Q&A: Elizabeth Byler Younts (Promise to Cherish)
THIS NOVEL, PROMISE TO CHERISH, IS AN AMISH HISTORICAL SET IN 1946. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THAT TIME SPECIFICALLY?
Some of my earliest memories are hearing my Amish grandma’s stories while she sat in her hickory rocker. Every story was spoken with such clarity and passion in those early years. The celebrations and burdens in her life developed a steadfast and faithful woman with a loyalty and love for her family that I didn’t just want to learn from but wanted to share.
The Promise of Sunrise series was born out of my Amish grandma’s story SEASONS: A REAL STORY OF AN AMISH GIRL that was released in 2011. My voice in Amish history directly came from writing my grandma’s memories. I dug deeper and learned that over the course of World War II there were about 12,000 drafted conscientious objectors (C.O.s) working in Civilian Public Service (CPS) camps throughout the country but their experiences have nearly been forgotten. Hearing what the Amish dealt with during wartimes inspired me, and Eli and Christine’s story took shape. I can’t wait to bring this history to life for readers.
THE PLOT IN THIS BOOK IS ABOUT A GIRL WHO FINDS HERSELF WITH AN UNEXPECTED PREGNANCY AND ALSO FINDS SANCTUARY IN AN AMISH COMMUNITY. DID YOU FIND REAL STORIES FOR INSPIRATION MIRRORING THIS PLOT?
I was actually first inspired by one of those 12,000 C.O.s who served in the CPS—my grandpa “daudy” Freeman Coblentz. He worked in a labor camp and also in a mental institution. Growing up I was especially fascinated with his work as an orderly. In Promise to Cherish, Eli is sent to work as an orderly giving new life to so many forgotten memories of those who served our country in an alternative way. Christine also blossomed within my own family. I have a cousin who fell in love with a young woman outside of the Amish faith. Since I don’t want to give away the ending of the book, all I can really say is that their romance and life choices were a great inspiration to me in the writing of Promise to Cherish.
HOW WAS THE PROCESS DIFFERENT WRITING THIS NOVEL FROM YOU FIRST NOVEL, PROMISE TO RETURN?
I’d have to say that generally the process was the same. There’s a lot of brainstorming, research, plotting, and prayer.
What was different from my first novel was the theme. What I’d love for readers to take away from Promise to Cherish is that we all have value in God’s eyes. As a busy mom I know the pressure from society and ourselves. Many of these standards were different in the 1940s but I still found myself relating so much with my character Christine. When she fails to live up to social expectations she doubts her worth and must learn that her value lies in the eyes of God. I pray my readers will grasp this truth.
FOR SOME AUTHORS, STORIES LIVE WITH THEM FOR YEARS. WAS THIS A STORY THAT LIVED WITH YOU FOR A LONG TIME BEFORE YOU FINALLY WROTE IT?
The plot is rooted in my grandpa’s stories that have been with me since childhood. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how few people knew anything about this wartime history. Romance is universal and sharing amazing love stories through fiction has been living with me since I was a small child.
HOW DO YOU CONDUCT YOUR RESEARCH, ESPECIALLY FOR AN AMISH HISTORICAL NOVEL?
I’m fortunate to have been born into an Amish family. My parents left when I was a preschooler. From the beginning, however, they worked very hard to rub salve on the wound of their shunning by refusing to grow bitter over their circumstances. Through patience and prayer their broken relationships were rebuilt. I am thankful to have a very comfortable and easy relationship with my Amish family. My “mammie” (grandma) and I have talked for hours about Amish life in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. I absolutely treasure this unique understanding of the Amish as it has always been a wonderful part of my life. There was a great deal of research outside of the Amish also. I found several websites and books about the Civilian Public Service and the life as C.O. I was also able to connect with a nurse that worked at Hudson River State Hospital in the 1960s. I was grateful for her first-hand knowledge of the book’s institutional setting.