I am a die-hard women’s fiction fan, but every once in a while I venture beyond my favorite genre and read something very untypical for me. A while back, I was having lunch with my publicist and she recommended another author–someone who also writes for my publishing house.
That led me to look up and connect with Suzanne Woods Fisher, an extraordinary and very popular author of Amish fiction. I’ve loved getting to know Suzanne, and her work. And I’m simply delighted to host her here in an interview.
I hope you all will check out her recently released story called ANNA’S CROSSING. Here is a little more about it:
Welcome, Suzanne! I opened your new novel and could tell immediately that Anna’s Crossing took a lot of research about an ocean voyage in the 18th century. Such a vast topic! How did you start?
First, with a lot of desktop research. A lot. I studied up on historical ships, became familiar with nautical terminology, read books about ocean crossings in the 18th century, and wrote back and forth with an Amish historian (who is, indeed, Old Order Amish). No phone calls or e-mail! A slow process. This gentleman has been a wonderful resource for me on a number of occasions, but it always takes a few letters to butter him up. The first letter I wrote was responded to with a terse, no-nonsense reply. It’s hard to miss his subtext: Why are you writing about my people? Nevertheless, I persevered and continue to write to him with questions. The second letter I received had a kinder tone, a little more chatty, and the third letter provided me with the historical info I was after.
Ha, I love a tenacious author. So how far did you go to get your story?
Desktop research is very beneficial, but nothing can replace original sourcing to make a story come alive. I visited a number of historical ship museums on the east coast and explored old ships. And that was when my story went from black and white to color. Not only does original sourcing help your story’s realism, it might very well help its plotting and theme. Here’s an example: when I explored the lower decks, where passengers stayed (and they rarely were allowed on the upper decks because it was dangerous for them), I realized how dark and dim and confining it must have been. And the smells! So close to the bilge, as well as the “open plumbing system” (if you catch my drift). Here’s an historical detail that might offend some, but it is a fact: Placed around the lower deck were open vats of collected urine to fight fires. Oh…the smells must have been horrific.
You’re kidding? Urine? How did you know what historical information to include and what to dismiss?
I have a bad habit of pausing for a moment to think to myself, “Hmmm, let me confirm that fact.” A few trips around the Internet later and I’m nowhere near hitting my word count for the day. Whenever I found myself following a bunny trail of historical detail, I had to remind myself about the theme of the book. There was a bigger story to write about than the perils of an 18th century ocean crossing: Why the Amish left Europe, what they were hoping to find in the New World, and what gave these brave believers the inner steel to endure the journey. I kept that theme as a plumb line and it helped me stay on track.
You enjoy such a huge fan base, Suzanne. What impact do you hope Anna’s Crossing will have on your readers?
Most all of us have a link to an ancestor who crossed the ocean in hopes of a better life. I don’t know if our ancestors were incredibly brave or cock-eyed optimists—because the odds of surviving an ocean voyage, especially in the 18th century, were dismal. And yet, that didn’t deter them. They came! Readers who don’t even like a ride in a motor boat will appreciate what their great-great grandparents endured.
Any curious discoveries?
Oh yes! I’m an amateur etymologist; I love how words evolve. The root word “nausea” comes from ancient Greece. The seasickness angle is significant, since nausie and nautia were derived from nautes (sailor), which in turn came from naus (ship). The word passed into Latin, in which nausea means seasickness. For good reason, I suspect.
That is a fun discovery. Tell us about your writing process.
Some stories start from the end, some from the middle, some from other places. Each book has its own process, but they all have the same beginning: It’s like throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks. That’s the first draft. I write and write and try not to edit during this phase. Re-writing is the key to good writing. The editing/rewriting/revision part is more like a big overgrown bush. It needs trimming and shaping to be the plant you want it to be.
There are a lot of aspiring writers out there. What advice would you give to people who want to follow in your tracks?
Hangeth thou in there.
Ha, that’s for sure! What’s up next for you?
The Heart of the Amish is a non-fiction book that will release in early May. There’s a word that keeps coming up in its early reviews: powerful. As I researched and wrote the topic, I found myself changed, very convicted by the example of the Amish to practice intentional forgiveness. But it’s not an exclusively Amish value. Intentional forgiveness came from Jesus, described in the Lord’s Prayer. The Amish just seem to pay closer attention to it. Anyway…I’m very excited about this book and the examples it provides to help all of us move forward in the forgiveness process—offering it and receiving it.
Thanks for letting me drop by your blog!
Thanks for being here and chatting with my followers, Suzanne! Below is a little more about Suzanne, and where to find her website. Now, the important part:
LEAVE A COMMENT LISTING THE AMISH PROVERB FOUND ON THE HOME PAGE OF SUZANNE’S WEBSITE FOR A CHANCE TO WIN A FREE COPY OF ANNA’S CROSSING. The link is in Suzanne’s bio below. (U.S. residents only please. Winners announced here on this blog at 9:00 CST tonight, Wed., March 4) . . . Good luck!
Suzanne Woods Fisher is the bestselling author of ‘The Stoney Ridge Seasons’ and ‘The Lancaster County Secrets’ series, as well as nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace. She is a Christy award finalist and a Carol award winner. Her interest in the Anabaptist culture can be directly traced to her grandfather, who was raised in the Old German Baptist Brethren Church in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Suzanne hosts the blog Amish Wisdom, and has a free downloadable app, Amish Wisdom, that delivers a daily Penn Dutch proverb to your smart phone. She lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find Suzanne on-line at www.suzannewoodsfisher.com. She loves to hear from readers!