Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Jan Karon

Posted November 6, 2008
Updated November 10, 2008

The red light was blinking on my telephone when I arrived at work recently at 3:50AM. I had missed a call the day before. I punched in the necessary password and listened to the message as I sipped from a steaming cup of coffee.

"Hello, Bill! This is Jan Karon. Remember me?" I almost choked. I had interviewed Jan several years ago on WRAL's Noon News. I remembered her as one of the most charming, gracious and elegant people I had ever met. I wondered what an author who had sold more than 30 million copies of her books including the hugely popular Mitford series would want to ask me. I started thinking about her amazing life story.

Growing up on a farm with her grandparents near Lenoir, Jan wrote her first novel at age ten. She drew inspiration from 'Gone With the Wind' and was careful to give her heroine, Emmaline, an 18" waist.  She married at an early age, and after the birth of a daughter, Candace, was divorced and went to work as a receptionist with an advertising agency in Raleigh. Jan kept writing and her fine work drew the attention of a boss. She gained a promotion and eventually rose to one of the top positions in the company winning major awards and clients worldwide.

Then at age 50 Jan Karon gave it all up. She moved to Blowing Rock to follow her lifelong dream - to write books. At first it was a struggle but eventually the plots and characters came together. A publisher was found. A star was born. Jan Karon struck a chord with millions of readers hungry for an escape to the peaceful and idyllic town of Mitford with its interesting cast of characters including Father Tim of the local Episcopal Church.

Jan has since moved to a farm in Virginia and continues to turn out terrific novels including several children’s books. She is also working on an Irish-themed novel.

I called Jan later that morning and we had a nice chat. She recalled a CD I gave her when she was at WRAL several years back. Jan wanted to use some of my music for a project. Obviously I was delighted so I sent her all of my albums and she picked a couple of tunes to use. She also gave me a wonderful critique of my book Blue Ridge Reunion which is about my own taste of Mitford – growing up in Morganton and going to the Episcopal Church there.

What is your favorite Jan Karon book? Please discuss.

And one other thing:  what would you do if you "gave it all up" and followed your bliss as Jan did?


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  • busybody63 Nov 14, 2008

    Bill I was so excited when I learned on Thursday that your music is now featured on the home page of Jan Karon's website.
    The other members of the Bulletin board are commenting how much they like the music. Your webpage is linked on the bottom of the home page, but I also linked it and this blog on the Bulletin Board itself.
    I enjoyed reading your webpage also.

    Thanks for sharing your music with us all. Pat Morse

  • busybody63 Nov 7, 2008

    There is no way to choose my favorite Jan Karon novel, I love them all. If I had to choose, I would probably say, At Home in Mitford since it was the one where we were introduced to Father Tim and the sweet town of Mitford, which is based on Blowing Rock. I have met Ms. Karon four times and she is always just as gracious and down to earth as you would expect Cynthia to be.

    I would never have been has brave as Ms. Karon to 'chuck' it all and start anew.

    I look so forward to meeting her again next July when we will have another gathering of her Bulletin Board members. Visit her website at to see the slide show she has presented of her recent trip to Ireland doing research for the next Father Tim novel, A Party of Four which I think is due out in 2010.

    Thanks for bring her to the attention of your readers Bill. P. Morse aka DukeFan on the Mitford Bulletin Board.

  • mcmags Nov 6, 2008

    I cannot choose one! This is prompting me to go back and read them all again- for the third time! Can we have the two of you in room for an evening and watch you chat? That would be wonderful!

  • ladybug68 Nov 6, 2008

    I am a little more than halfway thru the Mitford Series and LOVE it. It took a number of times of starting over on the first book for some reason to get going. It was a slow start, but the fire finally took--I could easily do a book a day if I did not have other life obligations!! I will have to check out the Father Time series next. To stop at fifty and do what I want...well, kinda happened closer to 60. Still can't do what all I want due to a chronic disease, but am closer to it. Would love to live on about 10 acres, with a little stream and a little vegetable garden and flowers like theirs at Mitford. I enjoy doing what I can in volunteer work to help others and seeing my wonderful grandchildren on a more regular basis.

  • thinknc Nov 6, 2008

    Love all the books. They are such great stress-relievers.
    I love living out in the country outside the small town where I grew up, but if I were to relocate, it would very likely be in the Boone a cabin with a view of the mountains and a stream on the property. To hike in the mountains every day would be bliss to me.

  • UNCfuturealumi Nov 6, 2008

    If I could rewind the clock (too old to start now) I would just write my own life's story, which was one hard road, dirt road, but I had a wonderful life as hard as it was growing up on the Haw River, walking to school in all kinds of weather and never thought one time about not going. We walked everywhere, to church, to all our ball games, to the store to buy our meals and carry home the canned goods. And yet our widowed Mom was at the cotton mill making a living for all of us kids under the age of 16, six of us and making 98 cents an hour. Now for the Midford series, none better than those and I have read a lot of books but they just capture you and we all would love to see that beautiful "Nativity Scene."

  • CestLaVie Nov 6, 2008

    Oh - the Mitford series - one of my alltime reading favorites. I couldn't even begin to name a favorite book in the series. What a joy & source of relaxation to read those wonderful stories. I envy your position, Bill, that you get to talk to & interview interesting people like Jan Karon.

    As for following my bliss, I guess I have none to follow!! That statement makes me feel pretty boring!!!!!!!!

  • blytle Nov 6, 2008

    I agree with everyone that you can't pick one favorite from the Mitford series. Such charming books. I fell in love with all of the characters. Jan is certainly a North Carolina treasure for her time in Blowing Rock. My fantasy job would be to write for television. However I don't think I would want to live in LA or New York. I just returned from a quick business trip to Wilmington today and I think I would love to have one of the historic homes in Wilmington or over in Southport to live and write in!!

  • m0nky Nov 6, 2008

    if i gave it all up i'd move either to new york or california and try to get into voice acting. either for video games or cartoons. i can alter my voice in all kinds of crazy ways and have always thought it'd be fun to do voices for a living.

    sadly, i don't know diddly about where to even start that journey...

  • Riverracer8 Nov 6, 2008

    You have hit on a subject near to my heart. I love the Mitford Series. I have read them all at least once, and find something new every time. When I go to Blowing Rock, I unconsciously look for parallels to Mitford.

    As far as following my bliss - 6 months a year in Ocracoke and the onther 6 months in the mountains should do nicely!




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Bill Leslie