Wednesday, May 10, 2006

JK: Western Landscapes

A nice thing happened to one of my books this month. A Land of Sheltered Promise (WaterBrook Press, 2005) earned a Finalist Spur Award for Best Novel of the West through Western Writers of America. This was a great surprise to me as this was the most overtly “Christian novel” I felt I’d written and I didn’t expect it to earn much notice in a western writing competition.

I don’t think I write westerns with shooting and bad guys and women often more as hitching posts than characters with depth. But this book was based on a ranch that had a fascinating history. In the early 1900s there’d been a murder there and a young wife had to face the prospect of her sheepherder husband receiving a life sentence for the murder he claimed to be an accident. While researching the trial etc. I discovered that he did get life but he also got…a pardon. Wow, that was a surprise!

In the second third of the book, forward 80 years, the ranch was purchased by an east Indian mystic whose people transformed the ranch into a city of red-clad Sannyasins who ultimately self-destructed after attempting to poison 750 people by contaminating salad bars in the town we live near. I placed a grandmother there attempting to get her granddaughter – if not her daughter – out of the influence of this commune and hoped to tell the story that God can use anything to bring glory to his name.

The third section was the story of what happened 12 years later, after all the communal people had left behind 300 buildings at this remote though dramatically beautiful site. A man from Montana bought the ranch and gave it to Young Life, the non-denominational Christian youth organization. The third story is about a young wife who doesn’t want to go to this remote ranch but does, to support her husband. She discovers her own new life as these workers hope to transform what had been a dark place into one of light.

I wanted to show the landscape as a metaphor for God’s faithfulness over time as well as portray for the three main female characters how we sometimes feel separated from God, feel as though we’ve been abandoned, or may feel so insignificant that we can’t approach God with our trials. Perhaps that is a western theme of sorts, how we are carved by the landscapes but also how God reveals himself through creation. Maybe it’s a good reminder to not get so caught up in the present that we forget how short a time we’re really here. And that through it all, God is with us.

Jane’s 12th novel with both Missouri and Northwest landscape, A Clearing in the Wild, was released on April 18th.


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