Q&A: Kim Vogel Sawyer
For Courting Miss Amsel, the author draws on her experiences as a former school teacher to bring to life the ambitions of Edythe Amsel, a young woman hired to teach in a one-room schoolhouse in a small 1880s Nebraska town. Edythe wants to instruct and expand her students’ minds in the best ways possible, but will her efforts to succeed at all costs be more than the quiet town can handle and less than the best God has for her?
What led you to write Courting Miss Amsel?
As a former teacher, I thought it would be fun to feature a schoolmarm as a main character. Edythe Amsel came to life quickly, and her desire to succeed at all costs opened up an interesting spiritual thread.
How did you develop the story of Courting Miss Amsel?
Since I am an SOTP (seat of the pants) writer, I don’t really plot—I create characters and let them tell the story. While researching the time period in which the story is set, I came across the information that Susan B. Anthony visited Grand Forks, Nebraska, to encourage the state to allow women to vote. Had she succeeded, Nebraska would have been the first state in the U.S. to give this privilege to women. That little nugget from history sent Edythe running in a direction I hadn’t originally conceived, but it worked well for the overall storyline.
Did the book involve special research?
I did quite a bit of research on common teaching practices at the time and teacher responsibilities (which made me glad I didn’t teach in the 1880s!). I also researched the women’s rights movement and farming practices in Nebraska. Surprisingly, each state had their own “way” of growing crops.
The theme that emerged is the importance of placing our trust in God’s strength rather than relying on our own. The Bible tells us His strength is made perfect in our weakness, but Edythe has a difficult time grasping this concept. Although I expected Edythe to be very strong-willed and ahead of the times in her thinking, I didn’t pre-plan her spiritual change. I love it when the characters take on that life of their own and pull me along with them.
Almost every author puts a little of themselves into their stories—what did you put of yourself into this one?
Edythe is a schoolteacher determined to meet the needs of her students. When I taught, that was always my goal—to help each child meet his/her full potential. I also have a tendency toward German stubbornness, and I certainly saw that in Edythe! The character Luthenia is based on a good friend of mine who is crusty on the outside but has a heart of gold. I believe, although she was a secondary character, she added a great deal to the story.
When we try to stand on our own, we’re certain to fall; when we stand on God and His promises, we will stand firm.