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Talking with Jan Karon

As author of the popular Mitford books, Jan Karon enjoys writing about the familiar and the ordinary. Her novel series features lead character Father Tim and a cast of heartwarming characters who live in the mountain town of Mitford, North Carolina. “I never take my readers far from home,” she says. “We don’t go to Alaskan outposts or Italian villas or the French Riviera in the Mitford books—we hang out in somebody’s kitchen or go to the grill down the block or make a tomato sandwich and eat it standing up at the sink.” Karon writes this way “so that my readers can fully participate in what’s going on in the story.

“The most important element of telling a good story is to tell it from the heart,” Karon says. She believes that her strongest gift as a storyteller is her focus on characterization. “In the type of books I write, authenticity is everything. My characters have universal feelings and attitudes; they are completely recog-nizable as ourselves or our friends and family, something that inspires trust and comfort in the reader.”

Karon herself has been “in the recording booth” narrating her own audiobooks. But first comes the task of the abridgment, a “necessary evil” that Karon calls “a nightmare. As an author, taking a book from 105,000 words to 28,000 words feels like the bloodiest sort of butcher job for both the abridger and the author. Nobody wins—not even the listener.”

With respect to the joys of recording, Karon says, “I happen to love a microphone and love to read and tell stories. So the actual production of the audiobook is a real delight. It’s challenging to keep the different voices and characters separate and individual. One cannot simply hide behind one’s Southern accent.” But Karon is the first to admit that recording one’s own work can also have some real handicaps. “Let’s say I’ve just finished a book and am exhausted in every regard. Close on the heels of the interminable proofs and galleys comes the first draft of the abridgment. After one recovers from the shock of what has been done therein, one must plunge in and clean it up. Then comes another draft and the same process. Then one must get on a plane and fly to New York and go into the recording studio for two or three days and get food poisoning from the chicken salad delivered by the deli down the street. It’s too much!”

For these reasons, the pleasure of recording Karon’s books has lately been turned over to narrator John McDonough. Karon has listened to McDonough’s readings and often receives “ardent fan mail” for him. “I like having a man read these stories. John brings a certain tenderness of spirit and loving concern for the people of Mitford. It’s clear that he ‘gets’ my work.”

As a listener, Karon recently enjoyed Dana Ivey’s narration of O PIONEERS!, and she’s currently listening to the Penguin version of MIDDLEMARCH. “I do buy audiobooks and think they’re marvelous in every way.”

APR/MAY 01
© AudioFile 2001, Portland, Maine


Photo © John Earle

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