Christian author Jan Karon is taking her genre
of spiritual fiction to places such works dont often gothe top of secular
best-sellers charts. More importantly, her success represents her ability to share
gospel truth with an audience in search of spiritual answers.
Two of Karons
Mitford booksfour novels about a fictitious town in the North Carolina
mountainshave reached the No. 5 spot on the New York Times Bestseller List. They are
At Home in Mitford (Penguin) and Out to Canaan (Viking).
Thats quite an achievement for fiction that openly quotes Scripture; espouses a
moral, Christian way of life; and contains at least one story of a conversion.
Speaking recently at a function sponsored by the Richmond Womens Club, Karon told
jokes, talked about writing her first novel at age 10 and recalled the whipping her
grandmother gave her for the single curse word it contained.
She also read from her account of Buck Lepers surrender to Jesus. Leper, a
profane, alcoholic construction worker, is a familiar character in Karons novels.
She said she wanted to be sure each woman present knew how to give her life to Jesus.
Ten years ago, Karon was a highly successful advertising executive living and working
in Raleigh, N.C.
"I was working myself to a frazzle in a career I never wanted and never
enjoyed," Karon said. "I was desperate to get out."
For years she had sensed God calling her to write, but she couldnt imagine
leaving the financial security of her advertising career. At 51, Karon was single with a
grown daughter and had only eight years of formal education. She was vice president of the
ad agency, having worked her way to the top from a receptionists job she landed at
"I didnt know how to leave advertising," she said. For two years, she
asked the Lord to show her how.
"When I left advertising, I cut my lifestyle in half," she recalled. "No
one was writing me a check. No one was paying my health benefits. Nothing. It was the Lord
Karon took her brother up on an offer to move in with his family in Blowing Rock, N.C.
a village in the Blue Ridge Mountains, until she regained financial stability. She fell in
love with the town, she said, and thought she knew what she was supposed to write, but it
Her struggle became a crisis of faith, she said. In desperation she told God: "I
cant do it. Im doomed. Im going down with this ship."
She said the Lord gave her a simple reply: "Dont look back."
Karon said a few days later she was lying in bed when the Lord gave her "a simple
mental image of a priest walking down the street. He was met by a black dog the size of a
Buick. It was Father Tim and Barnabas."
Karon wrote what she saw. "I started on faith, and I marched on faith for the next
two or three years."
She still wasnt sure what she was writing. In time, she approached Jerry Burns,
editor of The Blowing Rocket, a local newspaper. He agreed to run a half-page a week of
Karons work. It ran for two years.
People in Blowing Rocka small town much like Mitfordwere hooked. Residents
would stop Karon at the post office to say, "Youd better find Barnabas!"
Her payment was a free copy of the newspaper, which sold for 10 cents.
After Karon had written 170,000 words, she started sending the manuscript to
publishers. It was a formidable stack of typewritten sheets more than 2 inches thick.
Lion, a Christian publisher, bought the book and published it in 1994. They had very
little distribution so Karon put her advertising background to work and began distributing
her own book. She called booksellers, faxed press releases, and traveled to womens
clubs, libraries and book signings.
Today Karon again keeps a busy pace. She has a contract for three more Mitford novels,
a novella about Father Tims wedding and a cookbook.
In January 1998, Augsburg released Karons first childrens book, Miss
Fannies Hat, a story about her Bible-reading grandmother. After 10 days the book was
already in its second printing and has recently gone into a third.
Karon continues to follow the instructions the Lord gave her when she struggled to
leave her high-pressure career in ad sales: "God just spoke to my heart and said,
Walk. I am with you, and I will never leave you. And I did."