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If you go
What: “Kickstands Up!” women’s motorcycle retreat
When: 6 to 11 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Christian Fellowship Church, 1002 Indiana 114 East, North Manchester
Admission: $20
For information: 260-578-1775 or www.karlaakins.com
Related events: Free public book-signing 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Blessing of Bikes after 10 a.m. Motorcycle Sunday service Sunday, followed by a group ride to Wabash.
Karla Akins has published her first novel, “The Pastor’s Wife Wears Biker Boots!”

Riding and writing

Area pastor’s wife welcomes bikers, publishes novel

Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Karla Akins rides motorcycles with her husband, Ed Akins, who is the pastor of the Christian Fellowship Church in North Manchester.

Karla Akins is a pastor’s wife. And, yes, she rides a motorcycle. And, when doing so, yes, she does wear boots.

Her just-published book – “The Pastor’s Wife Wears Biker Boots!” – is, she vows, a work of fiction.

That is even though her main character, a small-town pastor’s wife, has an autistic son – Akins has 18-year-old twins with autism – and the book is set in Eels Falls, a small Indiana town that bears an uncanny resemblance to North Manchester, right down to its Vera Bradley-toting church matrons and KenapocoMocha Coffee Shop hangout.

Akins, wife of Christian Fellowship Church pastor Ed Akins, says she didn’t disguise all the local touches so her Hoosier readers hereabouts could have a little insider fun.

But she doesn’t want readers to think the book is based entirely on her current church, which she calls “the most loving church I’ve ever been in.”

Instead, she says, the book borrows liberally from all of the 32 years she and her husband have spent ministering to congregations in small communities in Indiana, Iowa, Arkansas and Michigan.

“It’s more about the mentality of people than a certain place,” she says, adding that pastors and their wives tend of necessity to become students of human nature.

If there’s one thing she’s learned, she adds, it’s that in a small community, “when you’re a pastor’s wife, somebody’s almost always going to be mad at you.”

Her overstressed heroine, Kirstie Donovan, is a case in point.

When she ditches her fishbowl to heed the siren song of the open road and a bubble gum-pink motorcycle, it’s the conservative congregation that sputters – especially when she teams up with a sassy female sidekick, a corps of motorcycling church ladies and, eventually, some leather-clad, tattooed bikers.

But, being that this is Christian chick-fiction, after all, a new ministry and a happy ending aren’t too far behind.

Akins’ own two-wheeled tale isn’t one of rebellion. Her bike, a silver Suzuki Intruder – “But it wants to be purple metal flake,” she says – came into the picture five years ago. At 47, she decided she needed to learn to ride because her Harley-Davidson-riding husband and son were having too much fun without her.

Only later, she says, did her mother tell her stories about her grandfather, Fred Pratt. It turned out he was one of the first dealers in the nation of the now-classic Indian motorcycle brand. He also raced motorcycles back in the 1930s – when both he and the idea of flying around a track on two motorized wheels were dare-devilishly young.

It’s no coincidence that the fictional Donovan reminisces about her great-aunt putting her on an Indian as a youngster, with “the masculine smell of the leather, the feel of the cold metal gas tank and the rumble of the engine,” as Akins puts it in an early chapter. “I guess it’s in my blood,” she says of motorcycles.

It’s also not strange that the Akinses are making their 70-member North Manchester church motorcycle friendly, as Donovan goes down that less-traveled road in the book.

The church along Indiana 114 is hosting “Kickstands Up!”– a women’s retreat/book launch featuring motorcycle-riding ministry leader Shelley Wilburn from Friday through Sunday. There’s also a Motorcycle Sunday bike blessing after the 10 a.m. service, followed by a ride to Wabash for lunch.

Akins says the gatherings underscore the book’s theme – that Christians shouldn’t be too quick to judge.

“There are people who ride who are passionate about God. But everybody has a stereotype about it,” she says. “Christ embraced everyone, no matter who they were or what they looked like. If there’s a moral, it’s acceptance, and that God can use anyone.”

Her husband likes to say that his wife is simply “casting her net from the other side of the boat,” as Jesus urged his disciples to do when they failed to catch any fish after a night of trying.

“The church’s goal is to reach people who haven’t been reached,” he says.

In her case, Akins says, people she barely knew reached out to help her write the book. A home-schooling mom of four sons, now grown, she’d written books before – three, in fact, on Canadian history and aimed at homeschoolers.

But she doubted she could come up with 50,000 words at a stretch – what’s typically needed for a novel.

But, through commenting on the blog of another Christian author, she started chatting with a person from Oregon who encouraged her to join her online critique group.

A member of that group ended up becoming a literary agent, signed her up and led her to Harbourlight Books, a division of Pelican Ventures LLC, a traditional Christian publishing house.

The book was issued Aug. 8, and Akins says she feels fortunate because some Christian publishers are phasing out fiction. She’s now putting the finishing touches on her second novel, “River Moon Don’t Cry,” due in 2014.

A touch of pinkish-purple in her short-cropped strawberry blonde hair, Akins says she’s still not “a typical biker chick.”

For one thing, she doesn’t take her safety for granted and always wears a helmet, she says. And she still gets nervous about some aspects of riding, such as when a semi sidles up next to her. “I worry that he’s going to blow a tire,” she says.

While knowledgeable about motorcycles, she adds she had to research several aspects of tooling them for the book. She says she didn’t want to get any technicalities wrong.

“At heart, I’m a girly girl,” she says. “I’m not a toughened biker.”

rsalter@jg.net

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