Jan Maher Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Jan Maher

Jan Maher

An interview with Jan Maher

Jan Maher discusses Heaven, Indiana, how it was based on her meeting with the daughter of a worker at a carnival, and her own experiences growing up in Indiana.

A chance meeting at a carnival in Huntington 45 years ago is inspiration for Jan Maher's first novel, "Heaven, Indiana." Maher, who lives in Seattle, spent her first seven years in Huntington, where she was born.

"A main theme of the book is the way in which social and political interaction affects us," Maher said during a telephone interview from Heritage College in Seattle. She teaches educational methods, curriculum and learning theory there and has written several plays, essays, and poetry.  Maher, 54, lived at the Huntington home of her maternal grandmother, Louise Miller, from 1946 through 1952. The house was at 652 E. Market St. Jan Maher's father, James Maher Jr., grew up in Marion, but moved to Huntington after marrying Alberta Ruth Miller. Ruth Miller-Lang now lives in Chicago. James Maher Jr. died in 1971 in Cincinnati.

While Maher bases "Heaven, Indiana" on her meeting with the daughter of a worker at a carnival that had made a stop at Hier's Park she said that incident is the only thing autobiographical.  "It's very hard to quantify a work of fiction," the author said. "Fiction is a synthesis of everything. It's a bit of what would happen if you put a certain element with another element but yes, pieces of the book are from experience.  "For example, I probably patterned the house Ellie lives in in the book after my grandmother's house."  Ellie and Nadja are main characters in the novel and the house where Ellie lives is near a railroad track. "I recall that the Erie Railroad was close to my grandmother's house," Maher said. "And I've always remembered Hier's Park."

Maher explained she was 8 years old and had already moved with her parents to Fort Wayne, but was visiting in Huntington when she met the daughter of a carnival worker.  "That girl and I were at a swing set at Hier's Park," the writer said. "I recall thinking at the time that meeting someone from somewhere else was a strange phenomenon and as a child I fantasized how glorious carnival life might be."

In Maher's book, the reader learns Nadja is an illegitimate child and grows up to become a fortune-teller.  "Illegitimate births were hushed when I was growing up in Indiana," Maher said. "Rumors would fly when a girl would leave school that she was pregnant and going to a home for unwed mothers."  There is no town in Indiana named Heaven, but Maher said during a trip to Hartford City in 1994 to do research for her book she drove to a country roads intersection in Blackford County just south of Montpelier. "I liked what I saw," she said. "It seemed so peaceful. I decided to choose that spot as setting for the town where most of the action in my book takes place."

Much of the dialogue in the novel centers around gossip at the beauty shop in Heaven operated by Sue Ellen Sue (Seese), a contemporary of Ellie and Nadja. "Seese's shop is the women's hub of town news and history," Maher said.  Another social hub is Clara's Kitchen where Stella is proprietor. The reader is privy to lots of gossip at Clara's Kitchen from the mostly men - farmers and owners and workers at Heaven's small businesses - who frequent the restaurant. Clara's Kitchen is not unlike Nick's Kitchen or George's Dog House, popular gathering places in downtown Huntington.

"I find there is something very secretive about people's lives that's hidden underneath all that flatness in Indiana," Maher said. "What I've tried to do in the book is pull away the flat rug and reveal some of the secrets of the characters.  "As a child, I also had the feeling that Indiana was a state with a secret history," Maher said in reference to underground railroads described in the book. The underground "railroad" system of safe houses in Indiana was used by slaves in the South to escape to the North.  "Heaven, Indiana" has a surprise ending concerning a person of mixed race.  "I find irony in the fact that while an Indiana law prohibiting people of different races from marrying one another was not abolished until 1965 there have always been people of mixed race living in the state," Maher said.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Books by this Author

Books by Jan Maher at BookBrowse
Heaven, Indiana jacket
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

All the books below are recommended as readalikes for Jan Maher but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
How we choose readalikes

  • Daniel Akst

    Daniel Akst

    Dan Akst is a writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Slate and other leading publications. His most recent book is We Have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in an... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Heaven, Indiana

    Try:
    The Webster Chronicle
    by Daniel Akst

  • Dayna Dunbar

    Dayna Dunbar

    Dayna Dunbar is a native Oklahoman who currently makes her home in Santa Monica, CA. She grew up in Yukon, a tightly knit farming and grain-milling town in Oklahoma, where most folks were relatives or family friends. This ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Heaven, Indiana

    Try:
    The Saints and Sinners of Okay County
    by Dayna Dunbar

We recommend 6 similar authors

View all 6 Readalikes

Non-members can see 2 results. Become a member
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Winter in Sokcho
    Winter in Sokcho
    by Elisa Dusapin
    Our unnamed narrator is a young French-Korean woman who works at a guest house in Sokcho, a popular ...
  • Book Jacket: Second Place
    Second Place
    by Rachel Cusk
    Rachel Cusk's Outline trilogy drew much of its substance from monologues and dialogues that swirled ...
  • Book Jacket: The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman
    The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman
    by Julietta Henderson
    The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman is the comedic debut novel of writer Julietta Henderson. It ...
  • Book Jacket: In Search of a Kingdom
    In Search of a Kingdom
    by Laurence Bergreen
    The Age of Exploration in the early modern period, lasting roughly from the 15th through 16th ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
Of Women and Salt
by Gabriela Garcia
A kaleidoscopic portrait of generations of women from a 19th-century Cuban cigar factory to the present day.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Ariadne
    by Jennifer Saint

    A mesmerizing debut novel about Ariadne, Princess of Crete for fans of Madeline Miller's Circe.

  • Book Jacket

    Crossing the River
    by Carol Smith

    A powerful exploration of grief that combines memoir, reportage, and lessons in how to heal.

Who Said...

We have to abandon the idea that schooling is something restricted to youth...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

A S I T closet

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.