|A Heart Made New, Bliss Creek Series #2|
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Annie Shirack is trying to fight her feelings for David Plank, a young Amish man who's struggling with an aggressive case of Hodgkin's lymphoma. David loves Annie too much to let her into his life, only, he fears, to leave her.
Kelly Irvin is a Kansas native and has been writing professionally for 25 years. She and her husband, Tim, make their home in Texas. They have two children, three cats, and a tankful of fish. A public relations professional, Kelly is also the author of two romantic suspense novels, the Bliss Creek Series and writes short stories in her spare time.
Favorite Bible Verse : Micah 7:18-19 (NIV): Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgressions of the remnant of his inheritance. You do not stay angry forever, but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
Our Interview with Kelly Irvin
How did you come up with the concept for the Bliss Creek Series?
I’m not sure I actually “came up with the concept.” I’m an organic writer (I don’t plot ahead) so I knew what I wanted to write about in the book that became To Love and to Cherish. I was fascinated with the Amish folks’ commitment to forgiveness. They practice what they preach, something I’ve found hard to do when it comes to forgiveness. The story of A Heart Made New grew out of the first book as I wanted to see what happened to Josiah and his sister Annie. Again, the spiritual theme of learning to take on faith God’s plan for our lives drove the story. Not knowing how our lives will turn out isn’t important as long as we believe God will be there in the end—no matter when or how that ends comes. The third book really came about because I felt bad for Helen—she’s a widow who has a little crush on Thomas in To Love and to Cherish. She deserves her own true love. So that’s how Love’s Journey Home began.
Is any part of Bliss Creek Series true?
The characters are fictitious and so is the setting, but the challenges faced by Emma, Thomas, Annie, Josiah, David, Helen, and the other characters are drawn from real life. They’re challenges we all face as human beings trying to deal with a broken world as Christians. As Plain folks, they work even harder than most of us because they choose to do it without “modern” technology and things we consider basic, like electricity. They face disease, death of loved ones, broken hearts, and disagreements with family members just as we do. I also drew some of these challenges from newspaper articles and media coverage about Plain folks dealing with challenges such as disagreements with city officials over permitting, the impact of finding oil on their land, the rising cost of farmland, the difficulties of making small family farms profitable in today’s economy, and other challenges that are true to life.
Is Bliss Creek a real place?
No, it’s totally a figment of my imagination, but it comes from having grown up in a small rural town in Kansas, where farming is a mainstay. Bliss Creek is smaller than my hometown of Abilene, Kansas, which has about eight-thousand residents, but it has many similarities. Small towns are wonderful because everyone knows everyone. They’re great places to raise families. Small towns can also be painful places to live because everyone knows everyone—and their business.
Did you include any of your life experiences in the Bliss Creek Series?
I find that everything I write draws from the sum total of my experiences as a human being. My husband and I lost our first child before he was born, so when I wrote about something that happens to Emma in A Heart Made New I called upon those memories and feelings and that sense of loss. It can be a painful, yet cathartic process, but I do believe those experiences contribute to the authenticity of an author’s writing. (Not that you have to experience the loss of a loved one to write about it—I have an excellent imagination and a copious amount of empathy when it comes to these things.) I just finished writing the first book in a new series that will be published by Harvest House in which I had to revisit the horrifying, unexpected death of a loved one in a boating accident. I found myself wondering how long it takes for a writer to incorporate these kinds of painful experiences into his or her writing without reliving them. Or if that’s even possible.
Do you have a favorite character in the Bliss Creek Series? Why?
That is a tough question. I love them all. As I wrote each book, I became better acquainted with each character. Still, I’d have to say it’s a tie between Josiah and Annie. Josiah, because he reminds me of me with his rebelliousness and his desire to be his own person even though it goes against everything he learned growing up. Annie, because she’s the character I’d most want to emulate. She’s so loving and so willing to put herself out there for the people she loves and the things she believes in. In A Heart Made New, she holds out for the man she loves even when he struggles to walk by faith. She takes a homeless woman and her child into the Shirack home and helps Charisma to get back on her feet. Annie puts her faith into action. I so admire her. Her struggles are not over, but she faces them with a lovely grace. Readers will get to see the rest of her story in Love’s Journey Home.
How much research did the Bliss Creek Series take?
Quite a bit. I’m still learning. The challenge is compounded by the fact that each Amish community has its own set of rules or Ordnung. I want to be very careful and respectful of how I present their lives,
while constructing an interesting story that will hold the readers’ attention and make them think about their own faith and lives. I spent a great deal of time reading books and researching on-line before I began to write the first book. I’m still doing that, as well as reading The Budget newspaper to learn more about their daily lives, the rhythm of those lives, the little details that make the stories seem more real and authentic. This summer I had the opportunity to visit an Amish community in Missouri and that was really helpful in terms of the next series I’ll be writing.
What was the most interesting fact that you learned while writing the Bliss Creek Series?
I don’t think there’s one specific fact. It’s all been enlightening and thought provoking. Learning about the Amish way of life has forced me to examine my life, my priorities, my faith. It’s given me a renewed desire to simplify and to prioritize. I’m still learning and still struggling, but writing about the Amish has opened up that interior monologue, where before I was too busy rushing around to make myself stop and think about it.
What are some of the challenges you face as an author?
Mostly, it’s time. Time is a valuable commodity in my life. I work full time in public relations. I’m married. My two children are adults now, but we’re very close. Finding time to write is always a challenge. I write in the early morning before work, at lunch, on the weekends. I also have to guard against envy. I admit to a certain amount of envy when I see others spending their days writing the stories they are called to write. We all make choices and I’m blessed to have a great job that helps support my family. Balancing the two is critical.
What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?
Losing myself in that fictitious world. Walking around the house while two characters are conversing in my head. Running to my desk from the shower or the treadmill to jot down the lines that suddenly appeared out of nowhere. I’m in the middle of a manuscript right now in which the words seem to pour out faster than I can write them down. It’s the best feeling and it brings great joy to my life. It’s a gift from God and I thank Him for it everyday.
What is your writing style? (Do you outline? Write “by-the-seat-of-your-pants? Or somewhere in-between?)
I’m totally an organic writer (I once heard Steven James talk and he used that term to describe writing without an outline so I’ve adopted it.) Because I have so little time to write, I want to use it to get the story written. I find if I stop to outline I lose the momentum and the creative fire that feeds it. It’s not any fun anymore, it’s like a class assignment. I’ve written synopses for proposals in the past, but invariably the story veers off in another direction and I have to rewrite them afterwards. Being out there without a road map is half the fun—scary but exhilarating.
What other new projects do each you have on the horizon?
I recently signed contracts with Harvest House for a three book spin-off series called New Hope Amish so I’m in the middle of writing those books. Readers will recognize some of the characters as several families from Bliss Creek will pick up and move to Missouri to make a new start. It’s been so much fun because I still get to visit my Bliss Creek folks, but also add some new characters and plop them down in a new setting with all those new challenges.
What message would you like your readers to take from the Bliss Creek Series?
Don’t lose faith. It would be easy to do in this broken world, but God is in control. I love the way Max Lucado put it in one of his books (I’m paraphrasing): it will all work out in the end and if it’s not working out, we’re not at the end yet. Love each other. Help each other and at the beginning, middle, and end of each day, count your blessings.
What do you do to get away from it all?
Usually, my husband and I rent a condo in Port Aransas on the Gulf of Mexico for a few days in the summer, but next year, on February 14, we’re celebrating our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary by taking a week-long trip to Hawaii. I’m counting the days!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
My thanks to the folks at Harvest House for taking a chance on a new writer (especially Kim Moore who offered me a contract for To Love and to Cherish before I finished writing it) and doing such a tremendous job producing and marketing these books. And my thanks to the readers who have responded with encouraging and kind notes.