I’m celebrating the release of Balm of Gilead, the third book in the Healing Grace trilogy. It wraps up the story of Sarah Yoder, Dokterfraa in training, and of her next-door neighbor Henry Byler, who has had a few hard choices to make over the last two books.
I’d like to share with you an excerpt from this book, featuring one of the hardest choices Henry faces. In fact, if it weren’t for Sarah, I wonder how it all might have turned out …
Excerpt from Balm of Gilead
Henry was carefully lowering the pumpkin pitcher into the kiln when the telephone on the wall over by the barn door rang. Another man might have jumped at the sound in the misty stillness of the early October morning, but another man didn’t have what might turn out to be four hundred dollars’ worth of pottery in his hands.
He’d made sure the woodstove had been banked with a big chunk of wood in it last night, so that the barn stayed warm. Granted, the kiln heated to 1800 degrees, but he’d found it worked a lot better when it wasn’t struggling against a cold environment. Besides, when the green ware came out, it would need a gentler introduction to the outside world than the crisp rime of frost he’d found on the grass this morning.
Since there was no electricity for an answering machine, the phone stopped after half a dozen rings. Henry forgot about it in last-minute adjustments to the contents of the kiln—a set of four plates, several mugs, and a batter bowl shaped like an acorn squash that suggested it might go rather well with the pumpkin pitcher—for those who could afford it. With careful movements of the separators, he moved the pieces until nothing touched and he was finally satisfied. He set up the cones that would melt when the kiln reached the temperature he wanted, and closed the lid.
The Honda generator he’d found when he moved here in the spring had turned out to be quite the workhorse, and hadn’t failed him yet. As long as he kept its gas tank full, it ran like a champ to meet the huge demands of the kiln. He hadn’t had to rent space in someone else’s studio for the firing, which was a relief. The thought of trying to load bisque and greenware into the trunk of the car when so much was at stake with D.W. Frith gave him the willies.
He’d no sooner returned to the workbench and pulled off his surgical gloves than the phone rang again. He flexed his fingers and winced with the pain as his skin cracked and began to bleed. There had to be a solution for this—the problem only seemed to be getting worse. On the sixth ring, he finally got to the phone. Ginny was expecting her family any second, so this was probably her letting him know they’d arrived.
“Am I speaking to Henry Byler, the potter?”
Not Ginny. A man, late twenties, maybe. “Yes.”
“Great. Henry, you’re a hard man to find. This is Matt Alvarez, with TNC.”
“I’m not interested in buying anything,” he said cautiously. “And it’s a busy morning, so if you don’t mind—”
“Wait—I’m not a phone solicitor. I’m a producer. Are you familiar with TNC? The reality channel? Shunning Amish?”
“Is that a television show? If it is, it doesn’t make sense—the Amish don’t care if people shun them.”
He laughed as if Henry had cracked a joke. “It sure is—number one nationwide on Wednesday nights. It’s about the ex-Amish—probably one of the most popular topics we’ve ever covered. We’re interested in doing a segment on you.”
“What?” Henry started to run a hand through his hair, then realized it was the one smeared with blood, and he lowered it. Why on earth would anyone—
“You’re an interesting man, Henry. My wife showed me the video about your pottery on the Frith site earlier in the summer, and it took me a couple of months to get the green light from the network. Then about six weeks to track down someone who would talk to me—or who knew where you were. Finally I got ahold of a guy called Dave Petersen, and he told me some of your story.”
So much for protecting the integrity of the artist. “I’m sorry you went to all that trouble, Mr. Alvarez, but I don’t shun the Amish and I don’t want to be on TV.”
“Have a good day.”
Henry hung up before the guy could get out another word, and dialed the New York number he knew by heart. If Matt Alvarez tried to call back, he’d get a busy signal. Two birds with one stone.
“Petersen—hey, is that you, Henry? Did the guy from TNC call?”
“I just hung up with him.” Then he corrected himself. “On him.”
“And nothing. I don’t much appreciate you giving out my phone number to TV producers, Dave. Or anyone else, for that matter. I’d like your assurance that it won’t happen again.”
“Come on, Henry, lighten up. There isn’t a person in the US of A who wouldn’t jump at the chance to be on TNC. They’re the number one rated network on—”
“Wednesday nights—yes, so I understand. But I think in Whinburg Township at least, you’ll find a lot of people not only not jumping, but actively running away, me included.”
“Henry.” Dave’s voice sounded so patient that Henry braced himself. “You’re not seeing the bigger picture here. Now, the response to your pottery has been great, and orders are coming in even better than we expected. Which is good for you, and us. But what we’d really like is a greater reach of awareness.”
Henry sighed. Marketing people should speak a language that was easier to understand. Like Tagalog. Or Pennsylvania Dutch. “What does that mean?”
“It means relative value. It means that if ten million viewers discover you on an episode of Shunning Amish on Wednesday night, your relative value goes stratospheric. It means that countrywide, people will be demanding your pieces. It means you’ll be one of the most famous ex-Amish people in the country.”
“There are famous ex-Amish?” Who knew? But, he supposed, once a man left the church, he wasn’t obliged to practice Uffgeva or be demut anymore, was he? Though it seemed a strange way to court fame—for not belonging to something.
Dave rattled off a couple of names that Henry had never heard, and went on, “The thing is, this will be your chance to tell the world why you left the church—and yet, how it still informs your art. Classic conflict, Henry. People will eat it up.”
The urge to throw the phone out the barn doors was overwhelming, but it was on a long spiral cord and would only bounce back. Henry controlled himself and schooled his voice to calm rationality. It seemed to him to be the only way to counteract such rampant craziness. “Dave, for one thing, I didn’t leave the church, because I never joined it. And for another thing, the Amish faith doesn’t inform my art. If it did, I’d be making plain white coffee mugs and sauerkraut crocks like the one I made my cousin’s wife not long ago. The Amish don’t go for embellishment or anything that could be called fancy—and even you can’t deny that there is plenty of fancy going on in my pieces.”
“Missing the point again, Henry. Okay, so you don’t want it to be an exposé. Fine. I get that. But what we need here is some exposure, and let me tell you, it doesn’t come any better than this—and at no cost to Frith, to boot.”
“But why? You said the orders were coming in better than you expected.”
“For now. Christmas is a-coming, the economy is up, and people are buying. But what about in January? If they do the filming this month, the episode will air early next year—right when the Christmas sales have fallen off and we need something to goose things along until the spring catalog comes out.”
“Isn’t that your job? Isn’t that what Marketing is for?”
“Yes,” Dave moaned dramatically. From the tone of his voice, Henry could imagine him pulling at his hair in despair. “Which I am trying to do as we speak. This is a terrific opportunity, Henry. Once in a lifetime, even. TNC won’t come knocking again. We can’t afford to turn them down.”
Henry was silent. We? Really?
“Tell you what,” Dave said, when it became obvious someone needed to fill in the gap. “Why don’t you sleep on it, and I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“There’s nothing to sleep on.”
“Yeah, there is. A renewal of your contract, for a start. It was for the fall/winter season only, remember, with an option to renew in the new year.”
“Dave…” Did he really have to be so heavy-handed? Henry was perfectly aware of the amount of time the contract covered.
“I hate to bring it up, I really do, but you have to plan for success. Expect success. I know that’s not what the Amish do, or what you’ve been used to doing in Denver, but this is here and now and I want you to think about it. Talk it over with your fiancée. You never know. Maybe she watches TNC.”
Henry gave up. “Fine. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. But my answer won’t be any different.”
* * *
But will it be? For the answer, find Balm of Gilead at your favorite retailer! For more about Adina’s books, visit www.adinasenft.com.
Adina Senft grew up in a plain house church, where she was often asked by outsiders if she was Amish (the answer was no), she made her own clothes, and she perfected the art of the French braid. She holds an M.F.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania, where she teaches as adjunct faculty.