'A God-Given Story'

Jan Karon explains how God led her to write about a 'balding, pudgy, sixty-something cleric,' and what comes after 'Mitford.'

Eighteen years ago, Jan Karon, now 68, traded in an award-winning advertisingcareer to write novels. Setting up shop in tiny Blowing Rock. NorthCarolina, she struggled to write a novel about awoman who moved to western North Carolina and opened an inn, butthe book never came together. Then one night, Karon got a new idea--keep the setting, but instead tell the taleof a balding, middle-aged Episcopal priest. The Mitford series,which would eventually sell more than 20 million copies, was born. Karon's first Mitford novel was published in 1994. In November 2005, the finalnovel in the series, "Light from Heaven," arrived in bookstores. Longtime Mitford fan Lauren Winner talked with Karon over email about her inspiration for the books, the effect of fame on her spiritual life, and what comes next for her.

What led you to write the Mitford novels?

God. On my own, I would never have considered writing about a balding, pudgy, sixty-something cleric!



It seems to me the main character of the novels is not Father Tim, or Mitford itself, but Jesus Christ. How does that claim strike you?

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It strikes me very well, indeed.

A major theme of the books is Father Tim's retirement. He wrestles with the decision to retire, and with what a good retirement looks like. Are you asking similar questions as you "retire" from Mitford?

Actually, I'm so fired up for the next series, called "The Father Tim Novels," that I don't feel bereft or pokey-faced or bewildered about what to do now that the Mitford chronicle is completed. I'm very excited to climb into Father Tim's red Mustang convertible and drive with him and his good dog to Holly Springs, Mississippi--with the top down. This first book in the series will be called "Home to Holly Springs," and it's new territory for me, a whole new landscape of feeling and surprise. Yet, I'll be writing about a character who's comfortable and familiar and easy to be with.

Agatha Christie wrote forty books about [Hercule] Poirot, and admits she didn't even like the fellow. I like Father Tim quite a lot, he's such a decent sort, and will be happy to pen three more books with him.

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