Beverly Lewis: A Sense of Belonging
Born in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, Beverly Lewis has authored more than eighty books—published in eleven languages worldwide. A keen interest in her mother’s Plain heritage has inspired Beverly to write many Amish-related novels, beginning with The Shunning, which sold more than one million copies and was made into an Original Hallmark Channel movie. Her latest novel is The Mercy, the third volume in her Rose Trilogy.
Writing started as a coping mechanism for Beverly Lewis. “My mother was dying of cancer when I was little,” Lewis says. “The doctors said she had only six months to live, and I was always writing my thoughts in little journals. I would create these stories about exotic places, the different worlds I was juxtaposed against growing up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and being around the Amish families my dad knew.”
But what could’ve been a tragic childhood, God turned around for good. Beverly’s mother lived to be eighty-four (the miracle story went into her book The Sunroom), and her curiosity with the Amish has spawned numerous best-selling books including The Shunning, The Redemption of Sarah Cain, and her latest series The Rose Trilogy. Before she was ever published in book-length, however, she wrote on assignment for magazines. “I loved it,” she says. “I was also doing short fiction for kids and teens in the Brio and Breakaway days. Back then being published in Highlights for Children was a big goal of mine. It took lots of attempts, but I finally [achieved it].”
Beverly’s first published book was a novel for teen girls. Nineteen months after she submitted it to Zondervan’s slush pile, she got a call saying they wanted to publish it, but they wanted a whole series. This surprised Beverly, but she readily agreed. Best Friend, Worst Enemy was released in 1993 and became book one in the fourteen volume Holly’s Heart series, now published by Bethany House. “I didn’t have an agent,” Beverly adds. “I actually sold my first sixty books on my own, with the help of my husband who eventually became my agent and manager.”
It wasn’t too long before Beverly’s pen turned to writing stories about the Amish. First came her Summerhill Secrets series, set near where she grew up in the small town of Neffsville, PA. But then the story which had been simmering in her heart since she was eleven had to be told.
“Many of my stories are based on the spunkiness of my maternal grandmother,” Beverly says. “She was raised Old Order Mennonite and eventually was ex-communicated and shunned when she didn’t marry the man her father and the bishop thought she should. She was incredibly courageous for following her heart and what she believed was God’s call in her life. The Shunning is loosely based on her story. I think the books that simmer in me the longest are the best,” she adds with a laugh.
The Shunning changed the face of Christian publishing, becoming one of the first blockbuster Amish fiction novels and selling well over a million copies. Beverly knew it was special early on. “This warm, amazing feeling would come over me whenever I would work on it,” she says. “I felt it was something to be protected and taken care of, to be held close to me until it was ready to be released.”
One of the things that originally fascinated Beverly about the Amish was their great sense of belonging. “Every child is absolutely adored and loved,” she says. “There’s a lot of cherishing going on, even when there are children who are born disabled or with special needs. They have a sense of community amidst the fragmented world we live in. Everyone has a group mentality, loving and caring and going to church. An example would be when the women work together canning. They don’t say, ‘Oh, we’re going to hurry up and get our work done so we can go play.’ Their work is play. And all their dear spiritual values and attitudes toward their tradition—a lot of them really are strong believers. Others are just embracing what they know, but they’re the most honest, kindhearted, generous people you will ever want to meet. We can learn a lot from them.”
Most authors dream of seeing just one of their books made into a movie, but Beverly has been blessed to have two turned into feature films. 2007’s Saving Sarah Cain was based on her novel The Redemption of Sarah Cain, but the filmmakers freely adapted many aspects of the story to better fit the big screen. Beverly understood this needed to be done and had the chance to approve everything.
When it came time for The Shunning movie to be made, she expected there would be many surprises in it too, but there weren’t. They stuck very closely to the novel because it read like a movie script in the minds of the filmmakers, which Beverly takes as a compliment.
“Michael Landon Jr. sent us the uncut edition,” she says. “I was trying to be open-minded and not love it too much. I tried to come at it like a typical viewer, but that’s kind of impossible to do because I’m so close to the story. I remember being so incredibly moved. ‘That’s my Katie!’ I said, so excited. I had to hold myself down when I wrote back with my comments. It was surreal. My husband has watched it ten times on Hallmark!”
Beverly’s new series, The Rose Trilogy, which concludes with The Mercy, again takes readers into the heart of Amish country with a storyline stemming from two separate ideas. “The concept of foster care among the Amish community intrigued me,” she says. “There are Amish families who have actually been able to adopt Englischers children and raise them in the Amish church and faith. Also, there aren’t many of them, but there are some young Amish women who have impulsively married outside their communities and regretted it, especially after having a child and then experiencing the push and pull of how to raise the child to mesh with their traditional, conservative upbringing when the father, their husband, is pushing for a worldly influence. These two storylines were really strong in me. I try to keep my plots nice and fresh. Just because I keep writing Amish settings doesn’t mean they’re going to be the same old, same old.”
When it comes to the actual process of writing, Beverly is thoroughly devoted. She admits to often working until she falls off the chair into bed. “I’m just crazy!” she says, laughing. “I start in the morning and edit everything that doesn’t look great in the light of day. In the afternoon I work on marketing, answering fan mail, Facebook, and even snail mail. Then in the evening or later afternoon I try to outline what I’m going to write next. I set aside about two and a half months to do my writing marathon. Then I have a week off. After that I go on tour for two weeks and come back to do revisions, take a little break, and then start again. I do this every six months.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever live to write all the stories I have,” she concludes. “Not all of them are Amish. I have to write what’s passionate for me. I never wrote for the market; I wrote my heart."