Blog Interview with Jane Kirkpatrick
JK: You’ve written so many best-selling carefully researched and beautifully told stories through the years. How was fictionalizing your family story in Her Mother’s Hope and Her Daughter’s Dream different from writing your other historical and Biblically-based novels?
FR: Writing this novel was difficult because I was too close to the story in the beginning. I kept trying to bend things to portray real people, and there wasn’t enough drama and conflict to make the story interesting to readers. It took over a year to write the first manuscript (1200 pages!) and I didn’t like it. We talked of ways I could revise, but I knew even massive revisions wouldn’t make it what I wanted it to be. One of the editors at Tyndale asked questions about Marta and Hildie, and said she’d like to know more about various events. I knew then what I needed to do. Scrap the manuscript and start over. Completely restructure the novel.
My grandmother and mother were the inspiration behind the story, but they were not the real story I wanted to show. Marta and Hildemara had been fighting to become real. They still share time lines with my grandmother and mother, but the events that shape their lives and how their character develops are imagination and not speculation. It probably sounds strange to readers to say characters take on a life of their own. When their stories begin to move on in ways I didn’t expect – that’s when writing becomes exciting to me – that when I know God is about to teach me new lessons.
JK: Was there a particular family story that first inspired you to fictionalize a portion of your ancestor’s lives? As you wrote, did that story become more or less important in the overall stories of Her Mother’s Hope and Her Daughter’s Dream?
FR: My great-grandfather did tell my grandmother that education was wasted on a girl. He did take her out of school, put her to work, and use the money to pay her brother’s tuition and supplement the family income. But the question that started the project was: What caused the estrangement between my grandmother and mother at the end of my grandmother’s life? I knew in part, but there had to be more to it. When I looked back over my grandmother’s life, I could see why she would take offense and hold a grudge. But I also saw how this hurt others and did the most harm to her. I wanted to find all the possibilities and the “better” reasons for the decisions she made. Sometimes what appears to be rejection is love in disguise.
JK: A famous physicist once said as advice to young people considering entering that field of science that they should “find something strange and thoroughly explore it”. Is that what writers do, too? Did you find anything strange in your family story that made you want to thoroughly explore it?
FR: The strangeness is my family is that my grandmother and mother loved one another deeply, but were never able to express it. After I nagged my grandmother to write her memoirs, she wrote fourteen pages that summed up over ninety years of her life. Lines like “I had a younger sister, but a foolish old man gave her cherries and beer and she died” made me gasp. She didn’t write her sister’s name or the impact that death had on the family. My mother wrote journals, but was careful not to touch on her feelings. She wrote a daily chronology of what she, and later, the family did. I have all her journals except three years that would have covered the most difficult and traumatic time in her life. I’m certain she destroyed those.
My mother told me Grandma never said “I love you” to her. How is it possible for a parent never to say those words to their child? I’ve learned this is fairly common in the older generations. Love wasn’t expressed in words. It was revealed in action. Mom said she knew Grandma loved her because “she worked so hard to provide for her children”. People say “I love you” too easily these days, but few seem to understand what commitment means. We have to work hard at loving one another. Love may begin with “feelings”, but then must move to the mind, soul and strength God gives us to keep it alive and growing. Love, real love, is not easy.
JK: Without spoiling the story, a family tragedy in Her Mother’s Hope affects the lives of the immediate family members and the next generations as well. Were you surprised to discover one tragedy having such a far-reaching impact? Do you suppose most families have a secret or a tragedy that can act as a shroud through generations keeping joy and hope suppressed? What allows that shroud to be lifted or can it ever be?
FR: There are two character-making tragedies that happen in the story, and neither of them happened in my family. I’m thankful to God they didn’t. We’ve had and continue to have other tragedies that shape and strengthen our family ties. Over the past few years, I’ve been looking and listening closely, and I every family I know has had character-shaping tragedies of some sort in their families – in the past as well as in the present. Romans 8:28 comes to mind. God uses the hard things life throws at us to soften our hearts and turn us to Him. God doesn’t waste anything.
JK: Having writing two books myself based on my grandmother, I discovered some similarities in how she handled problems in the way I handle mine. That reflection wasn’t always, well, positive and yet I wondered if there might be some memory DNA being transferred from her life to my own. Did you discover any familial patterns that you still carry (if you care to talk about them!)? Will recognizing them help change how you look at your own life and that of your family?
FR: I see patterns of behavior. I often think of the scriptures about the curse of the father being visited on the son and the next three generations, but then also remember the words that come soon after about God blessing those who love and obey Him to a thousand generations. So much of our pain has to do with our sin nature inherited from Adam and Eve. Sin brings pain. We haven’t evolved into higher beings. We are exactly the same as we were in the Garden of Eden. Recognizing that offers me choices, constant choices throughout the day, week, month, years. Even as a firm believer in Jesus Christ, living out my faith in Him is difficult. There is a constant battle going on inside me. Like the Apostle Paul, I have to remind myself that God’s grace is sufficient for me. But life in the here and now – heaven to come whenever God decides – is all about the work of not listening to and not giving in to my sin nature.
JK: One of the many scenes in Her Mother’s Hope that moved me was a discussion between Bernie and Hildie speaking of Bernie’s yet-to-be born baby. I loved it for capturing a brother and sister moment as much as for your sensitive portrayal of how betrayal manifests within family dynamics. What did you hope to convey by that scene? Would you say the first book is about forgiveness as much as about the hopes we have as parents and children that sometimes go awry even when we believe we are allowing God to guide us through separations and misunderstandings? What do you hope your readers will take away with them as they finish the series?
FR: I wanted readers to come away from that scene convinced that forgiveness is the high road and the best road to take. We all sin. None of us understands fully what goes on in the mind of someone else. Often we don’t even understand ourselves! And who was the first one to betray in this scene? Hildie had judged and then learned of another side of the situation which gave her new eyes and heart in the matter. Love finds a way to work things out. “Find” is an active verb. I pray readers will find ways to tear down walls and build bridges so they can love one another the way Jesus first loved us.
As to parents and children, very often, we (parents) are so busy wanting to impose our will on our children that we fail to allow God’s will to be done – with them or with us. Pain is a great teacher, and one we avoid at all cost. Christian parents have a high calling to teach Biblical principles and be living examples of what it means to walk with Christ and strive to be like Him. Life reminds us we are “works in process”, too.
Her Mother’s Hope is a story about how love often means sacrifice and we shouldn’t make assumptions about one another. Tough love is tough! And it’s often necessary. What we see is not all there is. My hope is readers will come away wanting to know the “back stories” of family members, and they will be willing to share more of themselves as well.
JK: Her Daughter’s Dream releases next month. What do you hope readers will take away from the conclusion of this story?
FR: Hope. My family is in pain right now, watching someone we love self-destruct. Keeping our eyes on Jesus is an act of will. I cling to the promise that God does not lose anyone who belongs to Him, who has confessed Him as Savior and Lord. But that doesn’t guarantee everything will go perfectly from that day forth. When my mind goes into hyper-drive with doubt and worry (usually at night), I repeat, “I love YOU, Jesus. I trust YOU.” No conditions or limitations. I trust Jesus no matter what circumstances of the moment -- no matter what comes, even if it means death. My work is to believe and keep walking with Jesus. And pray, pray, pray, even when I don’t have words and depend on the Holy Spirit to speak for me. I cannot be someone else’s Holy Spirit. I am not the Redeemer. I can’t save anyone. So I cling to the One who is and can. That’s my hope for readers and the message I want every book I ever right to convey. Cling to Jesus. Follow Him.
JK: Your readers are always hoping for more. What can we look for next?
FR: Something very different from what I have written before! The story that is playing in my mind right now doesn’t fit any genre. It’s allegory, but also fantasy. I have no idea how to write it in a convincing way, but I dream scenes all the time. I “hear” dialogue. And I’m in love with the characters. I had several other ideas, but they dried up like grapes into raisins. So I think this new “thing” is the way I have to go, no matter how impossible it seems.
Her Christian novels have been awarded or nominated for numerous awards including the Rita Award, the Christy Award, the ECPA Gold Medallion, and the Holt Medallion in Honor of Outstanding Literary Talent. In 1997, after winning her third Rita award for Inspirational Fiction, Francine was inducted into the Romance Writers’ of America Hall of Fame. Francine’s novels have been translated into over twenty different languages and she enjoys best-seller status in many foreign countries including Germany, The Netherlands, and South Africa