Tuesday, February 14, 2012

NY Times Bestselling Author, Wanda Brunstetter, Shares her Lovely Heart on Valentines Day

Wanda, it’s such an honor to have you on Amish Crossings. When I see all the Wanda Brunstetter novels in stores, I always chuckle. When my daughter lived at home, we shared your books. Well, actually, hide them from each other.  I remember reading Sister’s Secret and putting it in a great hiding place, and then when I had my tea and was just yearning to read the book further, it was gone. GRR. When we were both done with a book, we took them up to our Amish friends in Smicksburg, PA. They LOVE you, saying you realistically portray their lifestyle.  I’m anxious to get to know you better!
Can you tell us a little about yourself? How you started writing Amish fiction and non-fiction?
My fascination with the Amish culture developed when I met my husband, Richard, who grew up in a Mennonite church in Pennsylvania, and whose family has a Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. Meeting my new Mennonite sister-in-laws caused me to yearn for the simpler life. During one of our visits to Pennsylvania, we became acquainted with an Amish family. After our first visit, I decided that my first novel would be about the Amish because I wanted my readers to understand the Plain people and not see them as a curiosity, the way some tourists do. In our travels, Richard and I have become close friends with many Amish people across America. My desire to explore their culture increased when I learned that my great-great grandparents were part of the Anabaptist faith. All of my novels are based on personal research, intended to accurately portray the Amish way of life.
Can you share a favorite story of an Amish settlement or family who inspired you?
During one of our research trips we met an Amish couple at a cheese store in Ohio. We’d only visited with them for a short time when they gave us their phone number and address and invited us to stay at their house. We took them up on that offer and have been close friends ever since.
I see many of your books have major themes. When I read Merry Heart, I was going through a hard time, and the book really helped. How do you come up with such strong themes?

Some of the themes I’ve chosen for my books came from my own personal experiences, and some came from watching others—English and Amish—go through various trials. I always seek God’s will and direction in everything I write, and pray during the writing process that the message in the book will touch someone’s heart.

How has getting to know so many Amish changed your day- to- day life?
It’s made me more appreciative of my family, because the Amish are very family-oriented. Spending time with our Amish friends has also given me an appreciation for the simpler things in life that we Englishers often take for granted. When I’m at home, writing a book, I often take my work outside so I can enjoy nature and feel closer to God.

People ask me if I could be Amish. They must ask you too. What do you say?
One time I was doing a book signing in an Amish friend’s home. One of the Amish women who came to get her books signed told me that when she reads my books she feels as though I am Amish. I feel very blessed to be writing about a group of people I have come to know and love, and if I had been raised Amish I’m sure I would stay Amish. However, it would be hard for me to start over now—learn a new language and give up things like my dishwasher, microwave, and especially my computer. I guess you could say I’ve become set in my ways. 

Here’s a question from Amish Literature Fans on Facebook: How many books have you written to date? What your plans for the future?
I’ve written over 50 books, with nearly 6 million copies in print. My plan for the future is to keep writing what God lays on my heart. I have several new books coming out this year and have already begun working on some new things for 2013.

Another Amish Literature Fans question: Do you feel Amish fiction is getting to be a crowded market? Have you thought of writing a different genre?
The Amish genre has become very popular, among authors, as well as readers. While I have written, and will continue to write some contemporary stories, as well as historical, my main focus will continue to be about the Amish culture, because it’s what I know and love.  My husband and I have developed a closeness to our Amish friends, and I would like to share that with my readers through the books I write.

I like your non-fiction book The Simple Life: Devotional Thoughts from Amish Country and A Celebration of the Simple Life. What do you think the key to Amish simplicity is? Is it internal, external, or both?
I think it’s a little of both. Much of the simplicity of the Amish way comes from their heritage and desire to keep true to the past. The Amish don’t put their emphasis on “things,” but focus on God, family, and friends, and they find pleasure and meaning in the simple things God has given for our enjoyment.
With so many books out, and some making the New York Times Best Sellers list, do you ever plan to slow down?
I love what I’m doing, and I’ll continue to write as long as the Lord gives me the inspiration and wisdom to craft the stories He lays on my heart.
Is there anything you’d like to share with readers I haven’t asked?
Many people ask what I do when I’m not writing. For one thing, I’m a professional ventriloquist, and I enjoy using one of my puppets dressed in Amish clothes whenever I’m asked to speak at Amish or English schools. Both my husband and I like to spend time in our garden, and we love to bird-watch, go boating, take pictures, and comb the beach for agates and unusual shells.
From reading your many books, it seemed like you had a deep love for Amish people who were close friends, and you just confirmed it. Your devotion to the Lord and acknowledgment of Him in all you do is simply refreshing.  Thank you so much for sharing your love and knowledge of these wonderful people.
You can learn more about Wanda at her exhaustive website http://www.wandabrunstetter.com/  She even has some videos of her travels to Amish country with Richard.

A new book from Wanda coming out soon. ;)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Erik Wesner, author or Success Made Simple, on Amish Businesses

It’s such an honor to have Erik Wesner on Amish Crossings. His website, Amish America www.amishamerica.com  is considered one of the most reliable sources to learn more about the Amish. But I’m not the only one saying that.  American Experience, the PBS documentary show, has a link to his website for further reading after watching their film, The Amish.  He's also contributed to Amish-themed articles for Time Magazine, CNNMoney.com, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur Magazine, The Washington Post, and numerous other media. OK, it's obvious I'm honored to have him on my blog!
Erik’s book, Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive is based on 60 interviews with Amish businesses. I found the book fascinating. Let’s jump into the interview.
 Erik, from all you've learned from the Amish and share in your book, Success made Simple, what advice do you have for people who want to start a business in 2012?
Let me just share a few ideas commonly seen with Amish that may fit to the present circumstances.  One is that many Amish don’t dive in without a backup plan.  A lot of the entrepreneurs I spoke with started businesses as “sidelines”—a furniture-making business done in extra hours after a main job, for instance.  This allowed them to build the business up while keeping the security of a main job.  I think this is particularly relevant in the current economic climate.
Related to this is the concept of wise money management.  We associate the Amish with frugality, and they are generally wise with finances.  This doesn’t mean the Amish are afraid to borrow money—they do, from a number of sources, both for personal needs (home mortgage) and for building a business.  But the Amish are careful with the expenditures they make.  I think it is more a no-frills approach that helps them get the most out of the money they spend.  It’s a mindset, a habit of asking if each expense is really indispensable, or if there is an alternative that can work just as well. 
Another element is having a vision for your business.  Many of the Amish businesspeople I spoke with had clear goals and objectives which they wanted to accomplish.  Some are quite competitive and ambitious, contrary to what we might think.  They seek growth and want to be providers in their communities, able to employ a lot of people (in some cases non-Amish employees as well). 
Others have a vision of simply having an occupation that lets them work at home and be around family, something that is very important to Amish.  It’s not as money-oriented as it is mapping out what kind of lifestyle would I like to achieve, and how can this business be a vehicle for getting me there.   But the vision is different for each individual, and establishing what it is for you before you start is important.  It gives meaning to what you do, especially when hitting the inevitable bumps in the road.
I hear starting a small business takes all your time and money. Is that true for the Amish?
I touched on this a bit above.  You do have some Amish that are borderline workaholics, and a few of my interviewees shared that they’d had challenges with overwork.  Often a spouse would guide them back to priorities (i.e. family time).  They do realize that success demands sacrifice, and I heard a lot of stories of doing without in early years.
 However the Amish example also shows that it’s really your own animal.  Some businesses are set up as part-time ventures and they remain that way.  Some Amish like a mix of occupations—farming and a small shop, or working in a factory and doing something at home on the side.   
 Since everything is online now, how do the Amish survive and thrive without social media?
Some Amish are tapping into resources via the web and social media.  Amish might have third parties who operate a website for them.  This is technically allowed in some congregations (or may be grey area), but it does give Amish access to the web without having to own a computer or be on the public electric line. 
That said, most Amish do not have a web presence.  They are relying on old-fashioned advertising (road signs, catalog placements, ads in publications) as well as a lot of word-of-mouth business.  I talk a good bit about how they generate this in my book, and also how they approach marketing, which some are doing in a quite sophisticated way. 
 Can you share one of your favorite Amish small business stories?
One of the most inspiring for me personally is one harness maker who is partially paralyzed.  He moves around with extreme difficulty, sort of a shuffle around his shop.  He just has a small business, but one that has reached customers across the country.  His attitude is about the best you will find.  There is such a warm gratitude there when he speaks—for his customers, for the opportunity God has given him—that it really makes you take a look at your own situation and realize your blessings.
You can find Erik's book, Success Made Simple, wherever books are sold! Grab it and learn!