1. Tell us a little about yourself and your writing journey.
Hi Lisa, I want to thank you for this invitation and to share a bit of myself, and my passion for my current WIP, Shunning Ida Mae. I’ve got to laugh as I think back over the relevant events in my journey to writing. As a boy I wrote a couple of short stories, westerns, as those were my interest. In Junior High, and in High School, I was a copious reader. I scoured the library, searching for fiction novels. Zane Gray was at the top of my list. I transferred to Sci-Fi, with Heinlein at the point. After depleting those genres, I moved to dogs, horses, then car racing, anything that would whet my interest.
When I married and we had children, I sometimes tucked the little ones into bed, and might spin a yarn, which would generate squeals for more. When they were ill, I read them the Chronicles of Narnia. For myself, I read Azimov, L’Amour, and Fisher. Writing letters, and newsletters kept my writing skills up. I never entertained the thought of being a novelist.
It wasn’t until about eight years ago that the interest of writing stories, inserted its head into my life. I wrote a story entitled “Down on the Farm.” I think I could find a copy of it some place. I joined an online writing group, and we sharpened each other’s writing skills. Mostly, I learned that I knew little about the craft, so I listened a lot, read more, and practiced writing. I purchased an audio writing course, plus I had folks critique my works. Every time I learned something new, I would incorporate it into my WIP. I did write a few non-fiction accounts of my younger years, entitled Rabbit Tales, but that’s another story.
Shunning Ida Mae began about five years ago. The character came to life and she wouldn’t let go of me. She had a story to tell, and she badgered me to get it on paper, she wanted people to know about her, and the lessons she learned. As my ability to write improved, Ida Mae’s novel took shape. I’m nearing its completion, and she will be able to tell her tale to the world. She is about to get her wish. I know she’s smiling.
- How do your outside interests, your family, your work, combine to give you that “Michael Emmert” voice? Do you come away with good storylines from your sons’ involvement with Civil War re-enacting?
Lisa, I have to laugh at the question. Tim and Jonathan’s involvement in the Civil War got me interested in the time period. Because of their re-enactment, I acquired \ an audio book narrative of the Civil War and listened to it during my daily commute. However, my interest centered on the time following the war, the time when expansion of our country increased. Shunning Ida Mae takes place during the 1880s, a time when the frontier was teeming with stories to be told. I would imagine that my earlier interest in westerns (books and TV) piqued my curiosity of that period
3. Give us the best four-sentence pitch you can of your current story.
Ida Lapp, a plucky Pennsylvania woman, secretly loves an English outsider, something strictly forbidden by the Amish Ordnung. When discovered by her parents, her penalty forever changes her life and sends her on a journey facing persecution; at the same time she desires the impossible—to return home. Seeking the job to care for some youngsters, she discovers that only a marriage to the unknown Englisher can extract her from a homeless situation. She acquiesces to a loveless union on the condition she can walk away. Immersed into a local setting where few people comprehend her Amish background, she endures whispers, side-glances, and outright hatred from the town’s gossip who claimed matrimonial rights to Joseph. That woman soon learns of the late night wedding, and spews her venom against Ida.
4. Now tell us about the theme and scope of your work.
Let me give a quote from Shunning Ida Mae to present the theme I want to portray.
Her gaze moved down the page to another penned line. “See Heb. 11:1 note.” She flipped the pages. Beside that reference she found an almost illegible scrawl. “True faith is confidence in God, in spite of circumstances or consequences.”
In Ida’s story, both she and Joseph learn that God is always in control. Throughout the novel, bad things happen, but as they look back, they can see the hand of the Almighty bringing them together, the power of Him inching them toward reconciliation. God is so interwoven into Ida Mae’s story, that I want the reader to come away with a feeling that He is ever present in spite of what may come their way.
The time period is the late 1880s, and the two main locations are Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and Cass County, Iowa. I’ve tried to portray a woman, yanked from the Amish world, and planted, kicking and screaming, into the frontier of Atlantic, Iowa. Agriculture was the predominant way of life, with a few towns of shops and tradesmen. I attempt to create an accurate world into which readers can immerse themselves, and become lost in the story.
- How do you research?
My research is from a three-pronged front.
First, I grew up in an Ana-Baptist home, a community with beliefs and traditions that are similar to the Amish. I can draw upon much of my boyhood, and from remembered conversations with friends and family about why we did the things we did. For example, my one-time interpretation of Luke 6:31 was “Do unto others as they DO unto you.” My older brother opened my eyes to the real meaning. We should treat others the way we WANT them to treat us. I learned a huge lesson then, and since have sought live up to Christ’s words.
Second, I’ve latched onto books about the Amish Culture. These would include works of Kraybill, Hostetler, Clifford, and Gingerich. Along with these, I’ve scoured various websites for tidbits of information, and to ensure that details are correct.
Third, I’ve read many of the modern day novels about the Amish. Wanda Brunstetter, Beverly Lewis, Jodi Picoult, and Dale Cramer are a few of the novelists I’ve digested.
- What are some of the best things you’ve done for yourself since you began writing?
Writing has taught me to be more observant of people, their characteristics, their appearance and how it reflects their personality, and in little behavior quirks. A shifting of the feet, a tilt of the head, a twist of the wrist, a certain spoken word: all of these are revealing of the person. Before I wrote, I never saw those hints. That is one of the best things to have happened to me since I began this amazing journey of a novelist.
- Anything you’d like to do over?
Lisa, the only thing I might have done differently would be to jump into the craft with more intensity. When I began writing, I looked upon it as a pastime, something I could do as a hobby. Looking back, I wished I’d better understood my internal drive to convey a well-written story. I’d have worked harder at the craft, tried to absorb more learning, and to stretch my mind with new and fresh ideas. I’d have shoved more education into a shorter span of time.
8. Share a favorite “aha” moment when writing or reading recently.
There is a huge difference between knowing the Amish people, verses understanding them. For me, this perception came from when I listened to an audio book. One can learn the most intricate points of Amish life, but until one gets inside their skin, one will have difficulty in understanding their thinking. My “aha” moment came when I listened to Amish Grace by Donald B. Kraybill. The book came about from events of the killing of five Amish schoolgirls in October of 2006. But it isn’t the story of the horrific events surrounding that incident that grabbed my attention, rather it was the deep explanations of Amish thinking, of Amish reasoning, and why they quickly offered the grace of forgiveness. Kraybill gets inside the mind of the Amish people. He opens a window to a way of life that few outsiders will know, let alone understand.
- What’s the easiest part of writing for you, and the hardest?
LOL. The easy and hard parts of writing seem to shift around for me. Early in my writing career, the creation was easy, but the editing was laborious. Later there was a period when re-writing came easy, but the attempt to generate new material was like lifting a bucket of sand. Today, neither is easy nor hard. To accomplish both requires planning and exertion. I know that nothing of value can be accomplished without effort. Though the number of my written words comes much slower than they once did, their quality has increased. Knowing that makes it easier.
- Do you have a genre you feel particularly committed to?
That is an easy question. Historical Romance. I guess that I’m a romantic at heart. I don’t mean a gushy novel, where the two characters can’t stand to be apart. But rather where a relationship grows between the protagonists, where their hearts are drawn to the other. One book that especially comes to mind is Pearl S. Buck’s Peony. Contemporary romance? For me, today there are too many distractions, too many nuances, and too much speed. The ‘historical’ aspect of a book makes it more enjoyable. I prefer a slower pace, something where the reader can settle back and become ‘one’ with the character.
- What do you hope your readers will take away from your stories?
I would assume that most of my readers would already be Christian. But for them to understand that God is intimately interested in every aspect of their lives may have been forgotten. Too often real life can get bogged down with pain, sorrow, fear, doubt, uncertainty, anger, hatred, etc. Those, and other things, can push aside or fog over the reality of God’s presence and of his interest in them. I want the reader to come away with the understanding that God is ever present in spite of what may come their way.
- What’s your best advice for other up and coming authors?
To become a writer, a good writer is a very long journey, sometimes a tedious journey. It takes years of effort and tons of hard work. If a person desires to be a writer, then it will take a whole bunch of stick-to-it’ve-ness. (Is that a word?) With some of my earlier writings, I thought they were marvelous. When others read them, and they hemmed and hawed, I felt they didn’t know quality skill. However, given time, it became clear that my true ability didn’t match my expectations. I had to learn about the craft, read through books on how to write novels, and put those things into my writing. If one were to toss a jagged stone into a river, it might look a bit different if one extracted after a year. But imagine the polished stone it would become after ten years … or more. The same is true with writing. Stick with it. Keep at it. I think anyone can learn the craft of writing if they’re willing to take the time to learn it well.
- Is there anything else you'd like to share about your faith or your writing journey with other authors?
Earlier in my life, someone could have told me this, and I would have agreed with it, but it is only now that I fully understand. God doesn’t force Himself upon a person, rather He allows the individual to stumble along until they realize their need to turn to Him. A person must seek the Lord, and to search out His ways. He will let us go our own way; even knowing it is not our best. My life is one of stops and starts and detours and bumps. God waits. I know He will be there at the end of my life. Of that, I have no doubt.
Thank you for sharing your journey, Michael. Godspeed.
[Michael’s] Contact Information:
Anyone can contact me from my website, WWW.MichaelEmmert.Com
Or by sending an email to Michael.Emmert [at] Gmail [dot] Com
I would love to hear from any one.
Posted by Lisa Lickel at 8:13 AM [June 1, 2009]