Tuesday, November 18, 2014

It's Beginning to Read a Lot Like Christmas: Author Interview with Suzanne Woods Fisher

You’ve just published Christmas at Rose Hill Farm. What prompted you to write this story?
A few years ago, I wrote a book called The Search. I was surprised by the vast amount of reader e-mails who asked the same question: What happened to Bess and Billy? They were teenagers in The Search and, typical of teens, they had an on-again, off-again relationship. I still get more reader e-mails about Bess and Billy than any other characters in my novels.

It was obvious that Bess and Billy needed a story of their own. When my editor asked me to write a Christmas novella, it seemed like the time.

Tell my readers a little about the new book
Christmas at Rose Hill Farm is set in the late 1970s, a few years after The Search takes place, as Bess is preparing to marry Amos Lapp. (Just a side note: we meet up with Amos again in The Keeper). In her grandmother’s greenhouse, Bess stumbles on a potted rose tucked deep in a corner with one single bud, soon to bloom. Unable to identify this rose, she calls a rose society to send out a rose rustler—someone with skills to track down the origins of the “lost rose.” And that’s how Billy Lapp returns to Stoney Ridge. After leaving years earlier, he took his love and knowledge of roses and became a highly respected rose rustler. No longer Amish, though.

What would you like readers to take away from reading this book?
What I hope readers will take from this story…hope and healing. And an awareness of what Christmas truly is all about: Emmanuel! God is with us.

Do you think you will write more Christmas themed books?
I hope so!

What makes the Christmas holiday season special for you? What is your favorite Christmas tradition?
Without a doubt, gathering as a family is what makes the holiday so meaningful. And as for a favorite tradition--we started a new one as our family started to expand through marriage and grandchildren. We knew we had to simplify gift giving. I came across this Victorian guideline and have used it, very successfully, for the last couple of years.

Something you WANT
Something you NEED
Something to WEAR
Something to READ

You’ve now published multiple books about Amish living in both fiction and non-fiction titles.
There are currently over 1400 titles on Amazon that are Amish romance themed. Since the Amish are such a small part of the U.S. population, why is there such as strong interest in their lifestyle?
Wow, I didn’t know there were 1400 titles currently out there! Here’s an interesting statistic for you: In 2003, there was one Amish fiction released. One! What a change in the last decade. And why? What are people looking for in a book of Amish fiction? Something is clearly resonating with a need.

It’s not an easy question to answer, but I came across a quote by social scientist BrenĂ© Brown in her excellent book, Daring Greatly, and I think it’s the best answer to your question:

Over the past decade, I’ve witnessed major shifts in the zeitgeist of our country. I’ve seen it in the data, and honestly I’ve seen it in the faces of the people I meet, interview and talk to. The world has never been an easy place, but the past decade has been traumatic for so may people that it’s made changes in our culture. From 9/11, multiple wars, and the recession, to catastrophic natural disasters and the increase in random violence and school shootings, we’ve survived and are surviving events that have torn at our sense of safety with such force that we’ve experienced them as trauma even if we weren’t directly involved. And when it comes to the staggering numbers of those now unemployed and underemployed, I think every single one of us has been directly affected or is close to someone who has been directly affected. Worrying about scarcity is our culture’s version of posttraumatic stress.

You live in one of the most liberal areas of the country yet you write about an extremely conservative lifestyle. How do you balance the two opposing lifestyles/belief systems?
It’s funny how regions seem to have personalities. While it’s true that the San Francisco Bay Area is politically liberal, it also has many large, dynamic, Christ-centered churches. Sometimes I think that because church going isn’t expected here, those who do attend are committed with their whole hearts.

Another irony about California—if you drive out of the cities and into less populated areas, you’ll find very conservative groups. There’s a large colony of German Baptists in Modesto (my relatives!), and a large Mennonite population in Fresno. California is very diverse. To answer your question, living with such variety makes me feel more open minded to how people seek and express their faith.

How did you get involved with writing the non-fiction series about Lily Lapp the young Amish
child? Did you live/visit with the family? Tell me about the process.Here’s the back story to how the Lily Lapp books came to be: 
Mary Ann Kinsinger was raised in a happy Old Order Amish home in western Pennsylvania. A born storyteller, Mary Ann started a blog, A Joyful Chaos, as a way to capture the joy of her childhood.
I started following the blog and began to exchange e-mails with Mary Ann.

A Joyful Chaos quickly gained a following among those who are interested in knowing more about the Amish. Mary Ann’s blog captures what readers are looking for in Amish fiction books: charming family memories, a caring community, a collection of fun, quirky characters, all cast in a rural setting. And yet it’s real! All true.

One day, I emailed Mary Ann  and asked if she was thinking of writing a book. “No,” she wrote back, “but I might be interested in collaborating someday.”

Fast forward a year or two. The friendship between us continued to grow. So did her blog’s presence: A Joyful Chaos was receiving over 30,000 hits a month. It caught a mention in The New York Times. Mary Ann started a Facebook page. Remember, this was a woman who had stopped her formal schooling at eighth grade! But her education never stopped.

The time seemed right. The two of us submitted a three-book fiction proposal for children, ages 8-12, inspired by Mary Ann’s childhood to my publisher, Revell. First book: meet five-year-old “Lily” and her family as they build a farm. Second book: Lily begins school in a new community. An aggravating boy, Aaron Yoder, sits next to her and enjoys teasing her. She loathes him. Third book: Lily and Aaron court and marry.
Revell came back with a “Yes!” and a few tweaks: “We want four books based on Lily’s childhood. And hold off on the courting story for now.” One more thing, they said, we want the books ASAP. So we got to work.

How do you write? Did you do an outline first? Did you do individual character development?
I start with a question, and try to have the characters answer that question as I go along. I’m definitely a seat-of-the-pants type of writer! I liken the process to creating an oil painting. It starts with a basic vision, then the painter adds more and more layers, shadowing, special effects. An added bonus: Oil painting also allows you to make mistakes!

How much does social media play in your promotion of your books?
Social media has a significant role in my life—it’s the connector for me to readers, and I place a high value on that connection. The best way to build a social media platform is to use it! Interact with others, show sincere interest in their life. I’ve made many wonderful relationships through Facebook—and when I’ve gone on books tours, I’ve cherished the chances to meet those FB friends, face-to-face.

What is the best advice you've been given about writing or that you've learned that you would like to pass along?
“Hangeth thou in there.” If you’ve been given the call by God to write, you have to write!

What other works do you have in the process?
In March, Anna’s Crossing will release. It’s historical fiction about the first Atlantic Sea crossing of the Amish in 1737. I’m very excited about it—I did a boatload (pardon the pun) of research for it.

Are there any last points you’d like to add?
For those of you who might like to learn more about the Amish, check out my new blog: www.amishwisdom.com. It’s very interactive, with lots of author interviews, daily giveaways, recipes, plus a feature called “Ask the Amish” that is particularly popular.

That's it for today's interview. If you would like to learn more about Suzanne's writing and her books, here's the place to start.
www.suzannewoodsfisher.com and https://www.facebook.com/SuzanneWoodsFisherAuthor

GIVEAWAY: To celebrate my series on Christmas themed books,  Suzanne is allowing me to do a giveaway of  Christmas at Rose Hill Farm. We'll pick ONE winner from all those who leave a comment. Tell us one of your favorite Christmas traditions and you could win a new book for Christmas.  The contest will end 11/24/14 at 5 PM CST. Entries from USA only.