Interview with Adina Senft

MARYANN:

This week, I am deeply honored to introduce to you not only a highly gifted novelist but also a wonderful person and a treasured friend, Shelley Bates, who writes Amish fiction under the pseudonym of Adina Senft and YA fiction under the pen name of Shelley Adina. For the past two years, I have had the great privilege and blessing of studying fiction writing under Shelley’s expert mentorship, so I can vouch that she is also a great teacher. Shelley, welcome to The Write Power

SHELLEY:

:: blush :: You’re so kind. I’m delighted to be here—let’s sit down, have a cup of tea, and talk for a while.

 

MARYANN:

Sounds like a great idea! Before we get into the meat of our interview, I’d like our readers to read the background and the back cover copy of The Wounded Heart, as shown below:

 BACK-COVER BLURB: When a business offer turns into something more personal, an Amish woman is torn between what logic tells her is right, and the desire of her heart.

A widow with two small children, Amelia Beiler is struggling to make ends meet. She is running her late husband’s business, but it’s not what she was raised to do, which is run a home. When she gets an offer for the business from Eli Fischer, she’s only too relieved to consider it–especially when it looks like Eli’s interest might include more than just the shop. But when she begins to experience strange physical symptoms and is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, it’s difficult not to question God’s will. If she pursues the treatment she believes in, she risks going under the bann. But how can she allow Eli to court her when she can’t promise him a future?

BACKGROUND: This book came into being when a good friend’s health deteriorated in a very scary way over the course of several years. The docs couldn’t figure it out—fibromyalgia? MS?—until one day she was at the dentist and the guy suggested she might have mercury poisoning from the fillings in her teeth. The symptoms are very similar. I knew I was going to write about it, and setting it in the Amish community would increase the conflict because of the way their cooperative health system works. And yes, I promptly went out and had all my metal fillings replaced with that white composite stuff. I wasn’t taking any chances.


MARYANN:

Shelley, The Wounded Heart, was released on September 27th of this year. It is the first book in your Amish Quilt series, a women’s fiction trilogy published by FaithWords (Hachette Book Group). For the benefit of our readers, I’ve included above, in your own words, a brief background of your book from a recent interview you gave on Katharine Grubb’s blog, 10-Minute Writer. Did you encounter any unique novelistic struggles while writing The Wounded Heart, struggles you did not face while writing your earlier books? If so, would you share one or two of those struggles and how you overcame them?

SHELLEY:

I grew up in a plain church that has doctrines similar to those of the Amish. One of the biggest struggles I had was to continually remind myself, “This is not your church.” I was often mistaken for an Amish person, even though we didn’t have as strict a clothing standard as the Amish do, but the focus in the story was the internal approach to religion, not so much the external approach. I did a lot of research so that I would understand how deeply their religious beliefs permeate their lives and actions. Even then, I still made mistakes. Just this past June, while riding in a buggy with an Amish man, I learned that they don’t use honorifics. In English, for instance, “Mr.” is derived from monseigneur, which means “my lord.” They don’t call anyone Lord except God. This is an extremely fine point that you just don’t find in the books, even the detailed anthropological studies. 


MARYANN:

Did you have a connection with the Amish before you embarked on your research, or did you have to make that connection in order to research? If the latter, how did you go about connecting with the Amish?


SHELLEY:

I was very lucky to have friends who had connections among the Amish. One of them was an alumna of the Writing Popular Fiction program. She arranged for me to visit an Amish family, where the lady of the house patiently answered questions as varied as “How do you put those tiny pleats in your Kapp?” to “Does your buggy have brakes?” In other cases, I hung around the fabric stores where the Amish women shop, and conversed with them when they’d let me. 


MARYANN:

Like you, I prefer writing and reading stories that are “deep, not wide.” Stories in which the conflict and action are primarily internal and stem from religious, societal, or cultural expectations. Do you find that the emotional landscape for such stories can be more riveting than that of “wide” stories? If you do, why do you think this is so?


SHELLEY:

We’re women, and we write for women. I think women tend to like stories about emotional journeys, simply because those are the kinds of journeys we make in our own lives—toward love, toward maturity, toward faith. And in an Amish story, the canvas can be very small—sometimes the whole thing can take place within a couple of square miles, or on a single farm. So by necessity, the drama and conflict must be on the internal stage, not the external. Maybe this is why there haven’t been all that many movies made of Amish novels 🙂 Plain Truth and Witness both had external or Englisch characters that brought drama to the farm; they didn’t portray Amish characters alone.


MARYANN:
Shelley, I recently lived through my first—and, I hope, my last—earthquake. You and your husband lost your home during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Obviously, that earthquake affected your life in a major way, but did it affect your writing and, if so, how?


SHELLEY:

The earthquake happened before I began writing seriously toward publication. However, it did teach me a lot about a community pulling together during a disaster. And it taught me lessons I still observe today about living without electricity and water. It took nine months before the water system in our community was repaired, so we pumped water from a 50-gallen barrel for showers and dishes most of the following year. You would shower with a bucket in there with you (3 minutes, no longer) and then use the water in the bucket to flush the toilet. I can light and trim a kerosene lamp, and I served a New Year’s dinner once to 11 people, all without electricity. After experiences like that, writing the daily life of a woman living without electricity is pretty straightforward.


MARYANN:

Wow!  A life-changing experience, I’m sure.  One of my favorite childhood memories is that of taking care of our family chickens. Each morning, at the crack of dawn, I would head out to the chicken coops to gather the day’s eggs. “My” chickens would greet me with a cackle or two but did not budge from their laying posts. Many a time, I’d have to stick my hand under their warm bellies to retrieve their daily deposit of eggs. My gesture was usually followed by a leap and a flutter of wings. How I loved those chickens! You too raise chickens. In fact, you rescue them. How did you get involved with chickens, and do they play a role in your stories?


SHELLEY:

There is a chicken somewhere in every book I write, whether it’s a romance, a YA, or these Amish books 🙂 I got involved with chickens about ten years ago, when a little red hen ran away from home and took up residence in our garden. When she started laying eggs in the periwinkle, we decided it was time to give her a permanent home. And since chickens are flock birds and don’t do well as singletons, I went down to the animal shelter to find her a companion. There in a cage was a miserable brown chick, whose very posture said, “I hate my life.” I adopted her on the spot. Cocoa Puff and Electroclux got on famously, and before I knew it, people were calling me when they had extra birds, or they’d stop my husband in the street to tell him about birds that needed a home. And he even found a hen, Millie, dodging cars on the onramp to the freeway. Of course she came home with him. You’ve gotta love a big woolly guy straight-arming the wheel of the truck, accelerating down the road with a half-grown chick in his big hand, tucked up against his chest.


MARYANN:

Sounds like something my dh would do. 🙂 As a follower of Christ, do you view fiction written by Christians as having a purpose different from or additional to that of fiction written by non-Christian writers? If so, what, in your opinion, is that different or additional purpose?


SHELLEY:

I think it does have an additional purpose, depending on the convictions of the writer. My fiction isn’t what secular reviewers call “preachy” because I’m no preacher. But my characters quietly live out what they believe, no matter the circumstances around them, because of the strength their faith gives them. I believe a life speaks loudest when the person doesn’t speak, so that’s what my characters do, and my readers seem to respond to it. 


MARYANN:

Do you follow a particular method in conducting research for your novels? For example, do you begin with on-location interviews? Do you do preliminary book and/or Internet research? Do you spend time living in the culture about which you write?


SHELLEY:

To start the process, I do lots and lots of book research—anthropological studies, social studies, even literary analysis of books about the Amish. I visit websites with good photography. And because I need to see and smell and feel a place, I visit. When I go out to Seton Hill to teach in the summer, I add a few extra days to spend in Lancaster County. This past June I learned to drive a horse and buggy, and I had dinner in an Amish home. I hang out in the fabric store and listen to what the women are talking about. I walk the roads. I have Amish clothes at home so that I know how they feel. And I make notes about what is blooming in gardens and yards so I can describe what the farms look like from a woman’s point of view. The hardest part is choosing what details to include from such a rich store of research!


MARYANN:

I have been immensely blessed to have you as my mentor in the Seton Hill University MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program. You yourself are a graduate of the program. Would you comment on what you consider to be the benefits of an advanced degree program in genre writing?


SHELLEY:

While a writer doesn’t need an advanced degree to put her passion on the page, a little education about the craft of putting together a story really helps. The advantage of an advanced degree is that you have a bedrock of knowledge about your predecessors in your genre so you know where its tropes and expectations come from. You also have an expanding network of fellow writers for support, critique, and friendship. And you have an opportunity to share your work with a number of knowledgeable reader-writers who can help you turn that heap of pages into a compelling novel.


MARYANN:

If you were to express in a single word or phrase the theme or quality that informs your writing the most, what would that word or phrase be and why?


SHELLEY:

I hope readers would think it was “compelling” and “detailed.” That’s what I strive for. I write about issues that are interesting to me, and hopefully interesting to others, too. And I want a reader to feel they’ve stepped into a world that’s real, with characters who are alive.


MARYANN:

Shelley, thank you so very much for being with us today! It has been an honor and a privilege. You have been most gracious to share your time and your expertise. We pray God’s blessings on The Wounded Heart and on its sister books. May He use them to point countless people to Christ.


SHELLEY:

As the Amish say, “Denkes!” (Thanks!) and His will be done. The next book, The Hidden Life, will be out in June 2012, and The Tempted Soul will come out in early spring of 2013. It’s been fun to visit—let’s have some more tea!


MARYANN:

Yes, let’s do! I invite all of you to visit Shelley’s website at http://www.adinasenft.com/ and to purchase her compelling books.  You will not only be highly entertained; you will also be profoundly inspired.  You may also purchase Shelley’s book at http://www.amazon.com/Wounded-Heart-Amish-Quilt-Novel/dp/0892968540/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1319202134&sr=8-1

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