Anna Schmidt may be best known for her Steeple Hill series romances, but this month the author is turning a new page in her career with the release of her new single-title Mennonite romance series. The books begin with this months' A Stranger's Gift. The story follows a young woman who strives to help her community before a hurricane strikes, and amidst the chaos, discovers true love. For a special look at Schmidt's newest venture, RT reviewer Patsy Glans interviews the author about her new project and what's ahead for the series.
What was your inspiration for A Stranger's Gift? What type of research did you have to do?
I have been spending winters in Sarasota for several years and had become familiar with the Amish/Mennonite community of Pinecraft there. When my agent told me Barbour was interested in doing a Mennonite series, I thought, "Why not Pinecraft?" But, oh, where to begin? On a rainy afternoon I attended a craft fair in the shopping area there — the artists were mostly Mennonite women. I took a leap of faith (not knowing whether or not they would be receptive to this "outsider" asking questions) and introduced myself to a couple of the women. I made two wonderful contacts there that led me to a man who served as the regional director for the Mennonite Disaster Service and that led to meeting others and so on until I had the "village" I needed to raise this child. The names in the dedication are those people.
A Stranger's Gift features an Amish culture. What are the differences between the Mennonites and the Amish in regards to their beliefs? Is one stricter than the other and can couples marry if one is Amish and the other is not?
Both are sects of the Anabaptist faith and they share the belief that baptism takes place when the person is old enough to understand that faith and what following it will entail. The Amish actually separated from the Mennonites way back in the 17th or early 18th century because they found the Mennonites "too worldly"! The Amish do tend to be stricter and more reserved in terms of interaction with outsiders. Both groups are very focused on "community" over the "individual". The Amish meet in private homes — the Mennonites have actual church buildings. The Mennonite women might wear a dress with a small print pattern; the Amish always wear solid colors. Neither group believes in giving or accepting compliments or showing pride in work, etc. For example, I often go to a wonderful quilt shop in Pinecraft and there are always a group of ladies sitting around a large quilt frame hand-stitching some magnificent quilt. At first I would "ooh" and "aah" over their work and be mystified that there was no response — then I learned. Now, I simply admire in silence and smile. As for inter-marriage — again the Amish tend to be stricter about staying within the faith community. Among the Mennonites there are a variety of groups ranging from "Old Order" or very strictly following the old ways to far more modern and open (although still conservative).
In A Stranger's Gift, the female character, Hester is always helping someone without any thought to her own needs, almost to the point of exhaustion, why is that?
Community is everything as I mentioned above. Plus, Hester continues to mourn her inability to "save" her mother. For these folks [the order of importance] is God, others, self with self WAY down on the list. In these difficult times where we seem to be so divided on every level it might be nice if we outsiders took note!
The male character, John Steiner does not want help in any way from Hester or anyone else, he believes he can handle things himself, why does he believe that?
John has allowed his wounded pride to take over his thinking and harden his heart. He has set out on this mission to follow the ways of Thoreau and only later in the story does he realize that even for Thoreau the whole Walden Pond thing was an experiment — not a lifestyle.
What do you hope readers learn and remember after reading A Stranger's Gift? Is there a lesson to learn from Hester and John's story?
In my days in the corporate world, my boss used to always ask at the end of a meeting, "What's your take-away?" Frankly since the meetings usually happened around lunchtime, I always ended up thinking about food! But seriously, I did not (and do not) set out with some message in mind when I tell a story. The take-away always grows out of the characters themselves and their beliefs and actions — in this case John and Hester taught me a great deal about false pride, acceptance of others and their differences, faith that there is a plan for each of our lives, and always, always LOVE — the romantic kind and the universal for our fellow beings kind.
What is in the works in terms of other books in this series? Can you give a taste without giving too much of the story away?
Here's a blurb for Book 2: A Sister's Forgiveness coming in May:
Could you forgive someone who killed your child? Jeannie must, to preserve her family. Sisters Emma and Jeannie are best friends, and so are their teenage daughters Sadie and Tessa. But when a tragic accident results in Tess's death—and Sadie is responsible — both families are devastated. Each sister must find a way from heartbreak and anguish to solace and forgiveness—but is there anything to be salvaged from a world that lies in ruins?
Book Three, A Mother's Promise (Nov. 2012) is the story of a widow and her son who leave the family farm in Ohio to move to Pinecraft and her promise to her son that this will be a better life for them both — a promise that is tested many times and almost ends in disaster.
What advice would you give to people writing their first book?
Learn your craft! Read how-to books (but not too many) — check out works by James Frey and Noah Lukeman for starters. Read writing periodicals and websites to learn more about the business!! The thing that most beginning writers consistently fail to understand is that writing (at least if you want to be published) is just that: a business and in these tough times there is a LOT of competition and fewer and fewer markets for your work. Join a writing group like your local chapter of Romance Writers of America — even if you don't view your work as "romance" you will make invaluable connections and learn more than you thought possible!
If readers have questions about your work how can they contact you?
My website is www.booksbyanna.com; my blog is www.booksbyanna.wordpress.com and my snail mail is P.O. Box 161, Thiensville WI 53092. I LOVE hearing from readers and I regularly run a little contest/giveaway on my website.
You can pick up your own copy of Anna Schidt's series starter A Stranger's Gift in stores now. And all throughout November celebrate Inspirational Month with us here on the RT site. Of course, for the latest genre news and a special look at new releases, don't forget to check out RT 's Everything Inspirational Page.