Jan Karon, visits Holly Springs
By MARY CLAY BROOKS
Jan Karon is the author of the bestselling Mitford series. Each novel centers on Father Timothy Kavanagh, an Episcopal minister, and the fictional village of Mitford, North Carolina, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Karons Mitford books include At Home in Mitford; A Light in the Window; These High, Green Hills; Out to Canaan; A New Song; A Common Life: The Wedding Story; In This Mountain; Shepherds Abiding; and Light from Heaven. There are currently over 20 million Mitford novels in print.
Born Janice Meredith Wilson in 1937, Jan Karon was raised on a farm in Lenoir, North Carolina. At 18, Karon began working as a receptionist for a Raleigh, North Carolina, advertising agency and went on to have a highly successful career in the field, winning awards for the TV commercials she wrote for agencies in Charlotte, Raleigh, and San Francisco. In time she became the creative vice president at McKinney, Silver & Rockett (now McKinney & Silver), in Raleigh. While working there she shared the prestigious Stephen Kelly Award, with which the Magazine Publishers of America honors the years best advertising in a magazine.
All along, Karon kept alive the ambition she had had as a child: to be a writer. At 50, she quit her job in advertising and moved to Blowing Rock, North Carolina, to pursue that goal. After struggling to get started writing, Karon awoke one night and began thinking about an Episcopal priest walking down a street and grew curious about him. Soon Karon began publishing stories about Father Tim in weekly installments in the local newspaper, The Blowing Rocket (circulation doubled as a result.)
Those Father Tim stories became Karons first Mitford novel, At Home in Mitford. That book has since been nominated three times (1996, 1997, and 1998) for an ABBY (American Booksellers Book of the Year Award), which honors titles that bookstore owners most enjoy recommending to customers -- the only book ever nominated three consecutive years. The fourth Mitford novel, A New Song, won both the Christy and Gold Medallion awards for outstanding contemporary fiction in 2000. A Common Life, In This Mountain, and Shepherds Abiding have also won Gold Medallion awards. Out to Canaan was the first Mitford novel to hit The New York Times bestseller list; all the subsequent novels have debuted on The New York Times list, reaching as high as the #1 spot.
Karon recently relocated from her home in Blowing Rock to a nationally registered, 18th-century farmhouse in Virginia. She has also published two Christmas-themed books based on the Mitford series, The Mitford Snowmen and Esthers Gift, as well as a cookbook, Jan Karons Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader. Other Mitford books include Patches of Godlight: Father Tims Favorite Quotes, a compilation of Father Tims favorite sayings, and A Continual Feast: Words of Comfort and Celebration, Collected by Father Tim. In addition, Karon has written two childrens books, Miss Fannies Hat and Jeremy: The Tale of an Honest Bunny, as well as an inspirational book for all ages, The Trellis and the Seed.
Last week, famed author of The Mitford series novels, Jan Karon, visited Holly Springs. Blanton and Jean Ann Jones were her liaisons, as they showed Karon all of the wonderful spots both in town and in the county. She enjoyed riding around in Blantons big red truck with the BEEF license plate on the front.
Carol Hill accompanies Karon on her travels. She is her right arm, planning her accommodations, agendas and trips. It was a pleasure meeting Hill, as well. She is a truly charming person who exudes enthusiasm and has a smile that will light a room! She plays a major role in Jan Karons life, but is modest about it. When asked to be in a photograph, she smiles and shies away. The limelight may not be for her, but she certainly shines in her own right!
Saturday and Sunday, Karon spent her days meandering around town, soaking up the local color. She was amazed at the emptiness of the square on the weekend and was quite concerned about our local economy. Her mind was quickly changed on Monday as they barely found an open spot uptown.
Several locals attended lunch with Karon on Saturday at Annies Restaurant. They enjoyed a fabulous lunch. Annie treated everyone to wonderful entertainment, kisses for all and truly blessed the group with her talents.
Booker Hardware, Tysons Drug Store and the Bank of Holly Springs were a few stops she made on Monday. Our ever-so-colorful group at Bookers threatened to put her to work! Steve Gresham and Ginger Owen at the bank were more than courteous to her during the visit with them. As always, Tysons Drug Store was a real treat.
No one can leave Holly Springs without eating at Phillips Grocery and Karon was no exception. She dined on their world famous cheeseburger and onion rings.
Karon visited Athenia, owned by Dr. Ben Martin, Crump Place, owned by David Person and Montrose, headquarters for the Holly Springs Garden Club. She was very impressed with all of the homes -- especially with the decor in Montrose, as it keeps with the period of the home. Having recently renovated an early 1800s home, she is fully aware of the process involved as to not breech the integrity of the home. She also enjoyed meeting local historical architect and preservationist, Chelius Carter. She mentioned how lucky we are to have a man with his knowledge here in Holly Springs.
During her time here, she enjoyed lots of laughs with the kind-hearted people she met. She never thought she would be in Holly Springs. How very fortunate we are to have had her here!
Thursday afternoon, Karon addressed an intimate gathering of ladies. She answered questions about her farm in the hills of Virginia, where she has a flock of sheep. When the sheep are sheered, she donates the wool to various people. She also fielded questions regarding her family, whom she holds dear to her heart.
She spoke to the group about every aspect of her life, both personal and professional. She is truly an amazing person with a lot to offer. Karon is truly a Christian, which one can tell when meeting her. That fact is also conveyed in her novels, as they are all truly inspirational. I was overcome with joy to be able to meet her, much less be lucky enough to have a private interview with her!
Karon is currently working on a new series of three new novels, which will be centered on Father Tim. They will be veering out of Mitford, although the storylines will be a continuation of familiar characters loved by so many readers.
As all Mitford readers know, Father Tim was born in Holly Springs. He is, for those who are unaware, an Episcopal minister. Close to 70, he has hung up his collar and retired. He and his wife, Cynthia, will now begin their journey across the world, researching their family history.
Home to Holly Springs is going to be the first novel in the series. Karons trip here was to do research on our town, in which Father Tim was born and raised. After his mothers death, he shut the door on Holly Springs due to painful memories.
Now, he will revisit his birthplace and tend to his unresolved feelings. I have enjoyed the website, www.mitfordbooks.com. The website offers Mitford enthusiasts a place to meet others who share a love for Jan Karons books. There are discussion boards that focus on every book she has written. It is a place to go to keep up with the latest news on upcoming novels, as well as our dear favorites already in publication.
There are also sections where you can exchange recipes and even seeds! I recommend this site, as it has a plethora of information you may or may not know.
As I end the column this week, I will leave you with a quote from Jan Karon: Readers will always have a happy ending with me. My books give readers a place to run. You can be safe in my books.
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