When you pick up a novel by Mindy Starns Clark, it’s likely you’re going to learn something new.
A prolific writer of textbooks, stage musicals and nonfiction books, even her mysteries are often built around ideas that require a lot of research—including household hints (her Smart Chick Mysteries series), non-profits organizations (Million Dollar Mysteries), and now with her latest novels, Amish country.
“I follow my curiosity when it comes to plotting,” she says, “putting into my stories elements that would make for a great tale and that I find fascinating and want to study further. That means that I always end up doing a ton of research for every book.”
However, she points out, one risk of the process is the possibility of biting off too much: For example, her complex plot for Shadows of Lancaster County required a full understanding of Amish life, genetics and DNA manipulation, and Napoleonic history. “Any one of which would’ve been a challenge,” Mindy admits, “but all three at once nearly killed me! I managed to do it, but not without plenty of all-nighters, not to mention a few new gray hairs.”
Her latest novel, Secrets of Harmony Grove (Harvest House), is a romantic mystery set in Amish country. Although set in the present day, it still required the author to learn all about World War II and the Holocaust for the backstory. “The genesis for Secrets of Harmony Grove actually came from my research about the Amish, both for Shadows of Lancaster County and for my nonfiction book A Pocket Guide to Amish Life. The more I learn about the Amish, the more I really respect and understand them.
“But one element of their faith I have trouble comprehending is their stance on nonviolence, especially as I read about Amish conscientious objectors during times of war. Certainly, I know Jesus’ words about turning the other cheek, but my question became, What if it’s not your cheek that needs turning? Are you supposed to remain nonviolent even when it’s someone else being persecuted?”
Her questions got her to thinking about the Holocaust—wondering how conscientious objectors justified not taking up arms against Hitler. “Suddenly, I had this image of an Amish man being present at the liberation of a concentration camp, seeing the horrors perpetrated there, and asking himself those same questions. The whole story grew up from that.”
The character she envisioned ended up being her protagonist’s grandfather, an Amish man who served as a WWII non-combatant army medic and helped care for the prisoners liberated from Buchenwald. “Though we never experience things through his eyes in the book, the impact of what he saw and how it changed him has had long-lasting effects through subsequent generations of his family. Even the hidden treasure in this story ties in with Nazi Germany. “It was one of the most emotionally-difficult research topics I’ve ever faced, but also one of the most rewarding stories I’ve ever written.”—Chris Well