I wonder if you can talk about the dialogue and speech patterns you created for Emma and the other Bethelites, because they feel very natural for people of their history and background.
Thank you for that! I didn't want to use dialect as I think it can detract from the flow of the story. I decided I'd use a few German words and phrases and focus on sentence structure. Many of those phrases I heard often from my own grandmother and great aunts and uncles. (Gee, you might even be able to see it my structure here!)
We see the Mennonites settling western Canada then, for example. And this is when the Hueterittes, Shakers, Inspirationalists and others formed in the US, the early 1830s. But these groups discovered that there is a delicate balance between isolation and engagement. Faith communities today have similar struggles, really. Most of the communities needed economic interaction with their neighbors to survive. Some of the religious groups sought new recruits from the larger society but others simply wanted to be left to live in peace and support their families.
There is some evidence that Emma's grandfather, father and uncles might have been part of a group in Bavaria who petitioned the emperor about reforms and were banished as a result of this perceived disloyalty and challenge. They didn't see themselves as disloyal people. When they came under attack by their government, they fled. But they were accustomed to being followers, so it seems likely they'd seek another strong leader to follow who kept the faith, so to speak, but who didn't get caught up in rules and regulations. They found this person in George Rapp in Pennsylvania.
Do you have a preference for writing about historical as opposed to fictional characters, or do you go with whatever stories inspire you?
Joyce Carol Oates in a lecture I heard said one of the things a good story should do is to be a witness to voices that would otherwise not be heard. I'm drawn to actual historical people, often those whose stories have been overlooked in my mind. Women in particular. Native women, for example. Or in this instance a woman involved in a male-dominated religious community. But certain events also capture me. I'm always wanting to answer, "How did that happen?" or "What was she trying to do that got her there?" and then finally "What does her story have to say to a woman/man/community of today?"
What do you hope readers will take away with them after finishing your novels?
That living in communities of all kinds requires the ability to change, to know when to stand firm and when to be flexible. That life is filled with challenge and uncertainty, and it's a mark of our character how we allow others to help us find new direction in a time of trial. That all of us need to have our voices heard. That grief has many siblings, and loss must be honored and witnessed to or it will hold us hostage. That engagement with community enriches the soul and contributes to the larger world even if all desires of one's heart are never fully met. That doing the best we can for our families without losing ourselves in the process is worthy work that has been going on especially for women for generations.
I once spoke to a group of second graders asking how they'd describe the word "powerful." To me it means being able to set a goal and then gather resources in order to achieve it. I think most of my stories are about how people did that back then, how ordinary people did that and what they have to teach us about doing that today. But the kids said things like "rich" or "strong" was what powerful meant. Then this one boy sitting quietly in the front said "Oh no. Powerful is when you want to quit but you keep going." I hope my readers find within themselves that kind of power through my stories.
Thank you, Jane - this has been fascinating!
To recap, A Clearing in the Wild was published by WaterBrook Press ($13.99, 370pp, 1578567343) in 2006, and A Tendering in the Storm ($13.99, 383pp, 9781578567355) in April 2007. Visit Jane's website at http://www.jkbooks.com/ and her blog, http://www.janekirkpatrick.blogspot.com/, for more information.