Q&A: Kelly Irvin (The Beekeeper's Son)
As a Texas native, you chose to set this novel in a distinct part of the state. Can you tell us about your decision to do so?
First I have to clarify I’m not actually a native. I’m from Kansas, but I’ve lived in Texas most of my adult life so I call it home. In part, I chose to set The Beekeeper’s Son in Bee County because it’s home to the only Amish district in the state of Texas. But the bigger reason is because it lends itself so dramatically to the theme of this story, which is about how we perceive beauty.
Bee County is a flat, dry, hot land of mesquite and nopales (cactus). The ground is hard and growing crops without modern equipment is difficult. About twenty-five years ago, Truman Borntrager passed through Texas from his home in Tennessee headed to Mexico and decided to start a district in Bee County because “it’s so humid” in Tennessee. Most of the families now living in the tiny district are related. It’s a different environment than the beautiful, idyllic scenes you see in Lancaster County and farther north.
Folks who read Amish fiction may find this to be very different from what they’ve come to expect. They may ask themselves why the Bee County families don’t clean up more or paint their houses, and remove the junkyard next to the weathered Combination Store. Why do they choose to live thisway? I asked those questions myself when I began to write this series.
The first book in your new Amish of Bee County series is about one girl's quest to discover beauty. Where did you get the initial inspiration for this plot?
I had visited Bee County a few times, trying to decide if I wanted to pitch a series set in this locale. It would be different to set an Amish novel in Texas and that might appeal to publishing houses inundated with typical Amish settings, but how would readers react?
I was musing over this as I drove the two hours from San Antonio to Beeville when it occurred to me that I was judging this community by my own standards of beauty. Who was I to set the bar? They work hard, they’re self-sufficient, deeply faithful, and dedicated to family. They have their priorities straight. I, on the other hand, was guilty of comparing them, using standards that mean nothing to them. Which led me to think about how God created the world and then said, “it is good.” He loves each of us as we are. That’s not the message we receive from the world. Most of us don’t look like the models we see on TV or the actresses in the movies. We find fault with our looks because of it. God doesn’t. That thought process was the basis for The Beekeeper’s Son, the first book in the Amish of Bee County series.
Which came first, the series or a particular plot in the series?
In this case, the plot for the first book came first. I knew I would pitch it as a series so I then brainstormed stories for the two sisters of Deborah Lantz, my heroine in The Beekeeper’s Son, and wrote synopses as part of my proposal for the series. Once I get rolling with a group of characters, I rarely have trouble discovering their stories.
How many books are slated for this series?
Three. The second book, The Bishop’s Son, is slated for release in September 2015 and the third book will debut in July 2016.