**Congratulations to Paula, commenter #2, whose number was chosen at random.org and will now receive an autographed copy of Love Finds You in Sugarcreek, Ohio. Thanks to everyone who “chatted” here with Serena while the giveaway was in progress.
Some years ago I received an email from another minister’s wife, an aspiring author. She wanted to know what kinds of issues, if any, I had run into with my husband’s congregation because of my novels. She, too, wanted to be a published novelist, but she was looking for exactly the right publishing home. I liked her immediately and we began a correspondence. A year later when she drove to West Virginia from her Ohio home to meet me at a conference, we were already friends and have remained so through the years.
I recognized Serena’s talent immediately, as did everyone who read whatever she wrote. Her stories about her home, family and life jumped off the computer screen into my heart. Her quiet wisdom, fabulous sense of humor, and ability to be honest while still remaining positive were inspiring to me. Are still inspiring, in fact. I knew it was just a matter of time until the “right” book hit the “right” literary agent or publisher, and then, the sky would be the limit. Sure enough, her first novel, Love Finds You in Sugarcreek, Ohio, a fascinating exploration of Amish life from Summerside Press, is the winner I knew it would be. And she’s already on contract for more.
Serena and I attend very different churches in very different places. Serena and I write for different publishers, in different genres. But Serena and I have learned that these things are less important than friendship and a good book.
And speaking of a good book? Serena has promised to send one commenter on this post an autographed copy of her novel. So be sure to add your comment below for a chance to win. Random.org will choose the lucky winner next week and in the meantime, Serena will answer your questions, too.
It’s with great pleasure that I introduce my friend Serena B. Miller, and her wonderful first novel.
Five years ago a group of Old Order Amish migrated to our farming community in southern Ohio. Eventually, a local Amish man invited us to his house to meet his wife and children. Over time a strong friendship evolved. One day my literary agent said, “Okay. Your name is Miller. You live in Ohio. You have Amish friends. How about writing an Amish novel?” The minute she suggested it, I knew it was something I wanted to do.
2–What did you learn from your research that you could take into your own life and use?
The emphasis on family and faith molds every decision the Amish make, and has validated the importance of those two things in my own life.
I’m also greatly impressed with their children, who are the happiest, calmest, best-behaved kids I’ve ever seen, and yet I’ve never observed a parent so much as raise their voice to them.
3—Why do you think that is?
In part, it’s probably the lack of TV and electronics in their lives. They seem to have a much longer attention span than non-Amish children.
Also, every child has some job to accomplish that adds to the family or community good. Even the very young (from about two years old) are taught to accomplish small daily tasks. I believe this builds a measure of self-worth that helps eliminates the need to act out to gain attention.
At an Amish wedding I attended recently, there were at least a hundred children present and not one was a disruption. Instead, each had a small job to perform and seemed to take great pride in carrying it out. My sons are grown, but if I still had young children, I would definitely try to follow the Amish pattern as closely as possible.
4–I loved your book and felt that while it is classified as an inspirational novel, you never preached to your readers. The characters’ faith–or lack of it–was part of who they were and not inserted because it “had” to be there. Do you have any writing tips for others who might want to write inspirational stories?
No one wants to be preached at. A mini-sermon dropped into the middle of a novel sets my teeth on edge. On the other hand, everyone loves to watch the drama of someone struggling to do what’s right, especially if it isn’t in their best interest.
My theme scripture was about showing hospitality to strangers. I deliberately wove that scripture so deeply into the personalities of the three elderly Amish aunts that it affected everything they did–including creating complications and conflict. Instead of preaching a mini-sermon about hospitality, I took a hard scripture and watched it play out in my character’s lives.
I guess what I’m trying to say is part of writing the kind of inspirational novel that people don’t want to toss across the room is to practice what we learn in our writer workshops and classes about “show don’t tell.”
I also feel it wouldn’t hurt if we practiced that in our lives as well—but now I’m preaching.
5–Your blend of Amish and “English” characters was seamless. You knocked down the boundaries between neighbors and made everyone simply people. I know you had help with your research from Amish neighbors. Along the way did you gain any secrets on how people can reach out and learn from people whose “cultures” are different from their own?
Oh gosh. The older I get, the more I’m convinced that people are just people—no matter where they live or what language they speak. One of my Amish friends’ greatest fears is that her teenage sons will get hooked on drugs. I’ve raised three sons and I can commiserate. She’s worried about her health and has been trying some new herbal supplements. I’m worried about my health, and I’m interested in if they’re helping. Her husband is working way too hard and she’s looking for ways in which she can bring in some income. Me too! So we discuss her Teddy Bear-making business and my writing business. She has a special cookie recipe she’s proud of. I copy it down. I have a new bread recipe I swear by. She copies it down.
Family. Health. Work. Food. These are constants in any culture. These subjects can provide endless sources of conversation during which friendships are established.
But before anything else, respect has to be absolutely paramount. When I visit my Amish friends, I dress plainly, speak softly, wear no make-up, and never, ever ask to take photos.
6—Amish fiction, a relatively new genre, has become incredibly popular in the past few years. Why do you think this is?
My theory is that these are scary times and the simplicity and timelessness of the Amish culture is appealing. Escaping into a novel about the Amish lifestyle is deeply comforting to many readers.
My Amish friends, however, are mystified by outsiders’ fascination with them. They watch our culture and wonder why on earth we don’t just simply turn off our TV, plant a garden, help our neighbors, love our spouses, go to church, and pay attention to our kids.
After having spent so many hours with them—I believe they have a point.