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Interview with Adina Senft

Multi-talented hardly begins to describe Adina Senft. From writing award-winning fiction to sewing period costumes to rescuing chickens (seriously!), to teaching in Seton Hill University’s MFA program, Adina has interests that can only be called amazingly diverse. But her readers know that her wonderful fiction draws on them to produce unique and well- written stories. The first book in her Amish Quilt Trilogy, The Wounded Heart, is earning very enthusiastic reviews.

Tell us about the Amish Quilt Trilogy. The reviews I’ve read for The Wounded Heart are outstanding! When does the next book in the series come out?

The trilogy revolves around three Amish women who have been best friends since their days in the one-room schoolhouse. As they work together on a quilt, they bring their fears, concerns, triumphs and troubles to each other—and they hold each other accountable. The next book, The Hidden Life, is coming out in June 2012, and it’s about a perpetual spinster who is used to being hidden in the background. When she finds her voice in an unusual way, all kinds of trouble ensues. The third book, The Tempted Soul, is about emotional infidelity and infertility, and will be out in the spring of 2013.

The friendship of the three women in your trilogy is an important one for each of them. How important are women’s friendships today?
Sometimes things happen in our lives that we can’t take to our husbands or our mothers—but we can take them to our girlfriends, who may be going through similar experiences. My friends have sustained me through some pretty tough times—they’ve both held me up and held me responsible for my actions, and helped me through. And I do the same for them. My close female friendships are vital to me, and it was important that these books be a celebration of what women are to each other.

There’s an unusual problem with the diagnosis in The Wounded Heart. If you can do so without spoiling the story, could you talk a little about this situation?
It’s based on something that actually happened to one of my friends—she was misdiagnosed and nearly died before a chance visit to the dentist led to the discovery of what was really wrong. When she was on the road to recovery, I knew I would write about it. The Amish setting, with the way their communal health system works, seemed perfect for the greatest amount of conflict. I interviewed an Old Order Amish woman who is in the medical field in Lancaster County, so the response of the church elders to my heroine’s desire to seek a radical treatment is true to what she told me would really happen.

What drew you to the idea of writing Amish fiction, Adina? Did you know much about that community when you began? How did you get to know them better?
I knew nothing about the Amish specifically that I hadn’t learned from reading and enjoying other authors’ books. But my editor asked me one day, “With your upbringing, why aren’t you writing about the Amish? Weren’t they pretty similar?” It was like a light bulb went on in my head, because yes, the plain house church I grew up in is very similar in belief to the Amish way of thinking. So writing the inner workings of such a belief system was easy. Writing about the exterior manifestations of that belief system involved a very steep learning curve. But hey, I got to learn to drive a buggy!

It’s clear from your blog, “A City Girl’s Guide to Plain Living,” that your own life must be a busy one. How do you find time to write and how do you keep the rest of your life from getting in the way of your writing time?
I used to be an executive assistant, making my living scheduling people’s time. Scheduling my own time is just an extension of that. I just phased out of my day job as an editor at a marketing communications agency last month, so now I divide my time between writing novels, teaching in the MFA program at Seton Hill, and copyediting novels for independent authors. Life is very busy, but the chickens keep me sane. An hour in the garden with them grounds me, and having chicken poop on my shoulders and on my pants (from where they jump up to snuggle) keeps me from taking myself too seriously.

You’ve published an enviable number of novels, Adina. Is there a favorite among them for you, or a favorite character?
My favorite character from my YA series was Shani Hanna, my African-American protagonist who was sassy and brave and didn’t put up with nonsense from anyone. In the Amish series, it’s a tough call—I love Amelia for the depth of her love for her children, Emma for her vulnerability and her practical take on life, and Carrie because she loves her chickens like I do. Her friends tease her that her birds not only come in the house, but they have a place at the table, too. However, they never get further than the door, just like mine :)

What made you decide to write for the CBA market? How does your own faith influence your fiction?
The good Lord has a funny way of closing a door but leaving a window open behind you. After writing seven romances for Harlequin, the door closed with an unmistakable sound . . . but I felt a breeze on the back of my neck from that window—which turned out to be the CBA market. I’ve been there ever since. Coming from such a strange background, the way my faith works itself out on paper is a little different from the mainstream, but I think that’s okay. Reviewers have said my books aren’t preachy, and the characters simply live out their faith. I guess that’s my philosophy.

Has there been an especially meaningful moment in your publishing career?
Winning the Romance Writers of America RITA Award® for Grounds to Believe, my first CBA novel and the book of my heart, was an amazing moment. I had written that book as a kind of therapy as I came out of a lifetime in the house church, and to see it validated in that way was really special. I knew then that I was on the right track in more ways than one. And since then, getting reader letters for my fiction, especially from teens, has been a series of meaningful moments. I treasure every single one.

Many of our readers are not yet published. Do you have any advice for these aspiring writers?
Don’t give up. This business isn’t for the faint of heart. If you’re burning to tell a story, get all the training you can and tell it. Check university extensions and community colleges for writing classes. Take classes online. Focus on your craft until it becomes instinctive and the story flows through it. And then pull out all the stops, be true to the story in your heart, and write!

What books are on your bedside table right now? What genre is your favorite?
At this moment I’m reading a how-to, Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul. This past week I read Pray for Silence, an Amish mystery by Linda Castillo, and last night on the plane I finished a gritty mystery, Angel in the Full Moon, by Don Easton. Don was an undercover police operative, and we worked together when I was a secretary with the RCMP in Canada. (How many authors do you know who have a Top Secret security clearance?) Next up is For Their Baby, an October 2011 Harlequin SuperRomance by Kathleen O’Brien, which was also her MFA thesis at Seton Hill. I’m grading the manuscript right now and preparing questions for Kathleen’s thesis defense in January—an odd coincidence of timing if ever there was one!

So, um, I guess you could say I’m a pretty eclectic reader. The only genre I don’t read much is capital-L Literary fiction. It’s just not as interesting to me as the other genres.

Okay, I have to ask. Rescue chickens? In Silicon Valley?
You would be surprised. The backyard chicken movement has spread to urban areas like Portland, LA, and yes, even Silicon Valley. A bunch of us are on a yahoogroup and a designer in our midst designed the perfect T-shirt [image attached]. I get calls from people who are moving away, dealing with illness, or are otherwise unable to care for their birds, so I take in as many as I can. And sometimes we just find them. One day my husband saw a half-grown chick dodging cars on the onramp to the freeway, so he stopped the truck, caught her, and brought her home to me. Millie is now my largest hen, as happy-go-lucky and sweet tempered as can be ... and you just have to say car and she flinches and hides. JoJo is the hen in my publicity shot. Well, actually, it’s her publicity shot. She just let me be in it because I had on makeup and all. Copper is my oldest hen, at about ten years. She’s getting pretty frail, but she still loves to cuddle. At the moment I have twelve birds and love every one. They’re voice trained, have a large vocabulary of words they understand, and are a delight to have as companions. Chickens are affectionate, smart, and vastly underestimated by people.

Thanks for sharing with us, Adina!
Thank you for the chance to chat!

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