Wednesday Writers welcomes Kelly Irvin, author of the Amish romance A Plain Love Song. Kelly will be giving away a print copy of A Plain Love Song to one United States or Canadian commenter. Commenters on Kelly’s post August 6 through 12 will be put in the hat for drawing.
Welcome, Kelly! Would you please tell readers about the book that is being showcased today?
A Plain Love Song is the story of a young Amish woman named Adah Knepp who loves to write songs and dreams of being a musician. Musical instruments aren’t allowed in her faith and she struggles with how to channel her creativity in ways that are permissible. Then she meets Jackson Hart, an aspiring musician who dreams of being a country music star. Jackson teaches Adah to play the guitar and in the process falls in love. Adah has to decide what she’s willing to give up in order to follow her dreams. I had a wonderful time researching and writing this book, partly because I went to Branson, MO, for it, but also because I spent sometime thinking about my own goals in life and whether they were God’s plan for me or something I cooked up all on my own without consulting him.
Great theme, since following dreams often requires giving up other things in our lives. How did you come up with the concept for this book?
When it comes to my Amish romances, the stories frequently come from my desire to understand their faith and the parameters they place on the people who commit to the Amish faith. I don’t always agree and I ask myself why and on what basis. Does what I believe come from God’s scripture? Does what they believe? Are the two at odds or can we co-exist as lovers of Jesus who practice our faith in slightly different ways? It keeps me on my toes. Why not play musical instruments? Why not perform in public? In the course of writing this book, I began to see both sides of the story. The wonderful worship that comes from music and song and raising our voices together, mingling with musical instruments, and that more quiet introspective worship that comes from a more muted simple singing without instrumentation.
What are you working on now?
A Plain Love Song was the last installment in the New Hope Amish series. I’ve moved on to a new series with Zondervan/HarperCollins called the Amish of Bee County. The first book, The Beekeeper’s Son, is slated for release in January 2015. Bee County is home to the only Amish district in Texas. The Beekeeper’s Son is in the editing phase now, so I’m deep into book two, which as the working title of The Bishop’s Son.
Speaking of music, some writers like quiet, others want music. Which are you?
I don’t play music while I write because I wouldn’t hear it. Once I get into it, I don’t hear anything. (My children can attest to that—they have to yell at me to get my attention, frequently resorting to my name when Mom doesn’t do the trick). I don’t really need quiet, it doesn’t matter if there’s noise—except TV, which I find really annoying when I’m writing.
LOL I so understand the getting so wrapped up in things that you don’t hear what’s happening around you. When you write are you a panster or a plotter?
Totally a panster. I hate outlining, it’s too much like homework and it takes the creativity out of the storytelling. If I outline then I lose a lot of the stuff that just “happens.” The good stuff I don’t know is coming. I know generally what the story is about when I start, but I don’t really know where I’m going. In the current book I’m working on, I didn’t know until the very end, which choice my heroine Leila would make, in terms of her life and love. The choice grew out of everything that happened in the story and I really didn’t know what she would experience. I love it when it unfolds like that. I’m non-linear in that I frequently get a glimpse of a scene that isn’t coming for a while, but I go ahead and write it because it’s in my head knocking around and I don’t want to lose it. I may write the last chapter only halfway into the book. If it’s there, it’s there.
Are you a fast writer or a slower writer?
Fast. I have to be. I have a full-time job and a lot of commitments at home so I can’t piddle around. Also, I used to be a newspaper reporter, so I’m used to working on deadline and producing copy everyday. I write before work in the morning, at lunch, and sometimes, if I’m on a roll, in the evening. I do a lot of my marketing stuff on the weekend, but try to squeeze in work on the WIP if I’m in the middle of an important scene. I honestly don’t know how many words I write in a day. It varies depending on my other commitments. It’s carving out those chunks of time and using them productively that counts for me. As long as I write everyday, at least five or six days a week, I feel good about it. I don’t want to lose the thread or the emotional connection to the story. If I let it lay fallow too long, it’s hard to get it back.
What is your revision process?
My initial goal is to just get the story down. I don’t worry too much about being pretty, just the nuts and bolts. When I start each day I go back to the last scene and edit it to help me get the juices flowing again. Many times I find I’ve really only written a sparse version of the scene and I begin to add the detail, the setting, flesh out the dialogue, and so on. After I have the basics down of the first draft, I go back to make sure I’ve included all the senses, especially smell, because it’s so evocative. I have to go back and add setting detail because it’s not my strong suit and I don’t always think about what the place looks like. I have to do a lot of cutting because I tend to overdo the interior monologue. My characters do a lot of thinking! I try to read all my work aloud so I can hear the word repetition, smooth awkward phrases, make sure dialogue sounds authentic. I also do a read-through to make sure I’ve tied up loose ends and that the plot develops in a way that makes sense.
As we all know, writers are readers, too. Do you still read the same genre of books you did as a teenager?
I still read mysteries and romantic suspense. They’ll always be my favorites. I have certain authors, like Marcia Mueller and Sue Grafton, that I’ve been reading for twenty-five years or more. But my reading is more well rounded than it used to be. I also read historical fiction and I read The Help and other books that are more literary in nature. I stay away from Amish romances because I don’t want to accidentally echo other writers.
Do you have some favorite books?
I love To Kill a Mocking Bird, Gone with the Wind, and A Wrinkle in Time, among many others.
What’s the first book you remember reading as a child?
I read voraciously, everything in my hometown library, but my earliest memories are The Bobbsey Twins in the first grade. I have vivid memories of learning to read because it opened up this old new world for me, a place to which I could escape. As I got a little older I read all the Nancy Drew mysteries, the Hardy Boys, Harriet the Spy, The Changling, The Oregon Trail. I read just about everything I could get my hands on.
If your library is anything like mine, you have lots of books on your shelves. Name 3 favorite writing craft books on your shelves, 3 fiction books and the genre, and if you have them, 3 different magazines you read regularly
The First Five Pages, Don’t Murder Your Mystery, Self Editing for Fiction Writers
Stealing Home by Allison Pittman
Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
Out of the Deep I Cry by Julia Spencer Fleming
“The Writers Digest,” “Writers Magazine,” “Poet and Writer”
Now for a few personal questions:
Do you have a day job?
I’m the public relations manager for the San Antonio municipal parks and recreation system
What’s in your CD player right now?
The soundtrack from the TV show, “Nashville.”
What do you do to keep in shape?
I work out on the treadmill everyday and sometimes mix that up with aerobics tapes.
Favorite food: My husband’s homemade pizza. He makes the crust and the sauce from scratch and he goes easy on the cheese and covers it with my favorite veggies so I don’t have to feel so guilty about eating it.
Favorite singer or band: That’s so hard, it depends on my mood, and there are so many great artists out there. Right now, I’d say Chris Tomlin because he’s never written or performed a song I don’t love. If I’m in a rebellious mood, I’d say Jason Aldean because I like my country music to have some attitude.
Favorite season: Fall, although we don’t have much of it in South Texas. It’s such an incredible relief after the summers of 100-plus temperatures and 90 percent humidity day after day for four or five months.
Favorite flowers: Sunflowers. They remind me of my home state of Kansas.
Favorite color: blue. Reminds me of wide open skies of Texas and gives me a peaceful, calm feeling.
Mug or teacup: My publisher Harvest House gave me a big white cup with their motto “Grow True” on it for Christmas a couple of years ago. I use it for my coffee every morning.
It’s been a pleasure having you here today. As you say goodbye, can you leave the readers with an encapsulation of your life’s philosophy?
How about some verses to live by? Micah 18-20 are the verses that help me get out of bed every morning. No matter how I mess up, I have a God whose grace covers me up. He’s compassionate and forgiving and loving. I only have to go to him with a repentant heart and a willing spirit and He welcomes me home.
“Who is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant,
overlooking the sins of his special people?
You will not stay angry with your people forever,
Because you delight in showing unfailing love.
Once again you will have compassion on us.
You will trample our sins under your feet
And throw them into the depths of the ocean!
You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love
As you promised our ancestors
Abraham and Jacob long ago.”
Thanks, Kelly. Now here’s an excerpt from her book, which, after reading, I have put on my TBR list. Thankfully, I just downloaded a new Amazon gift card.
A Plain Love Song
By Kelly Irvin
She had to find her way to him…but first she had to find her way to God.
Adah Knepp wants nothing more than to make music. It’s all she’s ever desired—to sing and play the guitar and write her own songs. That’s a dream that will never come true in the confines of her strict Amish community. But then she meets Jackson Hart, and suddenly she sees the chance for a different kind of life…a real stage, a real guitar, and a real opportunity to sing her songs to a real audience.
But pursuing her dreams means turning her back on her faith, her family, and her community—and saying goodbye to Matthew, the gentle Amish farmer she can’t get out of her mind. Is it worth giving up the only home she’s ever known to pursue her dreams?
Not having a pencil and paper handy made writing a song a challenge for Adah Knepp.
But then she liked a challenge.
Adah belted out the lyrics, the bob-bob of the horse’s head along with the clip-clop of his hooves kept time on the asphalt highway. The squeaking of the buggy wheels joined in. Her voice carried on the warm June wind across the wheat fields of Missouri. Sparrows preening on the power lines that ran along the road served as her only audience. They probably thought she’d gone crazy, talking to herself.
She closed her eyes for a second, listening to her own words. They weren’t quite right. They didn’t sound like the songs she heard on the radio while she cleaned the Harts’ house. Not like Carrie Underwood or Taylor Swift with their sweet voices. She sounded flat. Of course, she didn’t have the benefit of steel guitars, fiddles, keyboards, and drums. She stomped one black sneaker, and then the other, against the floorboard, picking up the beat. “Love like sun-kissed apples . . .” She shook her head. Nee, nee. “Love like a baby’s sweet kisses . . .”
No, that wasn’t it either. Still mulling the words, she turned into the open gate adorned with a huge wrought iron H and onto the sunflower-lined dirt road that led to the Hart farm. She would clean the house lickety-split and use the rest of the afternoon to work on her song before she went home. That way she wouldn’t be late and Mudder wouldn’t have cause to complain. Stop mooning around, Adah, and get to work. Those dishes won’t wash themselves.
Which, of course, they wouldn’t. Having six brothers and sisters, Adah surely wished they would. How about that for a fanciful notion?
She could write her song, cook, clean, and still be ready to take a ride after dark if Matthew Troyer should happen to shine his flashlight in her window. Gott was good.
A horse whinnied, an uncertain, unhappy sound that carried on a breeze that kept the day from being stifling hot. A man answered in a soft, coaxing sing-song. The voice reminded Adah of the announcer on the radio the Harts kept tuned to a country music station. It was husky like sandpaper, yet smooth and warm like kaffi made with an extra dollop of milk and three pinches of sugar.
“Come on, sweetie, come on, it won’t hurt you, I promise. It’s fine, it’s okay, it’s fine.” The voice sang in a steady patter of sweet nothings. “Let me just do this one thing and you’re gonna like it, I promise.”
Drawn by the velvety words, she hopped from the buggy and approached the fence. The voice belonged to a tall, lean man with a shock of black hair, ruffled and sweat soaked under the rim of a dirty straw cowboy hat. He held a blanket in one hand while he used his other hand to hold the lead rope attached to a tawny Palomino with a long dark mane and tail. The man wore a T-shirt and tattered jeans faded to a blue-white. The sun glinted on a huge silver buckle on a belt that hugged his narrow hips.
“Sweetie, come on, come on, baby,” he crooned as he crept closer to the horse. “It won’t hurt you, I promise. Remember this blanket. We played with it yesterday. You remember.”
At that moment he looked across the corral and their gazes met. “Hey there, Amish girl.”
He said Amish girl as if it were her full name. As if he’d been waiting for her. As if he were glad to see her. It made her smile. “I’m Adah.”
Letting the lead rope out, he sidled away from the horse without turning his back on it. The horse pranced and arched her long neck as if she knew she no longer had the man’s complete attention. “I know. Adah, the Amish girl. The house cleaner.”
Mrs. Hart called her the maid, a word that didn’t bother Adah in the least. She did honest work and what she earned helped her family pay for the things they needed, things they couldn’t grow or make.
For some reason she couldn’t string words in a simple sentence. She edged toward the buggy. She shouldn’t have stopped. She should’ve gone right up to the house. Mind yourself with these Englischers. Mudder’s voice echoed in her ears. You clean their houses, that’s all.
“I’m Jackson Hart.”
Adah figured as much. He looked the spitting image of his father. She’d started working at the Harts after Jackson left for the spring semester of college so she hadn’t met him, but she recognized him from the dozens of photos that lined the walls of the Hart living room and the room they referred to as the “study.” The study where she lingered over her dusting so she could run her fingers over the ivory keys of a grand piano while she stared at photos of family members posing with horses and steers and trophies and ribbons.
Jackson glanced at the horse, then back at Adah. “You ever seen someone break a horse to a saddle?”
“My daed—my father—does it.”
“Maybe he should come do this one. This filly’s a stinker.”
“She’s willful.” That’s what her daed said about Adah. He said she was worse than a wild horse when it came to being stubborn. Her mudder said she inherited that from Daed. Either way, she’d made more than her share of trips to the woodshed as a little girl. “She doesn’t want to give up her wild ways.”
Like Adah had been doing since starting her rumspringa. She’d been avoiding baptism for two years now.
“My brother says he can’t be ridden. The family we bought her from waited too long to break her, but I think she can be taught to be a lady. Today is her day to learn who’s boss.” Jackson grinned, his teeth white against the dark stubble on his chin. The bottom teeth were a little crooked, but they took nothing away from the blinding effect. “That would be me. I’m gonna turn her into a rodeo horse.”
Adah had seen the rodeo when her family went to the county fair to visit the exhibits. They didn’t have money to buy tickets, but she’d peeked into the arena. Riding a bucking horse or bull or lassoing a bawling calf for sport didn’t make much sense to her.
“I better get in the house.” The words came out in a stutter. Why, she had no idea. She heaved a breath and tried again. “There’s floors to be mopped.”
“Mom went to the grocery store. Then she’s stopping by the house in town.” Somehow he made this information sound like an invitation to stay. “You got all the time in the world.”
“This house is big. Takes me all day.”
“Yeah, but it’s not like we’re pigs or anything—well, except RaeAnne, but she’s at the house in town most of the time. I’m pretty good at picking up after myself and so is Jeff.”
RaeAnne stayed at the farm sometimes and it always meant more work for Adah. Jeff, the other brother, kept his room neat and tidy, but she still had to vacuum, dust, take out the trash, and generally straighten up after him. She didn’t mind. That’s what they paid her to do. “You’re never here, so I don’t know.”
“I’m here now.”
No doubt about that. Adah couldn’t take her gaze from him, as much as she didn’t know why. She should get in the buggy. She didn’t move.
Still grinning as if he liked having an audience, Jackson edged toward the horse, who snorted and tossed her head.
“Sweetheart, it’s time. You know me. I’d never steer you wrong. You can trust me. It’s just a blanket. You’ve seen this blanket before, remember?” He held it up. “It’s nice. Soft. Warm. It’s light. You won’t even feel it on your back. I promise.”
A chill ran up Adah’s arms despite the June heat. Jackson spoke to the horse, not her. Still, she took a step back.
With a gentle flick of his wrist, he settled the blanket on the Palomino’s back. The animal responded with a high, angry whinny. She side stepped, snorted, and shook her head.
A second later, she reared and bucked, hooves flailing.
Still hanging onto the lead rope, Jackson stumbled back. “It’s okay. It’s okay, sweetheart, we’re doing fine.”
The words seemed overly optimistic. The palomino came down, then reared again, bucking and shrieking.
Jackson moved, but not fast enough. The horse’s front hooves connected with his chest.
Jackson crumpled to the ground.
Want to read more? Links to buy:
Kelly Irvin is the author of the Bliss Creek Amish series and the New Hope Amish series, both from Harvest Housing Publishing. Her latest release is A Plain Love Song, set in Amish country in Missouri, which debuted July 1. It is the final installment in the series, which also included Love Redeemed and Love Still Stands.
She is currently working on The Beekeeper’s Son, the first book in the Amish of Bee County series, for Zondervan/HarperCollins. She has also penned two inspirational romantic suspense novels, A Deadly Wilderness and No Child of Mine.
Kelly has been married to photographer Tim Irvin for twenty-six years. They have two young adult children, one gorgeous new granddaughter, two cats, and a tank full of fish. In her spare time, she likes to write short stories and read books by her favorite authors.
Connect with Kelly at:
@Kelly_S_Irvin on Twitter