by C.J. Darlington
Beverly Lewis Interview
things are possible to those with a clock and a strict schedule."
-- Beverly Lewis
Beverly Lewis, raised in Pennsylvania Amish country and both a schoolteacher and an accomplished musician, is now an award-winning novelist. Her books have appeared on numerous bestseller lists, including USA Today and The New York Times. She and her husband, David, live in Monument, Colorado.
C.J.: What first drew you to write stories as a child?
BEVERLY: You know the proverbial “dark and brooding” child? Well, that was me. Thankfully, I’ve grown up quite a lot since age nine. :)
When you started to write more seriously as an adult, did you find you had a natural flair for the task, or did you train yourself by reading how-to books, reading other books, etc.?
I literally poured myself into honing the art of writing from high school through college and onward—everything from taking advanced composition classes to working on assignment with magazine editors to writing chapter books for young readers—via classes at UCCS—to mentorships with published authors (one a Gold Medallion Award winner), and, yes, reading every how-to book available. It was a distinct combination of both the need to express myself on paper and opening myself up to professional input—being teachable.
For the first four years of writing you ran a successful music studio with 40+ students a week. How did you manage that? Were there specific things you did to help yourself make the transition from music teacher to writer each day?
Unless one has tackled the rather insane daily pace of running a business and nurturing a secondary passion, it’s probably not possible to describe my days and weeks—oh, yes, and we were homeschooling our special-needs kids at the time, with the help of several professionals. Management of that required the discipline inbred within me, from girlhood on: You always get up at the same time, you’re at your desk bright and early (eat a great breakfast—the best meal of the day, Mom always said!) and pace, pace, pace yourself. All things are possible to those with a clock and a strict schedule. So I guess that’s it in a nutshell—steely determination to make the day fit into the allotted hours.
As for the transition from music instructor to writer, I recall walking down the hall between the music studio and my little writing room, and mentally changing hats. My husband would smile…he could see it happening in my eyes, I suppose. And only when my family’s needs were met (an enormous task with special-needs twins), only then did I place the hat of a passionate writer on my determined head.
Do you find that your creative musical side and creative writing side mesh well, or do they use two completely different parts of your brain?
Oh, goodness, it’s an absolute marriage. The lyrical and musical phrases in my head are what dictate my sentence structure and paragraph formation. In fact, at the end of a chapter, I “know” when the final word must come.
You’ve said before that when you come up with book ideas, often a character will come before a plot. Does that mean you prefer to write without an outline, or do you need to know every little twist and turn before you ever write the first sentence?
My writing journey is similar to a reader’s—not knowing what will happen in each scene. This is what gets me up in the morning (along with my deadlines!). I have a firm outline of the trilogy, knowing quite well the beginning, middle, and the desired ending. But, oh, the sheer adventure of being led by the characters, sometimes yanked by the hair, and grabbed by the throat….
Tell us about your novel, The Parting. What excites you most about this story?
Nellie Fisher has set her beau, Caleb Yoder, up as an idol. She’ll do anything to be with him, even to the point of shunning her parents’ newfound faith. The juxtaposition of the old ways vs. the new—a direct tie to the 1966 Amish church split, which birthed the New Order (salvation through grace, as opposed to works)—has me completely intrigued. I just returned from Lancaster, doing additional research for this series—THE COURTSHIP OF NELLIE FISHER—where I discovered a copy of a journal entry from a church member who suffered that heartbreaking split. So to answer the question about excitement: It’s about the characters caught in the rift, and to what lengths they’ll go in order to hold fast to tradition, as well as the joyous freedom the New Order folk discover.
What was the hardest part about writing it?
Not being able to see the screen at times, for my tears. This was one heart-wrenching time in the history of the Amish church.
And you've also released a children's book, In Jesse’s Shoes. What inspired you to write this book?
For more than a decade this story has been growing in my head and heart. I recall kneeling on the kitchen floor, at eye level with our little girl (one of our adopted “babies,”) and crying with her after she had been verbally abused by older (more capable) schoolchildren. So much of Jesse’s story (and his sister’s) is my family’s own.
What was it like watching your novel The Redemption of Sarah Cain being made into a movie (Saving Sarah Cain) by Michael Landon Jr.? I hear you had a chance to visit the set.
It was surreal for starters, and incredibly educational, too. Michael is a first-class director/producer, and the CBA is verifying that by calling Saving Sarah Cain the standard to which other faith-based films must aim. I’m thrilled to have just signed on for another movie with Landon and his expert team.
There was a good bit of creative license taken in adapting the novel into a film. What did you think of the changes that were made?
A movie adaptation takes the themes of a book, the characters’ motivations, and the overall sentiment of the story and runs with it. The flip-flopping of Sarah Cain in Portland, juggling a bunch of Amish kids, instead of remaining on Amish soil for her “redemption,” truly makes for film-friendly scenes. I personally enjoyed the movie. For viewers who are eager for more of the Plain culture, they can always read the book. :)
In a recent interview you gave advice to aspiring authors and said, “As I see it, it’s more a willingness to work hard and persevere” rather than pure talent. How important is it for an aspiring fiction writer to never give up?
There comes a time, of course, when a determined writer who may not have either the talent or the drive to become published might simply channel his or her efforts into another avenue of writing. Wisdom comes from being open to professional input. I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone whatsoever, but after a long period of trial and error, one might redirect goals. There are many writers, of course, who WILL achieve their aspirations after much perseverance (just as I did), viewing rejections as stepping stones to eventual success.
Do you always have a Christian message in mind when you start your stories, or do you find that aspect of the book comes as you write?
My spiritual inter-weavings are an outgrowth of setting my stories in the confines of a staunchly religious sect. The Amish tradition is based on the Sermon on the Mount, which leaves very little wiggle room.
If you could say one thing to the Amish community, what would you say?
Thank you for opening your hearts to me, sharing your stories and your homes with me, and answering my endless questions…. Well, that’s four.
Ever had any unusual or embarrassing moments at a book signing or while performing research?
Yes, but it is far too awkward to share here. Smallish hint? It has to do with being fully dressed…or not.
Of all your characters, who’s your favorite, and why?
I’m captivated by Nellie Fisher because she knows what she wants and moves heaven and earth to get it. But she’ll be replaced by the next protagonist in a few months. Writers are fickle about their offspring, ya know.
What about your books? Do you have a favorite?
The Sunroom—the story most closely connected to my own life.
What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
A dark and brooding, hair-raising story set in Salem during the time of the witch-burnings. I know, I know …what on earth??
Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what are some of your favorite bands/artists?
I create scenes to music without lyrics—Secret Garden. Mozart Piano Concerti, Haydn, and anything Bach, which is scientifically proven to heighten creativity. When editing, however, I love Jeremy Camp, Andrea Bocelli, Sarah Groves, Nichole Nordeman, Point of Grace, tobyMac, etc.
or books have had the most influence on you as a writer?
Memoirs, biographies, old classics (Dickens, Wallace Stegner, Gene Stratton-Porter); Catherine Marshall, Maeve Binchy, Cold Sassy Tree (Olive Ann Burns), Katherine Paterson, The Yearling (Rawlings), Andrew Murray’s body of work, Lewis, and Packer.
Do you ever find it challenging to head to your keyboard every day?
What do you do when the words don’t seem to come?
Cutting off the flow of words tends to be more my problem than writer’s block, although there are times when I am plain tired (my late-night writing marathons are the culprit). If I do find myself staring at a blank screen, then walking, biking, doing research, or baking is a sure remedy.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?
Deadlines are meant to be observed, but there is always wiggle room built in by the publisher. Also, fictional characters do live and breathe and walk the earth—if you aren’t careful.
What was the lowest point in your writing career, and how did you get out of it?
My long-time editor resigned after nine incredible years together. Crying helped; then I eventually snapped out of it and moved into a new author/editor relationship. Presently I have four terrific editors on my BHP team.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
Playing Schumann piano pieces sends me straight to my happy place. I’m a cat freak, but can’t have any due to my family’s allergies—so I collect stuffed animal cats, some of whom accompany me on my book tours.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
Cooking, reading, making memory books, and plotting new fiction with my husband.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
“Swamp drink”—a swirly, nasty thing my husband whips up in his blender. It has mysterious ingredients that will supposedly make me live far longer than is necessary. J Also, toast with apple butter (from Pennsylvania Amish country), blueberry oatmeal, and black tea (2 cups).
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Sprouted wheat bread, peach tea, and dill pickles. (In the freezer??—at least four kinds of ice cream!)
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
Creating a weekend getaway for the purpose of encouraging young writers. Getting caught up on all my family memory albums. Visiting London, Austria, and The Netherlands.
When was the last time you cried?
Three words that best describe you:
Loyal, fun-loving, conscientious
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
“Pure” (Hayley Westenra), “Beyond Measure” (Jeremy
Camp), Anniversary Edition Bach (Glenn Gould), “Earthsongs” (Secret
Garden), “Winter’s Crossing” (James Galway/Phil Coulter).
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.