“I’ve been pondering Fanny and her feelings for Zed.” Violet is talking about my story proposal for A Simple Charity, my new novel from Ballantine Books. She has read my outline and is offering feedback.
I lean in, eager to hang on every word from my friend, mentor and consultant on all things Amish. Vi is that rare combination of woman involved in Amish, Mennonite and academic communities. Brought up in a Mennonite home by parents who left their Old Order Amish communities before baptism, Vi has family ties that run deep in the Amish community. At the same time, as a professor at Eastern Mennonite University, Dr. Violet Dutcher is a teacher with an insightful understanding of storytelling and literature.
Over the past few years, while writing novels that weave together Amish and “English” folk, I have been blessed by Vi’s insights, cultural awareness and compassion for my characters. Vi is quick to point out the shades of difference between cultures even as she reinforces the needs and behaviors that are universal among all human beings.
In this particular conversation, she wonders if my main character Fanny would be open to a relationship after having lost two husbands.
“Perhaps it could happen,” she concedes, “but she needs to be more reluctant. Let me tell you a short story to get at this.”
She tells me the story of an Amish man – we’ll call him Paul — who had much difficulty courting a widow, Mary. Paul had quite a time convincing Mary she deserved to be happy again in a new relationship. Mary had loved with her first husband, who’d suffered from mental illness. As they raised their children together, Mary instinctively knew when to intervene to save her husband’s life. However, one day, she came home and found him dead in the barn, a suicide. She had failed, she thought.
As Paul began gently courting Mary, he discovered her shame and low self-esteem. She did not feel she deserved to fall in love again. This, of course, drew her to him. He felt very tender toward her. But it took him a good deal of time and effort to convince Mary she deserved to have a loving relationship.
I am touched by the story of Paul and Mary; I savor the poignancy of this woman’s loss and try to infuse it into Fanny’s conflict. There’s a certain resonance in the notion that loss and love go hand-in-hand, like ripples on the water’s surface. Love and heartache. Yet, we throw another stone in the pond.
Rosalind Lauer grew up near a Mennonite community in Maryland but now lives with her family in Western Oregon. She is the author of Amish fiction published by Ballantine Books, including the Seasons of Lancaster and Lancaster Crossroads series. The King family of Lancaster County are characters near and dear to her heart, and she enjoys exploring the ways that Amish and English lives are interwoven in Lancaster County.
Her next book, A Simple Charity, hits the shelves October 28th.
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Purchase Rosalind’s books here.