Friday, December 17, 2010

Must-Have Book for Writers

My friend Jeff Gerke, a talented Christian writer and the developer of Marcher Lord Press, has a new book out on writing from Writers Digest Books, and I'm so impressed with this one that I just have to share. PLOT VERSUS CHARACTER is an excellent guide in developing both of these crucial elements in writing. I used his process in developing the book I'm writing now, Judgment in Plain Sight, and it really helped me in integrating a complex suspense plot with character development.

With PLOT VERSUS CHARACTER, A BALANCED APPROACH TO WRITING GREAT FICTION, Jeff Gerke presents an answer to the age-old question of writers: which comes first, character or plot? Whether you love developing complex characters but struggle to find something for them to do, or excel at developing intricate plots, only to find your characters are made of cardboard, you’ll find solutions to your problem in Gerke’s book.

Gerke’s entertaining, friendly style, full of concrete examples, will keep you reading, finding insights you can apply to your story on every page. Whatever the level of your writing skill, this excellent book will help you take your writing to the next level.

If you're a writer, or if there's a writer on your Christmas gift list, I highly recommend PLOT VERSUS CHARACTER by Jeff Gerke.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Baking

Marta Perry’s Rolled Sugar Cookies

Generations of Pennsylvania Dutch women have spent long, tiring, but happy hours come December in baking Christmas cookies. No home would be complete without at least several kinds, but the crowning achievement in Christmas cookie-dom has to be the traditional rolled sugar cookie. Each group, maybe each baker, has its own particular take on how these are to be done. The Moravians typically use confectioners sugar instead of white sugar in their recipes. Sometimes the cookies are baked with a sprinkling of colored sugar, but our family tradition has always been the iced cutout cookie. Shapes vary with the cookie cutters that are available, but stars and trees are probably the most common. My own children loved a particular reindeer cutter, despite the fact that the reindeer legs were very fragile and might break during the icing process.

The following recipe has been popular in my family since before I can remember. My mother made rolled sugar cookies with me when I was a child, and I did the same with my three kids. Now, I’m making them with my grandchildren. The oldest, ten-year-old Bjoern, loftily explains to his younger sibling and cousins, “It’s a tradition.”

In the photo you'll see Estella, complete with Santa hat, making Christmas cookies with me. This is a special picture for me, because my husband and I were at her house, awaiting the arrival of her little brother, Tyler. We filled in the time making Christmas cookies!

Rolled Sugar Cookies
1 Cup Crisco
1 ½ C sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
4 C flour
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
4 to 6 T milk

Cream the shortening and sugar. Add eggs; beat. Add other ingredients and mix well. The dough may be refrigerated at this point for ease in handling. Roll out very thin on a floured surface. Cut with cookie cutters. Bake at 350 degrees for about six minutes, until very lightly browned.
After the cookies have cooled on a rack, frost them with the following confectioners sugar icing. The children can then decorate still more with icing tubes or colored sugars, if you really want that extra dose of sweetness.
This recipe makes a very thin, crisp cookie that is not overly sweet, contrasting well with the frosting.

1 box of confectioners sugar
½ C butter or margarine, softened
3-4 T milk
1 t vanilla

Combine and beat until smooth and creamy.

It's best to let the icing dry a bit before storing the cookies. Then store them in tight containers with wax paper between the layers. I promise, they'll go fast!

Friday, December 3, 2010


I'm deeply involved in Christmas preparations right now, as I'm sure you are. Gifts to buy and then wrap, decorations to be put up, cookies and special holiday treats to bake, and Christmas parties and dinners, enough to send an introvert like me into hiding!

We'll have fourteen people around our Christmas dinner table--but that is nothing compared to the numbers when an Amish family gathers for their holiday celebration. Because of the large families and the fact that extended families typically live close to each other, a Christmas family gathering might have sixty or eighty people!

Usually that large family gathering is not held on Christmas Day. Instead, celebrations are spread over a longer period. Some families might have their get-together on Second Christmas, the day after Christmas which is usually reserved for visiting friends and relatives. Other might choose to have a family celebration on New Year's, or some other day that works well for the entire family.

As for that gift list of mine, which sometimes seems to be getting out of hand-- The Amish give gifts to each other during the holidays, but they are typically small items, often something that is handmade for the recipient to treasure. Most Amish schools have a gift exchange, and in areas where home schooling is more popular, the children who are home-schooled might get together and exchange names for a holiday party. And of course, the teacher must receive a gift--again, usually something handmade or baked.

Most Amish do not take their children to see Santa, although some do, depending upon the particular community, and Santa doesn't leave presents under a tree, since there is no tree. But it's common for children to receive small gifts on Christmas morning, followed no doubt by other gifts as they visit, or are visited by, their grandparents.

The fact that they don't put up a tree doesn't mean that there are no signs of Christmas in an Amish household. Here in Pennsylvania, with our strong Pennsylvania Dutch traditions, it's common to see greens and candles in the house as the season approaches. The children may pounce on every Christmas card that arrives, eager to add it to a string or tape it to a door frame so that everyone can enjoy it each time they pass.

The school Christmas program is a huge part of the celebration in Amish communities which have their own schools. The children spend excited weeks preparing for the presentation, which is done in English. Teachers may spend even more time, collecting the poems, readings, and songs which the children will learn! The poems and readings focus on the meaning of the season, often stressing the importance of having an attitude of thankfulness and the joy of doing for others. By the time every scholar's parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, and other relatives file into the one-room school, it's crowded with an uncritical audience ready to enjoy every minute of the program, even the occasional error or forgotten line!

And what would Christmas be without baking? Most families have their special Christmas cookie traditions, and during the days and weeks before the holiday, the house is filled with those special aromas which say Christmas in any language.

Wishing you all the joy and peace of the season,


Friday, November 26, 2010


What would happen if an Amish teenager were accused of murder?

The contrast between a peaceful, pastoral countryside dotted with barns and crisscrossed by horse-drawn buggies and the gritty, dark city streets of Law and Order popped into my imagination and wouldn’t let go. Who would defend this innocent-looking Amish boy? Imagine a big-city female attorney in a stylish power suit and Italian shoes trudging across a muddy pasture—there she was, the total fish out of water, my protagonist, Jessica Langdon.

MURDER IN PLAIN SIGHT proved to be one of the most interesting, as well as difficult, stories I’ve tried to write. Fortunately I have an attorney daughter-in-law who is only as far away as a quick e-mail. And I started with a treasure trove of knowledge about the Amish and their ways, garnered from a lifetime spent in rural Pennsylvania. But juggling all of this: the mystery, the suspense, the romance, planting the seeds for the second book in the series...well, maybe I was a juggler with one too many balls in the air!

The result of my labors, MURDER IN PLAIN SIGHT, is available now, so look for it at your nearest bookseller or online. Here’s the back cover copy:

HQN Books, December, 2010, 384 pages, $7.99
ISBN: 978-0-373-77472-2

Cover Blurb:

There are secrets buried in Amish country...

Did a sweet-faced Amish teenager brutally murder a young woman? To save her career, big-city lawyer Jessica Langdon is determined to defend him—against the community’s bitter and even violent outrage. Yet without an understanding of Amish culture, Jessica must rely on arrogant businessman Trey Morgan, who has ties to the Amish community...but believes in the boy’s guilt.

Jessica has threats coming from all sides: a local fanatic, stirred up by the biased publicity of the case; the dead girl’s boyfriend; even from the person she’s learned to trust the most, Trey Morgan. Just when Jessica fears she’s placed her trust in the wrong man, Trey saves her life. And now they must both reach into a dangerous past to protect everyone’s future—including their own.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Amish and the Law

When I was doing the research for my latest book, MURDER IN PLAIN SIGHT, which will be out from HQN Books the end of November, I spent a good bit of time sorting out what the society in general believes about the Amish reaction to the law from the truth. In my story, an Amish teenager is accused of the murder of a young woman with whom he was apparently involved. The protagonist is a female attorney from Philadelphia who is brought in to defend him. Amish relationship with the law is a big part of the story, and I needed to know how that would play out from the Amish perspective, so that I could attempt to portray the different reactions.

For the Amish, living separate from the world generally means that while they are very law-abiding themselves, they are reluctant to turn to the law for help. In some instances, outside groups have helped to obtain lawyers to represent the Amish when their beliefs and practices run afoul of government regulations, as in the celebrated school disputes of the 1950s, which went all the way to the Supreme Court. In more recent years, this sort of dispute with the government has resurfaced over requirements to have photo IDs, since the Amish object on religious grounds to having their photographs taken. This controversy boiled up recently in Missouri, with numbers of Old Order Mennonites planning to move to another state if they were required to do so.

The Amish do use attorneys' services to draw up wills, handle real estate transactions, set up business partnerships, etc., but they are unwilling, or at least reluctant, to use the legal system to protect their rights. Unfortunately, this has led to a number of situations in which others have bilked Amish individuals or businesses, knowing that the Amish are unlikely to sue them.

For much the same reason, the Amish in some areas have been the victims of thefts, home break-ins, and vandalism. It may be that the perpetrators are drawn to people they believe will not fight back. In one recent incident, someone had been repeatedly breaking in Amish businesses, apparently feeling that he could get away with it more easily than tackling an English business. One business owner, frustrated at being robbed several times, hid an infrared hunting camera in his place of business, catching the suspect on tape. While the Amish do not believe in taking photos of themselves, their beliefs don't prevent them from taking a picture of someone else, especially if it helps to catch a thief!

Local police in some heavily Amish areas have begun cooperating more and more with the Amish to deal with and prevent problems. They will speak at meetings to educate parents about drug use, for instance. Some meet regularly with the bishops in their area to discuss any issues or problems they see, particularly with young people, so that the church can actively help to address them. In respect to the law, as in so many other aspects of modern culture, it seems the Amish balance on a constantly shifting line to maintain their traditional faith in a modern world.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Time for Squash

By this time of the year, usually the only thing left in gardens around here is winter squash! I love all the different varieties--they are so bright and colorful.

I have several winter squash recipes, but my family's all-time favorite is Butternut Squash Bake. It makes a sweet, custardy casserole, and the raisins add even more sweetness, so that it's almost like a dessert, but oh so good for you!

I made this recipe once for our Norwegian relatives, and encountered an interesting problem in trying to explain winter squash. Apparently their growing season isn't long enough for winter squash to be a common vegetable. I finally had to describe it as being similar to a pumpkin, which I guess is close enough!

And now for the recipe:

Butternut Squash Bake

2 C cooked mashed butternut squash (or acorn or buttercup)

1 C sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1/3 C orange juice

1/2 C raisins

1/3 C dry milk

1/2 t salt

1/4 C melted butter

Combine all the ingredients and mix well. Pour into a greased, deep 1-2 quart casserole dish. Bake at 350 until set, about one hour.

Enjoy yet another taste of autumn!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Amish Way

I'm delighted to suggest a new book for those for love learning about the Amish. THE AMISH WAY: Patient Faith in a Perilous World is written by Donald Kraybill, Steven Nolt, and David Weaver-Zercher, whose earlier book about the tragedy at Nickel Mines school, Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy, was a national bestseller.

The Amish Way is a very readable and fascinating look at the distinctive practices of Amish spirituality. The authors discuss how Amish faith is connected to community, family, child rearing, home life, and a host of other topics. In our increasingly busy and fragmented world, I am constantly intrigued by the way everything in Amish life seems to be grounded in their faith. If you want to understand why the Amish can live as they do in the midst of contemporary culture, you won't find a better place to start than this book.

The authors draw on interviews with Amish individuals, Amish publications, and their own firsthand experiences in Amish communities. The book is filled with engaging anecdotes in which the Amish speak in their own words about their lives and their beliefs.

Jodi Picoult, author of Plain Truth, has this to say about The Amish Way: "With detailed personal anecdotes and explanations straight from the Amish themselves, The Amish Way illustrates the simplicity and grace with which the Amish live their lives, and proves that those of us who have our own questions with faith might well learn from their example."

In my own struggle to understand how God wants me to live, I find continuing encouragement in learning how others are answering this same question.



Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fall Delights

If it gets any prettier than these past few days in Pennsylvania, I don't know where it would be, but I'm sure we all think, wherever we are, that our autumn color is the best. We took a drive after church on Sunday to enjoy the colors. Just a short one, we thought, but ended up spending three hours! Around every bend in the road, we found something new to appreciate.

We happened upon a pumpkin festival at a little rural fire hall...pumpkins, pumpkins, and more pumpkins. They were serving lunch, so we had homemade bean soup and homemade barbecued ham sandwiches. So good! The fire companies in our area, all volunteer, do such a great job, and it takes constant fundraisers like this one to keep them going.

And speaking of pumpkins, here are a few of our grandkids enjoying a trip to the pumpkin patch. Georgia seems to have picked one as big as she is!

One of the things I enjoy most about fall is baking all my favorite apple treats. The orchards around here seem to have had a great year in spite of some worries early on about a late frost. So every week a new bag of apples appears on my kitchen counter, beckoning me to make something. After plenty of batches of apple sauce, this week I did my favorite Apple Walnut Cake recipe, and I thought you might like to try it.

Apple Walnut Cake

4 cups chopped apples 1/2 cup of oil 2 t each baking soda and cinnamon
2 cups sugar 2 t vanilla 1 t salt
2 eggs 2 cups flour 1 cup chopped walnuts
Combine apples with sugar and set aside. Beat eggs in oil and add vanilla. Mix flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. Add flour mixture and apple mixture to the oil. Stir in walnuts, making sure the batter is evenly moist. Pour into a 13 x 9 inch pan. Bake at 350 for 1 hour.
This is a lovely, dense cake that is very good topped with whipped cream or ice cream. It continues to get more moist as it sits.
I hope you'll take the time to enjoy the beauties of autumn, refreshing your spirit before another winter comes.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Christmas in the Air

I'm delighted to recommend the latest book by veteran inspirational author and my dear friend, Irene Brand. Irene is a popular writer who has been writing Inspirational Fiction for twenty-five years. She's been involved in the start-up of several inspirational romance lines at different publishers, including Steeple Hill.

LOVE FINDS YOU UNDER THE MISTLETOE is the first anthology published by Summerside Press, and Irene's novella, "An Appalachian Christmas," shares the spotlight with a second Christmas novella in the two-for-one volume. In "An Appalachian Christmas" Irene returns to the beautiful mountain setting she knows so well and has used in many of her previous books. If you're looking for something to put you in the holiday mood, these two stories will definitely do it!

As an added benefit to her readers, Irene is providing a free e-book on her website, CHRISTMAS: ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL is a lovely collection of quotes, family recipes, traditions, and memories. Just go to Irene's site and download your copy today.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Christmas in October!

My latest story in The Bodine Family series, The Bodine Family Christmas, is coming out in October in a Love Inspired Christmas novella collection, Mistletoe Prayers. I'm so delighted to be partnering with Betsy St. Amant in Mistletoe Prayers. Her novella is The Gingerbread Season, and if you're ready to get into the spirit of Christmas a little early, I hope you'll look for it.

The Bodine Family Christmas is set, like all the Bodine books, in the Charleston, South Carolina area. I was delighted to have the opportunity to write a Christmas book there, since we always make our move south before Christmas, and I've had many happy Christmases in the Low Country. Most of the Christmas traditions mentioned in the story are ones in which we've participated, and the Living Nativity is based upon one held on Sullivan's Island, in which two of my granddaughters make appearances as angels each year!

The Bodine Family Christmas features Annabel Bodine, twin sister of the heroine of Book 2, Heart of the Matter. I hinted in that story that Annabel had a sad romance in her background, so I was able to use that to bring about this story. Here's a bit about it:

Left at the altar on Christmas Eve, Annable Bodine has lost her holiday spirit. When her big brother brings home handsome Coast Guard buddy Travis McCall, can she summon the courage to open her heart to love for the holidays--and maybe for a lifetime?

I hope you'll enjoy my story, and that it will make you think of your own Christmas traditions!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Recommended Reading

If you're interested in Amish culture, you won't want to miss the new non-fiction book about the Ohio Amish, An Amish Paradox: Diversity and Change in the World's Largest Amish Community, by Charles Hurst and David McConnell.

Here's a bit about the book:

Holmes County, Ohio, is home to the largest and most diverse Amish community in the world. Yet, surprisingly, it remains relatively unknown compared to its famous cousin in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Charles E. Hurst and David L. McConnell conducted seven years of fieldwork, including interviews with over 200 residents, to understand the dynamism that drives social change and schism within the settlement, where Amish enterprises and nonfarming employment have prospered. The authors contend that the Holmes County Amish are experiencing an unprecedented and complex process of change as their increasing entanglement with the non-Amish market causes them to rethink their religious convictions, family practices, educational choices, occupational shifts, and health care options.
The authors challenge the popular image of the Amish as a homogeneous, static, insulated society, showing how the Amish balance tensions between individual needs and community values. They find that self-made millionaires work alongside struggling dairy farmers; successful female entrepreneurs live next door to stay-at-home mothers; and teenagers both embrace and reject the coming-of-age ritual, rumspringa.
An Amish Paradox captures the complexity and creativity of the Holmes County Amish, dispelling the image of the Amish as a vestige of a bygone era and showing how they reinterpret tradition as modernity encroaches on their distinct way of life.

In point of fact, I believe a recent census shows that the Lancaster Amish now have a slightly larger population at the moment--more babies born recently, maybe! In any event, while this is a scholarly study, it is a highly readable account. Since I'm far more familiar with the Pennsylvania Amish, I was fascinated by the differences that crop up between the two groups, as well as the many similarities. You can find the book at, if you'd like to take a closer look.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


I'm currently writing KATIE'S WAY, the fifth book in my Pleasant Valley Amish series, and in this story Katie Miller, the protagonist, runs a quilt shop in the village of Pleasant Valley. One of the most delightful aspects of writing this book is that it gives me a wonderful excuse to visit Amish quilt shops!

Quilting isn't restricted to the Amish and Mennonites, of course. It's popular around the world, probably beginning as a way to make good use of the small scraps of material left over from other projects. Although quilters now often buy the materials they use, planning the color effects as carefully as any other artist, there's something very special about those old quilts made from scraps. We have a lovely Double Wedding Ring quilt that was made by my mother-in-law's aunt in the early 1900s, and when I look at it, I can easily imagine which pieces came from a little girl's pinafore, which from a man's work shirt. It's the story of a family, told with love in stitches and scraps of fabric.

I don't think that anyone would argue about the quality of quilts made by Amish and Mennonite women. The quilts are functional, befitting a community which values making things for use, not just 'for pretty.' But they are also often works of art, with each bit of color, each element of the design, each stitch even, an expression of a woman's gift.

The Amish tend to use traditional designs, although some newer patterns have worked their way into their repertoire, especially in quilts that are made to sell. The Log Cabin, the Double Wedding Ring, the various Star patterns are used over and over again in endless combinations. The quilt on my bed, handmade by an Amish woman from Lancaster County, is a lovely combination of Log Cabin and Star, done in shades of blue and yellow with touches of white. The older Amish quilts, which were made for use by the maker, were typically made with scraps from clothing fabric, always plain, and in the deep, rich, saturated colors used for clothing. Background and binding were typically done in black.

If you're interested in Amish quilts, you definitely want to plan a visit to the People's Place Quilt Museum in Intercourse, Pennsylvania. Their displays change from time to time, but they are always enthralling. On my most recent visit I was captivated by a Tumbling Blocks pattern so designed that it almost made me dizzy to look at because of the effect of movement it gave. The People's Place Quilt Museum is on the second floor of the Old Country Store, which sells a huge variety of quilted items handmade by local residents, mostly Amish and Mennonite women. It also has what has to be one of the best collections of quilting fabrics I've ever seen. I can never go in there without buying something!

And if you're near New Holland in Lancaster County, you must visit the Witmer Quilt Shop. Emma Witmer runs the shop she inherited from her mother out of her home. The day I visited with her, Emma had over 150 quilts in the three first floor rooms of her house. She has a number of women who do the actual quilting, but Emma herself picks out every color and every fabric that goes into the quilts. Emma's shop is open every day except, as is the case with all Plain-run businesses, on Sunday.

I'm not finished yet. I have several Amish quilt shops yet to visit, and I hope I can resist the temptation to buy more than I can afford while I do this research!

Saturday, August 21, 2010


We definitely have more than four seasons here in the Pennsylvania countryside--like Mud Season, for instance, which comes early in the Spring. But this time of year it's definitely Canning Season!

My husband has a bumper crop of Roma tomatoes in the garden, so I'm into making and canning spaghetti sauce right now. Over the years, we've worked out a system which keeps most of the mess out of the kitchen: he picks the Romas, washes them outside with the hose, and processes them with the Squeezo clamped to the wooden picnic table in the backyard. In case you're not acquainted with this great device, it's a hand-operated grinder that separates the pulp and juice from the skins and seeds. The characters in my book ANNA'S RETURN make sauce this way in one scene which comes straight from life!

Here's my recipe for homemade spaghetti sauce:

Starting with about 14 quarts of tomato pulp, begin cooking it down in a large kettle. Add 1 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of salt, 4 cloves of minced garlic, and a large onion, chopped fine. For seasoning, I prefer to use the fresh basil and oregano that's growing in pots on our patio, but you can also use dried. If using dried, add about 4 tablespoons of the herbs. If using fresh, chop a generous handful of the leaves. Add a pinch of red pepper.

Cook this down for about 4-5 hours. You should end up with about 10 quarts of sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Fill hot jars and process in either a water bath or pressure canner. If you prefer the sauce thicker, you can always add a small can of tomato paste when you use each quart.

We generally use about twenty quarts of spaghetti sauce in a year, along with tomato juice and whole tomatoes. With just the two of us at home, we don't eat nearly the amount we once did! Still, I think it's well worth the effort. Fresh from the garden food has a taste nothing else can match, and I love to look in the cabinet, see all the rows of filled jars, and know we're prepared for the winter!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Amish Reading

No, not reading about the Amish, or even writing about the Amish, but what are the Amish themselves reading? Do a quick internet search on the subject and you'll find a lot of opinions, ranging from the rudely uninformed who can't imagine that Amish people read to those more thoughtful articles which express valid concern over the number of books currently being published about a group which prefers its privacy and isolation. Do the Amish find it offensive that so many books are on the shelves about their way of life?

As the author of a number of novels which feature Amish characters, I can't help but be concerned about how my books are viewed by the Amish themselves. So to find out, I went looking. I first visited a small bookstore which is run by Amish owners and has primarily an Amish and Mennonite clientele. The morning I was there I was the only English person in the store. I loved seeing the huge array of books for children and teens, including all the Little House books as well as some more contemporary authors. As I browsed the shelves I noticed the books which seemed to draw the most female adult customers. That was the section devoted to Christian romance! It included a number of Amish romances along with works by other Christian authors like Karen Kingsbury, who seemed to have quite a following. One Amish woman held several novels featuring covers with bonnet-clad heroines, and she worked her way through the shelves, seeming to check for those she hadn't read yet. Clearly she didn't have a bias against Amish romances!

I wish I could say that my books were there, but alas, they weren't. However, I did find them in a nearby Amish-owned gift shop which had spinner racks of books. All three of my Pleasant Valley books were featured, so I introduced myself to the owner and asked if I might put bookmarks in the books. He was happy to have me do that, saying the books sold very well.

I've also spoken with several librarians who confirmed the Amish interest in Amish-themed romances. One pointed out that she always knows when harvest season is winding down, because her Amish members begin coming back to the library. Many Amish are great readers, she says, perhaps because they're not sitting in front of the television every evening. Come to think of it, I'd probably get through more books if I gave that up, too!

A final bit of confirmation came from a close friend who grew up Plain. She sent three of my books to relatives who live in a Hutterite community, and I waited with some trepidation to hear what they thought. Fortunately the verdict was positive--they enjoyed the books and felt that I had portrayed the Amish characters honestly and with respect.

So maybe that's the key--to write the best books I can, showing the Amish as the real people they are. That's all any writer can do, after all.

Friday, July 23, 2010


The first set of grandkids visiting Grammy and Grandpa just left, with two more sets yet to come. As the grandchildren get a little older, I've started to be concerned that they might find country life, in comparison to their busy suburban environments, well...booooorrring. After all, we're not within easy reach of some of their favorite things, like multiplexes, IHOP, Target, bounce palaces, etc., etc.

Turns out that when you introduce them to a creek, kids are still kids! Our farm is bordered by two creeks, Scotch Run and Catawissa Creek. For years we've had a nice swimming hole, about waist deep, behind the barn where the run joins the bigger creek. We even have a sandy bank, thanks to the deposits left behind by a few floods.

Apparently the appeal of catching minnows and salamanders is eternal. We caught and released a few hundred minnows this week, no doubt leaving them all with strange tales to tell all the other little minnows. The salamander our grandson caught was the prize of the collection. He wanted to save it to show his father, but the salamander, maybe wise in the way of small boys, made his escape from the bucket during the night.

Bjoern's method of catching wildlife involved stalking them carefully, letting them swim right up to his motionless hand before closing it. Greta is more of a pounce and grab artist, resulting in a lot of splashing.

When they got tired of bending over searching for minnows, they could jump back into the swimming hole to cool off. It's just wide enough for two kids to race side by side, discovering that they can go much faster with the current than against. Grandpa taught them the fine art of stone-skipping, while I showed them how to make body paint by rubbing two pieces of red shale against each other.

And when I wasn't busy admiring the latest catch or how high someone could jump off a rock, I had time to sit, listen to the gurgle of the stream, count the number of wildflowers along the bank, and find peace creeping into me, as it always does when I stop my busyness long enough to enjoy God's creation.

May you have many such moments this summer.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Time for Rita Awards

I’ll be heading to Orlando, Florida next week for the Romance Writers of America’s annual conference. It’s a jam-packed, exciting time filled with inspirational workshops, industry updates, meetings with my agent and editors, and a chance to visit with friends I see only once a year. It’ll also be time for a little fun, as one of my daughters will join me at the Disney Dolphin Resort with my granddaughters, ages 8 and 5.

The highlight of the conference is the announcement of the Rita Awards on Saturday evening, when romance writers honor the best of the best romance fiction published in 2019. Over 1,000 novels and novellas were judged in 12 categories, and it is hugely exciting to cheer for the winners.

I’d like to introduce one of my Christian writer friends who is a finalist this year. Tamera Alexander is a bestselling historical author whose books have won numerous awards. She’s earned a devoted following for the way she combines solid historical research, wonderful storytelling, and her devotion to her faith.

Tamera’s THE INHERITANCE is the first historical for the WOMEN OF FAITH fiction line from Thomas Nelson. Set in 1877 Colorado, it’s the story of a young woman’s struggle to let go of her independence while she discovers an inheritance beyond her imaging.
Here’s a bit about the story:
THE INHERITANCE by Tamara Alexander
An unexpected inheritance. An unknown future. An unending love.
Determined to tame her younger brother's rebellious streak, McKenna Ashford accepts her cousin's invitation to move west and to begin again. But she quickly discovers that life in Copper Creek, Colorado is far from what she expected. Shouldering burdens beyond her years, McKenna tries to be the parent Robert needs, instead of the older sister he resents. But an "untimely inheritance" challenges her resolve at every turn, while also offering a second chance to restore her trust--and perhaps even her heart.
U.S. Marshal Wyatt Caradon is dedicated to bringing fugitives to justice, yet years of living on the trail have taken their toll. When his path intersects with that of McKenna, he comes face-to-face with a past he never wanted to relive--and the one woman who can help him find the future he's been longing for.
As McKenna struggles to let go of her independence and Wyatt considers opening his heart again, they discover an inheritance beyond imagination. But it will come at a price.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Punxsutawney Groundhog Summer Festival

This week I had the unique pleasure of doing a booksigning during the Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, Groundhog Summer Festival. Punxsutawney is known throughout the country as the home of Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary. While the most important of Phil's activities occurs on February 2nd each year, when he tells the winter-weary whether or not there will be six more weeks of winter, he's also the host of a family fun festival each year during the week of the Fourth of July.

How, you might wonder, did the Punxsutawney groundhog achieve such fame, appearing on the morning news shows around the country on February 2nd, even inspiring the popular movie GROUNDHOG DAY? The tradition started, as so many Pennsylvania traditions did, with the Pennsylvania Dutch, settlers from Germany and Switzerland who brought their language and customs with them when they settled here. The second of February is Candlemas Day, and tradition says, "For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, so far will the snow swirl in May." The traditional weather forecaster in Germany was a badger, but since Pennsylvania was lacking in badgers, the settlers used the local groundhog instead, and Phil has been predicting the weather officially since 1887.

We arrived shortly before time for the booksigning to find the town awash in groundhogs. Decorated groundhog statues, groundhog inflatable balloons, groundhog cookies, groundhog beanie babies, groundhog murals...anything that can be turned into a groundhog will be! I was signing at B's Books, a charming shop directly across from the park where the main events were held. The owner had prepared thoroughly for my visit, something which doesn't always happened. She'd been handselling my books and passing out bag stuffers for weeks, and we had a great event. It was such fun to talk to people who enjoy Amish fiction so much and had been looking forward to having their books signed.

We ended the day with a great dinner at a local restaurant--fortunately groundhog wasn't on the menu!

If you'd like to know more about Punsutawney Phil, visit

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Uniquely Pennsylvania

After living all my life (never mind how many years!) in Pennsylvania, I’ve just recently come to appreciate what we all owe to William Penn. Oh, sure, we studied him in 8th grade Pennsylvania history, but not very much has stuck since then. But as I’ve stumbled through some research on my own family genealogy, as well as researching the Plain People for the two series of books I’m writing about them, I’ve renewed my appreciation for Penn’s unique attitude, which has made us what we are. Without his “holy experiment” in encouraging immigrants of all religions to settle here and to worship as they chose, our culture would be so much poorer.

I read an estimate recently that nearly one-quarter of all Pennsylvania residents are of German descent, which seems astonishing to me. Probably most of those Germanic ancestors landed in Philadelphia in the 1700s, mine among them, and after all these years, we’re still here!

Among the groups who came seeking religious freedom, the Amish must be the most fascinating. Amish culture may have made its first impression on a general audience when Harrison Ford donned that Amish straw hat in Witness, but folks in publishing are still shaking their heads over the current wave of popularity of Amish fiction. Though searching to understand why readers across the country suddenly can’t get enough of tales of rumspringa and barn-raisings, publishers are naturally eager to provide what the reading public wants.

Several years ago, in the course of an existing inspirational romance series set in Pennsylvania, I introduced a few Amish characters. They seemed to fit the story I was telling, and they simply walked on. I wondered what my editor would say. Her response? Do more of that!

So now I have two separate series going for two different publishing houses, both with Amish settings. The Pleasant Valley series, for Berkley Books, is series of trade-size books focusing on the residents of a mythical central Pennsylvania valley, based very much on what I see when I look out my office window. Anna’s Return, Book 3, came out this month, and it seems to be doing well. Book 4, Sarah’s Gift, will be out in March. It’s completed now, and my editor and I have been back and forth via e-mail all week, trying to firm up the cover. For some reason, the art department just doesn’t seem to ‘get’ Amish, and didn’t understand why I wouldn’t want a woman wearing bright pink lip gloss on the cover!

My second series, for HQN Books, is a romantic suspense series which begins with Murder in Plain Sight, releasing in December. The two main characters are not Amish, but are involved in defending an Amish youth accused of murder. This series is set in Lancaster County, and since that’s obviously a real place, I have to be considerably more careful about my setting, though I hope readers may forgive a little artistic license in what I put where.

Writing about the Plain People has been a trip into my own family’s past for me. The Dovenbergers and the Ungers came to Pennsylvania from the same areas of Germany and Switzerland and at the same time as the Amish, and although not plain, have held onto many of the same traditions, especially when it comes to food. I’ve compiled a brochure of Pennsylvania Dutch recipes from family and friends, and I’d be happy to send a copy to anyone who cares to e-mail me at

Happy Reading and Eating,
Marta Perry
(And give a tip of the hat to Billy Penn the next time you pass him!)

Friday, June 25, 2010


My latest book from Steeple Hill Love Inspired, THE GUARDIAN'S HONOR, will be in stores next week, so I hope you'll look for it. This is the third book in my series about the Bodine family of South Carolina. Set in Charleston and the coastal islands, the series revolves around a Coast Guard family. Although each book stands on its own, I hope once you meet the Bodines, you'll want to come back for more.

I love writing about the South Carolina coast. One of my daughters lives on Isle of Palms, and her two little girls are really growing up to be island girls. They attend school at Sullivan's Island Elementary School, one of the few elementary schools in the country with a beach just beyond the playground! My husband and I spend three months each year on the South Carolina coast, and it's really become a second home for us. I was especially moved by the stories I learned about the Coast Guard as I researched these books. They truly are unsung heroes in all that they do to protect and serve.

In THE GUARDIAN'S HONOR, Coast Guard officer Adam Bodine finds his long-vanished great uncle. But the secretive elderly man has adopted some new kin...single mother Cathy Norwood and her disabled little boy. Adam is grateful when Cathy convinces his relative to reunite with the Bodines, until he learns why she's so eager. Though his heartstrings are tugged by their plight, he knows he doesn't deserve them in his life--not with his past, not unless one big extended family can teach Lieutenant Bodine something about love and honor.

Friday, June 18, 2010


I love showing off my friends' books whenever I can, and if you enjoy Amish fiction, I'm sure you'll like Nancy Mehl's new book, SIMPLE SECRETS, out now from Barbour Books. SIMPLE SECRETS is the first of a series combining mystery, romance, and suspense, set in the fictional small Mennonite town of Harmony. The town itself becomes a character in the story, and you'll find yourself wanting to settle in for a visit...a place populated by nice, friendly people, one of whom happens to be a killer. SIMPLE SECRETS is a charming read, and you'll find yourself wanting to go back to Harmony again and again!

I asked Nancy for a few comments on how this book came to be, and here's what she said:

Simple Secrets: The Harmony Series by Nancy Mehl

I never planned to write about the Amish/Mennonite way of life. In fact, “Simple Secrets” was originally a proposal for a cozy mystery. At the time, the title was “Murder, Plain and Simple.” The setting was an Amish town. I came up with the idea because the concept of evil set in such a simple, innocent location appealed to the mystery writer in me. But somehow, things changed until the town became Mennonite and the story morphed into romantic suspense with a strong thread of mystery. When my publisher first suggested I adjust the story line to lean toward a more romantic flavor, I wasn’t certain I could do it. Although I hate to admit it now, at the time I had a tough time understanding the appeal of “bonnet books.” But after I agreed to change my original concept, I discovered something interesting. I think I figured out why so many people love to read stories written by wonderful authors like Beverly Lewis, Kim Sawyer and Cindy Woodsmall. One of the clues came from my previous cozy mystery series. The Ivy Towers’s mystery series was set in a small town drawn from my imagination. I named it Winter Break, Kansas. I’m a winter person, and the winters in Wichita, where I live, had been rather disappointing. I said I’m a winter person, but actually, I’m a snow person. Love it. Crazy about it. My frustration with our lack of snow led me to create Winter Break – where snow comes early and leaves late. I began to fashion the town as a place I wanted to live. And readers responded. I received lots of letters and emails telling me how much they loved Winter Break. One woman even said she’d been scouring maps, trying to find it! I realized as I began to create the Mennonite town of Harmony, Kansas, that all of us are looking for that rare place – a home in our hearts where old-fashioned values still exist. Where people treat each other with love and respect. Where evil is defeated and good triumphs. What better place than a town filled with people who live simply - who have shut out the harsh voices of the outside world? So called “bonnet books” actually open the door to that unique spot where life is lived the way we dream it can be. I hope my readers will fall in love with Harmony, Kansas like I have.

Blessings from Harmony!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Spinach and Basil and Chives....

Spinach and basil and chive...that sounds like a folk song, doesn't it? I'm in a gardening mode today. Or rather, a picking mode. The garden is starting to produce, and there's nothing that beats the taste of veggies that are two minutes from the garden to the stove! At the moment, the last batch of rhubarb is on the kitchen counter waiting to me to do something about it, and beautiful green spinach leaves are rinsing in cold water.

I have to admit that my husband does most of the gardening. I do have my own favorite things that I take care of, in addition to the flower beds. Mint grows along the base of the stone wall where it's nice and moist. It's been thriving there for forty years, and I'm not about to disturb it! My chives grow in the flower bed next to the patio off the kitchen. Last year it seemed the echinacea had crowded them out, but they've made a comeback this spring.

The rest of my herbs I prefer to grow in pots on the patio wall. They grow well there, and they're right at hand when I want to cut a few leaves for supper. This year I'm trying globe basil instead of the other type, which seems to get leggy. The leaves are smaller but plentiful, and the aroma is delightful. Greek oregano shares a large pot with the basil, and so far they seem to be co-existing nicely. I also have a pot of sage, which I love for the scent. I throw a bit into almost any meat or fish dish, and it's also nice chopped up in olive oil for bruschetta. Cilantro is a new addition to my little collection. We've begun to enjoy a number of Mexican dishes, although my versions are probably very Americanized. So I thought I'd try the cilantro, and maybe even make some of my own salsa once the tomatoes come in.

I tend to use the fresh herbs for almost anything, but one of my favorites when I also have spinach is a Stuffed Chicken Breast. Here's how I do it for two people:

For filling: mix together about a half cup of bleu cheese or feta cheese with a generous handful of chopped spinach. Add finely chopped chives, basil and oregano to taste and mix thoroughly. If you like cheddar cheese, a tablespoon of grated cheddar can be added, but don't overwhelm the taste of the other cheese.

Cut a large boneless chicken breast horizontally, but not all the way through, so that you can open it. Put the filling on one side, fold the other side back over the filling, and secure the edges with wooden toothpicks. Dust each side lightly with flour, salt and pepper. Brown on both sides in about a tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick pan. When it's nicely browned, add a tablespoon or two of water, turn the heat down to low, cover, and cook for about twenty minutes or until done in the center.

About 5 minutes before the chicken is finished, make the sauce. Combine 1 tablespoon of sugar with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small pan and stir in the sugar-cornstarch mixture. When it bubbles, slowly pour in about a cup of orange juice, stirring until thick and clear.

Remove the chicken to a plate, top with some fresh spinach leaves, and pour the orange sauce over it. Delicious!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

New Books

Love Inspired Classics has just re-released two of my books from the Caldwell Clan series, A Time to Forgive and Promise Forever. It's such a pleasure for me to see the books back in print again after all this time--they were originally published in 2002 and 2003. The Caldwell books were about an extended family living on a fictional South Carolina sea island. My husband and I have been wintering on Hilton Head Island for many years, it's a pleasure to write books that are set in a place I love. If you didn't catch these two stories the first time around, I hope you'll look for this double volume, out now from Love Inspired.

And I'd like to introduce a great book from a writer friend of mine, Kim Vogel Sawyer. Kim has a wonderful gift, and here's what I've said about her latest in reviews:

Kim Vogel Sawyer hits all the right notes in her latest historical romance, A HOPEFUL HEART, Bethany House. With her trademark heartwarming style, Sawyer treats readers to the story of Tressa Neill, a dowryless Easterner sent to the Wyatt Herdsman School in Barnett, Kansas, with the hope of finding a husband, a family, and a life of her own. Tressa's mistakes and misadventures and her valiant efforts to fit in to her new Western community will touch readers' hearts. Sawyer has a gift for transporting readers to another time and place, and they are sure to enjoy this trip to 1880s Kansas in her skillful hands.

Happy summer reading!

Friday, May 28, 2010


I'm so excited that the third book in the Pleasant Valley Amish series, ANNA'S RETURN, is out this coming week from Berkley Books. I really learned to love Anna when she was a rebellious teenager in LEAH'S CHOICE, and I couldn't wait to write her story. It was fascinating for me to develop how Anna had been changed by living three years in the Englisch world and to consider the difficulties involved in re-adjusting to life in the Amish community after all that time.

The characters you met in the first two books reappear here, so you have a chance to see what's happening with them. And we've added something new to the end of the book: a few favorite Pennsylvania Dutch recipes. I hope you'll let me know how you like the story.

Here's a bit about it:

June, 2010, Berkley Books

After spending three years in the English world, Anna Beiler has come home. She brings with her a baby girl, which will surely cause a stir since Anna is unmarried. She is also hiding secrets: The baby is not hers by birth, nor does Anna intend to stay. Rather, she desperately needs sanctuary from the child’s violent father. Anna’s childhood friend Samuel, whose slow, thoughtful manner used to frustrate her, seems the only one who truly understands her.

But Anna hasn’t fully faced the consequences of her past, and her mere presence may endanger the ones she loves. Only a true change of heart will allow her to make a new beginning and find her way home.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On the Road Again

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On the Road from Marta Perry
I've been on the road far too much in the past week, but it was all in a good cause. Over the weekend, I taught at the Pennwriters Conference in Lancaster, PA. What a great event that was! Three days of non-stop talk about writing in all genres is exhausting, but so much fun. The keynote speaker was James Rollins, a NY Times author of science fiction and thrillers. He was very down-to-earth and had us all in stitches with his stories of the elaborate plots he undertook to scare his younger brother--clearly he was a writer in the making even at age eight or so!

I taught workshops in Writing Romance and Creating Dialogue, both of which went well; served on a panel for a Read and Critique Romance group; visited with old friends and made new ones. But when all was said and done, I was relieved to be home again to the peace and quiet.

Last night was another busy one, with a library talk in a small town about forty miles from here. I have to confess that I dragged myself out the door--I have so much to do at home and was still tired from the weekend. But I was more than rewarded for my efforts. That small library is bursting at the seams with activity and enthusiasm, once more assuring me that people do still read and enjoy books despite all the other claims on their attention. The group was so interested and so happy that I had come that I felt ashamed of myself for ever doubting that the trip would be worth it. They talked intelligently about books, telling me what they did and didn't like in inspirational fiction, and in some cases they seemed to know more about my books than I did!

As writers, most of us tend to be introverts. I find it far easier to retire to my office and not speak to a soul for hours on end, but my experiences of the past few days have reminded me that I need that jolt of inspiration sometimes that comes from fellow writers but also from enthusiastic readers.

So, thanks to all the writers and readers who might read this post. You should know that you're appreciated!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Horses, Real and Imagined

ANNA'S RETURN, the third book in the Pleasant Valley series, will be out in less than a month. I just love the cover--I think it's the best yet. The figure in the background is Samuel, Anna's hero. In addition to working in the machine shop owned by Anna's brother, Samuel is known far and wide for his talent with horses. Like the character in THE HORSE WHISPERER, Samuel even seems to know what the creatures are thinking.

We had horses for a number of years while our kids were growing up, and while I learned to love them, I can't say I always understood them. How is it that a creature the size of a horse can become suddenly terrified of a piece of blowing paper? And stubborn! My son had a small dun pony, Ginger, who was the stubbornest animal ever born, I think. Fortunately my son was equally stubborn!

Some might say that the horse is the quintessential symbol of what it means to be Amish in twenty-first century America. By choosing to travel by horse and buggy, to work their fields with horse-drawn equipment, the Amish are making a sacrifice and a decision which impacts their lives every day. A sacrifice, because it takes time and trouble and effort to travel by horse and buggy, which makes each trip a matter for consideration. Is it really necessary? Sometimes I think our lives, and our planet, would be better off if all of us asked ourselves that question.

By choosing to use the horse instead of the car, the Amish are automatically putting restrictions on themselves--restrictions as to how far they will travel, how fast they will go, how quickly the work will be done. Horses symbolize the slower pace of Amish life. In fact, they contribute to that. If you can't jump into the car and drive off to the mall to shop or see a movie, you're more likely to be doing things at home or in the community.

My car may need nothing more than fuel and regular maintenance, but a horse requires much, much more. It must be taken care of every single day: fed, watered, turned in and turned out, its stall cleaned. One can't just park it and walk away, and that constant care for another living creature is a responsibility that must be taken seriously.

I saw a young Amish man one day training a young horse to the buggy, a task that takes endless patience. He had been driving it along the narrow country road, and when it balked at traffic he drew off into a graveled lot and started all over again--working with the animal, getting it used to traffic, patiently repeating the lesson he'd been teaching it.

That endless patience can be one of the gifts of Amish life. It's one I've tried to highlight in ANNA'S RETURN. Writing about it has already been a gift for me, bringing back memory after memory of the 'horse years.' They weren't necessarily all happy memories, but with every incident, there was something of value to be learned, and I wouldn't trade that for anything.

Friday, April 23, 2010


The novel I am finishing now, SARAH'S GIFT, is about an Amish midwife, so I've been deep into research on that topic. Fortunately I have a friend who is a midwife, and through her I've been able to meet others, so it's been a fascinating trip.

In contrast to much of mainstream America, a high percentage of Amish women prefer to have their babies at home, and cite a variety of reasons for doing so. For one thing, having a baby at home can be much less expensive! But more importantly, most Amish regard childbirth as the natural process of a healthy body, not as a medical procedure. After all, they say, women have been having babies with a midwife in attendance for centuries. To them, unless a woman has risk factors that make a hospital birth preferable, having a baby at home is both comforting and comfortable.

Amish midwives typically come to the woman's home to assist in delivery, but there are a growing number of birthing centers in rural areas as well. One midwife I spoke with said that she would much rather go to the mother's home, but that it had become too difficult to do that, especially if two of her mothers decided to have babies at the same time fifty miles apart.

Mary, this particular midwife, now has a birthing center in a typical Pennsylvania farmhouse, which looks so much like a home that women are sometimes surprised to learn that she doesn't actually live there. The only concession she has made in the way of furnishings is to use hospital beds, which allow for greater ease is adjusting position.

Mary, also sometimes called Grandma Mary, has been delivering babies for 36 years. For her, this is the most rewarding thing she could do, and she remains close to the couples and the children, sometimes going on to deliver the babies of women whom she delivered. When I asked what her greatest disappointment is, she replied that it was when things went wrong and the patient required hospitalization. That happens rarely, but when it does, she has the patient quickly transferred to a local hospital.

Amish women typically become midwives--"catching babies"-- through their longing to help other women have the kind of birth they want. Though they may receive formal training, much of their education comes in apprenticing to an established midwife.

SARAH'S GIFT, the fourth book in my Pleasant Valley Amish series from Berkley, will come out in March, 2011.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I've received several requests recently for the Snickerdoodle cookie recipe, maybe because the Amish women in my books LEAH'S CHOICE and RACHEL'S GARDEN always seem to be baking them. One person who wrote asked if there really were such cookies, or was that a made-up thing!

Yes, indeed, Snickerdoodles really do exist, and the recipe is a favorite one among Pennsylvania Dutch cooks. And the sweet sugar cookies with their cinnamon topping are definitely a favorite among children. My grandkids love them. Why are they called Snickerdoodles, you ask? I have no idea!

Pennsylvania Dutch country is a place where cooks take their recipes seriously, and every little variation of a recipe is carefully saved. I have three or four versions of the Snickerdoodles, but here is my favorite:


½ cup soft butter or margarine ¾ cup sugar
1 egg 1 ½ cups flour
1 tsp baking powder 1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp ground nutmeg ¼ tsp salt
2 T sugar 2 tsp cinnamon

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and beat until fluffy. Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt. Blend into creamed mixture to make a stiff dough.

Mix the 2 T sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Shape the dough into balls the size of walnuts. Roll cookie balls in the cinnamon sugar. Place on greased cookie sheet and flatten with a fork. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until very lightly browned. The cookies will have their characteristic crinkled appearance on top. Remove to cooling rack, cool, and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


What is it about the first warm days and the appearance of daffodils in the yard that makes my mind turn to housecleaning, of all things?! A young man's fancy may turn to love at this time of year, but for me, it's the urge to have my house clean, inside and out. It must be something in the Pennsylvania Dutch genes--that's all I can think. When I was a child, my mother treated spring cleaning as seriously as a spiritual ritual. Everyone had to help, and everyone got to share in the satisfaction. And in those days, with a coal furnace, the house got really dirty over the course of a long, cold winter!

Just now, with a book due May 1st and another due August 1st, I have plenty of excuses not to dive into spring cleaning. After all, houses don't get nearly as dirty now as they used to. But the urge wouldn't go away. As a sort of compromise, I started with my office. After all, a clean office will make my work go better, won't it?

I began with sorting out my storage closet. Oh, dear, oh, dear. There were things in there which hadn't seen the light of day in years. I became slightly side-tracked, reading through old magazine stories and wondering whether this or that old manuscript might be re-cycled into a new story. I discovered connection cords for printers long gone and several hundred feet of telephone cable. Wonder what I was saving that for?

Finally, buried in with office supply receipts from 1990 (Tip: you don't have to save records for the IRS for more than seven years, it seems.) I discovered a list I'd made sometime in my first few years of writing. Turns out that my first year of actually selling what I wrote was 19**, and in that year I wrote twelve short stories and sold six for the magnificent total of $185! Somehow, that hand-written sheet brought back all those feelings I had when I sold my very first story. Someone liked my writing enough to pay me for it! Real people would read and perhaps enjoy the story I had created! I was a writer!

Over the years, that excitement sometimes gets buried under deadlines and publicity opportunities and galleys to read and talks to give. But you know what? It's still there. It's just as exciting to sell a book now as it was when I sold that first little story to a children's Sunday School paper. I just need to be reminded of that once in awhile.

So now not only do I have a clean office, I have a renewed sense of purpose about my writing. That was certainly worth a few hours of hard labor, wasn't it? I'm diving into the last few chapters of the current work with energy to spare.

I wonder what I'll find when I start on the kitchen?

Have a great spring, everyone.


Monday, March 29, 2010


It's a delight to introduce an excellent book by someone who has been such a help to me in my Amish fiction. Erik Wesner, the go-to guy for all things Amish and author of the popular AmishAmerica blog, has a book out now--SUCCESS MADE SIMPLE: AN INSIDE LOOK AT WHY AMISH BUSINESSES THRIVE. Whether you are interested in Amish culture or in entrepreneurship, you'll find this book simply fascinating. With his easy, engaging style and wealth of knowledge about all things Amish, Erik has created a book that deserves a spot in your library.

Here's a bit about the book:
According to the Small Business Administration figures, only half of all newly opened companies will survive for five years. In comparison, an Amish small business stands a 95 percent chance of thriving. SUCCESS MADE SIMPLE is the first practical book of Amish business success principles written for the non-Amish reader. The book offers a fascinating look at the reasons for the remarkable success of Amish businesspeople.

SUCCESS MADE SIMPLE reveals how, with only an eighth-grade education, these thriving businesspeople choose and manage employees, acquire skills and know-how, get and keep customers, and lead their companies to lasting success. The common threads woven throughout their experiences stress the vital importance of cultivating strong relationships, creating long-term goals, taking the welfare of others into account, and maintaining personal integrity. As one Amish businessman says, "Erik Wesner shows that success has many more dimensions than numerical growth. SUCCESS MADE SIMPLE is a valuable read not just for mainstream American business people but also for the Amish."

SUCCESS MADE SIMPLE is available now. You can find it at your local bookstore or order it online at

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring and Dandelion Greens

Spring is finally here in Pennsylvania--lots of mud, crocuses blooming, daffodils up, and a faint green haze on the willow trees. In RACHEL'S GARDEN, Rachel sees spring as a time of renewal, taking comfort in the signs of new life all around her as she recovers from her long winter of grief.

One of the favorite dishes of spring here in the country will be ready before long--Dandelion Salad! Dandelions may be something to dread in suburban lawns, but not here in the country. When the first tender leaves come up, it's time to enjoy a treat.

Here's my recipe for Dandelion Salad. I also enjoy using this dressing with fresh spinach and leaf lettuce.


Pick about 2 quarts of small, tender dandelion leaves.(Note: you can only do this is early spring, before the center stem comes up.) Wash thoroughly and drain. Fry 1/4 lb. of bacon until crisp and break up.

For dressing: beat 2 eggs, add 1/2 C sugar, 1/2 C water and 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar. Add to the bacon pieces in the pan and stir over low heat until the dressing thickens. Pour over the greens and add sliced hard-cooked eggs and/or sliced mushrooms, if desired.

This recipe and other Pennsylvania Dutch favorites are in my PA Dutch Recipes brochure. If you'd like a copy, just e-mail your mailing address to me at

Sunday, February 28, 2010


I'm so happy to announce that RACHEL'S GARDEN, the second book in the Pleasant Valley Amish series from Berkley Books, will be in stores on March 3. This second book in the series takes place about a year after the events of LEAH'S CHOICE, and if you read that one, you'll have a chance to re-visit the people and places of that story. However, RACHEL'S GARDEN does stand alone as a story.

Here's a bit about the new book:

It has been almost a year since the Amish community of Pleasant Valley lost Ezra Brand to a tragic accident. Since then his wife, Rachel, has struggled to raise their three children and run their dairy farm.

Rachel's friends and family have come forward to help--Rachel's friend Leah, who is now married and expecting a child; Ezra's brothers, who work on the farm; and Rachel's parents, who are no strangers to grief after their only son, Johnny, left the Amish community. But their constant advice, hoever well-intentioned, puts undue pressure on Rachel. And when Gideon Zook--Ezra's best friend, who survived the accident--asks her permission to build the greenhouse that Ezra had always promised her, she finds his presence too painful a reminder of the past.

As spring turns to summer, and Rachel puts her heart into growing the flowers and plants that have always brought her joy, can she discover the courage to make her own choices...and embrace new beginnings?

May I ask a favor of you? If you read the book, please let me know what you think of it. And if you enjoy RACHEL'S GARDEN, you could help me by placing a favorable comment or rating about it on and/or Those reviews do make an impression on others!


Friday, February 12, 2010

Following A Dream

People are always asking small children, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" How did you answer that question? Usually I said I wanted to be a mommy or a nurse or a teacher. But what I really wanted to be was a writer.

It all started when I was eight. My mother took me to the library, and I picked out a new book, The Secret of the Old Clock. The adventures of Nancy Drew captivated me. Most little girls, when they reach the end of the book, want to be Nancy Drew. Not me. I wanted to be the person who wrote that terrific story.

So why couldn't I say that when people asked me what I wanted to be? I guess because I didn't know any writers. I'm not sure I even realized that writing books could be a career. Or maybe it was because I feared that was a dream that would never come true.

Amanda Bodine, in my book, HEART OF THE MATTER, out this month from Love Inspired, has reached the age of thirty--one of those milestone birthdays when people take stock of how they're progressing toward their dream. She's still single, without a serious boyfriend in sight. She's working as a reporter, but the serious stories she longs to write elude her. Worse, her new boss, Editor Ross Lockhart, seems convinced that she's a frivolous Southern belle who can't cover anything more important than a local dog show. She longs to prove herself, but when Ross finally seems ready to give her a chance, she learns it's only because he wants to get close to her family to write an expose on their family secret. It's time for Ross Lockhart to learn that the most important thing--the heart of the matter--is love and family. Without that, all the success in the world isn't important.

Like me, Amanda has a dream, but that dream is one she may have to sacrifice in order to save her family. I hope you'll like this second installment in The Bodine Family series, and be on the watch for Adam's story, A GUARDIAN'S HONOR, coming in July.

And I also hope that whatever your dream may be, you'll find the courage to pursue it with all your heart.


Sunday, January 31, 2010

Amish Schools

Leah Beiler, in my November book, LEAH'S CHOICE, was an Amish schoolteacher. Despite the fact that I was already familiar with Amish schools, I found myself doing a great deal more research in order to make the scenes set in the actual schoolroom as realistic as possible.

Most people are aware that Amish children only attend formal school until they complete the eighth grade. The Amish feel that by that time, their children will have gained enough formal education for the lives they are expected to lead--lives of worthwhile work, sharing, cooperation, and humility in obedience to God. In most Amish communities, children attend an Amish one-room school, provided and cared for by the parents, taught by an Amish teacher who is usually an unmarried woman. The emphasis in the classroom is on cooperation, rather than competition, with each child encouraged to achieve his or her own best.

Parents are very involved in their children's schooling, dropping in for unannounced visits to observe, helping the teacher with special events, hosting lunches and picnics for the young scholars. Fathers also serve on the school board, meeting regularly to decide on school matters and caring for the maintenance of the school. The community also donates or raises all the money required for the school and teacher. In my county in central Pennsylvania, the local
Amish hold an auction three times a year to provide money for the schools in this area. The auctions have grown to be large, popular events, with many non-Amish eager to attend and bid on everything from farm equipment to home-baked goodies.

Since children speak Pennsylvania Dutch at home, they usually don't learn English until they start school. I was amused to find, at one school, that the teacher used the Dick and Jane primers--the books I used when I learned to read in the four-room schoolhouse I attended as a child. In addition to English and reading, the children also concentrate on spelling, geography, and arithmetic. Each classroom usually has a small library. The Little House on the Prairie books and Little Women are particular favorites among the children.

People are sometimes surprised that religion is not taught at Amish schools, although the school day begins with a scripture reading. The Amish feel that religion is best taught by parents and the church.

What could be more popular than recess at any school? Usually an Amish school will have a play area outside, and the teacher, who may not be a great deal older than some of her older students, will often join in a game. Even in play, cooperation is valued over competition.
A visit to an Amish school is a trip back to a simpler time. Even though the school doesn't have the latest in technology and many of the things that are considered necessary to a modern educational plant, for the most part it provides its scholars with a solid education that prepares them for the life they're intended to lead.