Friday, September 9, 2022

Jane Kirkpatrick Talking With Suite T

Jane Kirkpatrick

Bestselling and award-winning author Jane Kirkpatrick has brought the West to life in her inspiring novels based upon true events. Each tale looks at the hidden lives of women whose universal struggles, bravery, indominable spirit, and ingenuity helped form the American West. In Beneath the Bending Skies, Kirkpatrick uses her signature style to delve into the life of Mollie Sheehan, who had to forgo her father’s blessing in order to seek her happily ever after. Her life-altering decision became the catalyst for her movement to aid the Nez Perce tribe during the mid-1800s.

When did you start writing?

I wrote wretched little poems as a child, fascinated by the sounds of words and a rhythm that moved in my head. Teachers were kind throughout my educational life and encouraged me. As the director of a mental health program for several years, I learned that words had power to engage legislators and the community. But for publication, it wasn’t until I was in my forties and my husband and I moved to “rattlesnake and rock ranch,” where I began writing non-fiction books and essays and eventually my first book was published, Homestead. It was a memoir. My first novel came four years later when I was 49.

Who were/are two of your favorite authors?

Molly Gloss and Ivan Doig

Do you feel they influenced you? In what way?

They are both westerners though read world-wide. They have a distinctive rhythm in their writings that makes reading them out loud a joy. Their historial novels are authentic, carefully detailed, prosaic and emotionally engaging. When I finish reading one of their books I sigh and say, “when I grow up, I want to write like them.”

What point in your writing career did you feel like you had gone from amateur to pro? 

Did I? I still feel like an amateur. I’ve been going through my books as we are downsizing our home and find I want to hang on to all the “how to” writing books, to re-read. But I think when I was able to secure contracts for books, that felt like I was a real writer, having convinced a publisher of a great story. My only challenge then was whether or not I could write it!

What do you look for in choosing a setting for your book?

Most of my novels are based on the lives of actual historical women so they choose the setting for me. Landscape – named by Dutch painters, I’m told – is a word that looks to the interior. So the landscape a character spends time in tells me a great deal about their personality, both externally – how they deal with flooded rivers or lost crops but also how they draw strength from the majesty of a Montana mountain.

What steps if any are involved in research for your book?

Three steps: read what others have written about the character/place/time period that may have affected the character. When I find repetitions, I know I may have exhausted what others knew. If I can interview descendants, I always do! Second, search for documents (spending time in the basements of courthouses looking at old deeds, accessing specialty libraries, census records to discover who lived nearby). Third, “Go There.” I try to walk the places people walked, look at the views they had, compare family stories to each other, often discovering documents when I’ve visited small museums and even descendants. Once I found the actual 1840s marriage certificate for the woman I was writing about. It had been used as scrap paper by the Missouri legislature and an archivist, passionate about history, had permission to collect old documents and she filed them in her basement file drawers! What a find!

In writing your new book, what do you feel makes it stand out?

It’s a coming of age story of a young girl set against the backdrop of the West, Montana and California. Mollie Sheehan is faced with the conflict between honoring her loving but controlling father and being true to hers

In your new book, what would you like the reader to feel and walk away with?

I hope readers of Beneath the Bending Skies will come away with insights of how difficult it is for those wanting to be faithful, helpful children while needing to branch out and be true to their own callings, taking care of their own young families. I’d like them to cheer for this young girl, wife and mother and how she navigates the challenges of living. And just maybe, a reader might see the importance of family, friends and faith in pursuing one’s passion. That would make me happy.

What is the best writing advice you have received so far?

Don’t write for the market. Write the stories that are calling your name.

What is the worst?

This stumped me! I didn’t see anything as bad advice, just recommendations that might not suit my writing life or style. But then I remembered this: once at a writer’s conference I heard a panelist say pretty negative things about their publisher and suggest that it was an “us against them” scenario. I didn’t have a publisher yet but that was disturbing since I believe in collaboration at all levels. Thankfully, that panelist was followed by another writer who said the exact opposite, that we are a team, we writers and publishers. And that’s how I’ve always looked at it.

Between plotting, character development, dialogue, scenes which is easiest for you, and which takes a lot of effort?

Plotting is the worst! Even though I have the benefit of creating timelines of my character’s actual life trajectory, I still need to answer the questions, what did she want? What is the turning point? Where will I start the story and where might it end (unless the character choses a different path). And how to do that while keeping a reader interested and believing my version of that character’s story. Easiest is dialogue once I’m in the head of the characters.

What is your schedule for writing?

Because I had contracts for books, I always knew when they were due. And because I’ve had a book or two coming out each year, I also knew when I’d need to be free to help promote that book. So I began writing at 5:00am – 7:00 five days a week. We had a working ranch and I had a day job working on an Indian reservation during many of the books, so I focused on that work during the week. At night I could do research. Several years ago, I became a full-time writer! Then I developed this routine: write daily 8-10 hours a day from June- September. Submit book in September. Promote the book coming out in September. Begin research for the book due the next year. Work on edits and changes of work in progress. Hold events (I’m not usually writing then). Keep researching. Gear up to write again full time in June.

What do you do if you get stumped?

This rarely happens because I know people are counting on me to meet deadlines. “I can’t wait for inspiration” says a cartoon I have on my bulletin board. To prevent being stumped, I often end my work for the day in the middle of a sentence so I always have someplace to start the next day.

Did you or do you make any sacrifices to be a writer?

Time with my family.

Did you choose your genre, or did it choose you?

It chose me. I wanted to write biographies of these women I discovered. But I could find things about their husbands, brothers, fathers and sons but little about the women. A biography tells you what someone did and when they did it. But fiction allows one to consider why (motivation) they did what they did and more importantly I think, how they might have felt about it. Exploring the feelings fit in perfectly with my background as a mental health professional. It may also have chosen me because I’ve learned so much about myself with each book. Virginia Woolf wrote that “women’s history must be invented…both uncovered and made up.” I’ve allowed that to let me tell these stories as fiction.

What is the best way you found to market your book?

I don’t do such a good job at this. But I have combined my abilities as a speaker with stories of real people so I developed a career that included speaking for fundraisers, leading retreats, teaching classes around the world and using the stories to help people discover their own desires and motivations and how to live meaningful lives. Word of mouth has then brought new readers to my pages. And I’ve been privileged to meet remarkable people from around the world as a result of my speaking schedule.

Did you actively build a network of readers and if so, how?

I have a newsletter that is an inspirational piece in addition to letting readers know what’s coming, my schedule, and what’s happening in my life.

Are you on the Social Media Highway and if so, do you schedule times to post?

I am on social media and no, I’m terrible about this! I should schedule time to post. Ok, guilt now!

What advice would you like to give new authors that would help them?

Read. Read authors you aspire to be like. And then write. Write the story that is calling your name. It’s the passion for the story that sings through to a publisher. And don’t quit your day job.

Jane Kirkpatrick is the New York Times and CBA bestselling and award-winning author of 40 books, including The Healing of Natalie Curtis, Something Worth Doing, One More River to Cross, Everything She Didn’t Say, All Together in One Place, A Light in the Wilderness, The Memory Weaver, This Road We Traveled, and A Sweetness to the Soul, which won the
prestigious Wrangler Award from the Western Heritage Center. Her works have won the WILLA Literary Award, the Carol Award for Historical Fiction, and the 2016 Will Rogers Gold Medallion Award.

Jane divides her time between Central Oregon and California with her husband, Jerry, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Caesar. 

Learn more at


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