Why don’t we start by you telling us a little about yourself?
Hi, Michelle! I’m a wife, mother, and writer. Once upon a time, I was a teacher but then ‘retired’ so I could pursue my passion of writing. I wrote some romances, married my real life hero and had a couple of babies. My first pregnancy had a lot of complications, and God used that opportunity to get my attention. Through that, He healed my son’s heart and changed mine. And so my writing began to change and grow in different ways and I decided to write bigger books, books that reflected more of my values, books that held spiritual truths.
Why did you choose to write about the Amish?
I’ve always been somewhat interested in the Amish. In fact, when I started researching Forsaken, I found a book on my shelves that dated back to my college days when I wrote a paper about the Amish. That was about a hundred years ago, or so it seems. But when I conceived the idea of Forsaken, it came to me as a package deal with Amish and vampires. Don’t laugh. Well, okay, go ahead. I’ve certainly had a few chuckles over it myself. Anyway, the more I thought about it the more I realized that the Amish were perfect for this series because they are probably the only area of American culture that we tend to think of as still somewhat innocent. It’s not necessarily true but it’s our perception. So to have an Amish family and district infiltrated by evil…well, it just seemed to be what the story needed.
What is the inspiration behind your newest novel?
It actually began as a joke. Yes, I love to laugh if you haven’t guessed yet. Anyway, I was at a multi-author book signing and another author and I joked that the perfect book would be Amish and vampire, because those were the genres that were selling the most. It was a joke. But I suppose some little seed was planted in my brain. The idea kept coming back to me. And I would push it aside again and again. Really, it was a joke. But then the heart of the idea came to me. It reminded me of Phantom of the Opera, which I’m a huge fan of both the book and musical. Christine is naïve and young and she opens her mind to a dark force. There’s a line in the musical that resonates in me: “I gave my mind blindly.” And that is exactly what my heroine Hannah had done in the story that wouldn’t go away. So then I began to toy with the story more and became very excited about it. I started writing it. But still I had not told my agent about it. The few writer friends I told the idea to loved it and encouraged me to keep writing it. Well, I was under deadline and busy with other things but the story never left me. So then I was at a writer’s conference and during the time when editors expressed what they were looking for, two said: “Amish/vampire.” I was stunned. I had not gone to that conference to pitch my crazy idea but there seemed to be an opportunity. When I spoke to an editor, she was very interested. So then I approached my agent, whom I worried would laugh at me. But she didn’t. She laughed with me. She really loved my idea and told me to send her what I had, which was the prologue and first chapter. And she loved that so then we got serious about getting a proposal together.
Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
I wanted to explore how very appealing evil actually is…at the beginning. Evil doesn’t come with a pitchfork and forked tail. If evil looked…well, evil, then it would be easy to reject it or run away. But it’s not. And so before Hannah realizes it, she’s knee deep in trouble.
While writing about the Amish have you learned anything about their customs that has surprised you?
Hmm, not sure I’ve been surprised by anything. I have learned a lot about them. I’ve always respected them. It cannot be easy to shun the material things of this world. It cannot be easy to live the way they live. It cannot be easy to be stared at by tourists. It cannot be easy to be subjected to persecution. Today, we don’t really think of them as being persecuted because they’re almost celebrated in the fiction world. But when I was growing up they were persecuted and forced to attend schools, not of their choosing. Before that, the Anabaptists were horribly persecuted before coming to this country. I simply have to respect folks for sticking so close to their beliefs and faith. I really enjoyed visiting Lancaster County when I was writing Forsaken. I also loved visiting a different Amish area in Ohio for book #2, Forbidden. And sampling some of the Amish cooking wasn’t bad either.
What inspired you to become an author?
My sister actually gave me that push I needed. I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, since I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher forever (which is a bit funny thinking back because then I became a homeschooler!). My sister said to me one day: “Why don’t you write? You’re always scribbling in that journal of yours.” And I was. And it’s been an amazingly difficult and wonderful journey. In fact, since then I’ve remembered stories that I wrote way back in elementary school that I really enjoyed. Recently my mom brought me a box she’d found in her house that had a lot of my schoolwork from first grade through my senior year. My kids loved looking at my grades, and unfortunately not all of them were stellar. It was funny when they would look at my high school math (and they’re in 7th and 8th grade) and Latin papers and say, “This is sooo easy!” One thing we found was a story I wrote in 6th grade that was very Poe-esque. I loved writing that story and have remembered it all these years. I’m so glad I have it now. I don’t think I ever imagined that it was possible then that I could ever be a writer, so I’m very grateful that my sister gave me that encouraging word. Always remember, words are powerful.
What is your favorite thing about being an author?
Working in my pajamas, getting to make up stories. Actually, I love hearing from readers and how a book has made them think about something in a new way or changed their life in a profound way. That is the best and most amazing part of writing.
Do you have anything that you would like to share?
When I was in Lancaster County, I was staying at a bed & breakfast. The woman who owned it was raised Mennonite and her husband was raised Amish, so she knew many in her community and had deep ties with the Amish. She was serving us a yummy breakfast and asked my critique partner and myself why we were touring Amish country. I hesitated to tell her what I was writing because I figured it would be controversial. When I did tell her, her eyebrows did go up, but she also gave me a moment to explain the heart of the book. When I did, she loved the idea.
What’s next for you?
Book #2 of Plain Fear: Forbidden comes out in August. I just heard back from my editor that he loved it and so I’ll do line edits on it this spring and then galleys. In the mean time, I am beginning to write book #3 of the series.
Thanks, Michelle, for having me here!
Plain Fear Forsaken is available here.