Vannetta Chapman has published over one hundred articles in Christian family magazines. She discovered her love for the Amish while researching her grandfather’s birthplace in Albion, Pennsylvania. Vannetta is a multi-award winning member of Romance Writers of America and holds a B.A. and M.A. in English. She currently teaches in the Texas hill country, where she lives with her husband. A Simple Amish Christmas is her debut novel.
Favorite Verse: Jeremiah 29:11. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord. "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future."
Our Interview with Vannetta Chapman
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I live in a small town in central Texas. My husband and I have 4 children, all grown. Three have graduated from college and one is a special needs child. My husband is a retired civil engineer, and I teach English at the local high school as well as for the area community college. We enjoy hiking, backpacking, and other outdoor activities.
What is your favorite Bible verse and why?
Jeremiah 29:11. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord. "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future."
There have been many times in my life when I literally clung to this verse. I’ve always known that God didn’t mean me any harm (although it seemed people or the world did), but to think that God had plans for me, that he wanted to hand me hope and that he had a future mapped out? I needed to know that more than I needed food or a job or even a healthy balance in my bank account. Hope is the one thing that I believe we all need to sustain us.
What inspired the concept for writing A Simple Amish Christmas?
First, I would have to say my agent, because she asked me to try my hand at writing an Amish story. Secondly, my grandfather, Benjamin Van Riper, inspired me. I needed a personal connection before I could even begin. I remembered coming across some papers while working on another book that showed my father’s father was born in Albion, Pennsylvania. I also remembered that my father had been taught to speak German in his household when he was growing up. Once I dug through family papers and did a bit of research, I could place myself personally in the setting. Then I was ready to begin.
How did you choose the setting for your story?
See the above answer! The story begins with Annie working in a large hospital, so I needed to place her in Philadelphia. I also wanted to show the contrast of a large urban area to the more simple life she’d grown up with. Then it was simply a matter of pulling out a map and doing some old-fashioned research to choose Mifflin County.
How involved in the Amish community are you?
I recently had the privilege of visiting Shipshewana, Indiana in order to do research for my next book (Zondervan, 2011). While there I was able to make quite a few new friends within the Amish community and also learn a lot about the Amish history here and abroad. Researching in person helped me to realize you can think you understand a place and a community, but it’s never quite like you imagine it to be.
Is any part of A Simple Amish Christmas factual?
When I first began writing this story, a woman I work with had a grandchild named Kiptyn. He was born a very sick baby, and I continue to pray for him every day and would ask that my readers do the same. Although the real Kiptyn doesn’t have cancer, he does have very severe health challenges, and he was in my mind throughout the writing of this story.
How long did A Simple Amish Christmas take you to complete?
I wrote the initial draft in one month, which I know sounds a little insane. I had begun the story in late November of 2009, and my agent informed me that we had an interested publisher, but they needed to see the full manuscript before making an offer. Since I’m a teacher, I was very much looking forward to Christmas break. I wanted to be done and rest during our two week vacation—so I finished it during that month. Before we could offer it to that interested publisher however it was purchased by Abingdon. Of course there were revisions later.
Do you have a favorite character in A Simple Amish Christmas? Why?
Oh, my. I love Kiptyn, though he is a minor character. And I adore Annie. Annie is never really torn between two worlds. She never doubted that she would go back to the Amish community where she was raised. She simply wasn’t sure WHEN she’d go back. God had a plan for her though (and a hope and a future). As she travels back home, she has to find a way to fit into this community she has always loved. I think we can all related to that—we all struggle to find our place in the communities we live in. I suppose that’s why I like Annie so much. Plus she has a little bit of a temper and a good sense of humor.
How much research did A Simple Amish Christmas take?
A fair amount, especially since it’s my first Amish book. It felt like I was learning a second language to incorporate the Pennsylvania Dutch within the story! Although I had read quite a few Amish novels, I wanted to make sure I respected their culture and religion by having all the details correct, so it did require that I read and research quite a bit of nonfiction texts also. Lastly, I didn’t know anything about home births, so that was fun to delve into.
What was the most interesting fact that you learned while writing A Simple Amish Christmas?
That many Amish women do still choose home births, and that they are quite safe—in fact, according to quite a few studies that I read, the infection rate for moms giving birth at home is lower than the infection rates in hospitals. Hard to believe, but the reasons given were convincing. If there is any indication of complications during prenatal care, then mothers do not proceed with the home birth and instead choose a local medical facility.
What are some of the challenges you face as an author?
I know many authors say finding the time to write is a challenge, and that's true. I have a very strict schedule though, so I’m not sure that’s the hardest thing for me. I write every morning before work and every evening after work. I think the most difficult thing for me might be turning off my writing-brain. I know how important it is to rest, but I often have trouble doing it.
What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy giving my imagination permission to roam. Imagining the scenarios, conversations, conflicts, and personalities is the easy part. It’s like watching an old-fashioned movie reel. I also very much enjoy connecting with readers. Reader-mail rocks!
What writing clubs or organizations do you belong to?
ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers)
RWA (Romance Writers of American)
FHL (Faith Hope and Love, Inspirational chapter of RWA)
SARA (San Antonio Romance Authors)
What were your favorite books as a child?
Our little library where I first had a library card had two rooms—an adult room and a children's room. LITERALLY, I read every book in the children’s room, and they issued me an adult card. No kidding. I have always read at a geeky rate. I suppose you mean as a young child though—so I’d have to say the Box Car Children, Nancy Drew, and Cherry Ames (she was a nurse who could work ANYWHERE).
What is your writing style? (Do you outline? Write “by-the-seat-of-your-pants? Or somewhere in-between?)
I’m a compulsively organized pantster. How’s that? I definitely write without an outline, as the story comes to me. First thing every morning, I read over the last 3-5 pages of the previous day’s work, then begin writing . . . following the thread of the story. The compulsive portion comes in with the colored excel charts. I adore excel. I have excel charts for character names and relationships. Excel charts to keep track of my word counts. I even have very cool calendars to follow the plot line of the story and keep me straight regarding what day it is in my fictional world!
Do your characters begin to take on a life of their own as you write?
I suppose that’s why I miss them when they leave. Seriously though, I was at dinner with my husband, and we were reminiscing about past times. I started reminding him of a certain time and his eyes grew wider and wider with each detail, then he began shaking his head. I finally stopped and asked “We didn’t really do that, did we?” He said no. “Are you sure?” He said yes. “It must have been in one of my books, I guess.” So yes, it is as if I’m THERE with them, sometimes WE are there with them, and I miss them when they go.
What other new projects do you have on the horizon?
I have a wonderful sequel to A SIMPLE AMISH CHRISTMAS, actually I have four plotted out four more books in Mifflin County. I’m waiting to see if Abingdon has slots for that many. I also have sold a three book Amish mystery series to Zondervan Books, set in Shipshewana, Indiana. This was fun, fun, fun to write. I believe the first book will be out in 2011—the story centers around two women, an auction, a dead body, and one friendship quilt.
Who was the person who influenced you the most with your writing?
I have to pick one? I want to say my father, because he was very particular about language, and he always challenged me to think critically and to read analytically. HOWEVER, I’d also have to say that the people in my graduate committee very much influenced my writing. They taught me a control of language and a respect for the craft of writing that I did not possess before my MA degree.
What message would you like your readers to take from A Simple Amish Christmas?
Grace—God’s grace, pure and simple.
What is your greatest achievement?
I would like to think it’s my children, but I know they aren’t my achievement. They’re gifts from God and what little influence I have had or my husband has had is just that—small, but they’re what I’m most proud of. They’re very good kids, excuse me ADULTS.
What is your goal or mission as a writer?
Really, to continue to write Fiction full of GRACE. That’s more than just a tag line for me. I went through a very dark time in my life, a lonely time, and when I did, when it seemed no one else had been through quite what I was going through—I reached for books (yes, including the Bible). I looked for stories of other people who had been through similar situations. Finding them gave me courage. I hope to be able to give other's courage and do so by sharing stories of God’s grace.
What do you do to get away from it all?
We hike and backpack. We’ve hiked in Glacier National Park, Rocky Mountain, Big Bend, Olympia, Mesa Verde, and a little in the Grand Canyon. We love to hike because it helps to leave the technology behind and be out in nature. I hope to do a lot more of it in the next year. I also enjoy gardening, needle work and playing the piano.