Jan Karon is a writer whom I have admired for a long time. She is the creator of the very popular Mitford series set in a fictionalized Blowing Rock, NC. Her books have been staples on the New York Times Best Sellers List. But little did I know that she was the aunt of my friend Sheridan Hill, or that I would meet her and introduce her to a room full of residents of the Women’s Prison. But I did both last night!
Our Quaker Meeting hosts a dinner each year for the women when they have completed a hard day of service in the Black Mountain community. I made a chicken dish because I remember how much my students in juvie loved chicken. Sadly, the women had been fed a chicken lunch earlier in the day and seemed dissatisfied with having chicken again. Luckily others from the Meeting had prepared some yummy vegetable dishes that the guests enjoyed.
The clear hit of the evening, though, was the guest appearance of Jan Karon who dropped in and spoke with the crowd and gave a box of her novels to the staff member of the prison, who promised to process the books and get them into the prison library. Karon, looking elegant in a white pant suit and metallic gold shoes, told the guests that she had known when she was ten years old that she would be an author someday. She worked in advertising for years until she decided to try writing for a living. The problem was she couldn’t think of what to write about. Sitting in her yard one day, though, she had a vision of a short, balding vicar walking down the street, and the Mitford series was born.
The wheels in my brain began turning. Small North Carolina mountain town, unexpected main character…I could do this! Lately Black Mountain, my own small mountain town (which I would call by its former name, Grey Eagle, in my intended story), has been experiencing some dramatic social upsets, which I could weave into the narrative. One of our newly elected town officials might resign because he is alleged to have assaulted a woman, and our town manager just up and quit yesterday, out of the blue. Also, a local bad boy got into a fight with his grown son the other night and dropped dead.
The question remains, which unlikely person in Black Mountain could I cast as the main character? It could be Bobby, the charming alcoholic panhandler who doesn’t understand the concept of boundaries, and hugs unsuspecting women tourists. He is a common fixture on the streets of Black Mountain, playing his guitar and laughing loudly, smelling like a Dempsey Dumpster. He often comes into the shop and calls me Mom, which startles shoppers in the store. I say a silent prayer of thanks each time that he is not actually my son. He is always looking for a girlfriend, but doesn’t have a whole lot to offer, as he lives somewhere in the woods. in my narrative, I could have him get a dog and meet a sweet church-going woman and watch his life change a la Mitford.
Or perhaps I can pattern my protagonist on Johnny, a local shopkeeper who wears pearls and drop earrings and a cowboy hat and drives a big dually diesel pick-up truck. I could hook him up with either a hooker or a lumberjack. I could take my pick. That might open up more possibilities for a good story.
Maybe I should just bring back Lorraine, the main character of my ramblings at 44 Cherry Street. Just because Karon started with a male character doesn’t mean I have to. Lorraine is way more entertaining than a chubby vicar. Just recently she went on the Whole 30 Diet to lose enough weight to be able to fit into her new $1000 collection of Eileen Fisher clothes. Like me, she uses retail therapy to sooth her feelings of frustration, anxiety, depression, exasperation, or even boredom. Or to celebrate. Also like me, she is struggling with the no-alcohol part of the diet. We both love a little glass of wine after work in the evening. And we both love to shop.
Clearly, Black Mt. offers enough material for a best-selling series. Perhaps I should get started. Feedback, please, on where I should start!