by Michelle Sutton
I first discovered Jane Kirkpatrick’s writing long before I started writing fiction. I found her title, All Together in One Place either in a Christian bookstore or a place like Crossings book club. Anyway, I loved the story and read the one following it and the third in the series, too. I felt like I knew those women. Her latest series is a tear-jerker as well. Having been a social worker like myself, Jane clearly understands dysfunction and expresses it well in her writing. I think that is one reason why I loved reading her stories. You should check her writing out so you can become a fan, too. So without further introduction, you can hear Jane’s story about how she started writing Christian fiction below.
Jane: It came about in a strange way, my writing Christian fiction. I’d written essays and articles for a variety of magazines such as Decision, Daily Guideposts, Focus on the Family, Sports Afield—yes, how to fix a fishing rod, for goodness sake! But never fiction.
Then I learned about this couple, the Sherar family. I simply wanted to tell the story of these people who lived their lives with integrity. A frontier family, they dreamed of building a bridge in a remote part of Oregon, and to succeed they needed to live out their life and faith in ways that spoke well to their neighbors: the Wasco, Warm Springs, and Paiute tribes. It happened that I worked for those tribes as a mental health consultant.
While I waited for a “real” writer to tell that story (I had never written fiction, it wasn’t my family story, I certainly wasn’t a
historian, and I had written only one book, a somewhat humorous memoir, Homestead), God spoke to me through my husband, who told me that I should write it and perhaps discover why this story wouldn’t let me go.
Doors opened. I interviewed descendants, thinking maybe I’d write a biography. But I couldn’t find enough information about the woman, and it was she who interested me the most.
I wrote a proposal, and my agent sent it to a Christian publisher, Multnomah, in part because the story took place in Oregon, where they were located; also because she thought the story would speak to a Christian audience wanting to live faithful lives in everyday life.
After A Sweetness to the Soul was published, I heard from missionaries who had read it. They told me that the book spoke to them about bringing the Christian story to those who had never heard it before. Listening to them taught me that our lives are the stories other people read—a concept that now drives the stories I write based on the lives of real though often very ordinary people. A Sweetness to the Soul won a number of awards in the secular world, and I was grateful that it spoke to many hearts.
Franz Kafka once wrote that a book ought to be “the axe to the frozen sea within us,” and I think God led me to tell stories to help break open the frozen hearts of people, to bring healing to heart and soul, including my own. Writing is a natural extension for me, of my clinical social profession where healing wounds is the work God gave me to do.
So maybe writing fiction isn’t so strange after all. God put me in places and led me to a new adventure in writing, where with each story I learn new things about God and about myself. That frontier couple story helped me come to terms with my childlessness, a gift I never would have received if I hadn’t written that story.