Jane Kirkpatrick is internationally recognized for her 20 published books, 17 of which are historical and often set in the American West. Several of those books have been Book of the Month and Literary Guild selections. Jane is the Keynote Speaker for this year's Northwest Christian Writers' Renewal conference.
1. Where do you find inspiration?
A cartoon I have posted in my office says: "Inspiration couldn't make it today. She sent me instead. I'm a dry scratchy cough." So I can't wait for inspiration to appear, I have to invite her. Music inspires me as does the landscape. I read poetry. The words of others inspire me - prayers and scripture. Since most of my work is drawn from actual historical characters, I read old journals and diaries, books about early settlement, visit small city and county museums, historical sites, listen to story-tellers speaking of their families and always alert to something strange that I can thoroughly explore.
2. Practicing and perfecting craft is key to becoming a great writer. What tips or practices have you incorporated into your daily writing to improve it over the course of your career?
A huge help for me was suggested by my first editor Rod Morris (now at Harvest House). He suggested I read Structuring Your Novel by Meredith and Fitzgerald. They have a practice that I call "the work before the work." They suggest answering three questions: what is my intention? What is my attitude (what do I feel deeply about) and what is my purpose in writing this story/essay/poem etc. (or how do I hope a reader will be changed)? I may write three or four pages responding to each question but then get it down to once sentence each. I post those three sentences on the top of my computer so when I struggle I can look at them and find a way to move forward. I also usually end my writing for the day in the middle of a sentence so I know right where to pick up the next day. I also get into the "zone" by reminding myself to" enter and live the story" and thus silence the harpies who would tell me that the work I do isn't worthy.
3. Could you offer one nugget of writing truth you’ve discovered that might apply to all writers, whether novelist, children’s writers or freelancers?
Feel deeply about whatever you write and risk the pain of that depth trusting that you're not alone.
4. Many writers find it hard to “sell” family and friends on their writing career. Could you share a bit of your experience? Did you ever face this dilemma? What would you suggest to a writer facing pressure to pursue a “practical” career?
Ah, that's a big one. When I first began writing I had another career that brought an income in so my family didn't give me a hard time about writing...besides, I chastised myself so much better than they might have. I'd say things like "who told you you could write?" or "You're spending all this time and surely it could be better spent on something that made money." Or "Angie Hunt has published over 200 books in her career. What's wrong with you?" I discovered that to do away with the guilt of spending time that might otherwise be "better" spent, that I became a morning person, setting my alarm for 4:00am and committing to being writer-ready by 5:00am. I gave myself two hours. No one else was up then, I would only have been sleeping otherwise so I had less guilt about using the time that way. Others have told me they dealt with the time challenge (and lack of support therefore) by keeping a similar commitment to write three days a week for 30 minutes or write after the kids were in bed or during lunch hours. In my writing classes people are amazed at the powerful things they can write in thirty minutes. To respond to the "Who told you you could write?" I'd remind myself that it wasn't my job to write the great American novel nor to win awards nor even to get published. My job was to show up, to assume the position of a writer and to tell the stories I'd been given the best way I knew how and to trust that I wasn't alone in the telling. As for that Angie Hunt rant, I'd remind myself that like Angie I worked to tell stories that touched the human heart and that each of us has a gift expressed differently. I think if we give worth to our work that in time others will come to see it has value as well. Sometimes family discounts are work when what they are really experiencing is a feeling of separation, as though they are less important to us than the story. So I do make a special commitment when I "re-enter" as I call it, to be present with my husband and family and not give the impression that I'd rather be writing.
5. Is there anything currently published that you wish you had written?
Interesting question! I wish I'd written Susan Meissner's The Shape of Mercy or Sandra Byrd's To Die For or Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible or Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird or Marilyn Robinson's Gilead or anything by Mary Oliver, Frederick Buechner, or Madeleine L'Engle. I can reread those works many times and still find new insights and inspiration. I know I'm not them as a writer but I so admire their work and yes, I have to silence the harpies who suggest that I not bother to write if I can't write as they do. It's that "gifts differing" again.
6. What is that one project you would love to write but haven’t yet?
There's a ranch in Central Oregon, the Imperial Stock Ranch, the oldest still working ranch in the region. Three women played a major part in that ranch but each had tragic trials. I'd love to explore their stories but I'm still looking for the hopeful ending. I'll call it The Imperial Women and I think it would be much like a female Legends of the Fall. Of course, I'm also working on a project now that is my current favorite, the story of the first black woman to bring a law suit in Oregon in 1851 -- and win. It's working title is The Peace of Encircling Hills. As I said when I heard about it...."now there's a story." I just hope I can tell it well.