Thursday, July 16, 2009
‘Home to Holly Springs’
By BETH BREITHAUPT
From Blowing Rock, North Carolina, to Holly Springs, to the west country of Ireland, author Jan Karon’s fan club will follow her anywhere.
Millions have enjoyed her “Mitford Series” books, whose main character is an Episcopal priest, loveable Father Tim Cavanagh, native of Holly Springs, and a blessing to all who know him.
Last week, about 50 members of Karon’s website fan club flew and drove to Memphis to celebrate her great gift of writing and to meet with her in Holly Springs for the Third Mitford Homecoming.
“Home to Holly Springs” is Karon’s most recent book, published in late 2007. The other two homecomings were held in Blowing Rock, N.C., where Karon lived for many years and similar to the ficticious village of Mitford, and Ridgecrest Christian Conference Center in N.C.
The group toured Graceland, caught the famous duck march at the Peabody Hotel, and had barbecue at The Rendezvous on Thursday, waiting for all of the members to arrive.
On Friday, a chartered bus brought them to Holly Springs for tours of Walter Place Estate and Gardens, lunch at Annie’s, touring the businesses around the courthouse square, and Hill Crest Cemetery. The law office above the downtown Bank of Holly Springs, Booker Hardware, Tyson Drugs, J.B.’s Restaurant, the water tower, Phillips Grocery, The South Reporter, and Jennie’s Flowers & Gifts are all places where Father Tim visits on his trip home in the book. Therefore, they were must-see stops for the fan club. The Marshall County Historical Museum was another place visited by the group.
At Jennie’s, they were treated to orange marmalade cake, made famous by Mitford character Esther Bolick, one of Father Tim’s flock at Lord’s Chapel in Mitford.
Saturday was the highlight of HC3 (Homecoming 3), as they toured Christ Church in Holly Springs, heard Karon speak and had a mini-worship service with her before enjoying a luncheon prepared by the Episcopal Church Women and Friends of the Library.
The Very Reverend Bruce McMillan, rector of Christ Church, welcomed the members of the fan club, who came from such varied places as Washington state, Texas, Virginia, Ohio, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, New York, Georgia and Florida.
Karon’s publicist Lindsay Prevette and her editor with Viking Penguin Books, Carolyn Carlson and husband Eric Kurseval, all of New York City, were acknowledged by McMillan, as well.
He introduced his 90-year-old mother and Karon’s friend, Kathleen Lane, who was brought to town by his cousin Ann McMillan Harms, and locals Jean Ann Jones and Quintell Gipson, who helped Karon in her research for “Home to Holly Springs.”
Karon was presented gifts of jewelry, handcrafted by Ellen’s Beads and Things, made with sterling silver and Swarovski crystals; some $1,200 in her honor to the Mitford Children’s Fund; and several books were donated in her honor. The presentations were made by HC3 co-chairs Jennie Johnston and Tracey Kellum.
After McMillan warmly welcomed Karon, she began her talk by thanking God, her Savior Jesus Christ, the whole homecoming committee and Cathy Kane, president of the fan club, her special friends and all in attendance for coming “behind the Magnolia curtain,” a term she said she learned from McMillan.
She relayed how she was turned down by 11 publishing firms with her first manuscript, over a dozen books ago. They basically said it was “too preachy,” she recalled. The daughter of a Lutheran minister, Carolyn Carlson “got it,” understood what Karon was attempting to do with her fiction, which is simply to share God’s love. She wanted to write “nice books,” unlike the vast majority of the subject matter on the New York Times top sellers book list.
The characters portrayed in the village of Mitford or the town of Holly Springs are universally recognized for their good hearts. The books are not religious books, but just are about life, and struggles and hope common to us all, and how God works through ordinary people.
Karon said for 14 years now she and Carlson have been friends and business associates and Carlson is an executive editor now at Viking Penguin, New York.
Carlson then addressed the crowd, “What makes Jan’s books so meaningful to so many people is that she puts so much of herself into her work, sometimes working for hours on a single line or paragraph. She has a rare gift and communicates a sense of caring and community in her work. She’s the best of the best and it’s a privilege to work with her,” she said.
Karon shared her journey of becoming a writer at the age of 10, after seeing “Gone with the Wind” for a dime at the matinee, and being introduced to a public library with its many books and beginning with “Lorna Doone.” She told several humorous facts related to her writing, and gave snippets of her research trip to Ireland where the next Father Tim novel, “Party of Four,” will take place. She even told an Uncle Billy joke, much to the delight of her appreciative audience.
Mitford Homecoming 4 in 2011 will take place in Ireland, at the author’s suggestion. Her fans said they’ll go there if she’ll come, to which she replied, “absolutely!”
After some personal facts, there was a question and answer period, followed by a brief worship service, complete with “Amazing Grace” being sung by everyone while McMillan played the ancient pipe organ, readings from the Prayer Book, and prayer by anyone who wished to pray aloud.
More gifts were presented before a receiving line was formed where the author warmly greeted every person in attendance. Then everyone went to the fellowship hall for a delightful lunch of chicken salad, marinated vegetable salad, pimiento cheese sandwiches, strawberries, cheese wafers, and Episcopal brownies.
After the lunch, everyone in attendance had the opportunity to personally talk to Karon again and have their pictures made with her. Being genuinely interested in people, making friends, listening to them and being assessable to them makes her a very popular author. She stood for hours to accommodate all of her admirers.
Karon said of Holly Springs, “I’m very happy to be here again. The town is looking pretty, and it feels sort of like home.”
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