I may have projected the most of myself into the lightly-fictionalized story of my father in Tobias of the Amish. Since an auto accident snatched him away from our family when I was only three years old, I have no memories of him. I told the story of his life based on research and communal memories shared by his peers. But I imagine that if someone else had written the story based on those same interviews, my father might have looked less like me.
On reflection, I’m sure that I write far more of myself into my fictional characters than I realize. Without giving it much conscious thought, I draw on my Christian worldview and aging white male perspective in all of my stories, even when I’m writing the POV of an Amish woman or a Native American. I couldn’t divorce myself from those influences regardless how hard I tried.
Nevertheless, I love the challenge of putting myself into someone else’s shoes, and telling the story from their perspective. My favorite compliment regarding my recent Return to Northkill series was from a Native American Delaware descendant, who told me that the spirit of his ancestors were living in me. He was excited about the way I had captured the thoughts and feelings of the Native American tribe, including those of a widowed woman who adopted a captured Amish boy.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
I’ve always been very curious about how mechanical things work and love to tinker with or repair broken gadgets. As a young adult, I owned a 1940 Chevrolet coupe which I “converted” into a street rod. To improve the safety and ride, I cut off the frame near the firewall and “grafted” on a frame assembly from the front of a 1972 mid-size Chevrolet. Pronto! Now my old car had coil suspension, power steering, and disk brakes.
And just for the fun of it, I adapted the power window mechanisms from a wrecked Cadillac to open and close my front windows. There’s a lot more I could say about the mental value of tinkering, but no one has said it more eloquently than philosopher/mechanic Matthew R. Crawford in his book, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work.
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I learned the basics of writing in a demanding high school English class, from a teacher who drilled us on the parts of speech via the discipline of diagramming sentences. I first experienced the satisfaction of creative writing in a college composition class, where I was taught that “the pen is mightier than the sword.” I started to claim that power by writing articles as a twenty-something, and published my first book (a study guide) when I was thirty-two.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I’ve been a reader for as long as I can remember, with shifting interests over the years. As an adolescent, I read lot of sports and adventure books, as well as biographies of well-known people. As I grew to adulthood, I became a bibliophile, purchasing volumes for my growing library via book clubs and visits to various bookstores. I browsed the stacks in a bookstore as eagerly as a kid in a candy shop. I even enjoyed the obligatory texts and companion volumes on the curricular journey from a small Bible institute to a doctorate in rhetoric from a major university.
Later, as an ordained minister and the dean of a seminary, I read books on theology, Biblical studies, church history, rhetorical theory, and leadership studies. More recently, I enjoy reading historical fiction, memoirs, and biographies, as well as history.
In recent years, I tend to buy books, including fiction, after hearing the author speak, reading a positive review, or receiving a recommendation from a friend. A few months ago, I forced myself to weed several hundred books out of my bulging library. It was a painful parting with old friends; I felt I owed some of them a eulogy.
I totally understand. I’ve always had a hard time parting with books. But now I have a ministry of giving books I’ve finished with to people who haven’t learned about the author’s writing. How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
I follow a rather disciplined “rhythm and rule” of life which includes a daily walk and other physical exercise, along with devotional reading. This rhythm is like a gyroscope to keep me balanced in the face of a heavy travel schedule and demands on the administrative front. Sabbath is essential too, along with monthly retreats for prayer and planning, lest my priorities get swept away by a flood of opportunities.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
In my recent series of historical novels, nearly all of my main characters are named after the people they represent in real life. In Christian’s Hope, I made two exceptions in order to avoid duplicate names. I dubbed one of my substitutes with the Biblical name Hannah. But just days before I sent the manuscript to the publisher, a friend suggested that “Hannah” sounded too much like “Anna,” one of my two POV characters. So I searched for a different name in the index of a genealogical family tome, searching for another common eighteenth-century woman’s name. I narrowed it down to three and then consulted my wife about it. She liked “Orpha” best, since she had an aunt by that name. So I did a “search and replace,” and Hannah became Orpha just minutes before I submitted my manuscript to the publisher.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
This may seem a little strange, but the thing which makes me most proud is when a self-identified “non-reader” tells me about reading one of my books. One 64-year-old man phoned me to say that Tobias of the Amish is the only book he had read since high school. A middle-age woman told me that she was “fighting” with her husband, a non-reader, over reading time for one of my books. I felt like shouting “Yeah!”
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
I think I’d be a Golden Retriever, since I’m at home in the water as well as on land. I’d be a friendly dog, romping with children and canine companions. I’d probably chase cats and entertain my owner with antics that would reward me with favorite doggie snacks.
What is your favorite food?
I love ice cream topped with crumbles of homemade cookies made of peanut butter and oatmeal. This preference is but partly based on taste, and mostly on the pleasant at-home memories it evokes in me. As a child, I cranked the ice cream freezer, which meant that I got the first taste when it was finished.
Oh, yes, getting to eat the ice cream off the paddle was such a treat. What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
I suppose my biggest barrier to writing fiction has been to convincingly portray the emotions of my female characters. I’ve benefitted immensely from the candid feedback of two women in my monthly writers group. I’ve also learned a great deal from a fiction writing coach and an editor, both excellent female writers. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned a lot from reading good fiction written by women.
Tell us about the featured book.
However, a visit to his Native village brings more disappointment than joy, forcing him to face the prospect that he may not fit into either the world of the Amish or the Natives. A growing relationship with his stepmother, along with the guidance of a Dunker preacher and a friend named Orpha, eventually help him discover hope and a third way.
Please give us the first page of the book.
August 1, 1765
Christian reluctantly forced one foot ahead of the other as he walked the road toward the Hochstetler farm—his childhood home. He shifted his bag on his shoulder and smoothed his scalp lock.
The fields of wheat, spelt, and rye were mostly stubble on the rolling hills of northern
The sound of the soft ripple of the Northkill Creek flowing over the rocks
permeated the air. He reached down to adjust the tomahawk dangling from the
belt that secured his breechcloth at the waist. This hardly looked like the
place he’d left many moons ago. Berks
At long last, Christian knew that his father was alive. Sir William Johnson, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, had told him so when he arrived at Johnson Hall in
, with other captives who
were being returned. Even though the British had signed peace treaties with the
French and Indians, the war still raged in his heart and soul. Against his
wishes, he would now be expected to live on land that had been taken from the Johnstown,
New York Shawnees, the people he
had come to love. He would be forced to live with the people of his childhood,
who thought of the Shawnees
as uncivilized heathen.
On most of the trip to
County from Johnstown, he’d been escorted by Esquire
Samuel Weiser, who lived a half day’s walk from the Hochstetler farm. Weiser
had lived among the Indians as a child and understood their ways. He said he
trusted Christian to walk the final leg to his home by himself. Despite his
unwillingness to leave the Shawnees,
his eagerness to see his father after eight years of separation kept him
How can readers find you on the Internet?
You can find information about me and my books at http://www.ervinstutzman.com/. You can see a sample of blogs or interviews at https://themennonite.org/?s=ervin+stutzman
Thank you, Irvin, for sharing this book with us. I'm eager to read it.
Readers, here are links to the book. By using one when you order, you help support this blog.Christian's Hope Christian's Hope (Return to Northkill) - paperback
Christian's Hope (Return to Northkill) - Kindle
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