Mary, have you always been a writer?
No, I haven’t always been a writer, but I’ve always been a storyteller. I worked some years as a schoolteacher, and I’ve have had several positions since. My passion for American history led me to join a local historical society. As I listened to guest speakers or read historical accounts, I found myself inventing stories to go with the facts. From there, my first novel was born—a historical romance set during the Civil War. I can’t help but “see” stories wherever my travel or simple curiosity leads me.
Why did you want to write a book set in the Amish culture?
I grew up close to the eastern Ohio Amish settlement where my parents often visited when I was little. In fact, when I was a child, I told my mother I planned to marry an Amish gentleman when I grew up. I ended up marrying my college sweetheart, but my fondness for the Amish and respect for their Christian lifestyle never diminished. During a weekend getaway, the idea for A Widow’s Hope was born, and I couldn’t stop myself until I put pen to paper. I started the book longhand until I got home to my laptop.
How did you research the Amish community for A Widow’s Hope?
We now live close to the 4-county area that makes up the largest Amish settlement in the country, near where my book takes place. I met a wonderful innkeeper, a former Mennonite, who graciously introduced me to her neighbors and friends—members of Old Order and Swartzentruber Amish. Everyone I have talked to has been friendly and eager to assist my research. Several local farmers I met on auction day helped with my many agricultural questions.
Several of the characters in A Widow’s Hope face the loss of a loved one. Hannah and Seth both face the loss of a spouse, and little Phoebe faces the loss of her mother. How do the characters deal with loss and grief in their own ways?
Seth faces his loss by denying he has further need of love…as though his one marriage, though short in duration, will sustain him emotionally for the rest of his life. Hannah deals with her loss of a spouse by dwelling in insecurity, as though personal human imperfection will prevent another chance at happiness. Phoebe, as a child, retreats into silence. She cannot understand why her mother left, and insulates herself from suffering further loss by shutting people out.
Hannah operates a business farming sheep and selling their wool. The sheep, along with the occasional trouble they cause, are such a fun part of the story! Why did you choose sheep as the animals Hannah cares for?
I love sheep, plain and simple. Our first house was across the road from a sheep farm that sold wool and handmade items. I was teaching middle school at the time. I remember coming home, after a day of dealing with thirteen-year-olds, to sit in front of the window with a cup of tea to watch those sheep! My sanity and serenity returned in short order. We now live around the corner from another sheep farm, and I still gain peace by watching God’s gentlest of creatures.
Hannah and her brother-in-law, Simon, have a strained relationship. In what ways do both Hannah and Simon misunderstand each other?
Both have preconceived ideas of what the other is all about—unfortunately, a typical human shortcoming. Both are quick to assume the worst based on past behavior or based on their own fear. What can we learn from their interaction? It’s easy to say: Judge not, lest ye be judged. Yet, we don’t realize how often our preconception will color a situation and influence the outcome, whether with our children, spouses, or coworkers. Facing each interaction with a “fresh slate” is tough, but it would greatly improve our relationships and peace of mind.
Simon takes his position as a deacon in the church very seriously. Do you think he ever puts too much emphasis on his position of authority?
Amish deacons are chosen by drawing lots and remain in the position for life. Simon believes that since God chose him, he wants to serve with the best of his ability. Often it’s hard for those in authority to separate their responsibilities from how they deal with family members. For Simon, it becomes his greatest struggle, since empathy isn’t his strong suit.
People are often interested in the differences between the Amish lifestyle and society in general. But do you see any similarities?
Oh my, yes. They have trouble raising teenagers, deciding the gray areas of ethical behavior, “walking the walk” in certain situations, and balancing human compassion against maintaining their way of life—issues we struggle with as well.
What have you learned personally through the process of writing your first novel?
I have drawn closer to the Lord than I thought possible. I’d believed I was where I wanted to be as a Christian when I reconfirmed my life to Christ. But after finishing A Widow’s Hope, I realized my journey had only begun.
Can you give us a sneak peak at what’s next in the Miller Family Series?
In Never Far From Home, sweet Emma Miller begins a full rumschpringe, much to her parents’ dismay. Her fascination with the English world, and a handsome sheep farmer in particular, leads her to question almost everything she’s been taught so far. But Aunt Hannah can be counted on to make sure Emma doesn’t lose sight of what’s important in life as she grapples with her own challenges as a newlywed.