The writing duo discuss their latest Christmas title—and how wide the divide between Amish sects.
New York Times best-selling author Cindy Woodsmall and her daughter-in-law, Erin Woodsmall, once again bring the warmth and joy of Christmastime to readers in their new co-authored novella, A Christmas Haven: An Amish Christmas Romance (WaterBrook). With 24 works of fiction and more than 1.5 million books sold, Cindy Woodsmall remains one of the most beloved authors of Amish fiction. As she has done for her previous works in this genre, she leans on her real-life connections with Amish Mennonite and Old Order Amish communities to infuse her writing with authenticity. In this interview, the two ladies tell us about the new book, explain how it follow the threads of the previous title, and reveal what inspired them to write about the distinctions between different Amish sects…
No spoilers, but what can you tell us about A Christmas Haven?
Erin: In the small, picturesque town of Raysburg, Pennsylvania, a young Amish woman, Ivy, is torn between staying true to the Old Ways and the family she loves or following her passion to plan all types of parties for the Englisch.
A young man, Arlan, from one of the strictest faiths in the United States—the Swartzentruber Amish—risks his family ties in order to get the proper medical help for his sister. All he wants is to get her well and return to the roots of his upbringing.
When Ivy’s world collides with Arlan’s, neither one understands the other, and yet when near each other, they aren’t able to hold on to who they thought they were no matter how firmly they stand for what they believe. Many loved ones—Ivy and her family, Arlan and his family—are at odds with one another.
Clearly, they need a Christmas miracle. Can Christmas in Raysburg open minds and hearts to the true meaning of love, respect, and acceptance?
This book follows The Christmas Remedy. How does it continue with those threads or characters?
Erin: Greene’s Pharmacy, with its medicinal help for the Amish and its beautiful Christmas decorations for the Englisch, is a part of both books. Holly, the main character in The Christmas Remedy, and Ivy, the main character in A Christmas Haven, are sisters.
In each book, despite being Amish, the sisters are blazing a trail to follow their heart’s desire…except Holly’s desires kept her in good standing with the church and her family, even though she went to college. Ivy’s desire to be a party planner wins no one’s favor.
Although the sisters are as different as night and day, in each book they need each other in ways that continually become clear as they navigate the challenges and sacrifices that come with romantic love.
One of the drivers of this book is the fact that not all Amish are the same. What inspired you to write about these differences?
Erin: When we were brainstorming story ideas, Cindy mentioned how different the Swartzentruber Amish sect was from the Old Order Amish. I thought it was fascinating that the gulf between the Swartzentruber and the Old Order Amish is wider than the gulf between Old Order Amish and the Englisch (non-Amish). The differences are pretty fascinating, and we wanted to bring those aspects out while writing this story.
Cindy: I always wanted to weave the Swartzentruber Amish into a story, but I had concerns as to how the execution of it would work. While Erin and I were at our favorite coffee shop brainstorming on A Christmas Haven, we came up with a thread that worked perfectly in this story.
Which characters surprised each of you the most as you were writing this book?
Cindy: Ivy surprised me the most. She’s spunky and incredibly kind and loving. She doesn’t seem to have any rebelliousness in her, but she’s very strong willed about what she wants. Despite adoring her beloved sister and widowed mom, she’s willing to leave them and the Amish to pursue the party planning business. Who does that?
Erin: Arlan surprised me the most. He was deep and interesting in ways I hadn’t expected, but he also had a long way to go to get him to accept a broader view of God and life outside of the Swartzentruber ways. He was raised to believe that he needed to keep the Old Testament laws and anyone who didn’t was outside of God’s will. Seeing him come to a place of understanding the beauty of God’s grace—that perfect, come-as-you-are, unconditional love that can’t be earned, only freely given—was surprisingly fulfilling.
What kind of research or background do you two bring to writing about the Amish?
Erin: Cindy is obviously the expert about all things Amish. She’s been going in and out of Amish homes since she was a child. She had an Amish-Mennonite best friend growing up, and she’s befriended several Old Order Amish women as an adult and taken many visits to Amish country.
Although I’ve gone with her to Amish country and met some of her Old Order Amish friends, my main contribution for this series was bringing a certain amount of “young person” (ha) insight as well as the experience of having worked in an independent pharmacy as a technician.
Cindy: It’s always fun to delve into the feelings and insights I first experienced as a child with my Amish-Mennonite friend and her family, and then I add that to what my Amish friends have shared with me as an adult—either through conversations or through vetting my novels prior to them going to print and giving feedback so I could fix what needed to be.
What are your favorite things about the Christmas holiday season?
Cindy: My favorite part is actually the internal journey I go on each Christmastime. My mind and heart return to when I was a young married woman and a new Christian. It seemed as if the only thing I possessed was my newfound hope. I felt poorly prepared for life in every possible way, but hope in Christ and in what Christmas stood for was incredibly powerful. Since then, each year Christmas feels like a beacon of absolute promise.
Erin: I could list a bunch—the coziness of hot chocolate by the fire, cutting and bringing home a fresh tree, and the amazing pine smell it brings to the house, the Christmas morning “magic” now seen through my children’s young eyes. But most of all I enjoy the reminder that God sent his Son to the most humble of places so that we might all experience His grace.
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For fans of holiday romances and Amish life comes a new Christmas tale of surprising expectations and discovering miracles.
Old Order Amish Ivy Zook is wrestling with her need to shed her community’s ways so she can grow the business of her dreams: planning parties. As long as she’s stuck living without modernization, she can barely get her business on its feet. But if she leaves too soon, she’d cause trouble for her sister, Holly, who is planning her wedding to Joshua Smucker. All of their plans become twice as complicated when an old car crashes into the storefront of Greene’s Pharmacy, carrying a Swartzentruber (ultra-conservative sect) Amish man, Arlan, and his very ill sister.
The Zooks take in Arlan and Madga, tending to the woman’s illness and Arlan begins helping around the family farm. Ivy and Arlan are on different tracks, one wanting to leave her community and the other to return to his. But both young people are trying to discover what God has in store for their futures and what miracles might lie around the corner this Christmas season.