Sometimes the mere hint of a secret can spark an entire series of books—which happened for me when I began my Simple Gifts series! My editor and I knew we wanted to return to Willow Ridge, and we knew we wanted Nora Hooley and her Simple Gifts shop to be the focus of these stories, but it’s the undercurrent of “something fishy” that sets the stage for a major revelation—a major meltdown—that will change Willow Ridge forever. And it begins in A SIMPLE VOW.
This idea came to me when I was talking with my former assistant, Jim, who lived in Jamesport, MO where I do my research. Jim (who died of cancer last year) was English but he grew up with the Amish in Jamesport and they trusted him with information most of us can’t access. He told me about a “secret bank” Amish communities have—which is no secret to the Amish, of course, but only a few know where the money is kept. He didn’t give me a figure, but Jim said that since the Jamesport community began in 1952, a HUGE amount of money has accumulated. This is money that’s collected in church twice yearly as offering, along with large donations from members who prefer to keep their money in this fund rather than in a regular bank. This money is also the basis for the Amish Aid fund shared with folks who have major medical bills, burned-down houses, and other emergencies to pay for. The Amish don’t believe in insurance, so this is the fund they fall back on in tough times, taking care of their own.
“Does anybody ever dip into that fund without telling the bishop?” I asked Jim. “What would happen if a large portion of that money disappeared and nobody found out—until it was too late—that most of it was gone?”
Jim smiled at the way my mind worked. He told me that if that kind of thievery occurred, no one outside the colony would ever know—it would never make the papers, and the police or other investigators would never be called in, because the Amish don’t allow English outsiders to meddle in their church or financial matters.
My devious mind went into high gear. I’m not saying that such a deception has ever occurred in an Amish community . . . but it could, because human nature kicks in for even the most honorable, faithful members of any church. Under the right (or wrong) circumstances, even the best of us fall prey to temptation.
So when the Riehl family moves to Willow Ridge, we are immediately caught up in the drama when Edith agrees to care for the adorable six-month-old twins a grief-stricken Will Gingerich begs her to take. We meet her sisters, Loretta and Rosalyn, and we wonder if we can trust handsome Asa Detweiler, who has been accused of fathering those twins under dubious circumstances. The story starts at a wedding, where Ira Hooley is marrying Nora’s daughter, Millie, and it quickly spirals into a quest for the real father of those six-month-old twins—
But you’d better keep an eye on the girls’ father, Cornelius.
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!
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.
It’s a beautiful, cool morning so I baked a new recipe for Rhubarb Bread, and I also toasted a batch of Peanut Butter Granola. I won’t get away with just telling you how wonderful my kitchen smells now, and how eager I am to try this bread, so here are the two recipes. If you’re gluten free, the granola can be made without any wheat ingredients–and the mixture of peanut butter and coconut oil make this a real treat for breakfast, or as a topper for ice cream or fresh fruit. Enjoy!
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 C. white sugar
1/2 C. brown sugar
2 T. milk
2 C. flour
1/2 C. old fashioned oats
1 tsp. baking soda
Dash of salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 C. hot cooked rhubarb
Preheat oven to 375º. Grease/spray a 9×5″ bread pan. Cream the butter and sugars, then add the eggs and milk and mix well. Add the dry ingredients, vanilla, and mix until smooth. Then blend in the cooked rhubarb. Bake about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then finish cooling the loaf on a wire rack.
PEANUT BUTTER GRANOLA
2 1/2 C. old fashioned oats
1/2 C. wheat germ, corn meal, or other granular grain/cereal
1/2 C. sunflower seeds or other chopped nuts
2 T. ground flaxseed meal
1 T. cinnamon
Dash of salt
1/4 C. coconut oil
1/3 C. peanut butter
2 T. maple syrup
Preheat oven to 300º. Place dry ingredients in a large bowl. Measure the coconut oil, peanut butter and maple syrup into a glass measuring cup and then microwave it for about 40 seconds. Stir to blend, and then stir the liquid into the dry ingredients. Mix well to coat all the grains–using the back of a large spoon to rub the liquid into the grains helps. Cover an edged cookie sheet with foil. Pour the granola onto the pan and spread evenly, then toast in the oven for about 30 minutes, stirring about every 10 minutes. Cool. Add dried cranberries, raisins, etc if desired.
I am so pleased to announce that AUTUMN WINDS, the second book in my Seasons of the Heart series, has recently been named Inspirational Romance of 2012 by RomanceReviews.com. I was excited last year when the reviewer emailed to tell me she had given my book a “Perfect 10” rating, but this win for the entire year is frosting on the cake.
WHY am I excited about this particular award? Because I had nothing to do with it! To win a lot of awards, you must nominate your own book–or have someone nominate it for you–and sometimes for online awards, you must then go begging to your friends, saying “VOTE FOR ME!” I really, really dislike these popularity contests, so I don’t participate. It just doesn’t feel right to me. So, compared to many other novelists, I don’t have a lot of awards listed beside my name.
That updates you for now, although it’s nearly time to bring on the 3 new books I have coming out this fall: WINTER OF WISHES, AN AMISH COUNTRY CHRISTMAS, and AMANDA WEDS A GOOD MAN. You can see more about those now on my Upcoming Titles page, and newsletters will go out soon! Thanks so much for your interest in my books.
The leaves are falling and there’s a chill in the air in Willow Ridge, Missouri, the quaint, quiet Amish town where love, loyalty, and faith in the Old Ways are about to be put to the test…
I’m pleased to announce the outing of my book, AUTUMN WINDS, the second story in my Seasons of the Heart Amish series. It arrived in stores on Tuesday, September 4th, and I have to say that even after publishing nearly thirty books, these arrivals still make me smile.
And while I’m the first to say that Facebook groups can be such a time suck, I have to admit it’s been fun to have several fans post that they were going to the bookstore on Tuesday to get my book so they could read it right then. Back in the day when my first books were coming out, I wasn’t even sure what the exact pub date was and I certainly had no such messages about people fetching them that day. The internet has made us a lot less isolated even while we’re holed up writing.
I’m also pleased to say that my editor for Seasons of the Heart, Alicia Condon, has just offered me a new three-book contract! Not only will this extend my series to six books, it tells me that Alicia has faith in the salability of my writing as well as in the continuation of this wave of Amish fiction popularity. The last of these books won’t see daylight until the holiday season of 2015! It’s wonderful to be writing for both Kensington and NAL for the next couple of years, because we writers all know how fleeting our employment opportunities can be.
Because I’m supposed to be working on my WIP, AN AMISH COUNTRY CHRISTMAS right now, and because I also owe my NAL editor an updated synopsis for my next Home at Cedar Creek novel, I’ll keep this short. Feel free to read an excerpt for AUTUMN WINDS—and check out the new recipes for this book!—while you’re here visiting my site. I hope you enjoy reading Miriam’s tale of hooking a younger man with a “dubious” past as much as I enjoyed writing it!