The latest historical novel from New York Times bestselling author Jane Kirkpatrick is All She Left Behind (Revell), based on true events. In late 19th-century Oregon, young mother Jennie Pickett faces an uphill battle as she pursues her dream of becoming a doctor. In this exclusive Q&A, Jane shares fascinating facts from the true story that inspired the novel, why she loves writing about strong women, and how her own faith is reflected in this intriguing drama.
Tell us a little about All She Left Behind.
It’s a book I’ve been thinking about for 20 years. Jennie is so little known, in part because her husband was so prominent, but she made a difference in her own right. She wanted to be a doctor but it was a long journey of overcoming challenges before she hung out her shingle, working with women and children.
Why did you decide to write about the life of Jennie Pickett?
When I learned that she was one of the first women to graduate from a medical college in Oregon I was intrigued. As I explored more, I realized she attended college after she was the mother of three children! This was highly unusual for a woman, let alone a wife and mother. I wondered how that dream was nurtured through the years and how she overcame the barriers.
You generally write stories about strong women of the West. Why and when did you decide to start writing about these women?
Way back in 1995! I always loved biographies but there weren’t many written about women. Then I learned about this fascinating woman who lived and worked with an Indian tribe that I also lived and worked with. I couldn’t find information about her—only her husband, brother, and father, and if she had sons, I know I’d have learned of them too. But women’s history is often lost.
Because I couldn’t find letters or journals or newspaper accounts, I thought of her life as “reflected” in the lives of the men who surrounded her. I interviewed descendants of both the tribe and her and began to piece together a remarkable life. I knew I’d need fiction to discover who she really was—and who so many women were whose history must be as Virginia Woolf said, “both invented and made up.” It turns out these lost women were both strong and courageous in their ordinary days and are inspirational for our lives today.
What was the most interesting thing you learned while researching Jennie Pickett’s life? The degree to which alcohol use and abuse damaged the lives of settlers, and how women and children were especially negatively affected. I also found it interesting that medical students usually “read” with a physician for a year or more before attempting to enroll in medical school, which was usually two years long followed by a year of surgery study, usually back east. Becoming a pastor—which Jennie’s husband was—took six or seven years, but perhaps work with the soul is more complicated than work with the body. At least Jennie thought so.
What lesson(s) do you hope readers will take away from reading your book?
That some things are worth doing regardless of how they turn out. And also that even though we may not heal the troubles in our own family, that should not deter us from following God’s call in our lives to work to heal the lives of others.
In what way would you say your faith is worked into the book?
As a former mental health professional whose family struggled with substance abuse and other family challenges, I often thought I “should” be able to fix things; after all, I’m trained! But my faith tells me that I can only do what I’m called to do, and God provides the healing. I think Jennie came to understand that as well.
A second insight came with the realization that Jennie didn’t practice very long, but that does not negate the power of the influence she had in part because she listened to that call and followed it. In my own life, I took a risk because I thought God was asking me to do something that didn’t seem realistic. And my life changed forever because I trusted. It was stepping out onto a cloud of faith believing I wouldn’t fall through. Jennie’s journey reminds me of that faith.
What are you working on next?
It’s the story of yet another fascinating woman, Carrie Strahorn. She came from a wealthy family and married a printer who then took her from Illinois to the wilds of the West. Together they traveled fifteen thousand miles by stage on behalf of the railroad to identify potential town sites and promote land buying to populate those seemingly remote places.
She wrote a memoir, and it was the happy-happy presentation of those adventures that intrigued me because there must have been some rough times. I’ve ridden in a stage, and it is not pleasant! So, what was really going on between the lines? That’s my working title: Between the Lines. I wanted to explore their relationship and what eventually was the triumph of her life.
How can readers connect with you?
Visit me at www.jkbooks.com and contact me there. Also, please sign up for my monthly e-newsletter, called “Story Sparks,” which contains words of encouragement. I’m also on Facebook and Twitter, though I confess I’m more active on the former than the latter. I also lead retreats, speak at various events around the country, and would love to meet readers face to face. My schedule on the website will tell people where I’ll be next. Thank you so much for your interest!