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Tell us about The Amish Widower
Seth Hostetler’s first wife died in childbirth. When he loses his second pregnant wife in a horrible buggy accident, he feels that both deaths were somehow his fault. So, a year later, when his family suggests that it’s time to start looking for another wife, he is furious that they don’t understand his feelings. But an Amish man doesn’t show his feelings, so Seth bottles them up and silently resists their attempts. When he encounters an Amish potter, he accepts the invitation to take a turn at the potter’s wheel. There Seth finds an outlet for his pent-up emotions, by taking a lifeless lump of clay and making something beautiful out of it. The Englisch woman who works in the pottery shop has also suffered tragedy in her life, as evidenced by the jagged scar that mars one smooth cheek. In each other they find an understanding confidante, but of course a relationship between them is impossible. Or is it?
That makes it sound like the book is focused on romance, which it definitely is not. There’s a lot of other stuff going on in Seth’s life. The overall theme is forgiveness, especially forgiving people who have done terrible things that have wounded you deeply.
What made you decide to write this book?
The publisher, Harvest House Publishers, invited me to write a fourth book in the Men of Lancaster County series. (The first three books were written by Susan Meissner and Mindy Starns Clark. Each book stands alone, with unique characters. The common feature to the series is the setting.) Naturally, I was honored, especially since the first three books were so beautifully-written; the second book in the series won the Christy Award. I was hesitant because I wanted to write something new in the Amish genre, something that hasn’t been done. When I stumbled upon Seth’s story, I knew I had a character I could fall in love with and a conflict that I could sink my teeth into. So, I agreed. I’m very glad I did!
How did you research The Amish Widower?
My brother-in-law was raised Amish, and I’ve co-authored three previous Amish books with Lori Copeland (The Amish of Apple Grove), and one upcoming cozy mystery called Horses and Burglary (the publisher is Annie’s Attic). Because of that, I have a good amount of knowledge to call upon already. But my brother-in-law was raised in Holmes County, Ohio, so all of my Amish knowledge comes from that area. I was really surprised to discover that the Pennsylvania Amish differ in many ways! I spoke with Mindy Clark at length, and of course read the previous books in the series. I subscribed to The Budget, the Amish newspaper, and focused on the news coming from Lancaster County instead of Holmes County. I read memoirs by people from Pennsylvania. And then Harvest House introduced me to Georgia Verozza, whose family is from Pennsylvania. She’s an amazing editor, and answered so many questions for me.
What are some of the differences you discovered about the Amish in Ohio versus Pennsylvania?
Primarily, the ordnungs in Ohio tend to be stricter than those in Pennsylvania—at least in Holmes County where my brother-in-law grew up. There are more Old Order Amish in Holmes County, and some of their ways are more restrictive. For instance, in my brother-in-law’s community, an Amish person may ride in an Englisch person’s car, but not on the driver’s side—even in the back seat. Some of the communities don’t permit rubber tires for personal transportation, so their bicycles use tightly wound fabric. Their dress tends to be more conservative black and dark blue instead of the softer colors of nature. Not all of the Ohio Amish districts are that way, of course, but the ones I’ve become familiar with over the years of knowing my brother-in-law are. One of the wonderful things I love about Holmes County is the strong Swiss heritage. There are lots of dairies and cheese factories there.
I do highlight some differences in The Amish Widower, just because I found them so fascinating. The Amish potter that becomes Seth’s teacher has recently moved to Pennsylvania from Ohio, so I could explore a few of the differences.
Why do you think Amish fiction continues to be popular?
That’s a question that generates a lot of conversation! I tend to agree with the theory that people living in our fast-paced society like reading about simple, less complicated (in their opinion!) ways. But I also think part of the reason is the same thing that made Harry Potter and Twilight so popular. We are fascinated that there are ‘other’ people living right in the midst of us, right under our noses and flying beneath our radar on an everyday basis. Only with the Amish, they’re real. And like the Chronicles of Narnia or Madeline le’Engle’s books, people from “our world” can visit those fascinating places and meet those people. With the Amish, that’s not a fantasy. We really can.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished another cozy mystery (sorry – this one isn’t Amish!), and have one more to write in that series. I’ve submitted a proposal for an Amish series set in Holmes County, Ohio, and am praying they’ll be interested in publishing it. And at the moment, I’ve just contracted with Logan Harper, who will produce the audiobook version of The Amish Widower. Logan lives in Amish country, and his dialect is spot-on Seth’s. I’m really excited to hear Seth’s story come to life through Logan’s talented voice.
VIRGINIA SMITH is the EPCA-bestselling author of more than thirty novels. Her books have received many awards, including two Holt Medallion Awards of Merit.