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Jan Karon, and Mitford, return in 'Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good'

November 3, 2014 


"His wife was determined to march him to the country club this Saturday evening. Worse, he’d have to stuff himself into his old tux like sausage into a casing."

Thus begins Jan Karon’s "Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good," her first Mitford novel in almost a decade. Father Tim, the central character in the immensely popular series, is in a cranky mood.

Mitford, in the mountains of North Carolina, is a small town whose residents really care about one another. Father Tim, the now-retired rector of the Episcopal parish church, is warm and caring, although quite human. This, the 10th in the Mitford series, promises to continue the success that’s made Karon both beloved and highly successful.

Fans have moaned about the nine-year wait, but Karon says it’s not like "I’ve done nothing but eat bonbons." In fact, ?she’s written several other books, including two that took Father Tim to other locales. "I’ve been quite busy."

A life-long Southerner, she’s friendly and speaks with the soft accents of the region — but with Yankee-like speed and efficiency. She’s done a lot of interviews in her time; she pretty much knows what you’re going to ask and what she’s going to tell you.

Karon, who emerged from a difficult early life to become an award-winning advertising writer, became a committed Christian at 42. A quarter-century ago, at 48, she moved to Blowing Rock, N.C., the model for Mitford, with the intention of becoming a novelist. At first her stories were serialized in the local paper (her pay was a free subscription); then she found a publisher and built some serious success.

She became an Episcopalian when she moved there, which helped lead to the creation of Father Tim. "I wanted to create a character through whose eyes we could see an entire village," Karon says. "I didn’t want all of these pods of thought (with different characters giving their points of view); I wanted to get into the head of someone whose worldview would be comparable to my own, the bartender if you will, the one who hears everybody’s story."

And Father Tim came to her. "I actually had this waking dream in which I saw a middle-aged overweight balding man walking down the street," Karon says. "I knew he was a priest because he was wearing a ?collar."

Asked if any of her books are destined for the screen, Karon replied, "There have been many approaches — Hallmark, several times; CBS — but nothing ever seemed just right. I was never truly moved to make a deal. I do feel that a deal is coming. It is perfect for film; it is perfect for the screen."

Karon, who now lives near Charlottesville, Va., wrote her first novel at age 10. She got into trouble for using a word she’d found in "Gone With the Wind," from Rhett Butler’s most famous line. It was the last time she’d use profanity. "I would just say that out of all the book titles, and I always conjure my own titles, I like this one best. Somewhere safe, with someone good: That’s what we all want."

She wrote it for several reasons, "the most important thing being that it was time to come back to Mitford. The books are about balance, and that brought balance to the series. Of course, my readers, who are devout, were ardent about spending more time in Mitford. I suppose you could say that Mitford is the main character. People miss the kind of synergy or blend of ingredients, if you will, that make Mitford such an intriguing place to be."

What are those ingredients? "I think affection, compassion, orneriness — there are quite a few ornery people in Mitford — but they’re people who essentially, while they would never be able to voice it, enjoy that deep interconnection with other people. I think that really characterizes the very basic (element) of the success of the Mitford series. It’s all about connection, community, interaction, about people rubbing up against each other, if you will, in all sorts of situations. In fact, the reason I write about small-town life is that I like it myself."

She added, "We have diabetes and child abuse and alcoholism, and I can’t even think what else, but what we have, basically, is a safe place. I write so my readers will trust me to take them to a safe place where they can laugh, they can cry, they won’t be assaulted by bad language, where they can see through everyday lives that God really does love us."

Karon hears from those who think Mitford is too good to be true. She doesn’t think so. Even New York City, she observed, is filled with small, connected neighborhoods.

"I hope this doesn’t sound overly dramatic, but there is a pathway to Mitford in the human heart. Give somebody a hug; take somebody an apple pie. It’s just simple stuff, really. You can make Mitford. Get busy."

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