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Interview with Patrick E. Craig

I loved my college-level history classes, especially European history. Looking back, I wish I had paid more attention. I should have completed all the reading for extra credit. Did King Richard III really kill his two nephews in the Tower of London? Was King Charles the first person to wear high-heeled shoes? Did the nobility really go to war over making their country Protestant instead of Catholic, or vice versa? How did downtrodden citizens of Europe make their way to the United States? I pondered all these questions during my recent conversation with author Patrick E. Craig.

Patrick didn’t have to go very far to stoke his love of history. His father was a history professor. From the age of 11 or 12, Patrick was exposed to a myriad of text books, and he has used his knowledge, supplemented with extensive research, to complete his sixth historical novel.

The latest book, The Mennonite Queen, will be released in April 2019. It is the third in The Paradise Chronicles series. In this book, Patrick skillfully weaves rich historical details, mixing fact and fiction, into a story that inspires the heart. But even better, his readers are taken along on a learning adventure that will open their eyes to many facets of church history and the founding of modern-day Christian communities such as Mennonites and the Amish.

Patrick, your story has an interesting mix of fact and fiction. How much is real and how much a product of your imagination?
All the characters except Johan, Magda, Frederich and two of the minor characters are real people. The court of Sigismund, the city of Münster, the events and timing of the story, the life of Menno Simons, all those I gleaned from historical facts. Johan’s name comes from an actual mountain in Switzerland where the Hershberger family originated.

I can’t imagine the degree of research that was required in writing The Mennonite Queen. Did you conduct a special study of the church in 16th Century Europe?
I've been writing The Mennonite Queen since 2017. I always do a great deal of research—I usually have twenty to thirty different folders full of articles and URLs to websites. I already knew about the Münster rebellion from previous reading so when it came time to do the book, that seemed like a great event to pin the story to. Then I looked for a real historical woman figure that I could insert into the story. Isabella Jagiellon was perfect, exactly in the time slot. So, I paired her with fictional Johan and the story started developing.

I was intrigued about the whole concept of Mennonites. Today they’re non-violent but back then, there was a whole branch of them that raised the sword because they were persecuted horribly. The Catholics and Lutherans put them to the stake and hung them. Mostly it was an issue about money. When you baptized a child at that time, the child was added to the tax rolls. When Mennonites refused to baptize their infants, money not coming in.

In the 16th Century, Catholics and the Protestants raised armies to fight against other denominations. That was going on across Germany, the seat of Luther's Protestant Reformation. There were wars between Spain and England and France and England. France and Spain were both Catholic countries and after Henry VII, England became a Protestant country.

And how did the Mennonites and Amish arise from the ashes of war?
As he studied Christ’s words of love and non-violence, former Catholic priest Menno Simons (1496-1561) found a new way. He became the shepherd of a flock that was founded in Frisia but grew to include many congregations in Germany and Holland. Those congregations became the Mennonite Church, and from the Mennonites, the Amish Church was born.

In 2019, there are no more Amish in Europe. The last active settlement was located at Ixheim in Germany and merged with a local Mennonite congregation in 1937. Some of those who did not merge came to America. My book, The Amish Princess, tells that story. When William Penn was given a colonial grant by King Charles II, as the payment of a debt to William’s father, he sent agents to Europe to recruit Amish, Anabaptists, and Mennonites to come to America. He promised religious freedom to anyone who came to buy land from him and establish a colony. In 1720 the first 300 Amish people came and established the colony which later became Lancaster County, Penn. They are still there.

Your use of a narrator, Jenny Hershberger, is an effective literary device. Does she show up in all your books?
I’ve known Jenny since A Quilt for Jenna. She was the lost little girl in the Storm of The Century. She’s been central to my books ever since. I’m thinking about resurrecting Jenny Hershberger to become an Amish detective in a cozy mystery series.

Your character Johan is a real horse whisperer. Are you personally fond of horses?
I grew up in horse country and my aunt was a master horsewoman. I rode a lot when I was a kid and was around horses most of my young life.

You infused humor into some difficult subject matter. The initial meeting of your two young lovers comes to mind. Was that serendipitous, or do you plot out it all out ahead of time?
I always outline the story chapter by chapter before I start. I also do a timeline. That gives me a point of reference. The actual events inside the story just seem to happen when I am thinking about how to make the story develop. My editor, Becky Carey Lyles, also pointed me in some good directions when she edited the book.

One one hand, The Mennonite Queen is infused with the Good News of the gospel. On the other hand, we read how organized religion was often used to oppress and persecute the innocent. What is the take-away you want for your readers in examining this dichotomy?
The theme of all my Amish books is that the law or the rules don’t save you—only Jesus Christ and a personal relationship with him can do that.

You seem to be a Renaissance man: songwriter, author, journalist and fly fisherman, husband and grandfather. What is your favorite role?
Husband, then writer. The rest kind of tag along.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
The day I sat with my agent, Steve Laube, at a Mt. Hermon writer’s conference (before he was my agent,) and he told me that if I could take my idea for A Quilt For Jenna and turn it into a novel, it would change my life. I did and it did.

At the time, Nick Harrison was senior editor at Harvest House. He wrote a blog about Ten Tips for Writers Who Want to be Published. He was accepting one sheets for the month of January and said he liked Amish stories and quilting stories. I came up with the idea of A Quilt for Jenna, which is an Amish story and a quilting story blended together. I thought he was asking for a short story which would go into an anthology. I wrote the one sheet and send it to Nick. He and his wife, a quilter, really liked the idea. He told me to keep working on it.

I wrote some sample chapters and submitted them for a critique with Steve Laube at the next writer’s conference. He said I should make it into a novel. This is how green I was: I asked how many words make a novel. He said 80,000 to 100,000. That was in April. I finished the book August 1 by working day and night. I got it done. Well, Harvest House bought the book and asked for two more. Voila! I was a contracted Amish author, unencumbered by any previous knowledge of the subject. Thank goodness for Google.

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
Being a Christian author limits you in some ways because the audience is only about 25% of all readers. I’m looking for a way that I can take my Christian world-view and my focus on the message of the Gospel and move it over into the general market. A real challenge.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
I work three days a week and then I have my marriage to look after and my home. I usually get up around 5:30 and write for two hours. I’m looking forward to the day when I can fully retire and do my writing as my job.

What is your writing routine?
I’m a morning writer. When I’m working on a book, I do the chapters outline and a timeline and then start on the first draft. I write straight through that draft with no editing or looking back. Then I go through and try to salvage what I can and move it into the second draft. Then I give it to my wife, and she proofs it and we try to knock out as many of the typos and junk as possible and that becomes the third draft.

At that point, I send it to my editor, and she annihilates it. When I make all the recommended changes it becomes draft four. Then we proof it one more time and I move it to draft five. Then I run it through my book-editing software (Grammerly and ProWriting Aid.) Then I put the manuscript into Vellum and format it for the final print and eBook copies. I generate a PDF and read through the whole book looking for the tiny stuff that has escaped us. Then it’s ready.
How important is it for an author to work closely with his editor?
It is critical. You must have an editor, especially if you're doing independent publishing. There are two major expenses in your book: a professional editor and a professional cover.

If you could have coffee with an author, dead or alive, whose work you admire, who would that be? What would you ask him or her?
Ernest Hemingway. What’s the secret of writing so powerfully and yet so concisely?

Any regrets in your writing career?
That I didn’t start sooner.

What led you to choose the genre in which you write? What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
My books are different because they are not the usual light-hearted romances where everything turns out peachy just because the protagonist is Amish, which is the standard fare of most Amish books. I write about desperate people facing desperate situations that only God can fix. I read a lot of Zane Grey when I was a kid and that shows in my writing.

What books are on your nightstand right now?
Two Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot novels and a book by Phillipa Gregory.

Any words of wisdom for new/aspiring authors?
Listen to what God wants you to write. Don’t be sucked into what is popular just so you can get recognition. The best stories come from your own life and your own heart.

The Mennonite Queen has an emotionally satisfying ending without a typical “happily-ever-after.” I knew this was a good book when my wife handed me the last proofing and she had tears running down her face. Your ending must touch some emotional place in the reader that they can identify with.


Teresa Haugh, a graduate of the University of Montevallo, is a recently retired public affairs specialist with the U.S. Forest Service. She and her husband enjoy life in Alaska, the Last Frontier. She takes pleasure in talking with other authors about their writing journeys, and is completing her first full-length novel.

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