Jane Kirkpatrick interview with David Alan Binder

posted Feb 13, 2018, 3:26 PM by David Alan Binder

Jane Kirkpatrick interview with David Alan Binder

 Her Bio:  A New York Times Bestselling author, her works have appeared in more than 50 national publications including The Oregonian, Private Pilot and Daily Guideposts. With more than 1.5 million books in print, her 30 novels and non-fiction titles draw readers from all ages and genders. Most are historical novels based on the lives of actual historical women often about ordinary women who lived extraordinary lives. Her works have won numerous national awards including the WILLA Literary Award, the Carol Award, USABestBooks.com, Will Roger's Medallion Award and in 1996, her first novel, A Sweetness to the Soul, won the prestigious Wrangler Award from the Western Heritage and National Cowboy Museum. Her novels have also been finalists for the Spur Award, the Oregon Book Award, the Christy, Reader's Choice and the WILLA in both fiction and non-fiction. Several titles have been Literary Guild and Book of the Month choices and been on the bestsellers list for independent bookstores across the country, in the Pacific Northwest and the Christian Booksellers Association. Her books have been translated into German, Dutch, Finnish and Chinese.

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     1.      How do you pronounce your name?

Jane Kirkpatrick. Not Jean Kirkpatrick who used to be the ambassador to the United Nations. A piece of trivia is that a “Kirk” is a church and a “Patrick” is the sexton or keeper of the church in Scots language.

 

2.      Where are you currently living?

I live in Central Oregon in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains near a city called Bend. But I used to live on a 160 acre ranch seven miles from our mailbox and eleven miles from a paved road.

 

3.      What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?

It’s all about the story. Stories are the most powerful way we have of organizing human experience. D.H. Lawrence wrote “the stories tell us who we are and who we will become.” I think that stories are like maps: we use them to help us find our way and they also reduce the anxiety and fear of the unknown. In writing, I’m always looking for the story because until we find the meaning of the story in our lives we’re destined to wander in a wilderness even though we’re in a promised land.

 

4.      What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?

Probably that my mental health background walks beside my writing. I’m always looking for the meaning of words and their origin and often that drives the direction of a story. Plus I fell into a genre of writing stories based on the lives of actual historical women.

 

5.      Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?

Most of my books were first published by traditional publishers. After a couple went out of print, I purchased the rights and reissued one of them. I really liked the outcome of the book itself (it has photographs and short bits of wisdom about life – A Simple Gift of Comfort) but marketing it has been much more difficult. I think that’s one of the biggest challenges for self-publishing authors — finding readers.

 

a.       Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they located?

I have two major publishers. Currently, I’m under contract with Revell, a division of Baker Publishing group in Grand Rapids, MI. My previous books were published primarily by WaterBrook Press, a division of Penguin Random House with offices in Colorado Springs, CO.

 

6.      Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

I personally read both eBooks and print. I’m currently on vacation in Mexico staying at a resort and thought about taking a picture at the pool because 9 out of 10 people sunbathing were reading print books. There were a few IPads maybe being near water limited them, who knows? But my point is that almost every single person was reading a book! Likewise at the airport. I’m not sure it matters whether a book is published as an eBook or print: people just like good stories.

 

7.      Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published? My own way was a bit untraditional.

My first book was a memoir and I wrote a 75 page proposal for it that included 10 chapters and a market analysis etc. It was way too long! I perused bookstores reading memoirs and who the authors thanked in their acknowledgments and found one that wrote how grateful they were to find a publisher who took on their untraditional story. I sent my proposal to them and 6 months later, they called and acquired the book. It was called Homestead and it was about leaving suburbia and moving to 160 acres of rattlesnakes and rock to build a new life. So one tip, read the acknowledgments of books published in your genre. Second, read a book about writing a proposal and keep it shorter than 75 pages! I highly recommend attending writer conferences that bring in publishers, editors and agents so a writer has a face to face opportunity to pitch a story and decide not only if that publisher is right for them in addition to a hope that a story is right for their line-up. Finally, take their advice. If they tell you your synopsis is too vague, get more specific. If an editor asks to see a couple of chapters send them to her immediately, don’t hold onto your manuscript hoping to make it better. I have several friends, still unpublished, who got nods from agents but didn’t follow through and send. You have to be willing to be rejected. One day you won’t be!

 

8.      How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent?  Any tips for new writers on getting one?

See above. I’m very fond of writer’s conferences. Willamette Writers in the Northwest does a great job of bringing in agents and they list on their website what kinds of works the agents are interested in. Keep in touch with the conference websites and sign up with someone who is looking for what you have to offer. Invest in your writing: commit to pitching.

 

9.      Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers?

After my fifth book and fourth novel, my editor suggested I read Structuring Your Novel by Robert Meredith and John Fitzgerald. It’s a book published in the 1970s, still in print. One of the practices they suggested that I still do now before beginning to write any book is to answer three questions. 

1) What is this story about?  (The elevator question where you have one floor to answer the question of what’s your book about before the person gets off the elevator).

2) What’s my attitude toward your story? (What do I feel deeply about in this story?)

3) What’s my purpose in writing this story? (How do I hope a reader might be changed by reading this story or what am I trying to prove by writing this story? For example, am I trying to prove that by relieving the suffering of others we help to relieve our own?  I took the additional step of spending several hours and pages answering those questions until I can get it down to a one sentence answer each. Then I post them in small font on the top of my computer to look at when I’m halfway through and wondering why I ever thought I could write this novel. Those three sentences keep me from pitching everything and starting over or getting lost on rabbit trails of research. Instead I’m reminded of what mattered to me in the story, what it was supposed to be about and how I hoped a reader might respond and then I keep going until I’m finished.  Before revising, I answer the same three questions and sometimes the answers have changed and I think that’s because the story has changed me.

Another tip for new writers is that I used to end my writing for the day when I finished a chapter. I found that the next morning I often had to face that blank page.  Now I end a day’s work often in the middle of a sentence so I always have somewhere to go. It keeps me “in the room” as I say.

 

10.  What was one of the most surprising things you learned with your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?

How each book I’d think was about a particular person or theme and then when I finished I realized there was something in that story that I wouldn’t have discovered about myself and life that I would have missed if I hadn’t written that story. I also learned that getting up very early, being at the computer by 4 or 5:00am worked well for me though I never thought of myself as a morning person. Now I do. It’s the quiet time. Dogs asleep at my feet. My husband sleeping. I don’t open emails until much later in the day and truly I never feel less alone than when I am writing.

 

11.  How many books have you written?

Thirty, mostly novels but memoir and gift books as well.  The thirty-first novel is written and in editing.

 

12. Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer? Check above for my three questions and ending a writing session in the middle of a sentence. I actually teach a workshop called “Staying in the Room” where I have 15 tips about how to keep us as writers from procrastinating and not doing the thing we are passionate about: writing. Another for non-fiction writers writing for magazines or newspapers, which is where I started, is to make a list of the top 10 markets once your piece is finished. Then send it out to the top market on the list. When the rejection comes back, read it over once and if it still seems good to you, send it out within 24 hours to the next market on your list. That’s how I got published initially. I never reached the 10th market before it was accepted. I don’t think that’s because I’m a great writer. I think it’s because I kept the piece in circulation and always had a next step to take. that’s so important because that rejection can be so discouraging. As Anne Lamott wrote, writing is like following a flashlight down a path. You can only see what’s in front of you but you can make the whole trip that way. I think it was Anne Lamott! Profound whoever said it!

 

12.  Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?

Oh boy, I’m a terrible plotter. I think that’s why I write my novels based on the lives of actual historical women. After researching their lives, I can find the turning points that bring out the twists. One thing that helps me is that when something bad happens to a character I ask myself “How could something bad become the best thing that ever happened to that character?”  That helps me find the plot twist.

 

13.  What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?

My books are based on the lives of actual people diligently and authentically researched. I wanted to write biographies of historical women but I could always find out more about the woman’s husband, brother, father or sons than about her. Virginia Woolf wrote that “women’s history must be invented...both uncovered and made up.”  That gave me permission to explore a woman’s life through fiction. My novels are well researched. I often meet with descendants to hear those family stories, do genealogy, create family trees etc. and try to be true to what I call “shared knowings.” But the unknown places are where fiction shines. A reviewer once said of my work that they whisper ‘let me tell you about a woman who...they find a secret place in each of us and bring it gently to the surface.” I think my works are hopeful, poetic, historical accurate and tell stories of women who can step from their generation to our own to teach us and touch us with their lives.  People tell me they find themselves inside my stories. That’s high praise as far as I’m concerned. E.L. Forester, author of Passages to India wrote “Give me, me inside a story and you’ll have a reader for life.”  I have very loyal, faithful readers.

 

14.  What are some ways in which you promote your work?

I have a monthly newsletter called Story Sparks http://jkbooks.com/storysparks.htm#SignMeUp that reaches thousands of readers now and they are great at sharing their enthusiasm for my works with friends and perfect strangers. Word of mouth has been my greatest asset I think. I do a lot of books signings at independent bookstores where I speak and not really “read” so much as tell stories. I talk with store clerks and thank them. Often they are my biggest promoters. Because of my mental health background I also lead retreats, speak for fund-raisers in mental health, education, churches even to a (bar association where we decided lawyers and writers have lots in common: we listen to stories and we learn to tell truth from fiction). I have a Facebook page, I teach writing classes and my publishers have kindly sent me to trade shows of booksellers where I make presentations and hopefully inspire people in the good work they do...selling stories that nurture people.

 

15.  What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?

I wouldn’t have written a contemporary novel meant to be humorous about a writer trying to get Oprah to know her name! Barcelona Calling I’m an historical writer through and through and need history to be the spine of my stories with real people as the flesh and blood and sinew. On the other hand, it’s always good to try new things. Last year I wrote my first children’s story as part of a fundraiser for SMART or Start Making a Reader Today and I’m working on a chapter for a non-fiction book called Eminent Oregonians so that’s new and different.

 

16.  What saying or mantra do you live by?

My task is to tell the stories I’ve been given the best way I know how and to trust that I’m not alone in the telling.

 

17.  Anything else you would like to say?

Just follow your heart. Tell the story or rather get out of the way so the story can speak to you. Madeline L’Engle once wrote that when we create we “co-create with Spirit and with readers.”  I’ve always like that. It helps me keep going when the work gets tough. Writing has been an amazing journey for me one begun when I was in my forties so I envy those younger who know in their early years that writing is calling their names. 

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