Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mary Ellis grew up close to the eastern Ohio Amish community, Geauga County, where her parents often took her to farmer’s markets and woodworking fairs. She loved their peaceful, agrarian lifestyle, their respect for the land, and their strong sense of Christian community. She met her husband in college and they married six days after graduation.

She, her husband, dog and cat now live in Medina County, close to the largest population of Amish in the country—a four-county area in central Ohio. They often take weekend trips to purchase produce, research for her best-selling books, and enjoy a simpler way of life.

Mary enjoys reading, traveling, gardening, bicycling and swimming. Before “retiring” to write full-time, Mary taught Middle School in Sheffield Lake, Ohio and worked as a sales rep for Hershey Chocolate for twenty years—a job with amazingly sweet fringe benefits. All three of her Miller Family series, A Widow’s Hope, Never Far from Home, and The Way to a Man’s Heart have made the CBA and CBD bestseller lists. A Widow’s Hope was a finalist in the ACFW Carol Awards for 2010 in the long contemporary category, and a runner-up in the 2010 Holt Medallion Awards.

To learn more about Mary, visit her at

Did you see yourself becoming a writer as a child? If not, what did you dream of being?

No, as a child I saw myself as a schoolteacher. I went to college and landed a job teaching Middle School math and algebra. I worked at teaching for ten years, before I burned out. I didn’t decide I wanted to write books until after I turned 40. And I’m so glad I found something I love to do!

How long did you write before you sold your first book?

I believe it was around five or six years. But the “number” doesn’t matter, as long as you keep trying until you succeed.

Many of the people who follow our blog are aspiring writers themselves. Can you share your favorite writing tip with them?

Yes, “to thine own self be true.” Too many critique groups want to change other people’s writing to fit their own tastes. A writer must discover his/her own voice, then work to polish and refine. But don’t change who you are or what you want to write.

Now for the readers…many times, it’s easy for them to connect with the characters in a book, but not so much the authors themselves. Share something about your day-to-day life that might help a reader to feel as though they know you a little better.

I am a failed multi-tasker. I start many different projects at once (ie. A new chapter in my book, giving the dog a bath, and making dinner) in hopes of accomplishing everything on my to-do list. Your readers can guess the results…My dog runs off to the woods after a squirrel still sudsy, dinner is overcooked, and my characters take on names they never had before. I need to focus on one thing at a time, but in this day and age that is very difficult.

Now that you are published, do you still experience rejections? If so, how are these rejections different or similar to the ones you received before becoming published?

Everyone experiences “rejection” in life, including published authors. I recently had a children’s book proposal rejected because, I believe, the themes were similar to ones already out there. I must say, it doesn’t hurt as much once you’re already published, but just for a moment, I was again the last player picked in the gym class softball game.

Tell us a little about your latest release:

In Abigail’s New Hope, an Amish midwife, loves bringing babies into the world. But when a difficult delivery takes a devastating turn, Abigail is faced with some hard choices. Despite her best efforts, the young mother dies-but the baby is saved. When the heartless judge confines Abigail to county jail for her mistakes, her sister, Catherine, comes to care for her children while Daniel works his fields. Catherine meets Daniel’s reclusive cousin, Isaiah, who’s deaf and thought to be simple-minded by his community. She endeavors to teach him to communicate and discovers he possesses unexpected gifts and talents. While Abigail searches for forgiveness, Catherine changes lives and in return, finds love, something long elusive in her life. And Isaiah discovers God, who cares nothing about our handicaps or limitations in His sustaining love. An inspirational tale of overcoming grief, maintaining faith, and finding hope in an ever-changing world

If you could only share one line from Abigail’s New Hope, which one would you choose and why?

The night was alive with hoots, cackles, croaks, howls and whispers. Isaiah was at home in the shadowy darkness, with the only the moon and stars to point the way, so Catherine relaxed in the saddle and gave herself up to the unexpected. At no point was she ever afraid. And if she lived to be one hundred and ten, she doubted she would ever again enjoy herself so much.

Writers often put things in their books that are very personal—like a funny story that happened to them, a spiritual truth they learned through difficulty, or even just a character trait that is uniquely theirs. Is there something in Abigail’s New Hope that only people close to you know is about you or someone you know?

Writers put something of themselves into almost all their characters, even the villians. My friends say they “see” me in many of my characters, but usually don’t elaborate on how. That’s probably a good thing. By the time I finish a book, the character’s I’ve created become very real to me, so the lines blur as to what’s real and what’s purely made up.

Readers often talk a lot about the hero and heroine of a story, but today I’d like to know something about your villain. Does he or she have a redeeming quality? Why or why not?

In my Amish romance, my “villian” is the justice system in the English (non-Amish) world. Although justice might be blind, it doesn’t always take into consideration the extenuating circumstances that cause people to behave in a certain way. In this case, a humanitarian effort to save a life was still breaking the law.

What kind of research did you have to do for this book? Can you share some articles or website links you found particularly helpful?

I read several non-fiction accounts written by Amish midwives; I interviewed midwives; and I visited the New Bedford Care Center in New Bedford, Ohio. (This is an Amish and Mennonite owned and operated non-profit birthing center. Sorry, they don’t have a website.) For my subplots, I took research from my personal grief-therapy sessions and from dealing with auditory/speech handicapped friends I’ve known and still have.

Tell us what new projects you’re working on.

Right now, I’m working on book two of the Wayne County series. My heroine is a former mischief-maker who now finds herself the schoolteacher of a room full of mini-me’s. She learns much about herself, and what she wants in life as she struggles to learn how to teach. It’s titled A Marriage for Meghan and will be released in September.

The most common thing I hear when people learned I’ve published a book is, “I’ve always wanted to do that.” Faced with this statement, what advice would you give to someone just starting out in this business?

First, sit down and write the book. Get the story churning in your head down on paper (or into your laptop!) You can’t fix something that doesn’t exist. Then start investigating correct formatting, and publishing, and agents, and everything that’s connected to the business. But you must start with writing your story—even if this particular one never gets published.

What is the one question you were afraid I would ask…and how would you answer?

Ahhh, Elizabeth. I’m afraid of many things in this world….running out of money in retirement, all the dead trees in my yard falling on my house, eating myself out of my entire wardrobe, not to mention global warming, loss of wildlife habitats, and how many people on earth have never heard about the Lord, but I can’t think of one question I’d be afraid to answer. I’ve lived through too much to fear letting people know me. Thanks so much for interviewing me on your blog. And blessing on you and your readers!

Mary is giving away a cop of her book Abigail's New Hope. Be sure to stop by The Borrowed Book on Friday for your chance to win!


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