September 2020 Story Sparks

When I was about four years old, my parents got a television. It was the size of a washing machine though the screen was not much bigger than an IPad. Programming was limited and started at 6:00 pm. I think it ended at 10:00 pm or maybe midnight with the playing of the National Anthem, flags flying across the screen as though in a sturdy wind. Snow filled the screen after that until sometime in the morning when the test pattern reappeared. In black and white, it was there to assure people that their TV was receiving the proper signal.

The programming that I patiently waited for at 6:00 pm was a puppet show called “Wee Willie.” I loved that show. I can still hear the theme song…I digress. Because I loved puppets, I would sit in front of the test pattern and wait. Sometimes the pattern would shake a little and I’d run into the kitchen or out to the barn alerting my parents with, “It’s coming on! It’s coming on!” My mom would look at her watch and say, “No, it’s only 4 O’clock. You have to wait.” It was the best baby-sitting tool going. I watched for hours. Apparently, I wasn’t alone.

Fifteen years later, at the University of Wisconsin in a class on Communications and the Media, all about advertising and changing people’s minds, I learned that a study had been done related to that test pattern. I love studies (especially about using rats. Did you know that even old rats when given new mazes to learn, actually grow new brain cells? They do! Very reassuring as I evolve into my old-rat years. I digress.)

The study indicated that the brain likes patterns and that patterns can be used to shape peoples’ emotions and behavior. It’s why we can read sentences that are missing words. Our brain fills them. A child’s brain is especially tuned to patterns, apparently, which is why structure and routine are so critical and why current uncertainties about school re-openings are so devastating to children, teachers, families and communities. Our brains are wired to make sense of things and often that relies on a pattern from past experience. Which is why, I think, so many of us now are struggling: anxious, edgy, living with uncertainty.

Our little city of Bend, Oregon, is growing so the usual routes I take to the hospital or the post office are thwarted. Because of construction, I’ve had to find new routes – create new patterns. I would venture to say everyone of us has had to do something similar during this time. And even though I know I can’t get to a certain place in the old way, I often turn anyway only to meet the detour sign. For me, that’s been one of the lessons of this pandemic. To survive it, I have to let go of the old patterns in order to reduce frustration, lost time, anxiety and distress.

To take a page from our pastor’s recent message on Peacemaking (as in “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God…”).  Peacemaking is about changing the pattern to move toward something more than the absence of conflict (or anxiety, or despair) or merely surviving. Peacemaking is about flourishing. I want my neighbors to flourish, too, to live without conflict or distress. I don’t want this to be a test pattern time where we sit and wait, anticipating now and then that it’s about to get better but then it doesn’t and I can hear my mom say, “You have to wait.”

So, what can I do? Stop watching that test pattern and start making new ones that can bring comfort and encouragement. I started a gratitude list, writing down three things I’m grateful for each day. I’m re-reading books on creativity. I used to get up at 4:00am to write; I’m giving myself until 6:00am or even later sometimes – breaking a pattern. New spurts of creativity have emerged. Jerry and I are binge-watching “Silent Witness” a BBC production about forensic pathologists. There are 23 seasons! We do two episodes a night. Not every night – that would be a pattern too hard to stick with. We bought an Instant Pot and I’m exploring how to do virtual events so I’m learning new languages. I’m reaching out to my neighbors but with a new pattern: more hand-written letters and phone calls; fewer emails. Giving food away.

I hope you’ll look for those patterns that are frustrating and instead of just waiting for it to change, seek one that moves you closer toward anticipating the “Wee Willie’s” of your life, when these trying times are past. The signal is still coming through.


New Release!

It’s happening! Something Worth Doing by yours truly, will be released September 3, 2020. It’s timely as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of women receiving full citizenship and being able to vote. (I must note here that African American women and Native American women did not receive the vote until 1962, so it is white women’s suffrage we are celebrating.) It’s the story of a Northwest icon, Abigail Scott Duniway, an early suffragist who was also a wife, mother of six, sister (to a competitive brother who edited The Oregonian, a rival newspaper to Abigail’s The New Northwest), author of 20 books and who traveled around the country giving speeches on behalf of women’s rights. Her efforts did assist all women in getting laws changed that granted women the right to own property and run for school boards, but it was the vote that drove her life. For me, it was writing a family story more than suffrage, because even back in the 1850s, Abigail struggled with being a good wife and mother and still pursuing a passion. Getting women the vote was something worth doing…no matter how it turned out.

As part of the promotion, I was asked by More to Life, a national magazine, to write about how my character in Something Worth Doing intersects with my own life. For those who might like to see what I wrote, here is the link. I also hope you’ll visit my website’s Works page and click on the book cover to read a few more insights about this title. Thank you!


A Homestead Tickler

Years ago I worked with a screenwriter on my memoir Homestead. It didn’t go anywhere. But last week, I heard from that screenwriter and he is now an independent film maker – in addition to writing scripts. We had some good chats and he may option Homestead. He said he thinks the time for inspirational stories is now and our story he remembered for nearly thirty years. I’m not holding my breath…but wouldn’t it be fun?


Holy Cow Chips! – What a Review!

I try not to pay attention to reviews – neither good nor bad. But I do love it when readers post reviews on BookBub or Goodreads or their blogs. Professional reviews are important especially for library sales and for bookstores. A starred review in Booklist or Publisher’s Weekly or Kirkus can mean much in sales and during times when I’m not “out there” at events, they may take on even more weight. I don’t look for them; the publicist from Revell, my publisher, sends them to me and marketing makes up graphics to go with them. I should ask if they only send me the good ones…assuming there are less than stellar ones too. But hey, why seek misery. I’d rather say “Holy cow chips, I got a starred review!” Which I did in Booklist. Here’s another stellar quote from one: “Kirkpatrick has a wonderful voice in historical fiction. The stories that she creates are out of this world! . . . This book definitely deserves more than 5 stars!” Read the entire review here. (I actually read this one!) Sometimes I can respond to reviewers and I’ve made a life-long friend of one from Pennsylvania who came with her husband one year and visited our ranch. Holy cow chips, as Abigail says in my novel, I hope you’ll write a review!


Jane’s Calendar

I’m hoping to keep you abreast of virtual events and the websites or links where you can view the recordings. I’m scheduled not only to talk about the new book, but past titles as well. As we adjust to this new pattern of book promotion, I hope you’ll continue to find me and keep track for when I venture out into what we know will one day be a Covid-19 free world.

September 3 – 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm  – Books in Common: Jane Kirkpatrick & Greg Nokes (Follow the link to read more and participate!)


Book Group in a Covid World

Last week I had my first facemask to facemask book group gathering, my first non-zoom event since November. I’ve been concerned about bringing Covid home to Jerry. He’s doing well; cancer is still in remission; the asthma and emphysema is under control; and we are trying new medication for his persistent and severe back pain from his 13 compression fractures. He drew a deer tag so is making plans for October. Oh my! But he said “go ahead” to the book group.

Twelve of us, met at a church, each person with their own disinfected table and bottle of water, with hand sanitizer everywhere. And everyone wearing a mask including me. We all had, I think, a flourishing afternoon. It’s a new pattern.

Now is a really good time to read a good book! I happen to know of a few, and not just my own. You can visit my archived Story Sparks and read my Word Whisperings recommendations or go to Bookbub to see books I recommend.  Thanks for your patience.


Word Whisperings

Lillian’s Legacy: Gardner Sibling Legacy
by Carmen Peone

Willa Cather once wrote that the stories that engage writers (and I think readers) are based on experiences we had “before we turned fifteen.” She added that the emotions that drive those stories are “passion and betrayal.” I’d add two more: acceptance and forgiveness. Award-winning writer Carmen Peone’s latest novel captures all of those emotions. Some of the best writing being done today I think are those who write for children and Young Adults. I was struck by the great pace of this story, the twists and turns in plots. (I won’t spoil it, but I did gasp at one point, I was so unprepared for it and yet it was so right!), character development and perhaps most intriguing is that it is a coming of age story that speaks to someone of any age trying to find their way in a changing world. Boy, can’t we benefit from that wisdom! Carmen is a Northwest writer and she’s captured the landscape of Eastern Washington and the areas around the Colville Confederated Indian Reservation where Carmen lives. She wove interesting tidbits of natural healing remedies as well as Welch ones. I think Lillian would have enjoyed Jennie Picket Parrish of All She Left Behind. I think you’ll enjoy this splendid novel meant for all ages.

And Finally…

Years ago, an Indian elder told me that before he went into a healing ceremony, he would ask the ill person three questions. The answers would tell him how far from health that person had fallen. The three questions are: When was the last time you sang? When was the last time you danced? When was the last time you told your story? At this link are a series of film dancers performing to the music of “Footloose.” If you can not dance around your kitchen or your office as you listen to this, I’d like to hear about it! I danced beside our stove to the wondering eyes of our Cavalier spaniel, Caesar. It will make your day and maybe, begin a new pattern of dancing while the pressure cooker, cooks and the world asks us to care for each other and our neighbors as a part of our legacies. Here’s to being well.

And one last thing. In thinking about new patterns, look for a special edition of Story Sparks coming this next week. It’s a story/essay of my civil rights activism and is a commentary on the current unrest.  I just couldn’t stay silent, but I didn’t want to blindside you. If you’ve had enough of politics in this current climate, just delete it.

Thanks for reading Story Sparks.