of you will recognize from personal experience.” She learned a lot of other things about making something out of nothing as she wrote the first three books, including how to cut open a presumably empty toothpaste tube and find more toothpaste.
What she learned mostly, though, was God's faithfulness. “He really does love us. And He really does want the best for His children,” she says. Jan encourages those who are on a painful journey through the valley, “Ask Him to walk through it with you.” Make some chicken soup from chicken bones and give thanks.
The Christmas Spirit
In the spirit of giving, at Christmastime Jan would like to honor those who give “the gift of one’s heart.” Five winners of her writing contest will have a $1,000 check given in their name to the charity of their choice. Details are on her Web site.
A caring friend will be there to pray with you in your time of need.