Greetings once again friends! This is Episode 10 of the podcast. The title of this week’s episode is “Jan Karon: Beloved Creator of ‘Mitford, North Carolina.’” Click HERE to listen to the audio podcast.
Also, to access more information about Jan Karon or any of her books, simply click on any picture in this post.
In the schedule for GoodlifeNews! Podcast and Blog, I’ve designated the first episode of each month to feature a favorite author and/or book that I have found uplifting, entertaining, and inspiring.
Reading has always been a huge part of my life since before I started formal schooling as a child. I have literally read hundreds—if not thousands—of books over my lifetime. Not a few have had a profound influence in my life–how I think, broadening my horizons, giving me new perspectives, and teaching powerful principles for living.
I’m anxious to share some of those books, as well as favorite authors, with our GoodlifeNews! Podcast Villagers! So, as we move along from week to week, each month I’ll choose another author or book to highlight and share with you.
I hope you will be inspired to pick up a book and read it for yourself. It doesn’t have to be one I talk about, but reading itself is so important I want to do whatever I can to encourage everyone to make a regular habit of reading great books.
Today I want to tell you about Jan Karon, one of the most prolific writers of Christian fiction of the last 30 years.
Jan’s story is a beautiful example of what God can do with a redeemed life. She is beloved by millions of fans all over the world. Her writing is certainly her own style—simple, direct, engaging, at times hilarious, and other times emotional and profound. But underneath it all there runs a vein of authenticity rarely seen in any but the best of the best. Her characters come to life on the printed page. The reader can’t help but love them.
One of the reasons Jan’s writing carries so much compelling power is that she draws from her own deep well of raw experience. Many of her characters struggle with constant challenges just trying to make sense of their world. The author knows their struggle. She’s been through a lot of that herself.
Jan Karon writes of life in small-town, USA. Her fictional town of Mitford, North Carolina is patterned roughly on the village of Blowing Rock, NC where she lived for many of her “writing years.” The characters populating her Mitford stories could have stepped directly out of real life into her novels. They are each painted with painstaking brush strokes in wonderful word pictures. Personalities, attitudes, values, relationships—all come to life for the reader as the pages turn.
As a little girl, Jan dreamed of becoming a writer and a pastor. One day at age six, she stood on the front porch of her grandmother’s porch and began preaching. Her ambitions were short-lived, however, when her grandmother interrupted her with a gruff, “Girls can’t be preachers!”
That was the end of her preaching career. But, she still dreamed of writing stories.
When she was 10 she wrote her first novel. That one didn’t go very far, though. As soon as she finished it, she hid it under the vanity in her bedroom because she didn’t want anyone to discover that she had included a “bad” word! Nevertheless, her sister told their grandmother, who promptly gave young Jan a whipping for using that word.
I’m not sure if that experience carried over into later years and Jan’s writing content, but all of her stories, while staying true to life, are clean, uplifting, and wholesome. If you don’t like wading through a cesspool of sleaze, bad language, and gratuitous violence, you don’t need to worry about that with Jan Karon’s writing. Just enjoy the stories.
Her early years were pretty rough. Her parents divorced when she was 4 years old. She and her sister were sent to be raised by their maternal grandmother. Eight years later at age 12, Jan went to live with her mother and step-father in South Carolina. Two years after that, she dropped out of 9th grade and got married, which was legal in South Carolina at that time. When she was 15, she gave birth to her only child, a daughter she named Candace.
Sadly, that first marriage ended in divorce, and by the time Jan was 18 she was out on her own with a 3-year-old daughter. With only 8 years of formal education, the future looked pretty bleak for this young woman.
After searching for work, she got hired as a receptionist in an advertising agency in Charlotte. To pass the time when she wasn’t answering the phone, Jan began writing advertising copy to show her boss. He was impressed with her writing skills, and put her to work as a writer for the agency.
Over the next decade and a half, Jan worked for several different advertising companies, winning major awards in the industry. But, despite her great success in the field, it all felt empty. Through three marriages and three divorces, life seemed to her like a hollow shell void of any meaning or significance.
One night when she was 42, feeling at the very end of her desperation, she lay on her bed and asked Jesus Christ to come into her life. That was the turning point that started her on a completely new path.
Eventually, 8 years later, at age 50, Jan quit her job in advertising and took a leap of faith to fulfill her childhood dream of writing novels. Now, 34 years later, she has written an astounding 30 books! I personally own copies of about half of them.
Jan’s first book that became an instant blockbuster on the New York Times list of best selling books was At Home in Mitford, published in 1994 in the hardback edition, with the paperback version arriving in 1996.
For several years after she left the advertising industry, Jan struggled with various with attempts to make a go of her writing career. One evening, as she closed her eyes to go to sleep, she saw in her mind the picture of an Episcopal priest walking down a small-town street. In that moment she knew she had found the answer.
Father Tim Kavanaugh becomes the central figure for the entire Mitford series. “Father Tim,” as he is known to everyone in town, is a beloved pastor to his flock, and is himself somewhat of an institution in the territory around Mitford as well as in the village itself.
Here’s the description of the story on the back cover of the paperback book:
“Enter the world of Mitford, and you won’t want to leave.
“It’s easy to feel at home in Mitford. In these high, green hills, the air is pure, the village is charming, and the people are generally lovable.
“Yet, Father Tim, the bachelor rector, wants something more. Enter a dog the size of a sofa who moves in and won’t go away. Add an attractive neighbor who begins wearing a path through the hedge.
Now, stir in a lovable but unloved boy, a mysterious jewel thief, and a secret that’s sixty years old.
“Suddenly, Father Tim gets more than he bargained for. And readers get a rich, provincial comedy in which mysteries and miracles abound.”
Publishers Weekly adds, “For readers yearning for a cozy, neighborly read, the town created by Karon’s fine descriptive style has much to recommend it.”
And, of course, I wouldn’t be telling you about this author and her outstanding body of work if I didn’t find it of great value for our GoodlifeNews! Podcast listeners and readers. Subsequent volumes in the Mitford series, and additional books by Jan, provide an incredible treasure chest filled with examples of healthy relationships, working out problems, learning to forgive, learning to celebrate victories, discovering one’s own emotional and spiritual needs, and growing in grace.
I was first introduced to Jan Karon’s “Mitford” books by my sister Beulah Fern. Her husband, Jim had passed away a few years earlier.
Jim graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in theology many years before he and Beulah Fern met. However, he had never married—and because he didn’t have a wife he never received a call to pastoral ministry—that was the rule in our denomination back in those days. As a result, he spent most of his working years teaching high-school shop classes in the public school system.
However, he never lost his heart for ministry, and after his retirement, he and Beulah Fern moved from Southern California to Irrigon, Oregon—a tiny community on the banks of the Columbia River in Morrow County. There they served a small congregation as the pastoral couple for about three years. Jim and Beulah Fern were much loved by the members of their church, and even today they are remembered with great fondness.
When Beulah Fern handed me a copy of At Home in Mitford, she said, “This is such a wonderful story. The main character, Father Tim, reminds me so much of Jim!”
After becoming acquainted with Father Tim in Jan Karon’s story, I couldn’t agree more. It was a fun read. But, more than that, the solidly serious foundation of faith and hope that is the heart of Christian life permeates every anecdote, setting, and dialog conversation. That was very true in my brother-in-law Jim’s life. He loved life, had a great sense of humor, and even had a huge dog! The parallels we saw in Father Tim’s life in Mitford with our real-life, much loved family member were uncanny. And, they made us love the Mitford stories all the more.
At Home in Mitford was followed by a seemingly unending parade of Mitford books. Jan Karon’s millions of fans couldn’t get enough, and anxiously waited the 18-24 months for the next book in the series. I even found myself checking the location of her books at Barnes & Noble whenever we stopped there, just to see if a new book was out yet. I had to learn patience like all her other fans, of course.
One year, I was delighted to discover The Mitford Bedside Companion: A Treasury of Favorite Mitford Moments. I immediately knew this was the perfect Christmas gift for both my sisters who loved the Mitford stories. When they removed the wrapping paper their eyes brightened with delight. It’s always nice to give a gift that will be a blessing to the receiver!
I’m sure you have the idea by now that I’m a fan. But, more important than that, I am a firm believer in this biblical principle for living an abundant life in Christ. King Solomon—the “wise man” of the Bible—advised his son:
“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”Proverbs 4:23
What you choose to put into your mind—regardless of how large or small that input might be—will inevitably bear fruit. Choosing the good will empower you to live a productive, God-honoring life that will be a powerful witness for Jesus in your circles of influence.
Jesus said, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart . . . . What you say flows from what is in your heart” (Luke 6:45 NLT).
And, let’s finish today with this from the Apostle Paul: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8 NLT).
A great book with a well-crafted, well-told story can help you do that.
I heartily endorse Jan Karon’s works to that end.
Thank you so much for listening today! I pray you have been blessed.
I hope you can join me for next week’s episode. I’ll be sharing some thoughts about the purpose and power of the Bible, which I’ve entitled, “A Pocketful of Paradox.”
Be sure to tune in, and if you enjoy these Podcasts and Blogposts, please share with your friends, family, or whomever! My many thanks—in advance!