Beverly Lewis talks to Michelle about the appeal of Amish fiction, some of her favorite reading, and the controversial topics she’s written about in her novels.
Michelle: I so enjoyed seeing you in April at His Way for the book signing of The Love Letters, and am delighted to have the opportunity to be interviewing you for the site Straight Off the Page. I must confess that your genre is not one that I have been overly familiar with, and I am impressed with the depths it can contain. Thank you again for taking time to answer my questions!
Your writing career has spanned several decades, dozens of books, and millions of fans. Over the years, topics that were once not allowed to be written about in Christian fiction, have slowly eased into books and stories.
Your own stories have touched on controversial subjects like children being put up for adoption, the tradition of folk medicine/magic practiced in some communities, and about the abuse of power within the church. Are there other formerly taboo topics you would like to explore?
Beverly: Currently, I’m writing THE ATONEMENT (independent novel, no connection to previous series or books) which delves into the adjustment the Old Order Amish community in Lancaster County is making as the Plain and fancy worlds collide. Technology is making life easier for most of us, but it can be thorny for those who strive to adhere to the Old Ways. It’s a fascinating discovery—for instance, landlines are being installed in Amish cellars, and the use of solar power to recharge batters or drive appliances is becoming common place.
Michelle: Of the ones you have already tackled, which was the most challenging to write?
Beverly: I wouldn’t say those issues were any more challenging than another, due to the fact that research is something I absolutely adore. The harder the issue to uncover, the better! 🙂
Michelle: The Amish and their different way of life have attracted a myriad of authors and stories. There are those that stick very close to real life like yourself, then there are those that write mysteries and homicide, and those who have taken the Plain people to the stars and into the realm of the paranormal.
You have spent years exploring Amish communities and writing tales that outline the strengths and the weaknesses of the Plain People. In your opinion, what qualities do the Plain people possess that make them fascinating even in different genres?
Beverly: I have stayed in the homes of two Amish families, two separate summers, and I have colleagues (consultants) who’ve lived with Amish in more than two hundred communities around the US and in Canada. That said, there is a common consensus among us that the Amish I/we know seem to consistently demonstrate the following character traits: they are generous, guileless, helpful, patient, kind, and (too) trusting. These qualities are not so readily found in any particular dependable pattern among other people groups that I have observed over all the decades I’ve spent time with them.
For instance, Amish children, from the age of two on, are intentionally molded with the Old Ways in mind—they are expected to sit quietly at the table until they are served, with a cheerful and respectful attitude, for one thing. They also learn to esteem a strong work ethic and determination. By the time most Amish children become young adults, they are solidly united with the People and embrace the tradition of their forefathers. Such consistent upbringing seems to call out to writers who cherish the memories of, perhaps, going to visit Grandma’s house in the summers, or recalling the days when a person’s handshake was their bond. I’m told this by many of my author friends, and I can certainly attest to similar feelings—and fond reconnection with the past—while writing my own stories.
Michelle: Why do you think so many genre writers turning to Amish settings or characters?
Beverly: I really can’t speak to knowing for absolute certain, but the magnetic draw may have something to do with a yearning to leave behind, if only for awhile, the frenetic day-to-day grind of our modern and highly technological culture. For me, fertile farmland, the back roads produce stands, and silos standing sentry, stir up a sense of peace in me, which makes for an ideal backdrop for a storyline filled with conflict, twists and turns. Also, let’s be frank—Amish fiction still tops the sales charts and bestseller lists in the CBA, although it is unlikely that many write Plain story settings for that reason alone. It’s far better to write out of an undiluted passion, at least for myself.
Michelle: Not only do you write stories for adults to enjoy, but you’ve also penned series for young adults and children as well. One of my absolute favorites is the first book in the Cul-de-Sac kid’s series, titled the Double-Dabble Surprise.
Beverly: Thanks so much, Michele! It was such fun writing the 24 books in that chapter book series. My younger children were around that age when I set out to create the very popular “club” of neighborhood kids in a cul-de-sac, much like the one we lived on at the time—Dream Lane, actually. 🙂
Michelle: In this book, there’s a huge mix-up, which alters two sister’s plans for their family and the future. Doing the right thing means that they have to give up on the dreams they’ve had and embrace the different gift that God has sent them. These are pretty big concepts for anyone, let alone young readers, and yet your book does it so well.
What advice do you have for writers wanting to write for children?
Beverly: BE the kid in the story. Call up the memories of your childhood, re-read your earliest diaries (if you kept one), play the music of that period of time, smell the smells that take you “back,” and most of all, write REAL situations with REAL happenings. And do it with all the passion in you. Children are incredibly perceptive—they sense when books geared to them are written by authors who may have long forgotten what it’s like to be an eight-year-old.
Michelle: A fine storyteller is one that is also a story reader, and no author can ever write fast enough to satisfy their fans.
Would you share with our readers some of your favorite books, fiction or non-fiction that they can try out while they wait for your next tale?
Beverly: I happen to love non-fiction—memoirs, biographies, published journals, and the like.
The inspirational fiction I read are by the following CBA authors: Francine Rivers, Julie Klassen, Jan Karon, and Lynn Austin. Otherwise, the secular authors I’ve enjoyed are the following: Marjorie Rawlings, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Maeve Binchy, Rosamunde Pilcher, Elizabeth Strout, Olive Ann Burns, Wallace Stegner, Arundhati Roy, Sue Monk Kidd (The Secret Life of Bees), Fannie Flagg, Flannery O’Connor, and all the old Classics, as well.
Michelle: Thank you so much Beverly, for taking time to share your heart with us through your books; you have challenged us to look beyond a person’s exterior, shown us another society nestled next to our own, and transported us back in time to remind us how much we have and have not changed.
What’s next in your story collection? Where will you take us this time?
Beverly: Presently, I am working with proofreaders for my fall novel, THE PHOTOGRAPH, releasing on Sept. 8, and writing the first draft of THE ATONEMENT, a stand-alone novel set in East Lampeter, Lancaster County, Pa, in the heart of Amish farmland, in 2012.
Thanks very much for your interest in my work, Michele! It was lovely to meet you during my book tour. Have a terrific summer!—Bev Lewis
To learn more about Beverly and her books visit her website or connect with her through FaceBook.