Monday, October 31, 2011

A heartfelt talk with Amish author Suzanne Woods Fisher

I'm so honored to have Suzanne Woods Fisher on my blog. I think most people know her as the author of Amish Peace, Amish Proverbs, and Amish Values for your Family, and her Lancaster Country Secrets series.  I wanted to ask her about her new Christmas novel, Lancaster Country Christmas, since I bought it as my "Christmas 2011 Keepsake Book". Let's get into the interview:

Suzanne, I am thrilled to have you on Amish Crossings. Thank you for answering my many questions with such transparency. What inspired you to write A Lancaster County Christmas? 

 The inspiration for this novella came from two loose threads …

 In the Amish culture, motherhood is highly valued. I felt as if there could be a story in that: what does a woman do when she feels an inner and outer pull toward motherhood, and yet she isn’t able to have children? A character from “The Choice,” Mattie Riehl, came to mind as a woman who had the depth to tackle that enormous disappointment. So Mattie was the first thread.

 The second thread belonged to Jaime Fitzpatrick, a young English woman who keeps trying to stuff down some serious issues in her life…but they keep popping up. Her mother had recently passed away, her father has just re-appeared in her life, and her poor husband, C.J., seems to get the short end of Jaime’s trouble with trust.

 Jaime’s story was loosely based on the relationship a close friend of mine has with her father. I’ve known this friend long enough to see how her father’s “on again, off again” interest in being a dad has affected her. Hard stuff!

 Here’s how the two threads wove together to create A Lancaster County Christmas:  A winter storm on Christmas Eve blows Jaime and C.J. into Mattie’s farmhouse. These two women—opposites in every way—are facing their own private difficulties. As an unlikely friendship begins, Mattie and Jaime are about to discover if miracles still happen at Christmastime.

 I see you bring up the topic of infertility. Why?

After my first two children were born, I had a miscarriage. It gave me a hint of what women who experience infertility go through. Even though I did have children and obviously wasn’t infertile, I still mourned for the loss of that baby. I didn’t feel like myself for a while, and I felt frustrated by people who dismissed the loss or rushed me through the grieving process. Much of Mattie’s inner dialogue comes right out of my diaries during that time in my life.

How do you try to have a simple Christmas without turning Amish?


Oh, I wish I could say that I’ve got the perfect formula for a simple Christmas! Sometimes, I think my Christmases are getting even more complicated. Our extended family is changing—oldest children are marrying, one has a baby, two of our brothers’ have divorced, my dad has Alzheimer’s disease, our mothers are getting quite elderly. Paying attention, during the Christmas season, to all of the people in our lives is a lot to juggle. But here’s the one principle that helps to simplify Christmas: make time to reflect on the coming of Christ and all that it brings to us. It might mean skipping Christmas cards or limiting gifts or saying no to some parties. Whatever it takes! Worship is the heart of Christmas.

Amish Values for Your Family is such a great book. You talk about the lost childhood. How can we give our children a more "plain and simple" Christmas?

 The term “lost childhood” comes from recent studies that indicate children are overscheduled and don’t have enough down time for…just being children. Seems like this is where parents can put some thought into Christmas gifts that encourage imagination. For example, we have a family tradition of starting a new 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle on Christmas Eve. It usually takes until New Year’s Day to finish it and includes lots of mellow time by the fireplace.

 I’ve heard of two different ideas to put some parameters around Christmas. One is the “Three Wise Men” rule. Each child receives three gifts: one that he wants, one to share, and one (such as a book) for his spiritual life.

Another suggestion comes from the Victorian tradition. Children receive four gifts, one from each category: need, want, wear, read.

 What I like about both of those plans is that they create a limit to the amount of gifts a child can expect and it takes some pressure off of Mom and Dad (who hasn’t worried on Christmas Eve that one child has less gifts than another?). I read recently that the average American family spends over $4,500 each Christmas. Ridiculous!

 How can we live more simply like the Amish?

I’m a big fan of living with less clutter and chaos and simplifying the daily routine--but sometimes we look at the Amish and stop at the buggies and bonnets and beards. There’s so much more to the Amish than living without television or cars or “stuff.”

 As I’ve studied the Old Order Amish, I think what has touched me in a deep, unsettling way is their intentional forgiveness. We just don’t emphasize that enough! 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). It really makes me gulp!

I think “letting go” of pettiness and grudges is another form of simplifying. The best kind. 

 What new projects are on the horizon?

Lots of exciting things are in the pipeline! A new 3-book Amish fiction series kicks off with The Keeper in January (it might be my favorite!), and an Amish children’s chapter book series is coming out next summer. I’m co-writing the series with Mary Ann Kinsinger, who was raised Old Order Amish and writes an amazing blog called “A Joyful Chaos” ( Some exciting projects are getting finalized, too. (Stay tuned!) My goal is that every book is better than the one before it—I never want to stop improving my craft.

Wow, that sounds really exciting. What message would you like your readers to take from reading A Lancaster County Christmas?

Emmanuel—God is with us (Matthew 1:23). Stop for a moment and think about that simple phrase. God has entered His creation to come alongside of us. Such a miracle!

Last thing—I love to hear from readers! I can be found at, and on Facebook: I try to answer everyone back within a day or so. And I’d like to invite each of you to sign up for my newsletter—filled of contests and giveaways and good stuff! Hope to connect with you.

Thanks, Karen, for having me visit on your blog today.

Thank you Suzanne. It's been an honor. If you'd like to purchase Lancaster County Christmas, for a good price, see the link below to my store, Thrifty Christian Shopper.;)

Blessings to you!

Karen Anna Vogel

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Interview with Roger Rheinheimer, author of Amish Snow

What was it like growing up among the Amish?

My dad was the town doctor in a small town in northern Indiana, and the town had a hitching rail for the Amish to tie their horses on a side street right around the corner from his office. I remember going on house calls with him, sometimes to Amish homes, but of course as a kid, I never realized how special that was. Those are some of my favorite memories.

 Do you have any favorite stories about an Amish friend you'd like to share?

I worked for an Amish craftsman when I was in high school, after school and summers.  One summer - I was probably a junior in high school - we were working on a room addition for another Amish family, and their five year old son came sauntering up with a very broad grin, announcing to anyone in earshot, “Here comes trouble!”  We just cracked up

I believe youre Mennonite. Where your grandparents Amish or Old Order Mennonite?

I was raised in a Mennonite family, yes, but Mennonites have a wide variety of beliefs and practices.  We were part of the most liberal group, and I remember my dad always bought a new Ford from the local dealership every year.  He was also a gadget nut, and bought one of the first color televisions in town, then forbade us from watching anything but sports on it!  My maternal grandfather was born into an Amish family, but left that faith and joined a Mennonite church.  I used to love to hear his stories about barn raisings.  As long as we kids were willing to turn the homemade ice cream handle, he was willing to tell stories.  He was an antique dealer, and provided well for his family selling antiques, even during the Depression.

What is the one big misconception people have about the Amish?

Boy, this is a tough question because there are so many misconceptions. I suppose the biggest misconception is that all Amish are the same, in terms of beliefs and practices. Partly because they eschew modern means of communication and still travel by horse and buggy, it is virtually impossible for them to have a central religious committee. So the interpretation of the Bible and Christianity is up to the local Elders, usually Bishops. That is why you will see things in one community, like cell phones, that another community will ban.  My wife Ginny and I were in Ohio one time, and saw an Amish man drive up to a filling station, grab two five gallon gas cans from the back of the buggy, fill them up and then head out. Ginny was aghast until I explained that no doubt their particular community had approved the use of gasoline for lawn mowers, etc. The Amish craftsman I worked for had some of the latest power tools, but the Elders in his community said they had to be powered by generators, not public utilities, unless we were working at an English home, then we could use their power outlets.

You have a new Amish series coming out soon. What inspired you to write Amish Forever?

I had been toying with writing a sequel to Amish Snow for some time, and when Trestle Press inquired whether I would be interested in writing a serialized Amish romance, it seemed like a perfect opportunity. I’ve always heard there are only seven plots in fiction writing, and they’ve been used since the beginning of storytelling, so the only thing we writers can hope to contribute are a fresh way of telling and, of course, characters that come alive. It’s hard to describe how gratifying it is to hear from readers that they couldn’t put the story and characters out of their minds after they finished reading.

Can you tell us a little about the book without giving too much away?

The Amish really are “strangers in a strange land,” meaning there is always this tension between their way of life and the “English,” what they call the rest of us. This becomes especially important when it involves marriage and family. Ava Troyer, the seventeen year old protagonist, is a beautiful young Amish girl, and is rescued from a bad, Sunday morning wreck by a mysterious young man in military fatigues that speaks Pennsylvania Dutch and then disappears from the scene. Ava is smitten, to the consternation of her family, but she can’t put him out of her mind. Crystal Linn, my co-author, came up with the title, Amish Forever.

 Thank you for sharing with us on Amish Crossings. More information about Roger Rheinheimer can be found at