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Interview with Suzanne Woods Fisher

Suzanne Woods Fisher is a best-selling and award-winning author of Amish fiction and nonfiction. Her interest in the Amish stems from a grandfather who was raised Plain in Pennsylvania. Suzanne greatly admires the Plain people and believes they are a wonderful example to the world with their principles of simple living and trusting God.

Suzanne, after living in an Amish area in southern Maryland for five years, I can certainly agree on the attraction of simple living. However, that’s not to be misconstrued as easy living – the Amish people we lived near were some of the most hardworking people I had ever encountered.

Have you ever stayed with an Amish family to experience their ways of life? Your website mentioned you travel to the East for research. Do you observe or mingle there? Do the Plain people allow you to ask questions of them?

I have! I’ve stayed with a number of different Amish families and, because of the time spent, have developed some very meaningful relationships. I like your question: observing or mingling? The answer is both! And yes, they do feel comfortable with questions. I’ve even asked my friend Esther about the kind of underwear the Amish wear. 

Suzanne, your latest release is The Lesson. Where did the idea for this book come from?
In every novel, I try to weave some true-to-life elements from the Plain life into the plot line. In The Budget (an Amish-Mennonite newspaper), I had noticed references to Plain families fostering children whose mothers were serving jail terms. The Plain families weren’t trying to convert the children—they cared for them, took them to visit their mothers, and the result was a noticeable reduction in recidivism. I used that piece of information in the plot line for The Lesson.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
I had been a magazine writer while raising my four children. After they started heading off to college, I came to a point where I thought about writing a novel. I had an idea brewing but I struggled with self-confidence and wasn’t sure I could ever finish it or get it published. My niece gave me a book, printed in 1938, written by Brenda Ueland, called If You Want to Write. Ueland wrote a line that stuck with me: “Everyone is talented, interesting, and has something important to say.” After reading that, it dawned on me that the only one stopping me from writing a novel was…me.

So I began. For four months, I typed away in my little laundry room. I didn’t tell a single soul that I was writing a book—not my husband, not my children, not my sister, not my friends. No one. After I had finished the first draft (the ugly draft), I announced at dinner that I had written a book. My sons, ever so sensitive, said, “That’s why there’s no food in this house!”

Getting published was another story, but that moment of facing my insecurities and not letting them stop me was the most significant step toward realizing a dream.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
Writing is such a pleasure and a passion, but it’s tempting to let it crowd out some of the most important things: family and friends. I’m really working on that this year—trying to set aside writing (even in my mind, where it’s easy to hide a running dialogue going on between my characters) when I’m with others and be totally present.

And how do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
My guiding philosophy is: “Always think about your audience, never think for your audience.” My goal is to invite readers to seek God, but not to whack people on the heads with a 2 x 4. Story is a wonderfully winsome way of getting a point across, but I’m a believer in letting the Holy Spirit do the real heart changing work.

What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
I thought you’d never ask! Actually, there have been many special moments—getting the first contract, hitting bestseller lists, getting nominated for Carol and Christy and ECPA Book of the Year awards (and winning the Carol award for The Search!). But to be honest, the most memorable moments for me have been when a reader e-mails me to say that a book has touched them. Better still, when something they have read in my books has ignited their faith. Wow!

Who/What spurs you to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?
What spurs me to write? My motivation for writing comes from a delight in pleasing others whom I respect—my editors, my agents, my readers. That, truly, is success to me. I’m not really motivated by a drive for money (besides, no one should ever, ever become a writer for the money!). But the days when I hear back from my editor that she loved something I wrote…well, those are the days that I float!

Where do my characters come from? I get a lot of e-mails asking me if my characters are based on people I know. Ha Ha! What a ridiculous idea! Yes. As for the story ideas—everything is true in the stories except for the parts that I make up.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
If you were to ask me, I would say my style is unique because I weave humor and irony into the stories. But if you were to read reviews, two qualities are frequently noted: 1) my characters—they seem to jump off the page and grab a reader’s heart. And, 2) the twists and turns in the plots. Kinda like a Nantucket sleigh ride, the reader doesn't know what's around the next curve..

Any parting words?
Thanks so much for hosting me here today and sharing my books with other ACFW writers. I encourage everyone to keep writing. Don’t give up. My favorite writing advice is: “Hangeth thou in there.”

Thanks for sharing with us, Suzanne Woods Fisher!

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