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Interview with Vannetta Chapman

Though born in California, Vannetta Chapman has lived most of her life in Texas. She holds a BA and MA degree in English and has spent 15 years teaching at the high school and collegiate level. She has also managed to publish over one hundred articles in Christian family magazines, receiving over two dozen awards from Romance Writers of America chapter groups. Vannetta published her first Amish novel last year with Abingdon Press called A Simple Amish Christmas. This month, Falling to Pieces, the first book in her three-book Amish mystery series set in Shipshewana, Indiana will release via Zondervan Publishing, and she is already contracted to produce another Amish series with Harvest House that will be set in southwest Wisconsin.

I know Amish fiction has become a very popular category with both readers and authors alike. How did you become interested in writing in the Amish genre and what is your perspective on why the genre has become so popular today?

Actually my agent, Mary Sue Seymour, encouraged me to try my hand at writing an Amish story. She represents many top writers of Amish fiction including Amy Clipston, Beth Wiseman, Shelley Shepard Gray and Mary Ellis. As I began researching for that proposal, I discovered that my father's father, who died before I was born, came from Albion, PA ... deep in the heart of Amish country. I think this genre is popular for two reasons. It has a nostalgic component--many of us can remember stories of our grandparents canning food, living without electricity, and hand milking a cow. But the second reason for the popularity is that these stories usually have a current setting. So we're seeing a community of folks who live simply today, without the technology, pressure, or personal isolation that many people feel.

I understand that to break into the Amish genre you had to find an angle that made your story ideas stand out. How did you research the genre to find this ‘new’ angle … and is that research what initiated using the mystery element in your soon-to-be-released series?
I don't know if there are new stories, but there are new ways of telling stories. Every writer has a unique voice. I did do a lot of research, made myself an excel chart of every Amish story that was out there, and then tried to bring something fresh to the conversation in my voice ...that's how A Simple Amish Christmas was born, and it attracted the attention of Abingdon Press, Zondervan and Harvest House. Abingdon made an immediate offer. Zondervan wanted something different, and it was Sue Brower's idea to pair the cozy mystery genre with Amish. I was more than eager! She picked Shipshewana and I came up with 5 different series ideas. Harvest House was open to seeing more of my writing, and within months purchased three romance books titled The Pebble Creek Series, which will begin releasing in June of 2012.

Can you explain what your personal definition of a ‘cozy mystery’ is and how that category differs from a novel that would fall into the traditional mystery category?
With a cozy you have an amateur sleuth and a murder (which has happened off scene). You usually have a side-kick of some sort, which is what gave us the idea of pairing an Amish person with an Englischer. The cozy mystery also has a light, humorous side to it. That might seem contradictory to the subject of murder, but the truth is that people are funny (think of the popular television series Monk). For me the challenge was to balance the mystery with the humor and still dig deep enough to reveal a spiritual message.

How did your background of regularly writing articles for Christian family magazines prepare you for writing novels? (And do you still find time to write articles?)
I loved writing articles. It helped to pay for postage when I was sending out so many submissions (and receiving so many rejections). Freelance writing also has prepared me for writing blogs. I post regularly 3 times a week. Mondays are an Inspiration segment, Wednesdays I spotlight Christian fiction, and on Saturdays I cover some aspect of Amish life. The last few weeks I've been doing a segment on Amish Myth Busters, which has been very popular. I'll also soon begin writing regularly for Overall magazine writing taught me to write regularly and write on deadline. It was a wonderful experience.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
I'm afraid that I'm a workaholic, and I'm trying to learn to cut back. Perspective is important, and there's more to life than sitting at my computer and producing words! Up until 3 months ago, I worked full time, so I definitely had to balance. I always wrote from 5 to 7 in the mornings, then from 8 to 10 in the evenings. I had that same schedule for the last 12 years. My son is now 23, so he grew up doing homework while I wrote. My life has always required me to choose my priorities. I've never had much time for watching t.v. or playing computer games. That said, I will step away from my writing in a minute if anyone in my family wants to go for a walk or head out for an ice cream cone.

In reading over your web site I find that although last year’s release is considered your debut novel you have actually written several other novels. Do you still harbor dreams that these earlier novels will also be published or do you consider them to be part of your early novel writing development? (And, are they Amish as well?)
A Simple Amish Christmas was my 9th novel to complete, and yes--I still love the first eight which are on a shelf, boxed and safe. I think those were good books, but they were in genres that remain hard to break into: westerns, romantic suspense, young adult. My agent liked them, and she signed me because of those books. Maybe someday a publisher will ask me, "What else do you have?" I definitely am not going to throw them away!

As a Christian author, what do you want readers to ‘take away’ from reading your stories?
If you look at my website or my blog, you'll see that my tagline is Fiction full of Grace. But that's more than a tagline, it's what I believe I'm called to write--whether it's family life articles, Texas westerns that aren't published, or the 7 Amish novels that will come out in 2 years. They're all words that express God's grace in our life, and my desire is that they give people hope. If I've done that, then I've been successful.

Any parting words?
Thank you! ACFW is an incredibly supportive organization, and I appreciate the advice, friendship, prayer, and daily conversations with our membership.

Thanks for sharing with us, Vannetta!

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