Tuesday, January 24, 2006

JK: Mental Health and History, part II

Do you write contemporary novels as well? How does your mental health and history differ with a contemporary setting, or does it?

I do have one-third of a novel that is set in a contemporary timeframe (the 1990s - A Land of Sheltered Promise. The first section is set in 1900, the second in 1985 but the three sections are linked together. It's a story about a landscape that spawned amazing things including the first act of bioterrorism by a cult in the US and it's now this amazing Young Life Christian camp. Talk about redemption!) But most of my novels are set in the 1850s into the 1930s at the latest. I consciously choose that time period because I've been intrigued with how the lives of others can touch us and teach us and I like helping characters step from their generation into ours. Because stories "come along beside" as they do, I think they can sometimes be more powerful than non-fiction self-help books in allowing people to see themselves and possibly identify ways to change their lives.

I suspect that self-help books often help people put up barriers, resisting what's in there because it suggests imperfection. After all, we buy self-help books because we want to do something different, want to make a change. Lose weight. Communicate better. Change is a significant part of the human experience but that doesn’t mean we don’t resist it.
Stories talk about the realities of lives and we see the imperfections of a character and yet their strengths and their hope. We can see the changes made and consequences and evaluate whether or not we might want to take that same trail. As a writer, it’s very gratifying when people have written or even called and said "Your book will change the way I live my life" or "Your character was so much like me! My friends all said that this or that would make my life better but I couldn't see it until your character's friends shared what they saw." I think that novelists who set their books in contemporary times have that barrier of resistance to overcome. If a reader thinks the abused woman in the story might be about them, they put up my blinders, or that that mouthy woman working too hard in the firm does what I do when I'm scared, but, oh, I don't want to think of myself as mouthy or overworking so I'll skip over that. It won't be a story about anything in my life; it'll just be a story to entertain me, a story about this woman.

Maybe that doesn't happen but it does for me. I find myself more easily in the historical genres, Regency, Western, all the rest. I think stories need to come softly to a reader, even with tough subjects and perhaps for some of us…people like me who love history… the spirit is able to move within the reader in a different way when the story is set in an historical context.
I think you've got some winning ideas for your novels and I bet you'll see them published before long. I hope so.

Jane Kirkpatrick, http://www.jkbooks.com/

Award-winning author of 11 novels and two non-fiction books. Look for A Clearing in the Wild, Book One of the Change and Cherish Series (WaterBrook Press/Random House) in April.


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