By Jennon Bell   Published Apr 06, 2005 at 5:13 AM

{image1} Just south of Madison sits a bustling farm Jacquelyn Mitchard calls home. Filled with six children, ranging in age from toddler to adult, and various animals, running the gamut from goats and cats to Clydesdales, Mitchard's life is rarely idle. She's a prolific writer with six novels, three children's books and a weekly syndicated newspaper column to her name. How does she do it?

"To be perfectly honest, there is way too much to do and I have way too little time to do it," she says, laughing. "There is no down time in my family -- for anybody. Everybody has to pitch in; everybody has to be busy. But it's not like we're the German army or anything!"

Her debut novel, "The Deep End of the Ocean," earned Mitchard critical and commercial success and was the first selection for Oprah's Book Club. "When it took off the way it did, no one was more shocked than I was, except Oprah Winfrey. They had thought this idea but didn't think it would become this thing that people would write their doctoral thesis about," says Mitchard. "(The success) had a great effect on my ability to put my kids through college and a chilling effect on my next two novels, to be myself and write the books I wanted to write."

A blend of compassion and candor, Mitchard has earned accolades of praise for the on-target authenticity and captivating storylines that set her apart from the rest of the pack. Her realistic and colorful characters embody traits identifiable to readers, a style she picks up from her own circle of family and friends. "Always amalgams, always combinations of people," says Mitchard.

Mitchard's latest novel, "The Breakdown Lane," tells the story of Julieanne, a wife, mother to three very different children, and an advice columnist. Her spiritually unsatisfied husband abruptly leaves the family, throwing Julieanne in a downward spiral of depression. At her lowest, she learns she has Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a degenerative nerve tissue disease.

"There is this new way; I call it 'Millennial Dumping.' You just don't say 'I'm bored and can't stand the site of you anymore.' Instead, you say you're trying to find your passion, that you're trying to rediscover what is was that made you who you were when you were who you were...or something like that. And it leads to the same thing that it used to," Mitchard pauses before letting out a dry laugh, "which is usually a Pilates instructor."

With Dad gone and Mom sick, the children react instinctively. In desperation, Gabe and Caroline embark on an amazing quest to find their father and restore sanity back to their home life. It is here, at rock bottom, that the family must learn to band together, and overcome its obstacles. Julieanne's fierce love of her children, unyielding support from her best friend Cathy and her own self-conviction help propel the changes necessary.

It is with wit and truthfulness that Mitchard approaches "The Breakdown Lane," helping readers arrive at a destination they didn't know they were looking for. We'd expect nothing less of our friend Jackie Mitchard.

Jacquelyn Mitchard will appear at Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops in Shorewood, 4093 N. Oakland Ave., on April 8 at 8 p.m.