Friday, September 14, 2012

Author Interview: Jennifer Beckstrand, Author of Amish Romances "Kate's Song" and "Rebecca's Rose"

Hi all! Today I am so pleased to present an interview I did with my very talented friend Jennifer Beckstrand. She has published two of three novels in the Forever After in Apple Lake series. The books are part of an Amish Romance trilogy, and are a delight to read. (The first two are out; the third releases in Spring of 2013, and I'm sure will follow in the footsteps of the first two. I'll let you know after I close the last page and finish sighing.) 
Right! On with the interview:

1.     First of all, Jenn, I knew you in high school, and knew you were a die-hard romantic. But I had no idea you had aspirations to write romance novels. Did you? Or was this a new thing?

I didn’t even dream of writing a book until my fourth daughter was born, although I read a lot of romances and would occasionally think, “I would change this,” or “I would write the ending differently.” So the desire to write was probably always latent within me. It took insomnia to help me discover writing. After my daughter was born, I had trouble sleeping and would make up stories to help me fall asleep.

2.     We read about your journey to writing Kate’s Song and the rest of the Apple Lake series on your original guest blog post last December (found here).  So, the Amish Romance genre was new to you. Was the thought of writing for it at all intimidating? What do you think of it now that you have immersed yourself in it?

I was incredibly intimidated at first because there are so many people out there who know a lot more about the Amish than I do—including a quarter of a million Amish people. I did a lot of research (which I dislike) and a bit of travel (which I dislike even more) and met some wonderful people. The thing that struck me the most was how normal the Amish people are. They have hopes and dreams like anybody else and are just trying to navigate this life the best they know how. I used this discovery as the basis for my books. A good love story, well told, in any setting, will always be in demand.

3.     You went and visited an Amish community, and I know you have Amish readers for authenticity in your stories. I don’t know much about the community, but feel like your books are very authentic. What do you think are some misconceptions people have about the Amish community?

There are many different Amish settlements, and just as many different ways of doing things. Some people think the Amish live in very repressive communities, but the Amish I met in Lancaster County, PA were very devout and very happy. They do their best to live their religion.

4.     Are there other categories in Amish fiction besides Romance?

The most popular genre right now is romance, with many subgenres. I recently read about an Amish vampire book. (Nope, you won’t ever see an Amish vampire story from me. Werewolves? Maybe. Go, Team Jacob!) There are other Amish books out there, many nonfiction titles written by people who left the Amish community. I am currently reading The Amish in Their Own Words, which is a bit dry, but extremely informative.

5.     Before your books I had no idea there was an entire genre devoted to Amish Romance. Why do you think there’s a demand for it now? What do you think people are looking for in it?

Amish romance fits into the Inspirational category. A lot of people read Christian fiction for an uplifting message. Many read it because they want a romantic story without all the sex. I think people read Amish specifically because they love the idea of the simple life. In a world of cell phones, computers, and cable, people like to step back to a simpler time where family and faith are most important. And, of course, everybody loves a happy ending.

6.     I have read Kate’s Song and Rebecca’s Rose. And though I don’t generally read Romance, I really enjoyed these books. I find your writing style to be lovely and peaceful. There was enough conflict to put me on the edge of my seat, and I felt immersed in the Amish community. I also really enjoyed your characters and felt they all had really distinct personalities. Did you base any of them on people you know? How did you develop your characters? Did you find them or did they find you?

Thank you! Many of the characters in my books are based on people I know. It’s so much easier to picture a person in my mind and think: What would they do in this situation? In Rebecca’s Rose, Levi is based off one of my daughter’s old boyfriends. She called me up after reading the book and said, “I totally recognized my old boyfriend in Levi.” The old boyfriend doesn’t read much Amish, so he will probably never know what an inspiration he was to me.  I also based Aaron in Kate’s Song on someone I know, but he is quite a disagreeable character so his real life identity will forever remain a mystery.

I create most of my characters from scratch and I find that whenever I suffer from crippling writer’s block, it is usually because I don’t have a good handle on my characters. Sometimes, it’s really hard to get inside their heads.

7.     I loved how the main characters from Kate’s Song had cameos in Rebecca’s Rose even though the second book wasn’t about them. I imagine that will happen again in the third book. That’s a nice way to do a trilogy—having it based on setting, and not necessarily the same story or characters. Where did that idea come from?

My agent wanted me to write a three-book series, but I am frustrated when I must read all three books in a series in order to get a satisfying ending. That’s why I didn’t read Hunger Games until all three books were out. So I populated Apple Lake with delightful people and had them pop up now and then in each book.

8.     It seemed to me that you wrote these stories very quickly, once you got started on them. What’s your writing process like?

Eek. I wish I were fast. I am still trying to come up with the ideal writing process. Right now I have a goal of 10,000 words per week. I have only actually met that goal once. Ever. It is impossible to write on Saturdays and Sundays because my family wants me to pay attention to them, but I try to write most every other day. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays I mostly write from the time the kids leave for school until the time they get home—unless the grandbaby comes over, and then I play with him. As you see, my writing process lacks structure and discipline, but I somehow manage to get books written.

(Sidebar: Um, yeah. This actually sounds very structured and disciplined to me. My current weekly goal involves a lot of not watching Downton Abbey reruns online.)

9.     Will you write more for the Amish Romance genre, or are you going to branch out?

I am currently writing another Amish series called The Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill, which is loads of fun. After that, I might branch out into historical Westerns, because I love cowboys.

10. Any advice for up and coming writers, with regard to process, publishing, or promoting? Anything you’ve learned that particularly sticks out for you?

I love dispensing advice! If you are a beginning writer, the first thing I recommend is to learn your craft. Good writing will always be noticed by agents and editors. 

How do you learn your craft? Join a writers group like Romance Writers of America or find a critique partner. Attend writing conferences. Read books on writing. Write, write, write every day.

If you want honest feedback on your writing, enter a writing contest. Even if you don’t win, the judges should give you some valuable pointers on how to make your story better. 

I’ve heard that the best thing someone can do to improve her writing is to read. I wholeheartedly agree. Read good books of all genres. Even reading poorly written material can help you recognize and avoid mistakes. Volunteer to judge a writing contest. You’ll see lots of things you would do differently. 

Self-promotion can be incredibly time consuming. I use Facebook and have a website, but I don’t twitter, and I try to limit my time online.

Facebook: Jennifer Beckstrand Fans

Thanks Jennifer! Now all y'all go out and buy, or borrow, or, here's a thought: buy, Kate's Song and Rebecca's Rose, so you can learn all about the Amish and feel all puddle-y and romantic. And Dudes (of the male persuasion)! Fear not your inner mushyness. This is highly readable stuff. And we'll only respect you for branching out.

Cheers, dears!


Harley Brooks said...

I love Lancaster County. Hubby is from State College and when we go to Huntington, PA, we try to slip some time in to go through the Amish communities. Jennifer, I'm exhausted thinking about 10,000/wk and yes...Downton Abbey reruns would be for...um...research, right?

Janiel Miller said...

Yes. Research. That's it exactly.

Maegan Langer said...

Wow! This is a fabulous interview. I feel like I really learned a lot. I've never read an Amish Romance book (like Janiel, I didn't even know the genre existed), but I will definitely have to check these out. I may look up the Amish vampire book too . . . Congratulations on your new series, Jennifer and thanks for stopping by!

jjsundevil said...

amish R interestin
ima gonna buy UR bookie

William Kendall said...

Terrific interview!

Russo said...

The minute Janiel said she was doing an interview with this author I was so excited. I just find her journey into the world of Amish fascinating. I'm going to buy the books by this author for sure.

I loved the line, " It took insomnia to help me discover writing." I adore this line because I have insomnia a lot, maybe it can inspire me too :)

And whoa, an Amish vampire book. I've never heard of that, it made me smile.

Janiel, I loved your questions in this interview, you asked everything I was wanting to know. Bravo, my dear friend!