Monday, 13 July 2020

I Interviews

Interview: Suzanne Woods Fisher - Anna’s Crossing

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Here’s the medium version:

I’ve always loved to write, though I was never identified as a particularly talented writer. Not once. There was just something inside me, some kind of motor, that kept me writing. I talked my way on to a staff position on my college newspaper, then freelanced for magazines and, years later, took a deep breath and started to write writing books. I’m very, very grateful to have the opportunity to be a published writer, but even if I didn’t, I think I’d still be writing.

Here’s the short version: As long as I can remember.

Do you know the end of a story before you write?

Yes. But I’m usually wrong.

Take us through your process of writing.

When I start a book, I ponder a question and think it through until I feel like I have a good story. I figure out what I need to know and do my research, via the Internet or email or traveling to different Amish communities. And then I start to write. I write each day (though I’m trying to stay clear of the computer on Sundays) and I keep going, trying to hit a daily word count, even if it isn’t exactly Pulitzer Prize-worthy.  

About halfway through, the characters move from one-dimensional to two-dimensional. Then three-dimensional. And that’s when they get up and walk off on their own two feet. Certain scenes surprise me even after I have written them. I just stare at the computer, wondering how that happened. For example, the scene in The Keeper, when a heart transplant donor suddenly becomes available for Amos. Or in Anna’s Crossing, when Bairn puts the missing pieces of his past together (don’t you dare peek ahead).

I know it seems a little unnerving, but I love the moments when my characters take over the story and carry it off in an entirely new direction.

What is your family connection to the Amish?

My grandfather, Wilbur Benedict, born in 1893, was a keeper of the faith for my family. He was the ninth child of eleven, born to a German Baptist family (also called Dunkards), on a farm in Franklin County, Pennsylvania.

The Benedicts came from Germany and emigrated to a homestead, called Sleepy Hollow, that had originally been land purchased from William Penn. I’ve walked through the family cemetery and read graves of the first Benedicts, as early as the 1700s. The graves spoke of hope and endurance, mixed with a great deal of tragedy: high infant mortality with tiny little graves. Mothers who died in childbirth. My great-grandmother lost two toddlers to scarlet fever, one day apart.

When my grandfather was thirteen, he saw his mother collapse in the kitchen. He ran over a mile to get help, but she had died instantly, a victim of heart disease.

It was hard lives they had, these relatives of mine.

My grandfather attended a one-room schoolhouse, Pigeon Hill, and later taught in the school. As farmland grew scarce, my grandfather—a brainy type—happily eschewed a life of farming to pursue higher education.

As I write about the Amish and other Anabaptists, I feel a bone-deep connection. Without glamorizing the life (remember, my grandfather left the church!), I do want to honor them in my work.

As you studied the Amish for your books, did you learn anything that particularly touched your heart?

I think what has touched me in a deep, unsettling way is their intentional forgiveness. We just don’t emphasize that enough in our churches! Or our lives. To the Amish, it’s a daily attitude of “letting things go.” The Amish place great importance on forgiving others because of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15). I have grappled with the topic so much that I ended up researching and writing a non-fiction book about it, The Heart of the Amish. I’m eager for it to release in early May, to get the dialogue buzzing. Forgiveness is such an important topic, for so many reasons.

Which of your books is your favorite?

Anna’s Crossing might be my very favorite novel. For one thing, it’s my newest book. But it’s also my first historical novel with Revell. I loved the behind-the-scenes work—visiting historical ship museums, interviewing historians, reading old diaries. It gave me such an appreciation for my ancestors—and yours. We all have someone, somewhere in our lineage, who made an ocean crossing (Atlantic or Pacific) to reach the New World. Brave souls!

Here’s a little plug for it: Anna’s Crossing is the story of a young woman who leaves everything she’s loved to face the unknown. In the arduous sea journey with the first Amish group to sail to America, Anna discovers what faith and commitment mean when all is lost. After all, some endings are really just beginnings.

So tell us about these dogs in your life.

I thought you’d never ask! I raise puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. My youngest son started us on this journey with Arbor, a male yellow lab. Arbor graduated as a guide and we began again with a second puppy. Ten puppies later, I’m hooked. Raising puppies is a little like eating potato chips—you can’t stop with one.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Yes. Do it! So many people have a book inside them but never get around to finishing it. Set goals, take a workshop writing course, join a writers’ group, attend conferences. Take writing seriously.

Oh! One other piece of writing advice: Hangeth Thou in There.


Biography

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! 

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