Before we get to your talent for writing, let’s learn more about you as a person. What are your favorite hobbies when you’re not writing?
I’m always dabbling in something. I love to paint with acrylics, although I’m not very good. But it’s relaxing. Recently, I’ve taken up photography. Hubby bought me a fancy new camera for my birthday in January, and I seem to be better at taking pictures, possibly because I used to be a newspaper reporter, and I also took the photos to accompany the articles. I’ve even sold some of my photography here (a shameless plug!).
What has been the most “risky” think you’ve done in the name of book research? Did it work? Was it helpful?
Well, I didn’t know this was risky at the time, but looking back, it was probably ‘risky business’. I wanted to take a buggy ride, but not the commercial type. I asked an Amish friend if she’d take me for a ride in her buggy, and she readily agreed. It was nighttime, and she carted me down Lincoln Highway, which is the main highway that runs through the town of Paradise in Lancaster County. I was absolutely terrified by all the cars whizzing past us, and by the time we returned to her house, I’m sure my blood pressure was off the charts. But then she said, “That was fun. I haven’t been back in a buggy until now, since the accident.” I think I stopped breathing. “What accident?” I asked. Then she told me a tale of how she once incorrectly connected the horse to the buggy, and the horse got out of control and threw her from the buggy. “Oops,” I said quietly as I tried to get my heart rate below stroke level.
Think back to the first time you heard about the Amish. The very first time. What do you remember?
The first time I gave the Amish a lot of thought was when I saw the movie Witness starring Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis back in 1985. I think that movie heightened everyone’s awareness about the Plain folks. That was thirty years ago, but I remember wondering how the Amish could live like that. Since then, I’ve gained a much better understanding about their ways, and I am committed to authenticity in my Amish stories.
Let’s go back to your first Amish novel. What do you think about it now? What would be different about it from your most recent novel?
My first Amish novel was Plain Perfect, book #1 in the Daughters of the Promise series. The story was there, but it was a mess as far as the writing. I had a wonderful editor who held my hand throughout the revisions process because she believed in my storytelling abilities. The end result is a story with multi-layered characters that are living a real life filled with love, heartache, and hope. And I’ve tried to keep that foundation in every book I write. With so many authors writing Amish novels though, the challenge is to keep the stories fresh. After years of writing in the Amish genre, I think it’s natural to want to write with an edgier tone. Her Brother’s Keeper released July 7th, and it deals with some serious issues—suicide, mental illness, beliefs about heaven, and lies and deceit—but all the while maintaining that core character structure that began with Plain Perfect. And when I dive into issues that could be emotionally draining to the reader, I carefully craft the story in a way that sprinkles humor throughout so that the reader never feels bogged down. There is always hope.
When you speak to groups about the Amish, what are the biggest misunderstandings people have about them?
The biggest misunderstanding is that they are SO different from us because they don’t use electricity, wear modest clothes, etc. The Amish laugh and tell jokes, their children get into trouble just like ours, they have marital problems, addictions, and life issues that push the limits of their faith. They’re human.
What do you think about the “downside” of being Amish? What do you see as concerns or red flags?
The Plain People are often misrepresented by those who don’t understand their way of life. They are labeled as different, and as such, they are treated like a tourist attraction. Would any of us like a camera shoved in our face by a stranger? Of course not. Yet it happens all the time in popular Amish communities. Some will argue that the Plain People need and enjoy the financial aspects of living in an area that draws tourists, but it still doesn’t make it right to invade someone’s privacy in a way that we wouldn’t tolerate in our own lives.
Tell us about your current work-in-progress.
Her Brother’s Keeper follows Charlotte Dolinsky into an Amish community to find out why her only brother committed suicide. After her attempts to get answers from the Amish fail, Charlotte decides to pretend she’s one of them to find out what happened to her brother. So, even though the subject matter is serious, there are plenty of funny moments as Charlotte (who is calling herself Mary Troyer) struggles to pass herself off as one of the Amish folks. In the end, Charlotte finds what she never knew she was looking for.
How do you come up with names for your characters?
If the characters are Amish, I refer to a list of names that are common to the area. If the characters are Englisch (non-Amish), I scan my Facebook page. I used to look through the phonebook, but Facebook is a much handier reference site.
My perfect day would be…
Sitting on the beach, listening to the ocean, and reading a good book with my husband by my side.
Beth Wiseman is the best-selling author of over 1.3 million books, and she was the recipient of the prestigious Carol Award in 2011 and 2013. She is also a three-time winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice Award, and in 2013 she took home the coveted Holt Medallion.
As a former newspaper reporter, Beth was honored by her peers with eleven journalism awards, including first place news writing for The Texas Press Association. She left her job as a journalist in 2008 to write novels full time.
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