An interview with Suzanne Woods Fisher,
Author of The Haven
Bestselling author Suzanne Woods Fisher intrigues and delights readers with a story that explores the bonds of friendship, family and true love in the second installment of the Stoney Ridge Seasons, The Haven (Revell/August 2012/978-0-8007-1988-3/$14.99). Fisher artfully weaves themes such as forgiveness and God’s mercy into an entertaining tale full of humor and romance. Fisher’s heroine even finds herself in the middle of a love triangle—Amish style!
Read more about how Fisher got into writing Amish fiction and The Haven in her interview below.
Q: The characters of The Haven are involved in a love triangle of sorts. Are relationships as complicated among Amish young people as they are in the rest of America with all of the media influences we have?
A very astute observation! Can you imagine what it would be like to not have media-imposed expectations about love and marriage? Seems as if there would be much greater satisfaction in what you’ve chosen and far less of the compare-and-despair syndrome.
The Amish have virtually a zero percent divorce rate. By comparison, according to a recent study by the Barna Group, the divorce figure among all born-again Christians is 32 percent. Amish wedding vows are viewed as a promise before God, taken as seriously as a baptism vow. So, while Amish young people might have less complicated expectations for love and romance, they might be wiser about marrying cautiously.
The Amish have a saying that just about sums it up: “Marriage may be made in heaven, but man is responsible for the upkeep.”
Q: What are some of the challenges that your main character, Sadie, faces in The Haven?
The story is essentially about the blossoming of a shy young woman who sorely lacks self-confidence, yet has an intuitive sense of wisdom and common sense. Others see these qualities in her, but she doesn’t realize the effect she has on people. Actually, that’s part of Sadie’s charm.
Q: What are some of the misconceptions the public has about the Amish way of life?
Oh, so so many!
On the top of my list is that people watch TV shows or read books about the Amish who have left their church and draw conclusions. Those Amish left for a reason—there are dysfunctional Amish homes and churches just like the general population. But 85-90% of the Amish choose to remain in the church—and their story doesn’t get told. That’s one of the main reasons I like to read “The Budget”—it gives a nationwide picture of the Amish and you can see the satisfaction and contentment in their lives.
Next myth: Stopping school at 8th grade means that one’s education stops. So not true! The Amish have a core value of lifelong learning and mastering concepts. My favorite story is about an Amish man who ran a dairy until his eldest son was old enough to take over the day-to-day management of it. This dad then taught himself all about electricity and hired out as an electrician. Keep in mind—he had never used electricity!
Q: The Haven follows the first book in this series, The Keeper, in which one of the characters has a heart transplant. It comes up in this story as well. Are the Amish open to modern medical treatment?
The Amish do use doctors and hospitals and are open to modern medical treatment. They don’t have medical or life insurance because it would require joining with others who are not Amish. Instead, the church pools money to help families cover medical costs of their members. Perhaps because they are cost-conscious, they do make use of alternative health treatments: remedies, chiropractors, reflexology, etc. Above all, what I’ve noticed is that they have a deep belief in eternal life, so a grim diagnosis (like Amos Lapp had in “The Keeper”) is faced with acceptance and trust in God.
Q: What first drew you to writing Amish fiction?
My grandfather was raised Plain and I grew up interacting with my Old Order German Baptist relatives. I was always intrigued by them—lovely, gentle, kind, faithful people. I admired their simple life—their homes, their gardens, their interest in things without the need to own things. When my agent connected me to an editor at Revell who was looking for a writer about the Plain people, it all came together in a non-fiction book contract, Amish Peace. That book became a foundation for me to write credible fiction about the Amish, and was a finalist for the ECPA Book of the Year. I just love that book.
Q: It seems that the Amish can sometimes be apprehensive about letting outsiders into their communities. How are you able to research certain aspects of Amish life?
My relatives have opened some doors for me, and I’ve had the blessing of making some wonderful Amish and Mennonite friends who are willing to answer questions and be a resource. I have a full disclosure policy with anyone I am writing about—they know I’m a writer, they can read and correct the essays, and then we change names and location to protect privacy. Don’t get me wrong--I have faced some shut doors! But many open ones, too.
Q: Amish fiction is such a popular genre of Christian fiction. Why do you think so many readers love stories of the Amish?
There’s not just one simple answer to that question, but I think you could combine some current issues and see why the sub-genre is attractive to readers and continues to grow.
The recession certainly plays a role—this sub-genre took off as the economy crashed. Amish stories transport a reader into a more peaceful world—and peace combats financial insecurity and anxiety.
The galloping pace of technology might be another piece of this puzzle. Isn’t it ironic what little spare time you have despite so many time saving devices?
The pastoral setting speaks to, and reminds us, of the soothing effect of nature.
And then…naturally, a love story is always wonderful. Amish or otherwise.