The following article about my July release, DARK CROSSINGS, appeared in The Big Thrill, the newsletter of the International Thriller Writers Association.
Dark Crossings by Karen Harper, Marta Perry and Patricia Davids
By ITW on June 30, 2012
DARK CROSSINGS is an anthology of three novellas by authors who write novels set in Amish country. THE COVERED BRIDGE by Karen Harper, FALLEN IN PLAIN SIGHT by Marta Perry and OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE by Patricia Davids each examine the culture clash between Amish life and the outside world through the dangers faced by the stories’ heroines. Amish life may look idyllic but the challenges are everpresent, surprising and possibly fatal.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with the three authors whose novellas comprise the anthology DARK CROSSINGS. These novellas are romantic suspenses which take place in Amish country. In this interview, Karen Harper, Marta Perry and Patricia Davids answer questions about their book and their love for writing Amish thrillers.
Please tell us briefly about your novellas.
Karen Harper: In THE COVERED BRIDGE when the shunned Benjamin Kline returns to Amish country after several years away, Abigail Baughman knows he is still forbidden to her. But he lives right across the old covered bridge and someone is watching and harassing her. She has no one nearby but Ben to help, but, despite her years of long-suppressed love for him, she’s not sure she can trust him. As dangers escalate and become deadly, they are forced to solve a mystery to stay alive.
Marta: In FALLEN IN PLAIN SIGHT, Sarah Weaver’s peaceful life is turned upside-down when she arrives at the home of her Englischer employer to find the elderly man lying dead at the foot of the stairs. Everyone assumes it’s an accident, but Sarah sees some details that don’t quite fit and confides in her childhood friend, Jacob Mast. When a series of supposed accidents befall Sarah, it begins to look as if she may be right. Danger makes Sarah and Jacob see each other differently, but it also puts both their faith and their newfound love to the ultimate test. FALLEN IN PLAIN SIGHT is set in the same Lancaster County world as my full-length series: MURDER IN PLAIN SIGHT, VANISH IN PLAIN SIGHT, and DANGER IN PLAIN SIGHT.
Patricia: In OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE, Isaac Bowman, an Amish widower, moves to a new community in the hope that the change will heal his daughter. Ruby has been mute since she witnessed the tragic death of her mother. Schoolteacher Lena Troyer is drawn to the sad child and her handsome father, but she isn’t sure she can trust Isaac. Someone is poaching deer in their woods and the illegal activity is threatening the peace of their small community. Is it just a coincidence that the poaching began when Isaac arrived?
Why do you think modern readers are so intrigued by the Amish?
Karen: The more fast-paced and tech-run our lives become, the “mystery” of how the Amish continue to live in their slow-paced, faith-filled world intrigues us. Perhaps it’s a bit of our nostalgia for the early day of agrarian America —those beautiful barns, the horses and buggies and “pioneer days” dress. Also, the fact that the Plain People live by cooperation and not competition looks alluring to those of us in the rush-rush, me-me world.
Marta Perry: Modern readers tend to live hectic lives, with our wonderful electronic gadgets making it difficult if not impossible to escape constant demands on both our time and our emotions. And very few readers have family living nearby to help in time of need. I think readers enjoy escaping into the lives of people who manage to live in the world but not of the world, doing without many things we moderns think essential but gaining the strength and support of family and a caring church community.
Patricia: I’m not sure anyone has the answer to this question because I hear it all the time. I think modern readers are intrigued by the idea that a vast number of people can live inside our society and yet not be caught up in the morass of modern life. I think we envy the strength of the Amish in resisting the lure of electricity in the home, televisions, cars and all the distractions we face daily. I believe a lot of the popularity of the genre has to do with the fact that we long for a simpler time, for close-knit families and deeper faith.
Why do the Amish culture and Amish setting work well for suspense/thriller material?
Karen: The rural isolation of the Amish allows some very scary set ups. Of course, their mistrust of law enforcement and lawyers, the lack of phones in their homes, the longer buggy times to get help if they need it also contribute to suspense. Kerosene lanterns at night make for a much better thriller scene that would electric lights. From their days of persecution in Europe , these people have carried an isolationist mentality from “the world.” (However, they do make great neighbors.)
One more thing: Not everyone loves the Amish. There are hate crimes against them. Some “moderns” think they are “easy pickings.” The first novel in my current Amish suspense trilogy, FALL FROM PRIDE, deals with a series of Ohio barn arsons, which I took from old newspaper stories in Pennsylvania . The Amish have a saying, “It’s not all cakes and pies.” They too, have their troubles, as anyone looking at today’s headlines knows.
Marta: There’s such an interesting contrast between the fear and danger of a suspense novel and the peaceful, non-violent lives of the Amish, isn’t there? The fact that the Amish are strictly non-violent creates an intriguing situation when they are confronted with danger, and the very setting of their lives makes them both more vulnerable and less able to turn to authorities for a solution.
Patricia: The Amish setting works well for suspense and thriller material because the Amish seldom involve outside authorities in their problems. They don’t talk to “the English” as they call us. This leads to a culture of secrecy. Victims of crimes are expected to forgive and not seek retribution or justice. Evil flourishes when no light shines upon it. The stark contrast between the simple goodness the Amish portray and that evil makes excellent fodder for books and movies.
You also write full-length novels. Is there a different mindset or technique you use when writing shorter novella form? Which is more challenging for you, the novella or novel length?
Karen: Writing novellas is a nice break from the longer books, like a little vacation. The form I really have trouble with is the short story. However, my other trial is that each time I write a full-length novel, about half way through I panic, thinking I don’t have enough material/plot for a full-length book. This is entirely ridiculous since I have written 50 full-length novels since 1982, and things always turn out well. As much as I love to write, what I call the muddle of the book—the middle of a full-length novel—always scares me. I think most authors have some bugaboo or eccentricity when they write.
Marta: I find the novella more difficult to write, because my mind seems hard-wired to produce ideas and pacing suitable to a 400-page novel! I must constantly pare down the cast and simplify the plot in order to make a novella work, but while it’s a challenge, it’s also great fun!
Patricia: Writing OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE was very challenging for me. Not only was it my first novella, it was the first book I wrote after the death of my husband. The short word count requirement led me to write a book with less dialogue. That was the only part of my normal process that I had to change. I don’t mind writing short works. I’d do it again, but I think I’d rather write novel length stories.