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Monday, December 05, 2016
Wanda E. Brunstetter

Wanda E. Brunstetter

Award-winning, bestselling author, Wanda E. Brunstetter became fascinated with the Amish way of life when she first visited her husband’s Mennonite relatives living in Pennsylvania. Wanda and her husband, Richard, live in Washington State but take every opportunity to visit Amish settlements throughout the States, where they have several Amish friends.
Wanda E. Brunstetter: Just Like Us

Wanda E. Brunstetter: Just Like Us

(May 2011)
By C. J. Darlington
Award-winning, best-selling author Wanda E. Brunstetter became fascinated with the Amish way of life when she first visited her husband's Mennonite relatives living in Pennsylvania. Her novels have since appeared on many bestseller lists, including the New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly, Evangelical Christian Publisher’s Association and more—last fall, she surpassed 5 million book sales. Her latest series, Kentucky Brothers, launched in April with The Journey.

As a little girl, Wanda Brunstetter always had a book in her hand. “I was either reading, or I was writing,” she says. “I grew up in a dysfunctional home, so it was great to pretend and take myself to other places. I immersed myself in books.”

Now she’s the one creating the stories, and readers can’t get enough of her best-selling Amish novels. In a way, she credits her tough upbringing with her desire to write about the simple life. “Because of what I went through as a kid, I have more empathy for people and their problems,” Wanda says. It’s also helped her to tap into the emotions of her characters. “Sometimes my writing moves me to tears. I can feel the pain of the character.”

But even though her childhood wasn’t stable, her mother did take her to church, and it was there Wanda found the Lord through a caring Sunday School teacher. “I was so desperately seeking something to hang onto,” Wanda says. “I was very open to the plan of salvation when she shared it with our class. I was young, six or seven, but it really hit home with me. It was exactly what I needed—a heavenly father that I could count on. Through my teen years I was active in our teen group. I kind of walked away from it a little bit during my older teen years trying to find myself, but never to the extremes some people do. I always knew God was right there with me. Thank God He was. “Some of what I went through I’ve brought out in a few of my novels,” Wanda says. “Those have been the most difficult books to write. When my husband and I got married, we both decided we were going to change the mold and do things differently for our children. Not that we were perfect parents, but we really tried. We put effort into making our kids have a normal life with stability. I wanted my kids to feel safe, to know when they came home that Mom and Dad would be there.”

It was actually her husband’s Mennonite relatives who first showed Wanda how beautiful the love of a family could be. “Four of his brothers married Mennonite girls,” Wanda adds. “I felt so different when I was with that part of his family. They gave me a sense of peace and belonging like I’d never had. It was their faith and the way they spoke to me and each other. There was just a peacefulness about their countenance. When I’m with our Amish friends, I come away feeling so blessed, like I’ve been ministered to because they have such a wonderful family unit. They care so much about each other. You can just feel it.”

This is something Wanda strives to weave into her stories. She believes people are hungry for change in their lives. “We’re all looking for some way to get back to the simple life, to family! For me, being with the Amish, I see them put God first and family second. So many of us Englishers have our priorities mixed up. We’re so caught up in the world and our goals and everything that’s expected of us. I think people have a deep desire to get back to the basics. The Amish are an example to us in that respect. Not that they’re perfect; they’d be the first to admit they’re not. Knowing the Amish as I know them, I understand their lives aren’t always slow either. They can be pretty busy going a hundred different directions, but they still have that peaceful way about them.”

Wanda has written novels that take place in several different Amish communities, but it was a visit to Kentucky that inspired her to write the Kentucky Brothers trilogy, which begins with The Journey. “We discovered that the Amish in the Hawkinsville area are actually implants from Lancaster County,” Wanda says. “We felt like we were in Lancaster because there were the same gray buggies, and the clothing was the same too. But this community is much smaller, and there aren’t a bunch of tourists and places selling Amish things. They’re a little more withdrawn. You have to really work at getting to know them. I think they want it that way. They’ve moved there for a reason, to pull away from being the center of attention. I felt I needed to set a story there. It’s beautiful country.

“I also have some Amish friends whose daughter recently moved from Indiana to an Amish community in Oklahoma due to her husband losing his job. I watched the impact her move had on the family. It kills them when their family leaves. I thought that would be a good topic to deal with: how do Amish parents deal with their kids leaving home? They feel like we do, only it hits them even harder because they are so close as a family.”

One of the main characters in The Journey is a young woman who’s taken up carpentry, a profession usually reserved for men, especially among the Amish. This at first seems unusual, but Wanda explains how it’s not as unusual as it might appear. “I’ve seen Amish women do things that surprise you,” she says. “One lady I know owns a store with her husband where they make and sell windows. She’s very active in the business. Amish women are becoming more independent in that they can have a business. They often run or oversee them.” And while the novels in the Kentucky Brothers trilogy do stand alone, they’re tied together by the fact that three brothers from Lancaster County end up moving to Kentucky for different reasons. The Journey follows Titus, an identical twin who feels he’s living in his brother’s shadow. He needs a fresh start, and going to Kentucky is his answer. “At least he thinks it is!” Wanda says with a smile.

Writing is most definitely Wanda’s passion, but just like her characters, sometimes she might surprise you. She’s written nine children’s books (with a brand new kids series coming out next year), has a historical novella coming out in a Christmas collection, and is a professional ventriloquist. Yes, that’s right. When she and her husband wanted to add something to their puppet ministry, her husband learned how to make twisty balloon animals and Wanda picked up a book and studied ventriloquism.

“I’ve always been interested in ventriloquism,” she says. “I practiced in front of a mirror and determined to do it without moving my lips.” She’s gotten so skilled she’s even taught classes and written articles on the subject. “The biggest key besides the art of not moving your lips is sound substitutions,” Wanda says. “There are certain letters in the English language you can’t say without moving your lips. You have to learn those substitutions and put your tongue in a certain spot in your mouth so they actually come out right. It was just a matter of practicing that over and over and over and finding the positions that worked best for me. All the kids were just in awe when I did it in an Amish schoolhouse. They thought I must have a tape recorder. I have two little puppets who are dressed up in Amish clothes too, and the kids love it!”

Wanda’s love for the Amish comes through in everything she says and writes, but there’s one thing she wishes the Amish would embrace from their English friends—electricity! “How am I going to curl my hair?” Wanda says, chuckling. “Charge my laptop and cell phone? I would like to see them take advantage of more modern things, and yet I know that if they do they might end up in the same whirlwind we’re in, where we can’t let go of them and they become idols.”

The Amish and their ways can often seem enigmatic to those of us on the outside, but through stories like Wanda’s we can begin to see the Amish as people just like us. Most importantly, Wanda wants us to realize they’re our brothers and sisters in Christ.

“Some people feel like the Amish aren’t Christian,” she says. “We get that misconception because they’re so different. To know the Amish as we know them, you would know they are definitely Christians. One of our Amish friends is a minister in the Amish church, and when he was asked if Amish is his religion, he said, ‘No. Amish is our way of life. Jesus Christ is our religion.’

“That sums it up perfectly. I’m not saying every Amish person is a born again believer any more than every person who attends a Protestant church is a born-again believer. But many of them are, and I don’t think people realize that. The Amish just don’t proclaim it to the world like we do. They feel their actions are an example to the world.”


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