Author Responses, Part Six

This week, Jane Kirkpatrick, author of the Portrait of a Heart series (which includes An Absence So Great: A Novel (Portraits of the Heart) pictured above) gives us insight on going from messed to blessed.

If you could invent a machine that accomplished one single housekeeping task in your home, what would the machine do?

It would automatically go along the cracks between our oak floor boards (lovingly laid by hand but before the wood totally dried so the boards shrunk through the years) and pick up all the dog hairs, dust etc. that accumulates there between vacuum cleanings and kills my back bending over to get them. I have my closest friends agreed that if they outlive me, before the funeral, they’ll come to my house and clean out the cracks so no one will know we lived with such filth.

When you create fictional characters, do you ever deal with their level of housekeeping ability and/or their tolerance for mess? How does that factor into the story as a whole?

Yes! Being overwhelmed by clutter is a good indication of someone’s struggle with “weighty” issues, perhaps avoiding dealing with loss (can’t throw anything away) or feeling unworthy (keeping things and fearing that getting rid of them means getting rid of themselves) and other factors. Of course it’s also a great tension building (The Odd Couple comes to mind) between characters as well.

What's the neatest or messiest character you have ever created, what book did they appear in, and why did you make that creative decision?

For All Together in One Place , I created Adora, an older woman on a wagon train whose husband dies along with the other men on this train. She was very cluttered, messy about her person, too. Her husband had always told her what to do and took care of her and in some ways she was subtly resisting his control by being messy. But after he died, her cleaning up and clearing out became something she wanted to do. She ended up keeping a knife sharpener, though it was very heavy, that she had initially thought they should bring with them. This became her occupation when they reached California, so how her housekeeping (or wagon-keeping) changed was a metaphor for her own changes.

For more about Jane Kirkpatrick, be sure to check out her website.

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