Leah's Choice, Pleasant Valley Series #1Leah's Choice, Pleasant Valley Series #1
Marta Perry
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Amish schoolteacher Leah Beiler is content nurturing her young "scholars" and helping out on her large family's Pennsylvania farm in Pleasant Valley. She has long since recovered from the defection of her former fianci Johnny Kile, who left the Amish community several years ago. But now Johnny has returned. Working at a local medical clinic on research into inherited diseases common among the Amish, he asks for Leah's help in circumventing his "shunned" status and reuniting him with his family, in particular with his twin, Rachel, who is also Leah's best friend. Johnny also encourages Leah to help out at the clinic, working as a liaison with the Amish community. Is Johnny secretly hoping to convince Leah to leave the community and join him in an "English" life together?
     

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 Our Interview with Marta Perry

What is your favorite Bible verse?

I have a number of favorites, but one that has been speaking to me a great deal recently is Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” It awes me to think that the Lord of the universe prepared the work to which we are called, whether it’s teaching or writing or ministering to a neighbor in need.


How did you get started writing Christian fiction?

I began writing Christian fiction a number of years ago, when I was a Director of Christian Education for the Presbyterian Church to which I still belong. In reviewing Sunday school materials, I read many children’s stories illustrating Bible lessons, and began to think that it was something I could do. After studying them, I began creating a story of my own. I polished and polished, and when it was finally ready, I sent it out. The first editor who read it returned it with, of course, a form rejection slip, but he was kind enough to jot, “Nice story. Try us again.” With that encouragement, I sent the same story out to another publisher, and it appeared in an issue of Story Friends take-home paper! The passion I felt for that first story has never deserted me in all the words I’ve written since then.

 

What inspired your interest and passion for Amish fiction?

Since I have always lived in rural Pennsylvania, the Plain People have been a part of my environment ever since I can remember.  My own family background on my mother’s side is Pennsylvania Dutch, though not Plain, and they shared a number of traditions, including food, especially, with the Plain sects who came from the same areas of Germany and Switzerland.  It seemed very natural to include some Amish characters in a novel I wrote for an existing series, and that book, Restless Hearts, was so popular that my editor urged me to continue writing about the Amish. I was delighted to do so. I’ve have a great respect for people who do what they believe God wants them to even in the face of difficult situations, and I believe that defines part of what it means to be Plain in 21st century America.


How did you come up with the concept for Leah’s Choice?

I had been reading a non-fiction book by an author who was raised Amish but chose to leave because of her longing for further education. It struck me then how difficult that situation must be—the urge to fulfill one’s potential balanced against the dictates of one’s culture.  I was working on another book at the time, so I put that idea in the back of my mind, but every once in awhile I’d take it out and look at it, to find that it was growing even while I wasn’t consciously thinking about it.  That is what happens for me when a new story idea starts growing, and this one was so strong that I finally had to write it.


How closely is Leah’s Choice based on your life experiences?

Certainly I’ve struggled with what it means to fill the place God intends for me, so when I wrote about that aspect of Leah’s story, it was very real to me. I have also been a teacher, so the classroom scenes and her interactions with her scholars wrote very easily!

 

How did you choose the location for the setting?

The setting is one of the valleys in central Pennsylvania, which happens to be where I live! I loved the idea of creating a fictional valley that was like the place I know best in the world. And it certainly made it easier to correctly describe the details of weather, trees, flowers, and local culture.

How long did Leah’s Choice take you to complete?

I wrote the story in about four months, but of course I had been thinking about it for much longer.

Do you have a favorite character in Leah’s Choice? Why?

I’m rather partial to Leah’s mother—she’s the kind of mother and grandmother I hope I am! And I grew very attached to rebellious young Anna, so much so, in fact, that she had to have her own story. Anna’s Return will be out in June, 2010, the third book in the Pleasant Valley series.

How much research did Leah’s Choice take?

I suppose I started writing it thinking that I already knew the details of Amish life that the story would take, but I soon found that I was wrong! I have acquired a number of non-fiction books about the Amish which were very helpful, and if I had a question, I could always find someone to ask.

 

What was the most interesting fact that you learned while writing Leah’s Choice?

Probably the details about life in an Amish school were the most fascinating to me. I knew, generally, something about the curriculum and the Amish philosophy of education, but I was surprised to find how involved parents and indeed, the whole community, are in the school...doing the painting and upkeep, helping with various projects, finding ways to raise money to provide what the schools need. It really is a community effort.

How many books will be in the Pleasant Valley Series?

Three books in the series are complete. Rachel’s Garden will be out in March and, as I mentioned, Anna’s Return will be out in June.  I’ve recently contracted with Berkley on three more books in the series, which will be out in 2011 and 2012.


What are some of the challenges you face as an author?

I’m finding that the balancing act between doing the actual writing and doing all of the other things involved in publishing is a challenge.  For instance, I respond to every letter I receive, and right now the stack of letters on the table next to my chair is getting very high!  I think that organizing the work so that I can do the actual writing first is crucial to having a career as an author.

What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?

I love the moment at which it’s time to start working on a new book, as the characters begin to come alive in my mind and I can hear their voices in my head. Only writers can really be happy about the voices in our heads!

What is your writing style?   (Do you outline?  Write “by-the-seat-of-your-pants?   Or somewhere in-between?)

I tend to be a pretty organized person, and I have a process that seems to work well for me, although I’d be the first to say that it’s not for everyone.  I have a spiral notebook for each book, and I begin by writing down everything I know about that initial story idea.  As I jot down notes, one thing always leads to another, and before I know it, I’ve worked out the characters’ story arcs, the setting, and I’ve begun to sketch out the plot.  Then I begin writing a lengthy story outline.  When I start hearing the characters’ voices and seeing the opening scene in my mind, I know it’s time to start the actual writing.  I tend to write a first draft as quickly as possible, then going back to rewrite and polish.

 

Do your characters begin to take on a life of their own as you write?

They do, but I still control the story. If a character seems to want to go a direction I haven’t planned, that usually means that something in wrong in the concept, so I’ll go back to the planning stages and work that out.

What other new projects do you have on the horizon?

In addition to the Pleasant Valley books I’m writing for Berkley, I am writing a continuing series for Steeple Hill Love Inspired. So I have a lot on my plate, but that’s how I like it!

What message would you like your readers to take from Leah’s Choice?

That only through listening to God’s leading can we find the right direction for our lives.

What is your greatest achievement?

Having three children who have grown into loving, responsible Christian parents to my six beautiful grandchildren—and of course I didn’t do that by myself. I owe so much to my husband, who has always supported my dreams.

What is your goal or mission as a writer?

To go on telling the stories God gives me, praying that I am touching people’s lives in some way for His kingdom.
What do you do to get away from it all? Actually, I never do! It’s a standing joke in the family that Mom always has her notebook or her laptop with her everywhere she goes! That’s not entirely true, but I love writing, and even if I’m walking on the beach or enjoying the sunset at our favorite South Carolina beach, the stories are there in my mind.

 

 

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