Janette Oke: An interview with the writer who could not write just one book

by Edwin L. Carpenter, Editor – The Dove Foundation

Janette OkeJanette Oke, the creative mastermind behind the “Love Comes Softly” series spoke with The Dove Foundation a short time ago about her success and years of working in the faith and family market as an inspirational author. We began the interview by asking Janette if her “Love Comes Softly” novel was planned as a series of stories, or as one tale.

“I thought it was a single book story,” she said. “I probably wouldn’t have even thought of a series if the readers hadn’t been asking what happens next. The publishing house talked it over with me and we decided maybe we should do a second book and they just kept coming” she chuckled.

We asked her how many novels yet remained to be filmed. “They’re up to book number six. Initially I stopped with book number eight and then the readers were still wanting to know what happened next—we added another four!”

So there are several others which could be filmed?

“Could be, if they should decide to go that route. We would continue on with the story of a granddaughter, but Clark and Marty are still very much a part of her life as well.”

Janette Oke (pronounced “oak”) was born during the depression years to a prairie farmer and his wife in Champion, Alberta. Janette graduated from Mountain View Bible College in Didsbury, Alberta where she met Edward, her future husband. The two were married in May of 1957 and together pastored churches in Calgary and Edmonton, Canada, and in Indiana. Edward eventually became president of Mountain View Bible College. They have three sons, including twins, and a daughter. Devoted to her family, Janette has said, “There is no higher honor or greater task given to any woman than being a homemaker. That is my number one priority.”

Michael Landon Jr.We asked Janette how she felt overall about the conversions of the books to films and if she were pleased with the end results. “Well, I will go back to number one,” she replied. “To begin with I was very pleased to hear that it would be Michael Landon Jr. doing the books. I felt that with his background he would understand what I was trying to do. I knew that the stories would have to change as it was filmed. For one thing I could cover a lot more characters and a lot more time frames in the length of a book than he would be able to do in a movie. He also had to change the age of the child Missy because it would have been almost impossible to work with a two-year old like I could in my story.  So that meant a lot of initial change right there, but I was very pleased with what he did, the content that he did keep from the book, the feel of the story. I felt he presented the heart of the book in a very good way. So I was very pleased with what he did.”

“As they have gone through the series the story has traveled a different track than the books have. An author expects that will have to happen. It makes it a little hard when my readers say to me, ‘Well, I just watched movie number four, now I want the next book that follows it because it’s a different story.”

So they have kept the spirit of the books at least, especially in the beginning? Dove asked.

“I do think they have done a remarkable job in keeping that even in the story as it has changed–they’ve still kept the feel,” she replied.

We asked Janette if she thought the various actresses who have portrayed Missy have each brought something of her character from the books to the screen. “I’ve had no problem with any of them. Of course when a writer births a story and I will use that term, you have your own image of who the characters are.  So it means a judgment but I have had no problem with any of the characters. I think they have picked some very good actors. I think it is very important for a writer who has had work published—if it is going to film—you need to make up your mind before you ever take a look at it that it’s going to be a different product. If you go into it with the expectation that they’re going to put my images on film, on the screen, it can be upsetting because it’s going to change so you have to realize, ‘Ok, am I going to like it for what it is?’ And I have been able to do that.”

On the other side of the coin we asked Janette if there were scenes or snippets in the film which were, conversely, very much like what she had written in her novels. “Oh yes,” she resoundingly responded, “definitely. As I say, the feel is there. I can get into it and appreciate it for what it is and I do see a lot of my books and a lot of my characters reflected in what they’re doing.”

We wanted to know if she felt the same satisfaction in seeing a DVD of a movie based on her book on one of her shelves, or if it was a different kind of feeling. “It is different,” she said. “It’s a little unreal. It’s a little hard for me to connect with. I look at it and I say, ‘Oh, my mom or dad would have been very proud had they still been with us,’ and I think I see it more through their eyes than my own.”

We asked Janette if a character or one of her stories had ever taken a big detour in her process of writing and she responded, “That’s an interesting question. I’ve never thought of it before and I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything at this point that I felt was a detour. I think most of it had stayed pretty true to what I intended. I do a lot of thinking and working with my characters and my story mentally before I begin to write. And I also write out quite a careful chapter by chapter outline. I don’t remember anytime that there’s been much of a change. Now you have to allow for a bit of a change, but I can’t think of anything that would have been major.”

Love's Unending Legacy StillAs we wound down in the interview with Janette we asked her if there was anything about herself that might surprise our readers. She said she thought most of the facts about her are already known. “I was born on the Canadian prairie. I was actually born at home. This sounds really like old, old west. I was born in a little log house. The doctor came out to our place to deliver me. So it sounds really, really old fashioned. I went to a one room country school. So a lot of what I write, it’s very much a part of my background–as a teenager, and even younger than that, I was very into the west and the pioneer days. So I read everything I could find on the pioneers. I felt they were a very hearty group of people with a lot of bravery to come out and start making a life on a new frontier. Our Canadian west opened up quite a bit different than the stories that I was reading, which were basically westerns from the U.S. side of the border, in that we had the Northwest Mounted Police—they were at that time—and basically precede the settlers.”

“We never had the cowboy and Indian skirmishes and the unsettled west for them to come in. We never had sheriffs in Canada. We have had what is now the RCMP, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and so our pioneers came out to a rather settled area as far as the laws were concerned and oftentimes there were groups of people that sort of came together from a united background, and if you look at our small town around our area and find the oldest church you can pretty well say, ‘Well, that group of settlers came from Germany’, ‘That group of settlers came from Sweden’, you know. By the oldest church there you can pretty well identify it, so these people came west with deep, personal faith. That changed the whole color of how our west was settled.”

Janette said she believes God has honored her work, which is set within a solid Christian context.  We asked Janette about future plans and she said, “Well, I retired from writing about six years ago now when my husband retired. He had been a Christian college professor for many years, with other responsibilities too. When he retired I said I didn’t want to be facing deadlines all the time so I retired but now the publishing house has asked me if I would collaborate on a new project. So I’m dipping into it a little bit but I don’t expect to get too involved again. It’s very time consuming and frankly, it’s hard work.”

“For many years I did three books a year, one for children and two for adult readership, so that was pressing pretty hard most of the time.”

Janette Oke has given her readers a prolific legacy of books and now her work will live on in the DVDs as well. In the meantime, she is enjoying her retirement, although one gets the idea she will always have a little project brewing somewhere in her mind.


Read Dove’s Review of “Love Comes Softly

Read Dove’s Review of “Love’s Enduring Promise

Read Dove’s Review of “Love’s Long Journey

Read Dove’s Review of “Love’s Abiding Joy

Read Dove’s Review of “Love’s Unending Legacy

Read Dove’s Review of “Love’s Unfolding Dream