Millions of readers have lived, laughed and loved alongside the residents of Mitford since the 1990s. After a four-year absence, Jan Karon brings back Father Tim and Cynthia in Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good.
Many readers regard Cynthia and Father Tim as friends or even family after all these years. What is it like to write about these characters for so long?
It’s like growing up, changing, living through different passages in life. They change, the author changes. Or is that vice versa? And I do love my characters in an oddly intimate and authentic way.
You say in an author’s note that the title of this book “expresses in just five words what we all long for.” Could you talk a little more about its significance?
Somewhere safe. I want to be there, don’t you? With somebody good. Absolutely. These two components make up a satisfying whole. The line comes from a love letter Cynthia writes to Father Tim on their ninth anniversary and which expresses her life’s desire.
In the new book, Father Tim is, in his own words, “trying to hammer out what retirement is for.” What do you think it means for a man to give up a vocation like Tim’s?
Well, of course, he doesn’t give it up entirely, he has “supplied” as they say, numerous pulpits. He greatly loved the focus of a single pulpit, a single flock. It is how he is wired, he cannot resist. His calling to help others serves to build the kingdom and—this is key—to help himself.
Small-town life is a recurring element in American fiction. Other than Mitford, what do you think is the best small town in literature?
Lake Wobegon is a charm.
Do you think about readers and their reactions when you write?
Always. When I am laughing my head off with a scene I am writing, I’m hoping my readers will find it as funny. I really do wish to make people laugh. It is such a simple gift to extend. Also, will my tears be theirs?
Faith is important to your stories, but it never overwhelms them. How do you incorporate Christianity without making it feel didactic?
If it is didactic, it is not Christianity. Many are scared to death of faith and perhaps especially the Christian faith, which is radical, dangerous and exhausting. But of course it is also joyful, healing and transforming. A lot to chew, this Christianity, it is not for sissies.
What is your favorite simple pleasure?
Umm. Ice cream? Salted caramel? Talking with people who are not afraid to feel their feelings. Sitting on the porch with someone I love. Jeans that still fit after 10 years. A watercolor-blue and cloudless sky. Old dogs and puppies. A really wonderful fragrance, like 31 Rue Cambon or mown hay or bacon frying or babies or the smoke off an autumn hearth fire.
What’s next for you?
Lord only knows, as we say down South. Maybe just taking a deep breath, summoning the courage to show my arms or finally taking a trip on the Orient Express. And some writing, of course.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a review of Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good.
Author photo by Candace Freeland