The Wanda Brunstetter File:
by C.J. Darlington
Wanda Brunstetter Interview
"I only knew my husband a little over a month before we were married. If there's such a thing as 'love at first sight,' then Richard and I fall into that category." -- Wanda Brunstetter
Fascinated by the Amish people during the years of visiting her husband's family in Pennsylvania, Wanda E. Brunstetter combined her interest with her writing and now has eleven novels about the Amish in print, along with numerous other stories and ministry booklets. She lives in Washington State, where her husband is a pastor, but takes every opportunity to visit Amish settlements throughout the states.
C.J.: Were books a big part of your life growing up? If so, what books would you say influenced you most as a child?
WANDA: Yes, books were a huge part of my growing up years. I read every chance I got, and imagined that I was the characters in the stories. Two of my favorite books were Nancy and Plum by Betty McDonald and The Pennywinks by Electa Clark. I not only found these books to be enjoyable but they gave me the desire to someday write books of my own.
You’ve wanted to be a writer since you were a kid, but it wasn’t until 1980 when you took a writing class that you became serious. What was it about that class that changed your thinking about pursuing writing as a career?
Getting into the first assignment made me realize that my dream of becoming a writer was still with me. I felt like a butterfly coming out of cocoon.
I’m fascinated to hear you’re a professional ventriloquist. How did you come into that creative arena?
My husband and I had a puppet ministry, and for several years we traveled with our son and daughter to various churches in the Pacific Northwest to share our puppets. When we decided that we needed to expand the ministry to include a few other things I became interested in ventriloquism.
How do those two professions, writing and ventriloquism, compliment each other?
Whenever I’m asked to do a speaking engagement to talk about my Amish-themed books, I take along my little ventriloquist puppet, dressed in Amish clothes. Using the puppet is a great way to open my talk and set the stage for what I’m planning to say. I’ve also used the puppet when I’ve visited Amish schoolhouses.
I know you have Mennonite and Amish roots, but what was it that first inspired you to write about them in your novels?
One of our Mennonite friends used to work for an Amish man, and he took us to meet the Amish man and his family. From the moment we met that Amish couple I felt a special connection. As we drove back to the hotel that evening, I told my husband, “When I write my first novel, it’s going to be about the Amish way of life. I have a deep love and respect for these people.” Since that time we’ve made many Amish friends, and whenever we are with them, I always feel a special bond and connection.
Even with your family history I’d guess you’ve had to conduct plenty of research to write your books. Is research something you enjoy? Why or why not?
It takes a lot of research to write about the Amish, and I enjoy traveling with my husband to various Amish communities around the country and getting to know the Amish personally. For that reason, I enjoy doing my research very much. This past summer we spent three days in one of our Amish friend’s homes, and it was so hard to say goodbye. We felt as if we’d become part of their family.
Could you share with us a few facts about the Amish that maybe the average reader probably doesn’t know?
One thing most people don’t know is that a lot of Amish who work for English businesses, or own a business of their own, have learned to use a computer. Also, many Amish businessmen and women are now using cell phones in order to conduct business transactions.
What’s the number one thing (or two!) you wish Englishers (am I saying that right?) knew about the Amish and their way of life?
Many people don’t realize that the Amish religion is not a cult. The Amish are Christians who believe in God’s plan of salvation. Most of them don’t talk about it as openly as we Englishers do, however.
We live in such a fast-paced society. Are there any steps or hints you could give us about paring things down and focusing on the important things of life that you’ve learned from the Amish community?
Spending more time with family and friends, playing games, visiting, and helping one another. Finding pleasure in the simple things—feeding the birds, planting flowers, taking a leisurely walk, baking cookies, watching a sunset—I’ve learned all of these things and so much more from the Amish community.
Tell us about your Sisters of Holmes County series of books. What do you want readers of Christian fiction to know about this series?
The Sisters of Holmes County series is about the Hostettler family, whose faith is put the test when they’re under attack, and they don’t know who or why. Each of the books focuses on one of the sisters and shows how she deals with the attacks and how the trial has strengthened her faith. The thing I most want my readers to understand is that without forgiveness true healing cannot occur.
Besides your novels, you’ve also written an Amish Friends Cookbook. What are some of your favorite Amish foods to eat and cook?
Shoofly pie, pickled beets, and stuffed cabbage rolls are among my favorite traditional Amish foods. I also love their homemade rootbeer.
Of all your characters, who’s your favorite, and why?
I think Abby, from The Quilter’s Daughter, is one of my favorite characters, because she’s a lot like me and I could relate to her as I wrote the story.
What would you say has been the hardest part about writing the Sisters of Holmes County series?
The hardest part for me was writing about the attacks and knowing that some of my Amish friends have experienced similar things. Thankfully, nothing as serious as what happened to the Hostettlers happened to my friends, and nothing that went on over such a long period of time. Most of the attacks that have been done to the Amish are done because of prejudice and misunderstanding of the Amish way of life.
What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
I think I would enjoy writing a children’s picture book.
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?
Some days it is a challenge, but deadlines don’t wait, so that’s a motivation in itself. When the words don’t seem to come, I take a break—get a snack, sit in the yard and watch the birds, or go for a walk.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?
I wish I’d known that more would be expected of me than to just sit down and write a book. Even with the public speaking and drama classes I took in school, I still felt unprepared for the interviews and speaking engagements I’ve been asked to do. However, as time goes on I’m beginning to feel more comfortable doing these kinds of things.
What was the lowest point in your writing career, and how did you get out of it?
After I had my first novel accepted in 1997, I waited almost three years for a second novel to be accepted. While I was waiting to hear, I wrote, and had published, a few novellas, some short stories, and several puppet scripts, which kept my hands and mind occupied.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
1. I only knew my husband a little over a month before we were married. If there’s such a thing as “love at first sight,” then Richard and I fall into that category. We have now been married over forty years!
2. I’m a self-taught ventriloquist, and have been told by audiences that I’ve mastered lip control like a pro.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
I enjoy photography, knitting, reading, beach combing, and spending time with my family. I especially enjoy spending on our son’s boat. I find time spent on the water to be very relaxing.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
A multi-grain waffle with strawberries and yogurt.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
1. Distilled water. 2. Brown eggs from free-range chickens. 3. Maple-favored yogurt.
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
Since I’m not a coffee drinker, I would probably order a glass of iced tea.
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
A trip to Hawaii to rest and spend time on the beach.
When was the last time you cried?
I cried a few weeks ago, when I watched the DVD, “August Rush.” That was such a touching movie.
Three words that best describe you:
1. Nurturing. 2. Diligent. 3. Dedicated.
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
The soundtrack for the movie, “Walk the Line.”
Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
After talking to readers of my books, one thing I’ve come to realize is that fiction touches and changes lives. I’m thankful for the opportunity to use my talents in such a life-changing way.
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.