When we were kids, life was so simple. We went to school, completed our homework, and then just played outside. On the weekends, it was family time peppered with baseball games and the occasional ballet recital. Nowadays, our kids are way overscheduled. Even trying to squeeze in a vacation can become a Herculean feat. If only we could go back to a simpler time when all we needed was a good conversation with the dearest of friends. How did we become such a busy society?
This month’s Jen’s Jewels Rosalind Lauer explores that very question in her exciting new Amish series Seasons of Lancaster. Get ready to be swept away by her unforgettable characters in the delightful first book A SIMPLE WINTER. Set in the rolling hills of beautiful Lancaster County, it’s the story of one Amish family’s struggle to overcome a shocking tragedy while an outsider contemplates leaving her busy life behind in order to find herself among the Amish.
As part of this interview, Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House Books, has generously donated five copies for you, my favorite readers, to try to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question at the end. Go ahead and leave the busyness behind and fall in love with the Seasons of Lancaster.
Jen: As writers, we create stories from the myriad experiences in our lives. So that my readers may take a peek inside your own personal storybook, please share with us your educational and professional background.
Rosalind: I grew up in suburban Maryland and attended three different high schools, the third in Ludwigsburg, Germany, where my father was working that year. (The experience with German has helped me with the language of the Amish.) We have five kids in our family, so money was tight. That pressed me to develop a work ethic in line with Amish values. When I was nine I ran a camp for neighborhood kids in my backyard, charging their parents a nickel a day. I’ve worked as a waitress, receptionist and library assistant. I’ve done packaging on a factory line. I spent a hot summer as a cook’s assistant at a rural camp. I’ve scooped ice cream, sold hot dogs and women’s accessories (though not at the same time!) I managed a theater box office and helped soldiers through a Red Cross outpost in Germany.
I majored in English at Wagner College in Staten Island, New York — a perfect blend of small campus life and city culture. After a deadly dull but well-paying job I took a pay cut to work as an editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster. I never regretted that. I worked on Silhouette Books at a time when the romance industry was exploding, and I learned so much from my mentor Nancy Jackson and from the writers I worked with.
Jen: Please describe for us the “Aha!” moment when you decided to take the leap and actively pursue a career as a novelist.
Rosalind: For A SIMPLE WINTER, my “Aha!” moment came when I felt that I could add my own touch of humanity and love to Amish fiction. While there are some wonderful writers working in this genre, I had read many books that depicted the Amish as stern and severe. Although the Amish culture has its difference, there are certain universal qualities all people share, and I wanted to depict Amish characters that were human first. Yes, there are many rules for the Amish to follow, but the farm life is a life on the land, a world of color, birth and death, and humor. This book saga has pulled me closer to the earth, and it’s ironic that our society seems to be moving toward many of the things the Amish have done for years like organic foods, reusing and recycling, solar energy and home vegetable gardens.
Jen: In your debut novel A SIMPLE WINTER, you explore the simple life of Amish living through the eyes of a young journalist Remy McCallister. How did you arrive at the premise?
Rosalind: The story began with the notion of a typical large Amish family struck by the tragedy of the death of the parents. Who would raise the children? I liked the idea of my main character, Adam, needing to step up and do something he hadn’t chosen out of family duty. I also loved the notions of the greater community pitching in to help the Kings, as the Amish do so well, and I wanted to make it clear that this was a functional family in which everyone, young and small, also pitched in to support each other and make the family function.
From Remy’s viewpoint, I wanted her to be a disenfranchised twenty-something – which I think we’re seeing a lot of in this generation – who is searching for her place in the world and the home she lost when she was a child. I thought the two angles collided well for a dynamic story.
Jen: In terms of nuts and bolts, approximately how long did it take for you to write the book? Did you outline the story first? Or, did you simply allow the novel to take on a life of its own?
Rosalind: Since A SIMPLE WINTER was the first of three books in the King family saga, I needed a little more time than usual to find the right balance of romance, drama and mystery. I took two months to write a series proposal that included two chapters of the first book and a detailed outline. And actually, the publisher passed on that proposal! That was a heartbreak, as I knew I was close and I loved these characters. The chapters had to be reworked, almost from scratch, though the family story and the mystery remained in tact.
With some candid notes from my agent, which mostly involved digging more into the main characters, I was able to revise the chapters for a green light on the series. After that it took around three months to write the manuscript and another month at least for revisions. Oh, this book needed some major tightening up! I am so fortunate to have a wonderful editor who can see the big picture as well as small details. When she is engaged in my characters she is quick to note when they go off-track and she had great ideas on how to reel them in. When I see her notes, there’s no doubt that the changes she suggests will strengthen the book.
In terms of form, I always outline a story. Lately I’ve taken to nailing it down in more detail – scene by scene. The beauty of an outline is that is gives you a blueprint so your foundation is set, and from there, if you want to add on or move in a different direction, it’s usually fine. For me writing the outline is a very creative process because I’m trying to sew and emotional underpinning into a chain of realistic events. When I write the scene I have to feel it, be in it – make it live!
Jen: How did your former career as an editor prepare you for the rigors of writing your first book? Did you find yourself overly critical during the writing process? Or, did your editing skills enable you to avoid certain pitfalls?
Rosalind: You’re right! If you let that critical editor sit on your shoulder while you’re creating a story, you won’t get far! I’ve been able to turn off that voice in the initial writing phase and let it shout later when I’m rewriting.
One skill I did learn as an editor was how to pick out the things that worked and revise the things that weren’t necessary to the story. You have to crack your story open, painful though it may be, toss out the disease and do surgery on the rest. As an editor you are looking at the whole book and thinking of how all the story elements can work organically together. As a writer I can get lost in the details, but there’s a time in every book when I need to step back and take a look at the piece as a whole.
Jen: In terms of research, approximately how much was needed for the story to ring true with your readers? And, what was the most fascinating thing you learned about the Amish culture?
Rosalind: In terms of research, I was guided by real life experience and sociologists like John Hostetler and Donald Kraybill. Researching the Amish is tricky because you cannot rely on internet postings, and once you begin to research you learn that there are so many differences from one congregation/region to the next, your head can spin!
My lifesaver was Dr. Violet Dutcher, a college professor with Amish roots. As an academic she understands fiction and literature, and she has extensive ties and experiences with various Amish communities. She reviews my work and offers suggestions, revisions and personal anecdotes. The third Seasons of Lancaster Novel, Jonah’s story, is largely inspired by her wonderful anecdotes about Amish men and their secret fascination with cars.
The most fascinating thing about Amish culture? That’s a tough one when you’re talking about a seemingly simple world rich with complexities. I think the greatest misconception about Amish life is that it is a drab, colorless world. That’s so far from the truth! In Lancaster County there’s the colorful landscape and brightly colored dresses worn by women. No print fabrics, but lovely deep gem tones of color. I suppose the “apparent” contradictions are a fascination. The ban on electrical hookups but the allowance of some diesel powered equipment. A hand pump beside a solar powered water heater. The freedom of a young person to choose baptism, though their parents and community fully expect it. The use of scooters with tires but no tires allowed on farm equipment or carriages. Rumspringa alone is full of contradictions! I love these intricacies and enjoyed exploring their complexities.
Jen: The lead character Remy is a vibrant soul in search of her true calling in life. How does her encounter with Adam King, a young Amish man, positively impact her relationship with her father Herb?
Rosalind: Remy’s father Herb isn’t a bad guy, but he doesn’t have a nurturing, paternal bone in his body, and Remy has paid dearly for that. Remy’s attitude toward her father evolves in an interesting way, as she must combine her instinct to protect herself against the thoughtless, alienating things her father does with the Amish ways of respect for a parent and obedience to their wishes. One of the wonderful things about doing a three-book saga is that you don’t have to wrap up every detail in one book. Although A Simple Winter has its own satisfying conclusion, some of the story threads like Remy’s relationship with Herb are allowed to play out in more of a real-time thread through the three books. You need to keep reading to find out how she finally reconciles with Herb.
Jen: When given the assignment to cover the tragic death of Adam’s parents, what is going on in Remy’s mind? How does this opportunity turn into a chance to open Pandora’s Box?
Rosalind: When she gets the assignment, Remy is torn between proving her journalistic skill on her own merit and reconnecting with Adam, whom she met a year ago during a difficult juncture in both their lives. Her involvement with the King family opens a Pandora’s box because Remy can’t help but try to piece together clues about who murdered Adam’s parents, and as a good Amish man, Adam cannot pursue that investigation or hope that the killer receives punishment. The Amish believe that justice is served by God, and it’s not man’s place to intervene in such a matter.
Jen: As the head of the family, Adam must now provide material as well as emotional support to his siblings. How do his feelings for Remy hinder his ability to move forward?
Rosalind: After his move away from home during his Rumspringa, Adam is determined to do all the right things and lead the family according to the rules of the Ordnung. His involvement with Remy does not please any of the ministers, and everyone knows a good Amish man does not marry an Englisher. Everyone is waiting for Adam to do the right thing and find a young Amish woman to marry.
Jen: Lets’ switch gears now and talk about your promotional plans. Do you participate in social media? Do you have a website?
Rosalind: Readers can always reach me through my Facebook page, Rosalind Lauer. I don’t have a website. It just doesn’t seem like a good fit for an Amish writer, and I have committed myself to putting my energies into writing “wonderful good,” heartwarming books instead of trying to learn marketing. I’m so grateful to have an excellent publisher like Random House behind this book to take care of those details for me. Random House has a wonderful website with information on my books.
Jen: Will you be participating in Author Phone chats? If so, how would my readers go about scheduling one?
Rosalind: I would love to talk to book groups about A SIMPLE WINTER. Anyone who wants to schedule a phone chat can reach me through my Facebook page, Rosalind Lauer.
Jen: Are you currently at work on the next book in the Seasons of Lancaster series? What can you share with us?
Rosalind: Actually, I just finished the outline for the third Seasons of Lancaster series! It’s Jonah King’s story, and I’m very excited about exploring a strong male perspective in the Amish community. The second book, A Simple Spring, is in production now, and I think my heart skipped a beat when I saw the beautiful cover image of Sadie backlit by a sunrise in brilliant shades of orange and yellow. In A Simple Spring, Sadie is torn between pursuing the musical talent God has blessed her with and obeying the rules and traditions of her Amish community. The second book gave me a chance to delve into Sadie’s character and show more of the King family at home. Coming from a large family, I’ve enjoyed recreating the wonderful dynamics among siblings.
Jen: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to stop by and chat with my readers. I loved reading A SIMPLE WINTER. Bravo! Good luck with your future projects. I look forward to catching up with my new friends of Lancaster in the spring and fall.
Rosalind: Thank you, Jen! I am starting to write the third book, A Simple Autumn, this week, and I am looking forward to getting back to the King family. For me, it’s like going home for Christmas!
I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Rosalind. I sure did! What a fascinating culture! Please stop by your favorite bookstore or local library branch and pick up a copy of A SIMPLE WINTER today. Better yet, how would you like to win one instead?
Okay, be one of the first five readers to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the correct answer to the following trivia question and you’ll win.
What is the name of the second novel in the Seasons of Lancaster series?
Next month, I will be bringing to you my interview with New York Times bestselling author Kristan Higgins. You won’t want to miss it.
Until next month…