Thursday, November 8, 2007
‘Home to Holly Springs’
By BETH BREITHAUPT
Holly Springs got a shot in the arm for tourism last Tuesday, October 30, when author Jan Karon kicked off a book tour here to promote her new book entitled “Home to Holly Springs.”
Karon, famous for her nine-book series known as the Mitford books, began her tour with a 2 p.m. tea at Annie’s Restaurant. It was attended by about 200 local fans eager to meet the author and purchase the first of probably three books in the new Father Tim series.
At 7 p.m. Karon spoke to another crowd of about 200 at Christ Episcopal Church, after a warm and amusing introduction by the Rev. Bruce McMillan, rector of Christ Church and president of the Friends of the Library. McMillan introduced Karon’s entourage --- Ann Day, senior publicist of Viking Penguin Group of New York; Carolyn Carlson, senior editor of Viking Penguin Group; Candace Freeland of Hawaii, Karon's daughter and an artist and photographer; and Pat “Killer” Speltz, media escort.
Karon began her talk saying she was moved and honored to be standing there at the podium of Christ Church, where she stood more than a year and a half earlier to gather research.
“I don’t have words for it; 650,000 copies went out today,” she said. “And I’m devastated that I missed the Kudzu Festival.”
The popular fiction writer proceeded to give special thanks to many locals who helped her in penning the account of Father Tim’s childhood and teenage years. This main character of the Mitford series, a beloved Episcopal priest in a small town in the North Carolina mountains, was born and raised in Holly Springs, and Karon explained that this character was God-inspired years ago and she believes He wants her to keep Father Tim for a while longer.
Jean Ann and Blanton Jones, Christie Jones, David Person, Ben Martin, Chelius Carter, Quentell Gipson, Annie Moffitt, Bruce McMillan and his mother, Kathleen Lane, Steve and Frances Gresham, Mary Minor, and Marie McClatchy were named as providing much assistance in the background information of the story about Father Tim coming home after many decades to unravel a mystery and face old fears, as well as to renew old aquaintances. Perhaps the question on most of the fans’ minds was why she chose Holly Springs as the hometown of Father Tim.
Karon read from the book, explaining that 15 years ago when she began writing the Mitford series, she spread a map of America on the floor of her writing room and proceeded to eliminate every Southern state except Mississippi, which she had never visited. She wanted a small town with a melodic-sounding name. She chose Holly Springs and it just felt right. She never dreamed she would come here, she said.
“It was hard to write a novel set in a real place. I’ll never do it again,” Karon quipped.
She told of Quentell Gipson, Bruce McMillan, and she setting off on a cold February day in the priest’s older model Cadillac for the place in the county where Gipson's people were from. The car got stuck in the mud and they had a time pushing it out, but while there, she explored Gipson’s family's abandoned old homeplace. It became Father Tim’s grandparents’ house in the book.
“All the folks are fictional, but the places are real,” Karon stated.
She named Booker Hardware, Tyson Drugs, Phillips Grocery, the Utley building, Airliewood, Christ Church, First Baptist, Hill Crest Cemetery, Stafford’s, the Ida B. Wells Museum, the Marshall County courthouse, the Fant Place, Crump Place and the Peabody Hotel, as well as Graceland, to name a few.
Steve Gresham gave her a tour of the law office above the downtown branch of the Bank of Holly Springs and it became Matthew Kavanaugh’s law office in the book.
Karon told of calling local folks numerous times in the midst of writing when questions came up regarding flora and fauna in this part of the country. The plot takes place during a couple of weeks in late June/early July and Karon needed to know if we had cicadas and pine trees, for instance, and what the temperature was on any given day.
During her talk, she sometimes read passages from the book. Reading from the dedication, she said she “found here people who forgive one another, proud of the beauty of the town, of Rust College, of the more than 60 antebellum structures. There was no lack of warmth and generosity. Mississippi isn’t a state, it’s a family,” she wrote. “‘Home to Holly Springs’ is dedicated with profound regard to all who call Holly Springs home.”
Karon admitted she does not understand the creative process. She loves it because it holds surprises, even for her. Now that the book is finished, she misses the characters and “being” in Holly Springs.
The next book, “Party of Four” will be set in Ireland, the land of Father Tim Kavanaugh’s ancestors.
After her talk, there was a time of questions and answers, then the crowd adjourned to the parish hall for a reception sponsored by the Friends of the Library, featuring orange marmalade cake, made famous in the Mitford books and tested by Martha McIntosh, a Mississippian, on her family.
Barnes & Noble set up a table with the new release, the Mitford books, her children’s books, plus the cookbook and Father Tim’s book of quotes, for those interested in purchasing them, complete with autographed book plates. Fans were able to go through a receiving line to talk with Karon and be photographed, hugged and treated like long-lost “Miss’ippi” friends.
The author requested that fans bring a nonperishable food item or a children's book as price of admission, which benefited the local food bank and the Marshall County Library.
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