A funny thing often happens when you begin writing a new book: even though you had all the characters in your head and all the major story points plotted out, the ending can be quite a lot different than you’d originally pictured it. I love when that happens! And in the case of HARVEST OF BLESSINGS, the fifth book in my Seasons of the Heart series, Nora Glick Landwehr’s story becomes a turning point for the town of Willow Ridge—and a springboard for a new series!
Nora has a tough row to hoe. After sixteen years and a failed marriage to an Englisch man, she returns to Willow Ridge to reconcile with the family who cast her out when, at sixteen, she became pregnant out of wedlock. Almost out of spite, Nora left that baby on her brother’s doorstep and pursued the only life she believed she had open to her.
Well, it didn’t work out. Her handsome Englisch husband left her for “someone more interesting and sophisticated” but Nora was smart enough to press for a large, lucrative divorce settlement. So when she shows up in the Old Order Amish town she grew up in, she’s got a lot of black marks on her record . . . a lot of people to ask forgiveness of . . . a sixteen-year-old daughter who has no idea that Nora is her mother. It doesn’t help that she buys the biggest house in town—which immediately links her to Hiram Knepp, the deceptive excommunicated bishop—and that she shows up in a red sports car wearing short shorts and a sparkly blue ball cap.
I knew going in that Luke Hooley, Nora’s commit-a-phobe neighbor, was going to chase after her from the get-go. I did not expect Luke to evolve into Nora’s biggest supporter and best friend when it seemed that no one in her family would welcome her home. And while I also knew she was going to convert the big horse barn on her property into a consignment store for Plain crafts and gift items, I had no idea that she was a crafter herself (she creates 3-D banners of Plain people and farm scenes) nor did I anticipate the store’s immediate success and the overwhelming support Nora gets from the characters we’ve met earlier in the series.
I also knew that Millie Glick, whom we’d met in earlier books, would be in for the shock of her young lifetime when she finds out that this flashy redheaded woman in the red sportscar is her mother. Millie experiences my own feelings of betrayal and disbelief, which I so vividly recalled from learning that the dad who raised me was not my birth father—except Millie was only 16 and I was 40 when we made this life-changing discovery. When you invest your own very personal experience into a story, you risk dredging up all the muck again and perhaps getting people in your family upset again, as well.
But in this case, my investment paid off not only in an emotionally authentic story—but also in a spin-off series! My editor and I didn’t want the Seasons series to get too long (off-putting to readers who’ve not discovered me until the fifth or sixth book), but we didn’t want to leave the town of Willow Ridge, either. So starting in 2016, Simple Gifts will continue this homey little town’s story and Nora Hooley will be the anchor character in a series that centers around her shop of the same name. It was a payoff I’d never anticipated—an ending even happier than the one I’d planned to write in the first place!