Sometimes I wish we could just go back to simpler times when we didnít have so
many multimedia sources clogging our day. Whether itís the Blackberry or an
iPad, it seems as if we are connected 24/7. If youíre like me, sometimes I
just want to get away from it all. Our lives have become so consumed by
technology that itís disheartening. Gone are the days when handwritten letters
and good old-fashioned conversation were of the utmost importance. Now, texting
and e-mail seem like the only ways to communicate.
This monthís Jenís
Keller addresses this very topic in her new release AN AMISH CHRISTMAS. Just
in time for the holidays, she tells the story of a tony suburban family who
winds up losing it all, only to discover what truly matters in life. Set in the
Amish country, Cynthia beautifully intertwines the two diverse cultures,
bringing to light the challenges of the world in which we live today.
As part of this interview, Ballantine Books has generously donated five
copies for you, my favorite readers, to try to win. So, donít forget to look
for the trivia question at the end of the column. And, thanks for making Jenís Jewels a part of your
Jen: Since we live in the age of information, I was quite taken aback
due to the lack of information available about you on the web. There is
practically none! So that my readers may have a glimpse into the life of the
woman behind the words, please share with us your educational and professional
Cynthia: I was born and raised in New York City,
attended Hunter College High School, and then Brown University. I returned to
New York after graduation, where I worked in video production for several
years. I started writing for magazines and then moved over into nonfiction
books and, finally, novels. Eventually, my husband and I decided to move to
Connecticut. Weíve been here ever since.
Jen: Please describe for us your ďAh! Ha!Ē moment when you chose to
pursue writing as a career.
Cynthia: Thereís actually an incredibly specific answer to this. My
first real job was in video production. Over several years, I kept feeling I
wanted to move from the technical/producing side to the creative side, but I
wasnít sure I had the nerve. I had never studied writing, and I didnít know
where the pull was coming from, but it continued to grow stronger. My older
sister was living in Brazil, and I went to visit for two weeks, which turned
into four weeks. On the next-to-last day, when I had been away for so long
that I was really removed from my job and everything familiar to me Ė away from
what made up my day-to-day identity, really -- I took a chair down to the beach
in Rio at sunset and sat there alone for a long, long time, just thinking about
what I wanted to do in life. That was when I realized I secretly wanted to
make the jump to writing. When I got up from that chair, I knew I was going to
return home and quit my job to write. And I did.
Jen: Your career took flight writing under the pseudonym Cynthia Victor.
First of all, why did you choose to write under this name? And, describe for us
the type of novels you have written.
Cynthia: Cynthia Victor was actually two people. The Victor half was
Victoria Skurnick, who is now my literary agent. We wrote seven novels
together. It was a very happy writing partnership and we remain the best of
friends today (I thanked her in the acknowledgements to AN AMISH CHRISTMAS because
this has been yet another wonderful professional endeavor weíve shared). Our
books were contemporary fiction about all sorts of characters and situations.
Jen: Your latest endeavor AN AMISH CHRISTMAS is a timely book that addresses the fall of
the American Dream. How did you arrive at the premise?
Cynthia: The original concept of the book was of a non-Amish family
spending the holiday with an Amish family. The way I endeavored to get the
family to that point brought together things Iíd been thinking about and some
of the problems weíre all facing today. Consumerism, technology, the economy,
and raising children Ė so many topics came together in this.
Jen: Throughout the novel, you share with us tidbits of information
about the Amish way of life. In terms of research, how much was needed in
order to accurately portray the Amish people?
Cynthia: I read as much as I could get my hands on about the Amish,
books, articles, online, whatever. Then, I went to Lancaster County to do
research in person. Itís so important to me to do right by these people. I
have the utmost admiration and respect for them.
Jen: What was the most fascinating bit of information you discovered?
Cynthia: There was so much! Right off the bat, one thing I could point
to is the concept of rumspringa. At sixteen, Amish teenagers are permitted to
go out into the world a lot more if they choose, and do things that arenít
normally allowed. They then decide if they wish to be baptized into the Amish
faith. Itís a fascinating, complicated issue, with all sorts of pros and cons.
Jen: The Hobart Familyís lifestyle will resonate loud and clear with
many tony suburbanites who, like them, lived a life with minimal financial
constraints prior to todayís recession. At the beginning of the story, the
mother Meg is bothered by her childrenís lack of respect for their privileged
life. What is the catalyst that brings Meg to this critical point?
Cynthia: I think she ignored a lot of small things, but the childrenís
sense of entitlement and their attitudes Ė having no appreciation for what they
had, not even grasping how well-off they were Ė finally became too obvious for
her to ignore. When she sees that her daughter views buying a $500 dress as no
big deal, and her son is indifferent to the fact that heís lost his expensive
retainer three times, then she has to face the damage that has been done.
Jen: Cell phones, iPods, and computers dominate their social interaction
as a family. Meg is quite bothered by their intrusion. Why does she choose not
to address this with her family? Or, do her indirect comments to the children
serve as her means of confrontation?
Cynthia: Kids and their computers/cell phones/iPods, etc. is a huge
issue. How much is too much? How do you get them to cut back? These are very
difficult questions for everyone I know. At this stage, itís especially
complicated because a lot of parents (including me) donít fully understand the
technology, so they canít even tell whatís going on. Is your child actually
doing homework on that laptop, or just chatting with friends? You can keep
arguing with your kids about spending less time online and so on, but how do
you control what they do out of the house, or once you leave their rooms
(unless you confiscate the phone or laptop, which leads to a much bigger
fight)? It becomes an exhausting battle. I donít claim to know the answers.
Meg didnít choose to make this a big issue in the house, even though it
bothered her. Her husband also made it worse by constantly bringing home new
gadgets, so she couldnít expect his support on this.
Jen: Megís relationship with her husband James is nearly non-existent as
they appear to be two ships passing in the night. When their relationship
reaches the breaking point, who or what is to blame? Meg? James? Or, society?
Cynthia: A family with three children is a busy family, and keeping
things running smoothly does demand a lot of time and attention from spouses;
itís easy for couples to find themselves caught up in the day-to-day, drifting
apart. However, James is clearly the one who committed the act that turns
their world upside down. One thing Iíd hold Meg responsible for is the way she
buries her head in the sand about the family finances. I donít believe being
ignorant about those matters, just hoping for the best, works out in the long
run (especially given the warning signs in her husbandís odd behavior). You
could say society encouraged them to strive for the big house, more money, the
lifestyle, etc., but now weíre getting into a much bigger question of personal
responsibility and values. The bottom line, though, is that James bears the
guilt for his actions and the way he deceived his wife.
Jen: Due to their uncertain economic future, the Hobarts leave their
life behind. On their way, they are involved in an unfortunate accident and
wind up being taken in by a lovely Amish Family. The Lutzs warmly welcome them
into their home. Why are they so willing to do this?
Cynthia: The Amish are kind and caring people, and David Lutz certainly
appreciated that James crashed his car so that he wouldnít hit the buggy.
Jen: At the beginning of their stay, Lizzie and Will Hobart are quite
disrespectful to the Lutz Family. Why are they so reluctant to accept their
generosity? Is their close-mindedness a reflection of their upbringing or
merely a result of their surroundings?
Cynthia: As Meg unhappily realizes later, the children know little of
the world outside their comfortable lives, so they are perhaps less curious and
open-minded than other children might be. Theyíre miserable about everything
thatís going on in their lives at the moment, and this is yet another, huge
step away from their familiar world. At the same time, theyíre teenagers! I
know lots of polite, engaging, lovely teenagers, but ask any parent just how
rude their teenagers can be (especially around their parents). Further,
initially, Lizzie and Will view everything and everyone in the house as
supremely uncool, and they donít want to be associated with that.
Jen: Of the three Hobart children, Sam seems to make the adjustment to a
simpler way of life the best. Why is this so?
Cynthia: Sam is younger and hasnít reached the teenage state; heís not
invested in playing it cool. He also has a somewhat anxious personality.
When he is freed from the pressures and stresses of his world, he finds a
tremendous relief. Not all of us are well-suited to the fast pace of todayís
world. Sam thrives at that slower, gentler pace.
Jen: One of the Lutzís children Ben must decide whether to return to the
Amish life or forever leave it behind. In what way does his decision mirror
that which the Hobart family faces?
Cynthia: Just like the Hobarts, he is making choices in the story about
who he is, who he wants to be, and whatís important to him.
Jen: Meg makes a connection with Catherine Lutz, a bond that she will
always treasure. What makes these two such kindred spirits?
Cynthia: Meg has tremendous admiration for Catherine and the way she
goes uncomplainingly about her busy day. Looking back at her own easy life,
Meg understands how she mistook busywork for real work, and how work gives
meaning and joy to Catherineís life. Through Catherine, Meg sees how
unnecessary all the trappings of her old life were, and why they didnít bring
her or anyone else in the family real happiness. When Megís children misbehave
and then cause the buggy accident, Catherine exemplifies the values of kindness
and forgiveness. At the same time, Catherine develops an affection for Meg as
she figures out that Meg is in a bad situation and is struggling to make sense
of it. She appreciates Megís willingness to learn, to pitch in, and her
genuine interest in their way of life.
Jen: Letís switch gears now and talk about your promotional plans. Will
you be involved in a book tour?
Cynthia: We havenít had any discussions so far about a book tour.
There are so many other outlets through which to communicate with readers now,
however, opportunities that didnít even exist until recently.
Jen: Do you participate in author phone chats? And if so, how would my
readers go about scheduling one?
Cynthia: Iíd be delighted to. Iím in the process of setting up a
website, and Iíll let you know as soon as itís up and running. In the
meantime, readers can email me at Contactcynthiakeller@gmail.com
or contact Lisa Barnes at Ballantine Books, and she will pass on the
message to me.
Jen: Are you currently at work on your next novel? And if so, what can
you share with us?
Cynthia: I am working on the next novel, and it is also about the
Amish. Iím very excited about it. Itís a completely different approach, and
will cover different aspects of Amish life and identity. The details will have
to remain a surprise!
Jen: Thank you so much for bringing my readers a joyful glimpse into the
Amish holiday season. Your book addresses such a timely issue of financial loss
for middle class families. Well done! I wish you much success in the future.
Cynthia: Iíve really enjoyed it! Thank you for your kind words and for
the opportunity to talk with you and your readers. Happy Holidays to you and
to them as well!
I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Cynthia Keller. Please stop by your
favorite bookstore or local library branch and pick up a copy of AN AMISH CHRISTMAS today.
Better yet, how would you like to win one instead? Answer the following trivia
question and could be one of five winners. Good luck!
the name of the Amish family in AN AMISH CHRISTMAS?
Later this month, I will be bringing to you my interview with New York Times
bestselling author Anne Perry. You wonít want to miss it.
Until next time...
6 comments posted.
When I saw the title AN AMISH CHRISTMAS, I was immediately reminded of my mother. She lived through Christmases in wartime Germany. People said those must have been horrible Christmases. She'd say, "Oh no. They were the best ones of our lives. We really discovered what Christmas meant: the gift of God's son, his love and protection. Very simple things became treasures: the ability to make even the meanest little cake and to be thankful for the fact that close family members were still alive." My parents tried to instill these values in us children. Our gifts were never lavish and consisted mostly of things we needed. How different today's generation is. Everybody needs a cellphone, an iPod, a computer. And you're right, most people believe it is their "right" to have these everything they want, no matter the expense. I think many have reached the point where they have nothing more to hope for, to look forward to, and constantly look for more and more outrageous and dangerous things to do. But they forget that millions in this world have no clean water and not enough food to sustain life. Do they not deserve this right as well?
(Sigrun Schulz 7:08pm November 27, 2010)