Love Finds You–An Interview With Author Serena B. Miller
**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.
1–You’ve had such a diversity of life experiences. Tell us why you chose to write about the Amish for your first novel. What drew you toward exploring their unique lifestyle?
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.
Good morning, Emilie…and Serena! Casey/Connie here, Serena. Wanted to tell you I heard about your novel’s publication from Emilie and I’m thrilled for you! Congratulations.
PS, still lovin’ that pear jam!
Great interview! Do you ask your Amish friends to read your manuscript for accuracy?
In the non-Amish culture we tend to worry about a friend, congregational member or even an acquaintance thinking that a fictional character is based on her. Have the Amish expressed that concern to you?
Excellent interview. Congratulations on the friendship and the new book Serena. I love reading about the Amish will definitely be looking for this book.
Share some recipes Serena in the book!!!
Emily, first of all that was a great interview it gave us more than just a hint of the person. And second of all as you know I am a huge fan of yours and just your recommending a novel makes me want to read it, so I’m going to get up close and personal w/Serena.
Serena, your novel looks wonderful and I have always been a fan of Amish fiction and non-fiction alike. Their way of life interests me a lot, in fact just last week on PBS there was a special on an Amish couple getting married and just what it entails. It must be a small group that you and Emilie are in wives of ministers and published authors and having to live two very different lives at times. I envy those of your who can put pen to paper and come up with something that a multitude of fans look forward to your next published date.
Thank you for the contest, I would love to be considered but please know that I will be putting you on my list of next novels to purchase.
Thanks Emilie and Serena
Thanks for the heads up. I love Amish-themed novels and am looking forward to reading Serena’s.
Good morning Emilie & Serena,
I enjoyed the interview! The book sounds wonderful and I would love to read it! I agree with what Serena said about “people are just people where ever you go.”
Loved this interview! Have recently become interested in Amish Fiction & you made me want to read your new book! I had already listed the title on my “want” list courtesy of a review I read elsewhere & now I want to read it even more! Agree with the above comment about recipes, please share.
Serena has the same philosophy of friendship that I have. Your interview made me want to add her and her Amish friend to my circle of friends. I look forward to reading her book.
Hello…yours was a delightful offering of Serena’s work. Thank you, Emille. I live among the Amish and visit friends in Sugarcreek frequently. I am looking forward to “Love Finds You in Sugarcreek Ohio!!
Really enjoyed the interview with Serena and like her theories about the Amish. Amish moved into our part of northwestern PA beginning in the mid-sixties. There are now several Amish communities there. My sister has several Amish friends and when I go to visit her,and have contact with many of the Amish she knows,I am always amazed how much like us they are. They love to shop,chat,eat-out,and exchange tips about gardening,housekeeping,and cooking. They have a lot of the same concerns we do-money,health, raising their kids in today’s environment.
They are also very different.
It amazes me that people who live in 2010 without cars,TV,computers,other modern technology,or phones in their homes(though many teens in their Rumschpringe(“running around”) period when they are trying to decide whether or not to remain Amish do have cell phones)can still be so informed about the world and can spread info about somneone in their community from one end of it to the other in less than a day.
The Amish and their children are amomg some of the happiest,kindest,and most God-loving people I know. They are also very proud of their work ethic and the things they produce: baked goods,quilts,furniture,etc. There are a lot of things that can be said about the “simple things” in life being the “best things” in life.
I am glad that I have had the chance to get to know so many Amish but because I only have contact with them a couple of weeks a year, I love reading about them so I can learn even more about their culture.
Hi Connie! So good to hear from you! Yes, I’m pretty excited about being published–it’s been a long journey–thanks for caring. BTW–it’s blueberry jam this year! We had a bumper crop. (The pears didn’t do so good:-)
I really liked what Serena said about the Amish wondering why we don’t just turn off the electronics and do something with one another. I have been pondering what FaceBook and the games on there, and how much time it takes away from our families if we get hooked.
Hi Paula–Good question. My editor lives in Sugarcreek and her father-in-law was raised Amish. He read it and made one correction. I sent copies to my Amish friends and when I saw them later, they said that my novel was “the most accurate” portrayal of their culture they had ever read. One young mother said that it had made her feel better about being Amish. I really treasure those two comments.
About your other question: I reassured the Amish families that I would never reveal their identities, and I never have. All the characters are completely made up except for one–a woman with Down Syndrome who was based upon an Amish grandmother’s deceased little sister. I asked permission before I wrote her in. The grandmother was pleased with the portrayal.
I didn’t put any recipes in the book, but I’ll share a simple one here that my family practically inhales every time I make it.
Amish Cabbage and Noodles
(I’ve thrown this together in 30 minutes–will feed 4-6)
One head cabbage cut into small pieces.Cook on medium with just enough water to keep from sticking to the bottom.
In large pot start salted water boiling–enough to cook pasta.
Break two eggs into a bowl. Beat together with just enough flour to make a stiff dough. Roll out onto a heavily floured surface until thin. Cut into noodles by using a pizza cutter.
Drop the homemade egg noodles into boiling salted water. If the water is boiling, they’ll be done in under five minutes.
Toss drained cabbage together with drained noodles. Drizzle with plenty of good butter. Salt and pepper. Serve as is, or sprinkle bacon on top.
Hi Debbie–I haven’t seen that PBS special, but I want to. Last month I got to go to an Amish wedding. The bride-to-be gave me a lovely invitation that informed me that the wedding would start on Thursday at 8:30 a.m! The first order of business was a three-hour-long worship service in the barn. The Amish take marriage really, really seriously! The only thing I heard from the preacher that I understood (the services are conducted in High German) was “Divorce is not an option!” He repeated it several times in English–the only time English was used. I think he was making certain the few non-Amish guests got it!
Hazel–I’m so glad to hear that your experience with the Amish has been so close to my own. I have wondered if the families that I had gotten to know were just especially delightful. The Bed and Breakfast hostess where I always stay also has a van in which she drives for the Amish and has gotten to know them well. She says that in her opinion, the Amish children are the happiest children in the world–but that the Amish teenagers are the most miserable. Those years in which they have to decide whether or not to accept their parents’ faith are difficult years. There’s a lot at stake for them either way.
Fascinating interview. Will be looking for the book. We have had an increase in Amish/Mennonites in the Finger Lakes area of NYS and, unfortunately, some recent buggy/auto accidents. Serena, is that a problem in Ohio also? Both accidents involved families, not teenagers. Also, other than driving cars, how can you tell Amish people from Mennonite ones or does it make a difference (as in keeping my feet out of my mouth)?
Serena, Thanks for replying.
Yes I heard that weddings were conducted in German and about the invitations I learned that they had to be hand delivered. Wonder how that would effect the Royal wedding coming up next year. 🙂
Hi Mary Ann–
I’m not surprised that you’ve had an increase of Amish in your area. Old Order Amish is one of the fastest-growing religions in the U.S. They are doubling in numbers about every twenty years. This surprised me, since they do not proselytize. The reason they are growing is because they have large families (average of 7 children per family)and because they retain 90-95% of their grown children. The percentage changes depending on what source I’ve read, but this is still the highest retention rate they have had in their history.
Buggy accidents are frequent and terrible. It is especially bad for the Schwartzentruber Amish–the most conservative of all branches. They refuse to obey the laws of the land regarding buggies and won’t put anything at all on them–no reflective devices, no battery-operated lights, no little red triangle. The chief of police in Sugarcreek told me that it just about kills him when he has to deal with these wrecks, especially when they could be averted. A completely black buggy on a dark night is a disaster waiting to happen, and yet they continue to refuse any reflective devise.
The way I distinguish Mennonite women from Amish is that Mennonite women frequently wear dresses with small flowers or subdued patterns. Amish women will be completely plain. Also, Mennonite women’s prayer kapps are usually more gauzy and see-through than Amish women’s.
The buggy vs. car is not always an indication. There are some Mennonite churches that use only buggies.
One thing that really surprised me is that historically, the Mennonite church came first. The Amish broke off later, following a man who felt that the Mennonites weren’t conservative enough:-)
Debbie–Yes, mine was hand-delivered during a book signing. I don’t know about the Royal Wedding, but if anyone could organize it to go like clockwork–that would be the Amish. I’ve been to SO many weddings over the years–preacher’s wives get to attend a LOT of weddings:-) And I’ve never seen anything to beat the organization of the one I attended in Sugarcreek. The ceremony itself, which lasted about three minutes, was over about noon–and within fifteen minutes about 300 people were seated at elegantly decorated tables and the food began to be passed down both sides of each table. Before the day was over, they had fed approximately 550 people. (there is a separate dinner later on in the day for the young people.) The fairly young father and mother had sold some timber to pay for it. Also, the father is a chicken farmer and I heard them discussing earlier in the month how many chickens it was going to take to feed everyone:-)And the mother and her sisters had been canning green beans all summer to have enough. I don’t suppose I have to tell you that the dinner was delicious!
Yes, my mouth was watering just thinking about free range chickens and home grown veggies. Yum. 🙂
I can’t wait to read the book I have always wanted to go to a Amish farm.
I would think it refreshing to be totally different in your writing. Surely you appreciate each others’ work more that way.
Congratulations to two awesome authors who have achieved great success!
Great interview! I love Amish-Themed books and look forward to reading this one!
The Amish wedding special was on our National Geographic Channel rather than PBS, in case you search for it. It has been reshown several times since its original airing.
I’m always looking for new authors!
In October my husband & I were looking for a part for our Coleman lantern. The Amish in Spartensburg, PA have many small “grocery/general stores”, which are nearby. We drove to a store & inquired about lantern parts; the shop owner’s father has a small Coleman repair shop in half of his barn so off we went to his home. He did a great repair job and we loved meeting him. I’ve grown up in an area with Old Order Amish and treasure their existence in our “English” world. They provide many fine examples of living their principals. I hope your new book will give many people the pleasures of understanding a totally different culture. I look forward to reading it soon. Thank you for creating it!