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Author Interview: Kelly Irvin

KellyFinal1 (427x640)Today’s special guest is Kelly Irvin. Kelly is the author of the Bliss Creek Amish series and the New Hope Amish series, both from Harvest Housing Publishing. Her latest release is Love Redeemed, set in Amish country in Missouri, which debuted March 1. She is currently working on The Beekeeper’s Son, the first book in the Amish of Bee County series, for Zondervan. She has also penned two inspirational romantic suspense novels, A Deadly Wilderness and No Child of Mine.

The Kansas native is a graduate of  the University of Kansas School of Journalism. She has been writing nonfiction professionally for thirty years.  Kelly has been married to photographer Tim Irvin for twenty-six years. They have two young adult children, one gorgeous new granddaughter, two cats, and a tank full of fish. In her spare time, she likes to write short stories and read books by her favorite authors. You can meet up with Kelly online: her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

As you will see in the interview, Kelly’s novels share some of her interesting insights into the Amish community, and her book Love Redeemed begged some questions to which I think you will enjoy Kelly’s answers.

Kelly, I’m so delighted to have you here. You probably hear this a lot—or maybe you don’t, but I don’t read a lot of Amish stories. I truly enjoyed Love Redeemed and I recommend it highly. What I’d like to do is get to the heart of why you write this particular genre. Would you share that with our readers?

I didn’t start out writing Amish fiction, but now that I’ve written seven novels in the genre I have to say it’s truly been a joyful journey. I’ve written romantic suspense and contemporary romance as well. My first Amish romance, To Love and to Cherish, came from reading a newspaper article about the ever increasing number of buggy/vehicle accidents in states with large Amish populations. I’d always been fascinated by the Amish stoic determination to forgive. Just about everyone is familiar with the story of the young girls shot and killed in a school house several years ago—it because the basis for a movie. The families forgave the perpetrator of this horrifying crime and even visited with his family. As a Christian, I espouse the ideal of forgiveness, but like many people find it hard to walk the walk. That struggle, coupled with the clash in lifestyles represented by the buggy accidents, led to the writing of that first story. I never started out to write Amish fiction, but I have to say it’s been a lovely, growing experience for me. I don’t agree with all aspects of the Amish lifestyle, but I have tremendous respect for their living out of their faith.

In Love Redeemed you share an opening that breaks my heart and actually lends to the book’s tension because the reader knows that something horrible is going to happen. Great job, by the way. When I say I enjoyed the story, I should rephrase it: I couldn’t put it down. You had me in tears, which means that I was in the story. I’m sorry for your family’s loss, but if you’re willing to share, I’d love to know how that loss lead to the writing of Loved Redeemed and how you managed to write that portion of the story. Did it leave you drained, or did God allow you to release some emotions during that time? In other words, was it cathartic or did it make you feel the grief once again?

The story does come from a very personal place. In 1991, I was living in Texas and eight months pregnant with my son when I received a phone call from my mother in Kansas, saying that my younger brother, Larry, had gone missing in a boating accident and was feared dead. It took another twenty-four hours, but eventually this horrible news was confirmed. Larry was thirty years old and his wife and five-year -old daughter were in the boat, along with my other brother, Doug, who invited them on this outing. A tragedy like that changes your life. Doug lives with a sense of responsibility. My parents continue to grieve. My dad commented, “I turned my back for a second, and look what happened.” I always know how long it’s been since Larry’s been gone because of my son who was born one month later. Every year on his birthday, I’m reminded. But we’ve all come to terms with it. Larry’s wife has remarried. His daughter is grown and has her own child now. But we all remember him and this story honors his memory and his passing too soon.

My biggest fear with writing Love Redeemed was that I wouldn’t do the story justice. My editor will attest to that. I sent early drafts to her in a panic, and she kept assuring me I was doing fine. I wrote this story probably as fast as any I’ve ever written. The words poured out of me. I couldn’t write fast enough and even now, thinking about certain scenes makes me tear up. My critique partners and I have had conversations about how much time has to pass before you can use these kinds of life altering events in your writing. For me it took a lot of years and even then, I don’t know that it was cathartic. I read some of the scenes and they still make me cry. It’s not so much about my grief at losing a brother, but more now about empathy for parents who lost a child. I look at my own children, and I don’t think I could bear it. My parents learned to live with it. They learned to go on and that’s what Silas and Katie know they must do. Still, they struggle to understand. We all do. I’m hoping readers will put themselves in those shoes and think about whether their faith and their relationship with God is what it needs to be in order to weather the truly traumatic and tragic.

Kelly, thanks for sharing something so personal. Like you, I don’t know what I’d do if I lost either of my sons. I’d go on, I know, but I fear I’d be a shell of the person I’ve become. God bless your parents and for you for writing this beautiful tribute to their courage.

The Amish are remarkable folks. I don’t know a lot about their religious practices, but it seems to me that some of the other stories I’ve read in this genre, the writers skim over or ignore God’s grace for the “goodness” of the Amish. Your story did not skim over this issue at all. The characters truly show a faith that is built on God’s saving grace. While reading Love Redeemed I found myself very interested in knowing if your research or in your experience have you learned that salvation by grace and not by works is truly an Amish theology.

First, I want to emphasize that I am not an expert on the Amish faith (or any another religious affiliation!). I’ve done a lot of reading and what I’ve learned is that the Amish particularly emphasize the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. Most pray the Lord’s Prayer every day and at all weddings and funerals. Their emphasis is on humility, obedience, and the greater community over the individual. An excellent resource for understanding the Amish faith is Donald Kraybill’s book The Amish. Kraybill observes that “the Amish are loath to declare they have an assurance of salvation because for them such assertions presume that human beings can know the future and read the omniscient mind of God. They prefer to speak of a living hope: a quiet and calm confidence that God will be a just and merciful judge when they face eternity. God is the one who ultimately decides such weighty matters.” They believe in yielding to God’s will and forsaking all selfishness. They subjugate themselves to God’s will. “Thy will be done.” I don’t find indication that they believe they can get to heaven by hard work. They work hard because they choose to keep themselves apart from the world and in order to do that, they don’t use electricity or drive cars or have other modern conveniences. Farming, even with those modern conveniences, involves a great deal of hard work. Being close to the earth helps them stay close to God.

Thank you for sharing. The Amish aren’t the only ones who do not declare eternal salvation, but I can understand their thinking as pride is something they truly wish to avoid. I’ve always said that the only theology that bears an argument if it is incorrectly understood is to speak out to someone who believes that Jesus plus anything gets us to heaven or that there is another way by which we may see an eternity with Christ. There is no other way.

I am amazed that Amish adolescents return to the community, get baptized, and live under the community’s ordnung once they have experienced rumspringa. In your research or in your experience, have you received insight into what keeps them close to home, or is it more likely that the teens are leaving the community?

According to Kraybill, more than 85 percent of all Amish youth are baptized and join their church. I think (and again I’m not an expert by any means) that it has a great deal to do with family. There’s a lot to be said for growing up with your extended family close. Grandparents don’t go into nursing homes. Children generally don’t move away. Generations grow up together, with grandpa and grandma nearby in the dawdy haus. That close knit, loving community would be a strong draw, I think. There’s peer pressure too and knowing that if they don’t join, they’ll shame their parents. For some however, it’s a hard choice. Amish formal education ends at eighth grade. Young teenagers continue to learn farming, trades, and practical things, but book learning is over. There’s no going to college. Most conservative districts don’t allow musical instruments. There’s no electricity. No driving of cars. The love of family and faith seems to be winning out over worldly goods, entertainment, and convenience. I find that fascinating and it seems that readers of this genre do also. While we wish for a “simpler” life, we don’t want to give up our conveniences. I have tremendous respect for how hard the Amish work. It’s a hard life. Imagine this winter with so many days of snow and below freezing temperatures without a thermostat to adjust! They also know if they join the church and then change their minds, they will be shunned and that means losing their families all together. Some put off the decision to be baptized, knowing the consequences of changing their minds.

A lot has been said and written about the practice of shunning or ex-communication. That it seems at odds with their capacity for forgiveness. What I’ve read is that it’s not intended to be punishment, but rather a consequence or tough love as a recalcitrant child would receive from a parent. The hope is that the consequences will bring the individual back into the fold. It’s very painful for the entire family and the community in general, because they are so close knit. It’s also in keeping with their desire to keep themselves apart from the world. If a family member chooses to break the rules of the district, it sets a bad example for others who may decide to follow with consequences for the entire district.

While I don’t necessarily agree with the practice, I think it’s important to understand it from their cultural and religious values, rather than judging it by our own.

In your novel a community is shaken and so many feel the burden of guilt for what happens. The characters speak their forgiveness, but what you present in your novel goes beyond the spoken word into the hearts of your characters, and I feel it might surprise some readers. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the various reactions of the characters, in their acceptance, giving, or failure to give forgiveness as is the “Amish way.”

I mentioned that I wrote about forgiveness in my first book, To Love and to Cherish, and I come back to it here because I have to believe that Amish folks sometimes struggle, just as we do, to forgive. However, they know they must do it so they’re determined to find a way to soften their hearts and heal. In To Love and To Cherish, one character says to the heroine, “I start by saying it.” “I forgive you.” Those are powerful words. Saying them is the beginning of healing. Annie’s heart is broken, but she still says the words to Michael. Because it’s the first step toward being able to do it. Phoebe knows her parents forgive her, but she can’t forgive herself. She’s not convinced God forgives her. She thinks she has to be “good.” She has to learn that we can never be good enough. That’s why God spreads his grace over us. He knows we’ll never be perfect. Not even close. All of us fall short so we all need to be forgiven. How dare we withhold forgiveness from others?

Kelly, I can’t say it enough. I truly enjoyed Love Redeemed. Do you have any future projects in the works, and if so, what issues do your characters deal with?

The third book in the New Hope series, A Plain Love Song, releases in July. This story deals with the Amish prohibition on musical instruments and takes place, in part, in Branson, Missouri. It’s a story about deciding whether a dream is more important than love, faith and family.

I also have a new series coming next year that goes in an entirely new direction. It takes place in Bee County, Texas, where there’s a tiny, very conservative Amish district, the only one in the state. The first book is called The Bee Keeper’s Son. It asks the question how is God’s definition of beauty different from the world’s?

Well, with those releases, I do hope that you’ll come back and talk to us here at Inner Source.

Love RedeemedAbout Love Redeemed:

Strong Enough to Heal

Phoebe Christner is thrilled when the families of her close-knit Amish community decide to spend a week at the lake. She feels she’s earned a break…and it doesn’t hurt that Michael Daugherty will be coming along. They’ll find ways to spend time together—she’s certain of it—and their romance will have time to blossom.

But when tragedy strikes, Phoebe and Michael are torn apart by their pain and the knowledge of their guilt. As they both cope with the loss of a loved one, they will come to discover that they can be forgiven not just by their community, but by God.

 A tender novel of faith and family set in the heart of Amish country.

Love Still StandsAbout Love Still Stands, the first novel in the New Hope series:

The New Hope Amish. In the first installment, Love Still Stands, a group of dedicated families leaves Bliss Creek to establish a new community in Missouri. Among them is Bethel Graber, a beautiful young woman with a passion for teaching. But after being disabled in a terrible accident, overseeing a classroom is out of the question…and romance seems a long-lost dream.

Bethel begins physical therapy, determined to make a fresh start. But that won’t be easy in the town of New Hope, where the locals seem anything but eager to welcome their new Amish neighbors. Amid growing intimidation from the community, Bethel must find the strength to face her many challenges and the faith to believe that God still has a plan–and a love–for her life.

If you enjoyed Kelly’s interview, you want to read Inner Source’s interview with Phoebe Christner, Kelly’s heroine from Love Redeemed.


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