|Where Lilacs Still Bloom |
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One woman, an impossible dream, and the faith it took to see it through.
German immigrant and farm wife Hulda Klager possesses only an eighth-grade education-and a burning desire to create something beautiful. What begins as a hobby to create an easy-peeling apple for her pies becomes Hulda's driving purpose: a time-consuming interest in plant hybridization that puts her at odds with family and community, as she challenges the early twentieth-century expectations for a simple housewife.
Through the years, seasonal floods continually threaten to erase her Woodland, Washington garden and a series of family tragedies cause even Hulda to question her focus. In a time of practicality, can one person's simple gifts of beauty make a difference? Based on the life of Hulda Klager, Where Lilacs Still Bloom is a story of triumph over an impossible dream and the power of a generous heart.
Jane Kirkpatrick is a best-selling author whose novels include the BookSense 76 Selection, A Name of Her Own, Every Fixed Star, and the acclaimed Kinship and Courage series: All Together in One Place, No Eye Can See, and What Once We Loved. Jane is a winner of the Wrangler Award from the Western Heritage Center and National Cowboy Hall of Fame. She is also a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, inspirational retreat leader, and speaker.
Favorite Verse: Proverbs 13:19 "Desire realized is a sweetness to the soul."
Our Interview with Jane Kirkpatrick
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I frequently say that I'm a rancher, writer and rattlesnake fighter. But we've left our ranch after 26 years to be closer to medical care for my husband Jerry (married nearly 36 years) and there aren't any rattlesnakes in this part of Oregon (thankfully!) so I'd say I'm a writer. I'm also a step-mom and step-grandmother.
What was your inspiration to develop Where Lilacs Still Bloom?
Without giving away the story, it was the ending that really inspired me. This simple housewife, married at 16 and having four children fairly close together, never lost her passion for flowers and the propagation of them. But it was her generosity, the way her flowers and her life touched hundreds of others and how that selflessness was returned to her in later life that made me want this story to have a wider audience. Then, there was this descendant who kept telling me this was a great story and I finally listened to her!
Are you passionate about gardening? Lilacs?
I am passionate about lilacs and flowers but I have a purple thumb! Gardening in the high desert region of Oregon where it's dry and can freeze any day of the year has always been a challenge. The best garden I ever had here was when I planted starts after the Fourth of July! When we returned to eastern Oregon we purchased a home that was tended by a master gardener and I have to say I feel blessed every time something new blooms that I didn't know had been planted there!
It's said that the sense of smell brings memory most quickly to our minds. When I smell a lilac, I am returned to my family's farm in Western Wisconsin and the huge lilac bush that grew at the opening to the school yard where I attended a one room school for a year. It was a quarter mile from our farm and now, the acre where the school sat, is all that is left of our family's farm. But the lilac bush continues to bloom each spring. I love the restorative nature of that scent and the promise that comes with each bloom.
Do you live in or near Woodland, Washington where the garden still exists?
We live about four hours from Woodland, Washington which is close enough for me to have traveled there several times while working on the book. The climate zone is very different as it's rainy with occasional snow in the winter and big tall fir trees shadowed by Mount St. Helens and tulips and dahlias and lilacs grow well there. The garden today is still exceptional especially in the spring when the lilacs bloom.
How much research did Where Lilacs Still Bloom take?
Because I'm not a gardener, getting the information about lilacs and flowers right was the most pressing. I had lots of great help with the horticulturists and gardeners at the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens. But I also did a lot of reading about propagation, Hulda's particular methods and what was known about flower and food production at the turn of the century. The International Lilac Society researched and wrote about Hulda some years ago and that article was essential for helping me see just how amazing her work was and how many lilac varieties she propagated -- over 250.
What are the most interesting facts that you learned while researching and writing Where Lilacs Still Bloom?
It fascinated me that in the late 1800s, lilacs had mostly four petals. Now there are lilacs with as many as twelve, which was one of Hulda's goals. I didn't realize that flowers could be bred for scent, color, hardiness as well as the number of petals. I also learned about a landscape architecture school for women established in New England and that many women were engaged in the professional work of designing gardens even though most of the press during that period went to the more famous men. I also learned about arboretum design and maintenance as I explored where Hulda's many lilacs ended up. Garden visiting was also something people did for entertainment in the first and second decade of the last century which made for an interesting part of the story, actually. It's also true that flowers were much more a part of the everyday lives of people and the language of flowers was more universally known and used. Oh, and that you can lure garden slugs into bowls of beer set around the garden. A useful tip, yes?
What are some of the challenges you face as an author?
The biggest challenges for me personally have to do with my emotional state while I'm working on a book. I have to constantly guard against second-guessing myself: was this the story God wanted me to tell? Am I getting in the way of this story? Why did I ever think I could do this story justice? I have a note on the top of my computer that says "You don't have time for that" to remind me that my goal is to tell the story the best way I can and mind mumbling is just a distraction I can't afford. Since most of my novels are based on the lives of actual people I work hard -and worry- about whether I am being faithful to the characters. Then there's the issue of accuracy especially historically but also to the variety of subjects I find myself writing about which when I start out I know almost nothing about. I feel like I need to learn as much as I can about a subject (e.g.propagating lilacs, the Oregon Trail, trapping beaver, etc.) while at the same time realizing I can never do the subject justice. I just hope I don't make myself look foolish nor malign the work of the professionals and family members who assist me in research.
What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?
I love the research. I love writing, getting inside a character's head and seeing where she takes me. I have an idea of where the story will begin and end and what the major events in the story will be but then the characters can take me somewhere else. Since my background is in mental health and counseling, I also enjoy discovering things about myself that I didn't know and more importantly, needed to know to advance my own faith journey. Writing is often like prayer to me and I am never less alone in the world than when I'm writing. It is a spiritual act for me and I'm grateful that I finally paid attention to it in my mid life. Writing is also healing so in many ways, my writing life is an extension of my life as a therapist.
What clubs or organizations are you involved with helping with your writing?
Women Writing the West www.womenwritingthewest.org is a wonderful organization of men and women interested in telling stories of women set in the American west. I had already written my first novel when I discovered them and it was as though I'd found a family. They understood my passion for historical women's stories. We're a wide range of people - academics, professional writers, essayists, poets, people who just love words and stories. WWW sponsors the WILLA Literary award each year and I've been honored to win top awards twice through the years. I'm also a member of the largest writers group in the Northwest, Willamette Writers. That group does so much to help new writers get started and published so it's great to refer people to them. American Christian Fiction Writers I joined a few years ago. They have an active on line presence but I pretty much lurk. I also pay dues to Romance Writers of America and participate in the Faith Hope Love on-line chapter of inspirational writers affiliated with RWA. An on line group, Chi Libris, Christian Fiction writers, has been a mainstay of both faith support and writing support and I encounter many of those same people at ACFW and FHL list serves. I also co-teach with columnist and writer Bob Welch each year at a writing weekend called Beachside Writers. I really get as much from the attendees as they say they get from me!
What new projects are on the horizon?
When people ask me the favorite book I've written I always say "the one I'm working on now" and that's the truth! One Glorious Ambition is the working title of my historical novel coming out in 2013 and it's the story of a remarkable woman of the early 1800s who single-handed, really, changed the way the mentally ill were treated in our country. She also influenced treatment in Europe and Scotland which is remarkable considering that as a woman in the 1840 and 1850s she was not allowed to testify at government hearings or anything like that. Yet she wrote legislation, used her personal influences to raise funds for hospitals and tried to live her life faithfully. Her name was Dorothea Dix and one of the things about her that fascinates me is that despite influencing the lives of thousands, she never really felt that she'd accomplished God's will for her life. So there is a sadness there. I think it's an interesting exploration of what we'd today call "successful people" the outliers, if you will, and my wondering how many of them actually "feel successful" and what is it that gets in the way of that discovery. I'm hoping this character will tell me more about what Paul Tillich once wrote, that real courage is having "the courage to accept acceptance."
What message would you like your readers to take from reading Where Lilacs Still Bloom?
A line in a poem by David Whyte reads "I am thinking of faith now...and what we feel we are worthy of in this world." Hulda Klager is a woman who inspires accepting what we are worthy of, using God's gifts in ways that serve others and that allow us to experience the joy of God's love as shown through those gifts he gives. I hope readers will celebrate their own gifts whatever those may be and nourish them to serve others and enrich their own lives abundantly.
What were your favorite books as a child?
The Laura Ingles Wilder series, books that probably enabled me to take the risk of building a homestead in a remote part of Oregon. I also loved the picture Bible that I think Golden Books published. The images and the stories seeped inside and never left. I still find myself in the children's sections of bookstores, buying books for my great nieces and nephews...and keeping a few for myself.
What is your greatest achievement?
Doing fifth grade math as a volunteer at our local middle school! Well, that and asking a friend I worked with on the Indian reservation if I could be her birthing partner. She said yes and being there to help deliver that baby (17 years ago now!) as she arrived into this world was a singular accomplishment for me. In part because I had the courage to ask for something I believed would bring me great joy (which it did!); and because at the moment I cut the cord to hand her to her mother I remembered to do the greatest thing I could for that child and that was to pray for her and her future. I also got my pilot's license which considering how un mechanical I am, is a real achievement.
What do you do to get away from it all?
We love to travel. On a daily basis, I take my two dogs for a walk, check out the pond area and watch the birds bathe themselves. I read. When the writing is tough, I promise myself that if I stick with it and finish that chapter I will reward myself with a chapter in a Sandra Byrd or Erin Healy book. And once a week, I buy fresh cut flowers for the dining room table and inhale their scents.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Only that I feel very humbled to have been engaged in two professions that inspire the lives of others: counseling and writing inspirational novels. I'm grateful.