I am so very honored to have one of my favorite historical fiction authors on the blog, today. Jane Kirkpatrick is an amazing wordsmith and historian. Her books are beautiful passports to days gone by. And today, on the last stop of her blog hop, we are celebrating the release of her latest, Where Lilacs Still Bloom. (Each day this week, a different author has posted a story, interview, or other tidbit about Jane’s new book. If you would like to see the blog hop from the beginning, please visit the first post on Jane Kirkpatrick’s blog: Words of Encouragement. Plus, read my interview to the end to find out how to win flowers for a year!!)
Here’ the story in a nutshell: 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?
What brought the story of Hulda Klager to your attention?
A very persistent and gracious descendant who every year sent me little snippets of information about Hulda Klager and the lilac gardens, inviting me to visit and to tell Hulda’s story. Finally I made the trek and I was enchanted by the garden and the story.
Are you a gardener?
No! Plants pretend to pass out if they think I’m going to buy them in a store so I won’t take them home. I talk to them and encourage them. I have kept a hibiscus alive for nearly 10 years though. My greatest achievement in the plant world. My brother gave it to me so it’s very special.
Hulda had a number of challenges from the river including family illnesses and deaths, along with her own passion for hybridizing. What role do you think her garden played in helping her through those times?
I think the garden gave her a focus with the many losses, something she could do that fully engaged her so the wounds of loss could heal. After the floods, it was a challenge to see if she was still “up to it” so to speak. And she found healing by giving her starts away and by giving bouquets to people. I think she understood that beauty heals and I suspect that as she sat in that garden and savored the scents and beauty that her prayers were filled with both gratitude and requests for strength.
What else about Hulda inspired you?
Dr. Karl Menninger of the famous Menninger psychiatric clinic once wrote that the single most important indicator of a person’s mental health was generosity. “Generous people are rarely mentally ill” he noted and I think that’s quite true. As it happened, it was Hulda’s generosity through the years that ultimately made it possible for her to restart her garden after the devastating flood of 1948 when she was 85 years old. Giving is often a way through a time of sadness in our lives. I think Hulda discovered that. And as a gardener friend of mine once said, as a gardener, one always has something to look forward to which is certainly a survival skill!
Hulda pursued her dream despite the odds that she would not be successful. What do you hope we readers will take away from that?
The first president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel once wrote that hope was the ability “to being something not just because it has a chance to succeed but because it is a good thing to do.” He assured us that it was not the certainty that everything would turn out well but that some things are worth doing regardless of how they turn out. Great social movements have begun with only that slender thread of hope. Hulda had hope and I think how she acted and Mr. Havel’s words can inspire us to pursue dreams we feel God is leading us toward even when those around us are saying “What? Are you nuts?” Crazy for hope, that was Hulda!
What are some of the interesting facts you discovered while researching this book?
That lilacs were imported from Europe (earliest mention in New Hampshire for example is in the 1870s) and not as an agricultural item but as a household plant. They had four petals compared to the hybrids of today with as many as twelve petals. And there was a landscape school for women devoted to teaching garden design etc. in New England as early as 1905 so people were paying attention to ornamentals and not just vegetable gardens. I like the idea that even those hard-working puritan appreciated the beauty of a lilac planted next to the kitchen door.
You write about actual historical people in biographical fiction. What led you to this genre?
I sort of fell into it because I wanted to write a biography of an historical woman and could not find enough information about her. I found the history of her father, brother, husband and if she’d had sons, about them too, I suspect, but almost nothing about her except an obituary that sang her praises and her unique connection to an Indian tribe with whom I was working. I finally decided that much of women’s history is lost to us, their a artifacts such as quilts used up or separated from their makers. A biography tells us what and when but it does not tell us why or what the person might have been thinking. Fiction allow that speculation. Virginia Woolf once wrote that women’s history must be “invented…both uncovered and made up.” That’s what I try to do, so that their stories won’t be lost. I think the genre is popular because real people living through difficult trials inspire us. They act as maps to show us a way and help relieve our fears and anxieties of the unknown. If they can do it…we can.
The title suggests that are places were lilacs have stopped blooming? Is there a subtle message within the title?
It is a metaphorical insight! If I’d left out the “still” it would take away an underlying theme of the story related to perseverance, faith, and the generosity that continues to keep the lilacs blooming in Hulda’s garden but also in the gardens of our hearts.
And now readers, here’s your opportunity to win flowers for a year. Just head over to the WaterBrook Press website where you can enter and also read the first chapter of Jane’s book!
Have a great weekend!