With more than 75 books written and more than 23 million copies sold, Janette Oke is one of the most prolific writers of Christian fiction. Her stories set in earlier historical times still reach the hearts of readers today because they can identify with the emotions experienced by her characters. 6 of the 8 books in her Love Comes Softly series have been made into films which promise to be as popular as her books.
I had a few moments to talk with Janette about her books, the inspiration for her stories and her personal faith. She's a very gracious and kind lady whose husband and sons were the models for many of the male characters in her books.
CC.com: What inspires you – where did the idea for the series come from?
Janette: It’s a little hard to pinpoint. For a writer, ideas come from everywhere and you never know when one’s going to catch you by surprise. For that particular series, I went way back in my own personal history.
About 250 years ago, when my forefathers were in Eastern Canada, they were part of a little group of new settlers. The first winter came and a supply ship that was due did not come in. Over the winter, a number of people did not survive. Immediately there was the formation of new family units in order to survive.
It made me wonder, with the opening of the west, they must have faced the same problem. It was a very harsh world, and oftentimes you would lose your mate. Then what do you do? These pioneer women had come out west and lost their husbands. There was usually no way home. What were their resources? What were they to do?
This sparked the idea about a young woman being left on her own. Of course, often what resulted was a marriage of convenience. It was really the only way you could continue on with life. So that was the beginning spark.
From there, I lived with the characters for several months while designing the book mentally. I began to live through these characters; the life that perhaps would have taken place in such a situation.
CC.com: When you look at today’s society, do you think there are people who embody the characteristics of the characters in your books?
Janette: Yes. I still live in a farming community in Western Canada, and I believe much of that is still reflected. Perhaps in the larger cities it would be shown a different way. But all through the ages of mankind, the basic needs are still there for every individual.
We all have the need of belonging, being loved, beyond the physical food, clothes, and shelter. We’re still that basic human package with personal needs. Our situations differ that’s the only change. So I feel readers today can relate maybe not to the incidents, but to the emotions.
CC.com: Do you strongly identify with one of the characters? Feel a kinship with them?
Janette: Each character is a compilation of many individuals I know. I can rather see in Marty many characteristics of my own grandmother. She’s a solid, wonderful giving woman. I think the thing that is a little different for me in my books is the male characters.
I was a daddy’s girl and was blessed with super brothers. I have a wonderful husband and 3 sons that take care of me. So to me the men in my life have been very important and strong, and someone to really lean on. They make you feel good about yourself by caring for you. So I was trying to show this strong man who was committed to this needy woman. She certainly was in need at this particular time.
He’s still going through hurts of his own after losing his own wife, so it takes some time for him to get past that. It was a commitment more than an attraction that drew these two people together. Of course it developed into a very strong love relationship, but that took time.
So probably in writing these books I was thinking more of the male characters than the female. I wanted to present that kind of man, because a lot of women are looking for that kind of man. In fact, they write me asking, “Where can I find Clark?”
I had another reader who wrote and asked me for the names and addresses of Royal Canadian Mounted Policemen, because I had featured some in another series.
I think that the male character is very important, and that there are still some of them out there. I got one.
CC.com: Your books (and the films) are filled with your faith. Did you grow up in a Christian home?
Janette: I did. I had a wonderful Christian mother. My father was a very moral man, but it wasn’t until close to his death that he accepted a personal faith of his own. But my mother raised us in the faith, and he always supported her in that. So of course that was very important to me.
My personal faith does reflect in my writing, and I hope it reflects in my entire life. I feel it is very important particularly in our world where things don’t go the way we want them to. I look at our world today, and it’s kind of on shaky ground in many areas. I feel it’s very important to have that solid faith, and I don’t know what I would do without it.
We’ve had some very tragic things to deal with in our personal lives over the years, and that’s the thing that holds us steady.
CC.com: Can you tell us about your family?
Janette: We have 3 sons, 1 daughter and 16 grandchildren. We lost one as a 2 1/2-month old baby to SIDS, so now we have 15. Two of them are adopted from Russia, and are a wonderful addition to the family. My husband and I have been married 50 years.
CC.com: What do you like to do to relax?
Janette: Of course read. I enjoy flower gardening now. I don’t do very much with vegetables any more, but really enjoy the flowers. Of course, I’m very involved in our church, and that takes a lot of time.
My very favorite thing is family events. 3 of our 4 children live in Indiana, so it means a little bit of traveling. It’s wonderful to spend time with family.
CC.com: What are other destinations do you enjoy traveling to?
Janette: We have done quite a bit of traveling. The biggest portion has been with cruises. I think we’ve taken 10 cruising trips. For our 50th celebration, we took a cruise that started out in New Zealand and ended up in Japan. It was wonderful to visit all those different countries and experience the different cultures.