Millions of Mitford fans will herald the arrival of the 14th novel in Jan Karon’s inspirational series.
In To Be Where You Are, readers return to the utterly charming small town of Mitford, where three generations of Kavanaghs face life’s challenges while planning for a celebration to remember.
What are you most excited to share with readers of your new book?
If I sat down to the keyboard and really tried, I could not write anything that isn’t redemptive. That’s just what flows from my spring. I guess the pool game near the end of To Be is what I’ve been writing toward through 14 novels. Without forgiveness of others and ourselves, our lives get stuck. The flow stops. The heart puts on its bitter armor.
Which Mitford inhabitant do you think is most like you?
Saul Bellow said, “Fiction is the higher autobiography.” My characters are all like me, even Miss Rose, now gone to her Reward. There is no way around it. Even the dogs and occasional cat are like me, especially Gus in To Be . . . oh, and Harley, of course. True!
Why do you think American readers are so enchanted by stories about small-town life?
Small towns are where people are more or less forced to be together in a type of intimacy. We starve, I think, for close community. The Brits are notoriously enchanted by what they call their “village novel.” As for us, we love Lake Wobegon, Mitford, etc., because they feel more intimate, more idyllic, which they are. Small-town life is not only the way we were, it’s the way we still are if you go out there and look for it. Though we can’t always live in a village, the good news is we can live in one for three or four days, between the covers of a book.
You’ve said before that “Mitford can be real,” if we all do our part. Where do you see Mitford in the world around you?
Hardly anyone believes me when I say that Mitford is everywhere; it is portable, we carry it with us if we choose to. Just be thoughtful of and really interested in others. And hear this: Listen. That is a great start to discovering that Mitford is everywhere you go. I promise.
What advice do you have about seeking joy when life is hardest?
What I try to remember in the hard places, as well as the soft, is to give thanks. Because nothing is wasted. Even the suffering will be made to count for something important, and to our greater benefit.
Several of your characters love to quote famous thinkers and writers. What’s your favorite quote these days?
Oh, so many gorgeous quotes out there swimming around in the literary soup! I once inscribed this on my wall with a Magic Marker, and it remains fresh and true in every season of my life: “Whatever you would do, begin it. Boldness has courage, genius and magic in it.”—Goethe
Your Mitford novels are a source of positivity and comfort for so many. What do you turn to for the same?
King David’s amazing psalms. And not only could he write, he was a versatile musician and ardent dancer.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of To Be Where You Are.
Author photo by Candace Freeland