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!
When I began writing EMMA BLOOMS AT LAST, the fourth book in my Home At Cedar Creek/One Big Happy Family series, major story pieces were already in play. I’d created the world of Cedar Creek, Missouri, and I’d also kept readers wondering if Abby Lambright and James Graber would ever marry! In AMANDA WEDS A GOOD MAN, I’d also introduced the extended Brubaker family. One element of the writing process was different, however: I knew EMMA would be the final book in this series. I had to say goodbye, so I could say yes to other things—and that’s exactly what Emma Graber must do in this book, as well!
Poor Emma, however, deals with a very tough goodbye when her mother dies. Eunice Graber simply doesn’t wake up one morning—and if you’ve lost your mom, you realize Emma’s sense of loss will never totally go away. Already a homebody, Emma will use her mother’s passing as an excuse for not going out when flashy, confident Jerome Lambright invites her to have some fun.
An unexpected job offer from Sam Lambright turns the tide, however: Sam insists that Abby will no longer work in the mercantile now that she’s married. Everyone in Cedar Creek knows Sam will have a lot of trouble replacing Abby, and some folks doubt Emma’s ability to work in the busy store during the Christmas season.
But Emma gives it a shot. She’s kept the books for her brother’s carriage shop, so she eagerly tackles Sam’s bookkeeping—a task she can perform in the workroom, because she’s in mourning and isn’t permitted to work among the customers. Then an emotional melt-down shows Emma and her family that she hasn’t allowed herself time to grieve her mother’s passing. Even so, Emma’s dat Merle tells her to get a life—doing something besides hovering over him. As Jerome finds ways to spend time with the Graber family, Emma comes to appreciate his enthusiastic nature. She even confronts the ex-fiancee who tries to win Jerome back. Now that’s a funny chapter!
Jerome has changed his ways, as well, coaxing Emma from her cocoon instead of coming on like a fire truck. He takes her on a moonlit sleigh ride and bares his soul, allowing Emma to see that he, too, has his share of doubts. As a man who’s backed out of two previous engagements, Jerome doesn’t want to become a three-time loser nor does he want to hurt Emma by rushing into another bad match.
And in the end, EMMA BLOOMS AT LAST. She says goodbye to the shy, retiring young woman she’d been and says yes to a future as Jerome’s wife and helpmate. For me, saying goodbye to this series has provided a chance to write two new Amish series for the publisher of my Seasons of the Heart books. So I get a happy ending from making a major change, just as Emma does!
The cover of a book is supposed to lure potential readers to take your book from the store shelf—or click it, online—and read more about what’s inside. The typical path is: you like the cover, you read the back cover copy, you open the book to read inside a bit, and—hopefully—you proceed to the checkout. Cover art does these things mostly by revealing the genre of the story, telling the reader what awaits her inside, and conveying the setting and the general mood of the story.
For instance, you can see at a glance that this is an Amish story because the young woman on the front is wearing a kapp, and there’s a horse-drawn vehicle on it, and a picturesque snow-covered countryside sets the scene. Even if you didn’t see the title, AN AMISH CHRISTMAS QUILT, you’d know it was a Christmas book because of that red and green quilt on the young lady’s lap. Most of the readers and reviewers in the Amish-interest Facebook groups I belong to have raved about this cover and can’t wait to read this anthology, so this cover is doing its job. It helps that Christmas anthologies sell very well, and that Amish Christmas anthologies are a huge draw for readers who enjoy those simple, homespun, faith-based stories. In all humility, while I think my fans (not to mention fans of Kelly and Jennifer) will flock to this anthology, this book would sell pretty well no matter whose name was on the front.
Yet when I saw this cover the first time, I snorted iced tea through my nose! Why was that?
Well, think about it! Ask yourself why this attractive young woman is seated on an unhitched wagon in the middle of a snowy field—yet she’s smiling as though there’s nowhere on earth she’d rather be. Where’s the horse? Why’s she off the road?
I have no idea.
The scene has nothing to do with my story, “A Willow Ridge Christmas Pageant,” and reading the other two blurbs doesn’t suggest a connection, either. Had I gotten a preview peek at this cover—and usually I do—I would’ve pointed out the perceived discrepancies immediately.
Do I like this cover? You bet I do—the colors and the mood it conveys are perfect for this genre and holiday. I’m also pleased that in the inspirational market, we get to call it a Christmas anthology rather than a holiday book. And I will say that the cover art for my Seasons of the Heart series for Kensington have been awesome—and that the cover of my upcoming HARVEST OF BLESSINGS is the loveliest, most spot-on cover I’ve ever had on a book.
But sometimes you just have to say huh? and chuckle at New York’s renditions of country life. If the young lady on the cover is sitting in the snow, with no apparent place to go and no horse to take her there—and she’s smiling—then I will smile, too. Maybe she knows a lot more than I do!
I’m getting ready to speak to the local chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers, on the topic of how to write and sell a series. As I was skimming the Series Overview I wrote as part of my original proposal for the Seasons of the Heart series, back in 2010, these lines leaped off the page about one of my major characters:
Their bishop, Hiram Knepp, focuses them on God’s will for their lives in Willow Ridge and in the outside world they separate themselves from. As he offers thanks for the meals served up in the Sweet Seasons Cafe, his mellow voice . . . and his patience will bless you as you enjoy these stories of his Plain flock, the sheep of his pasture.
My mouth dropped open. This is so not the Hiram Knepp we now love to hate! And it’s a perfect example of how characters can change dramatically between the time a writer first conceives of them and when they take on their own lives as the story actually gets written. Indeed, the man you might picture from the above quote would seem to have angel-white hair and wings with a halo, when in fact, in this fourth book of the series, BREATH OF SPRING, Hiram Knepp has gotten himself excommunicated from Willow Ridge for owning and hiding a car—among other things. And at one point in this story, he shows up with a short English-style haircut and a close-clipped goatee, both of which have been dyed coal black!
As I think back over Hiram’s slip-slide from grace, I realize it started in SUMMER OF SECRETS, the first book of the series, when Hiram was pestering Miriam Lantz to marry him and she refused . . . and with each refusal, he thought of the next nasty way to get even, to get revenge, and to try to get everything from her
Enter the two Hooley sisters, Jerusalem and Nazarath, in AUTUMN WINDS to distract him from his pursuit of Miriam—but Hiram still kept finding ways to come down on the Lantz family. In WINTER OF WISHES, he was intent on shaming Rhoda Lantz for riding in a car and kissing English nurse Andy Leitner—but by the end of that drama, when Hiram had finagled a large plot of land to start a new colony, claiming God Himself had told him to do this, the good folks of Willow Ridge sent him packing. (Well, actually, Hiram refused to confess his sins or do penance, so he cooked his own goose . . . and then left it on the Christmas dinner table to rot.)
In BREATH OF SPRING, which is Annie Mae Knepp’s story, Hiram of course will be in full fettle once again—and even I was aghast at the way he chose to disgrace her. I’m grateful to my astute editor for once saying that Annie Mae would make an interesting heroine, because if I’d followed the pattern, the next Lantz girl to marry off would’ve been Rebecca. While readers love Rebecca, because she has made Willow Ridge her home despite saying plain-out that she won’t become Amish, therein lies the problem: I would be writing a non-Amish story if she were a heroine. So for now she remains a reliable, tech-savvy character whose website design business is bringing a lot of new folks to visit her mother’s Sweet Seasons cafe as well as the Hooley brothers’ new Mill at Willow Ridge—which is so beautifully illustrated on the cover of BREATH OF SPRING.
I think you’ll agree that Annie Mae must rise above many challenges the average seventeen-year-old couldn’t hope to face. At the end of WINTER, we saw her and her sister Nellie walk away from their father Hiram, absolutely refusing to go to his new colony—knowing they were inviting his wrath for defying him. In BREATH OF SPRING we see the return of her former beau, Yonnie Stoltzfus, in a sleek blue sportscar . . . with trouble on his mind. And then when Annie Mae sees that her four younger sibs are being mistreated by Hiram’s new um, live-in, Annie Mae gathers them in and takes them home to Willow Ridge and safety. But always in this story, she’s looking over her shoulder, living in the shadow of her relentless father’s arrogance and love of power.
Our hero, by comparison, is a rather quiet, unassuming fellow you’ve met at many a breakfast in the Sweet Seasons. Adam Wagler is busy with his home remodeling business, living with his widowed brother Matthias in a man-cave of a house that’s anything but clean or homey. While most of the local guys are warning him not to take up with Annie Mae because he’ll be supporting her entire family, Adam is wondering what such a strong young woman could possibly see in him. He has an illegal surprise from his past parked in his barn, however, and it enables him to save the day and Annie Mae in true heroic fashion.
I hope you’ll find a lot to enjoy in BREATH OF SPRING! And I think you’ll agree that the Seasons of the Heart series much more interesting because Hiram has evolved into such a villain—and because not all of the folks who live in Willow Ridge are squeaky clean or free from secret sins.
Sounds a lot like real life, doesn’t it?
You know that passage from Proverbs 31:10, “A good woman who can find? For her price is far above rubies?” Well, the same can be said for finding a good man! I know, because I married one more than 38 years ago—and without his support during my 20+ years as a writer I simply would not be writing these Amish stories today. Emotionally and financially, I have made it through some years when the soup would have been mighty thin (or nonexistent), had Neal not been willing to pay the bills so I could write. These days, writing two series for two different publishers—when Amish books are such a hit—are the frosting on the cake for me. AMANDA WEDS A GOOD MAN comes out on Neal’s birthday, and I would be remiss if I didn’t give him a little plug here, and a big birthday kiss!
As for my new book, AMANDA WEDS A GOOD MAN, it has an interesting story! Do you remember the TV series, The Brady Bunch?? It was a story about a gal with kids who married a guy with kids, back in the day when blended families were more the exception than the norm they are today. Of course, the episodes were funny and highly idealized, and the Brady Bunch solved their problems by the end of each weekly episode.
My editor and one of the reps who sells for my publisher, NAL approached me with this idea: you know Amish widows and widowers with kids remarry and combine their families, yet they hadn’t seen any books with this premise—would I want to write one? When someone hands you a fun idea like this, the answer is always yes. My challenge was that I was already two books into my At Home in Cedar Creek series, and I had readers clamoring for the day when Abby Lambright and James Graber finally get married! I could not let that story go untold.
So I had to figure out a way to work Amanda and Wyman’s story into the world I’d already created. Don’t be confused about the new series name One Big Happy Family, which is on the cover! The marketing department is calling this a “sub-series,” thinking it’s a new way to improve sales. I’m not so sure about that, as I’ve gotten lots of notes from readers who think I’ve abandoned my original Cedar Creek characters. Not so! But in order to write the “Brady Bunch” idea, I had to go along with the “sub series” idea.
I believe I’ve created a wonderful new family—Amanda is Sam Lambright’s cousin, so she’s related and lives in Bloomingdale—that adds more drama and interest to the folks you’ve come to know and love in this Cedar Creek series. Wyman Brubaker is indeed a Good Man, but it’s up to Amanda (and Abby!) to show him how he must change to create the big, happy family he and Amanda envision when they marry. It’s much more than just taking Amanda, her mother-in-law, and her three daughters into his home with his five kids—which becomes very crowded, and only has one bathroom! It takes a lot of adjusting and loving and seeing things from other family members’ perspectives—and a devastating storm, and a really cranky bishop—to bring the newly blended Brubaker family to a better place.
And I must admit that Wyman makes these changes more willingly than a lot of real-life Amish husbands might. He gives up a lot to make Amanda happy because, in the end, he believes that loving his wife well is akin to loving the Lord—no matter what his bishop tells him!
The Brubakers do live happily ever after—and they will appear again in EMMA BLOOMS AT LAST, which comes out in the fall of 2014! I’m writing this book right now, and I’m delighted that because Amanda’s family has come into this series, James’s sister Emma has found someone to love. So stay tuned!
And in the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas season with those you love. I’m truly thankful for readers who are willing to keep buying my books, trusting me to tell them stories that lift them up and warm their hearts.
At long last, a year after we read Miriam’s story in AUTUMN WINDS, it’s time to learn about Rhoda Lantz’s turn at romance! Her story is totally different from her sister Rachel’s, as Rhoda finds the man of her dreams while looking at ads posted on the bulletin board in Zook’s Market—and is in immediate trouble.
Before she’s even hung up from talking with Andy Leitner, asking about the job caring for his two kids after school, along with his aging mom, just the timbre of his voice whispers to her lonely heart, calling up forbidden longings. Word gets out about her English employer . . . a secret kiss in the moonlight . . . and Rhoda may well be shunned. Rest assured that Bishop Hiram Knepp finds ways to make Rhoda’s life miserable—and a few of HIS secrets, after the sleighing accident of his two 5-year-old twins, will get the folks of Willow Ridge up in arms, as well.
And, oh yes! Miriam and Ben will get married on New Year’s Day, but their ceremony will be interrupted by even more surprises. If you think Willow Ridge goes into hibernation during the cold winter months, think again!
I’d love to hear what you think of this story–feel free to post on my Charlotte Hubbard Facebook page, or to post a review on BN.com, Amazon and other online bookstores. Thank you so much for your interest in my Seasons of the Heart series!