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Author Talk: April 2012

Wanda E. Brunstetter’s new work of fiction, THE HALF-STITCHED AMISH QUILTING CLUB, introduces readers to an Amish widow who teaches quilting classes to an unlikely group of students. In this interview, Brunstetter talks about writing novels featuring Amish characters, explains how she began working as a puppeteer and ventriloquist, and shares details of the forthcoming musical based on the book.

Question: How did you come up with the idea for THE HALF-STITCHED AMISH QUILTING CLUB?

Wanda E. Brunstetter: The Blue Gate Theater company in Shipshewana, Indiana, contacted me about wanting to make one of my books into a musical. They wanted a new novel that was uniquely different. They gave me the premise --- an Amish widow who gives quilting lessons to a diverse group of “Englishers.” I found it challenging and very rewarding.

Q: How did you develop the characters?

WEB: I enjoyed gleaning knowledge from people I already know. As a pastor’s wife, I fell into creating Ruby Lee Williams easily. I have a relative who is a biker. If I didn’t know someone, I found someone to interview. I also rented some DVDs to give me ideas. It was really fun developing these characters.

Q: Would this kind of situation --- an Amish woman teaching six Englishers --- actually occur in an Amish community?

WEB: I don’t know that it has, but it certainly could.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from the story?

WEB: Despite our differences, many hands working together can create something meaningful. We can also learn some of life’s lessons from one another.

Q: When does Half-Stitched: The Musical premiere?

WEB: Half-Stitched: The Musical, to be performed at the Blue Gate Theater, Shipshewana, Indiana, premieres Aug. 24 and runs through Dec. 8. I’m looking forward to attending the premiere with my family.

Q: How did you get started writing about the Amish?

WEB: Although I had hundreds of stories, articles, and poems published previously, in 1997, Heartsong Presents published by first novel about the Amish. My husband, Richard, grew up in a Mennonite church, and his family has a Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. I also have an Anabaptist heritage. My great-great-great grandparents were part of the Dutch Quakers. When I met my Mennonite sisters-in-law, I became even more interested in the simpler life. In our travels, my husband and I have become close friends with many Amish people across America.

Q: How many books have you written about the Amish?

WEB: I’ve written nearly 50 books, which includes novels, children’s books, cookbooks, and devotionals, most of them with an Amish theme.

Q: In your research and speaking with the Amish, what challenges did you learn that they face?

WEB: I’d say their biggest challenge is the number of accidents they have. Due to automobile traffic, horse and buggies are not always safe on highways. There are many farming accidents, too, and children as young as 10 sometimes work in the fields or ride pony carts out on the roads.

Q: Do Amish see doctors?

WEB: Of course. They might try a natural approach to healing first, but they do see doctors. Because of the hard work they do farming, they visit chiropractors frequently, too.

Q: What do you think an Englisher can learn from the Amish in terms of simpler living?

WEB: My Amish friends seem to have a more relaxed attitude than most Englishers I know. When I’m with them, I feel more relaxed and patient, too. Try slowing your pace, and don’t be in a hurry to get everything done quickly. You’ll feel calmer and more relaxed.

Q: Tell us about your performances as a puppeteer and ventriloquist.

WEB: Several years ago, when my husband was a Sunday school superintendent, we had a puppet ministry. We received invitations to perform at church functions. Later, I saw a book titled YOU CAN BE A VENTRILOQUIST. I tried to convince my son to try it, but he wasn’t interested. I studied and practiced for several months until I could do it without moving my lips. Now, I take my puppet, who’s dressed in Amish clothes, to visit Amish schoolhouses. The kids just love it. Some have never seen a puppet or ventriloquist before.