I’ve always wanted to write a story set during the Depression. Living for the last twenty years in a state that was part of the Dust Bowl, I’ve been mesmerized by photographs of dust storms that look like solid black walls crashing down on innocent small towns.
So every now and then I pick up a book at the library or launch an Internet search on a question that flits through my mind. I suppose it was one of those forays that led me to the primary piece of research behind Hope in the Land. After all, “Production Patterns, Consumption Strategies, and Gender Relations in Amish and Non-Amish Farm Households in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, 1935–1936” is not exactly beach reading!
I think I first saw the article title in a footnote, and I went to some trouble to track down the full text, by Steven D. Reschly and Katherine Jellison, in an issue of Agricultural History. Writers of historical fiction are amused by odd things!
The article highlights the results of the Department of Agriculture study featured in Hope in the Land, demonstrating that Amish farms that focused on diversified self-sufficiency weathered the Great Depression with greater stability than “modern” farms that focused on a single cash crop and a larger number of acres farmed with the aid of machinery. Several factors made this true, but the leading element was the value of the work that Amish wives contributed to their family farms because of their labor, thrift, and small businesses.
That’s all it took for Gloria Grabill and Minerva Swain to spin themselves out of my imagination and onto the page. Finding a moment in history to translate to a new century and a new generation never fails to give me pleasure.
So I finally got to write that Depression-era novel, but with an Amish twist I would not have imagined.
Here’s what the story is about:
When Henry Edison turns up in Lancaster County to survey farm women about their domestic contributions during the 1930s, the last thing Amish housewife Gloria Grabill has time for is the government agent’s unending questions. Gloria’s hands are already full with a farm to run alongside her husband, a houseful of children, and an English neighbor, Minerva Swain, who has been trying Gloria’s patience for forty years. Gloria’s oldest daughter, Polly, wants nothing more than the traditional path of an Amish farmer’s wife, but everything she does seems to push Thomas Coblentz further away. While the Great Depression shadows the country in gloom, can Amish and English neighbors in Lancaster County grasp the goodness that will sustain hope?
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Olivia Newport’s novels twist through time to discover where faith and passions meet. She chases joy in Colorado at the foot of the Rockies, where daylilies grow as tall as she is. Her Amish fiction includes the Valley of Choice series and three previous books in the Amish Turns of Time series.
Olivia’s latest release is Hope in the the Land and is available now!
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