Elizabeth Ludwig is the bestselling author of Christmas Comes to Bethlehem, Maine and the highly successful Edge of Freedom series from Bethany House Publishers. Her popular literary blog, The Borrowed Book, enjoys a wide readership. Elizabeth is an accomplished speaker and teacher, often attending conferences and seminars where she lectures on editing for fiction writers, crafting effective novel proposals, and conducting successful editor/agent interviews. Along with her husband and children, she makes her home in the great state of Texas. To learn more, visit her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, on her blog The Borrowed Book, and her Amazon Author page to find out about all her books.
Where Hope Dwells is the second in the Sugarcreek Amish Mystery series. This is a new genre for your writing career. Tell us what drew your interest to the Amish community? Why did you choose a cozy mystery as a vehicle to explore the Amish community of Sugarcreek?
Many years ago, I plotted out a series of Amish romances that unfortunately never panned out. Still, the seed for those books remained in my head. So, when I heard that Guideposts was doing an Amish series, and that Susan Downs was the acquisitions editor, I jumped at the chance. Susan and I have worked together before. In fact, she bought my very first book waaaay back in 2006. LOL! It was a cozy mystery, so I have, in fact, come full circle in my career. J
The Swiss Miss is loosely based on a real café in Sugarcreek, the Honey Bee Café. Have you met the proprietor? Have you done “feet-on-the ground” research in this Amish community?
No, I haven’t been fortunate enough to visit Sugarcreek…yet. I’m hoping to get there next spring. But I have enjoyed getting to know the proprietor, Kathy (Snyder) Kimble, through social media. Also, I have an amazing editorial team who are very familiar with Ohio and who help me out a great deal. Lastly, I can’t forget to give a shout out to my son-in-law, a former Ohioan and #1 Buckeye fan, Derrick Cole. These great people all help keep me in line when it comes to my Ohio facts.
Justice and forgiveness seem to be mutually exclusive in most people’s heart. Cheryl Cooper, one of the main characters, wrestles with this concept throughout most of the novel. Tell readers what you learned as you examined the concept of forgiveness from the Amish perspective?
I was so excited to write the character Cheryl Cooper, mainly because I was able to write from the perspective of an outsider looking “in” to the Amish community. I could give Cheryl all sorts of preconceived ideas about what it means to be Amish—some which were correct, and some which were way off base. Not only was this true of my own situation, I knew it would be true for many of my readers.
When it came to forgiveness, I really wanted Cheryl to have some ingrained ideas in her head. I wanted her to realize that true forgiveness is a struggle for everyone, no matter their religious affiliation. Plus, I wanted her to see only one perspective is clear when it comes to forgiveness…God’s! We all need to pardon as He pardons—completely and without reservation. I showed this by giving Cheryl examples from both the English community and the Amish and letting her compare the two to find the truth.
Religious beliefs can often become a divisive area for many families. The Amish faith exercises the practice of shunning, and yet it is an English family who rejects a daughter’s choice to become Amish that becomes a focal point in this novel. Tell us how this idea was born in your mind?
Oh, I’m so glad you asked! I loved, loved, loved writing this little twist into Where Hope Dwells. So many Amish books deal with shunning—either a character who has been shunned, or is facing shunning, or loves someone who has been shunned—that I think we’ve given people the wrong idea about what the practice is and what it is meant to accomplish.
Through Cheryl, I tried to correct this thinking and demonstrate that shunning is always instituted with the hope of winning a disobedient member back. Plus, I wanted readers to see that while we Englishers don’t commonly refer to our actions in the same way, we very often refuse to speak to people who have wronged us, or refuse to extend forgiveness to someone we believe has sinned. It truly was an eye-opener to me to view my actions and unforgiveness in this way. I hope it is to others as well.
There are many moments where you allow the reader an inside view to the character’s internal struggle with their faith. Why was this important to include in the development of the story? What do you hope readers gain from experiencing this through the eyes of the characters in the story?
All of my books have a faith message woven in, but with these books, I really felt like I could be transparent. Through Cheryl and her many insecurities, I could write about my own struggles with faith, family, and doubt. I could give Cheryl the same fears, the same hurts, that I have experienced, and I could demonstrate the same wonderful goodness of God in getting through them. I guess it’s because Amish books have an inherent religious nature about them that I felt I could be more overt in my message. It was such a timely project for me and where I am in my faith. I hope that resonates with readers.
What is one thing you have learned about the Amish faith that has made the greatest impact on your heart? Why was it so impactful?
There’s a paragraph in Where Hope Dwells that made me stop and ponder the moment I wrote it:
I grew up in Michigan next to a small Mennonite community. We also had some neighbors who were German Baptist. I hate to admit that before I got to know them, I was very intimidated by their plain life. I thought they were “super religious.” I thought they would be judgmental of me and my puny faith. I thought they were above doubt, above fear or struggle…pretty much just…above.
I was wrong. What my German Baptist neighbors taught me was humble servant-hood. They taught me acceptance and friendship. Most of all, they taught me that no one is above his brother. I suppose that’s why I wanted to write about an Amish community with real struggles and real hurts. I wanted others to know what I learned long ago—that we are all God’s children who love Him and who have given our hearts and lives to Jesus.
Historical fiction is a genre where you have garnered awards – are there other historical novels brewing in your writer’s mind? Can you share a sneak peek into a future story?
Ah…the mind of a writer!! I have a strange, dark, quirky sort of historical suspense brewing in my brain that I hope to finish sometime next year. It involves a woman and two men who become embroiled in the Spiritualist Movement that swept America in the late 1800’s. And since I can’t resist spilling more…here is a small series blurb:
Eryn Blackwood has always been fascinated by the spiritualist movement sweeping across America. Mysterious tales of mediums and séances abound, even in the elevated circles to which she and her best friend, Catherine, belong. But when Catherine falls prey to illness, and a stranger appears claiming to have access to the afterlife, Eryn is driven to uncover the truth behind the spiritualist’s claims. Casting her life of prestige and privilege aside, she delves deeper into the dark realm of “rappers” and “seers”. She quickly discovers, however, that it’s people with sinister intent who pose the greatest threat. Even with two vastly different men watching over her—both who love Eryn fiercely—the danger may be closer than they thought, and greater than any of them ever imagined.
When will readers get to visit Sugarcreek again? Will you be adding another Amish story to your writing history?
I’ve written 2 books for the Sugarcreek Amish Mysteries series so far, including Where Hope Dwells and A Stitch in Time. I’m also currently working on a third book tentatively titled At Home in Sugarcreek and have my fingers crossed that there might possibly be a fourth! It’s been such a fun series and such a nice departure for me creatively.
What is your favorite part of the writing process for you personally Why is it your favorite?
Writing is hard. Like…really, really hard. Sometimes I despair of ever penning another word worthy of being put in print. And then I read a heartfelt review, or I get an email from an appreciative reader, and I remember that all the work, the fear, the doubt, all the hours of struggle and toil and angst…those were the tools God used to make me rely on Him.
I think that’s what I enjoy most about the writing process—learning to trust God and then putting all of those lessons into words that hopefully will mean something to someone else.
How has God encouraged you as you wrote Where Hope Dwells? How will you use this to encourage others?
This is a continuity series from Guideposts, which means it is several books written by several authors. This book…this whole series…came to me at a time in my life when I was really struggling to define myself as a writer. I’d been hurt by circumstances, I was floundering over changes in the publishing industry, I even questioned whether I had another book in me.
Then along came this wonderful character named Cheryl Cooper, who was battling many of the same insecurities and facing many of the same challenges. Not only did I get to write her, I grew to love her! Cheryl, with her funny, strange little quirks, became someone I could relate to, and someone I wanted others to relate to as well. Her spunk and wit encouraged me to keep writing, and trying, and believing in God’s plan for me.
I’m so humbled and blessed by the success of this series and by the wonderful authors and woman I get to work with. Nothing I did caused it. In fact, were it not for the persistence of my amazing agent (waving to Chip MacGregor), I might have let the opportunity pass me by, and I never would have had the courage to venture into something so different. I guess that’s what I would tell others who find themselves struggling to find the Lord’s plan in the midst of their circumstances: Trust God. He still has a plan for you, and it’s better than the one you have for yourself.