Friday, November 11, 2005

Karon's Father Tim to leave 'Mitford'
By Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY

Best-selling author Jan Karon, 68, is closing the book on her popular Mitford series, with the ninth, Light from Heaven (Viking, $26.95), out this week.

I have no more stories to tell about Mitford," she says of the novels that chronicle the escapades of the affable Episcopal priest Father Tim Kavanagh in the charming village of Mitford, N.C.

There are 25 million copies of her 15 books in print, including two children's books. Her work, which has Christian overtones, has a devout following.

Although it was time to leave Mitford, Karon won't leave Father Tim behind. She'll continue to track the life of the 70-year-old priest in three new books, called the Father Tim Novels, launching in fall 2007.

"I'll go straight from this series into another, which is rather like having a baby on Saturday night and waking up pregnant on Sunday morning," she says, laughing.

In the first novel, Father Tim will return to his hometown of Holly Springs, Miss. "He's going to learn something that will change his life forever."

The next two will take him to Ireland, then to England. But throughout, he'll be in touch with people in Mitford by e-mail and cellphone so that readers "will know of any significant happenings," she says.

Karon thinks Father Tim has helped redeem the tarnished reputation clergy have gotten in novels.

"Ever since Elmer Gantry was published in 1927, we have had very dark clergy in literature," she says. "They've been melancholy, depraved, greedy, godless, grasping. They've been the most miserable creatures. I wanted to show there are also wonderful, God-loving clergy out there."

Karon weaves parts of her own life into her books. She's an Episcopalian who, until a few years ago, lived in the Appalachian Mountain town of Blowing Rock, N.C., which is similar to the fictional town of Mitford. She now lives on a farm outside Charlottesville, Va.

Like Father Tim, Karon is ready to travel and slow down. "I want to enjoy all that God has given me."

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