Dan Walsh: Sounding Deepest Waters

Dan Walsh's colleagues in pastoral ministry—who steeped themselves in theological and scholarly works—were amazed at his love for reading and writing fiction and poetry.

"I'm a writer who became a pastor; back in 11th grade I got bit by the bug," says Walsh, who dedicated his first book, The Gift, to Mrs. Connie Longnecker, his high school English teacher.

So after a 25-year pastorate at a church in Florida, Walsh is returning to a love of writing he developed when Mrs. Longnecker took him aside and inspired him.

As a pastor, he wrote 6,000–8,000 words a week for his sermons, so he had plenty of practice before 2010, when he stepped down as a full-time pastor and became a full-time writer. "My blood pressure is doing much better as a writer. Writing has been really a relaxing thing for me, very calming," Walsh says.

His church was not calm watching Walsh's young replacement take the pulpit, but, says Walsh, "half the church love fiction," so the congregants were excited that their former pastor would publish three books with Revell. He recently signed a deal for three more.

The Unfinished Gift (2009) and The Homecoming (2010) were both set during WWII, but The Deepest Waters is set in the 19th century. "The first two are more like Hallmark movies, but Deepest Waters is more like Masterpiece Theatre," Walsh says.

Walsh got the idea for The Deepest Waters (reviewed in this issue) while watching the History Channel, where he saw a story about divers finding the SS Central America, which sank off the shores of North Carolina in 1857. The paddle-wheel steamship was full of gold. In his research he learned of a honeymooning couple who were separated after a hurricane capsized the ship, but little else was known of them. Walsh was inspired to write a "what if" tale about the couple and a miraculous rescue of some of the survivors.

With The Deepest Waters, Walsh establishes himself as the writer he started out to be before taking a 25-year detour into ministry: a writer of character-driven historical fiction, crafted by a man who's been telling stories to a live audience for a quarter of a century. —Greg Taylor

Dale Cramer: Asking The Right Questions

Dale Cramer doesn't want to be typecast as a writer of Amish fiction. He's written three stand-alone novels without Amish themes or characters, along with Levi's Will (Bethany House, 2009), which is loosely based on his father's story of leaving the Amish community. "I write whatever story seems to demand my attention at the time," says Cramer, who lives just south of Atlanta.

Yet family history grabbed his attention once again, so it's back to Amish tales for Cramer. Paradise Valley (Bethany House, Jan.), the first in the Daughters of Caleb Bender series, taps into his father's past one more time.

"I was casting about looking for a new topic and asked my father why he was born in Mexico," says Cramer. "He told me a story about what amounted to religious persecution in Ohio before he was born."

The Bing Act, passed in Ohio in 1921, required children ages six–18 to attend school. The Amish believed otherwise, which prompted legal action against them. A number of Amish decided to set up a colony in Mexico to avoid the forced schooling of their children.

This colony, in Paradise Valley, Mexico, is the setting for Cramer's novel. Caleb Bender and others purchase land in a country just coming out of the Mexican revolution. Their journey is arduous and the land is filled with bandits, but the Benders persist in their efforts to build a new home.

Cramer adds a fair share of romance for several of the Bender daughters, though he doesn't categorize the book as a romance. Instead, he calls it a generational prequel to Levi's Will (Levi Mullet marries Emma Bender) and a novel that considers issues of church and state.

"A lot of writers shy away from conflicts such as those of church and state, as well as how the Amish as pacifists have to defend themselves against bandits, but all of that makes great fodder for a book, and that's what I like to explore," he says.

Cramer found scant information about the Amish settlement; he researched the geography and history of Mexico at the time, then created the tale of the Bender family based on how it might have been. "The setting and times are as accurate as I could make them, but a lot of what happens is pure invention," Cramer says.

Paradise Valley is the first in a three-book series—the others will release in late 2011 and 2012—and Cramer is using his online presence (dalecramer
.com) to build his fan base.

"I believe fiction is more of a parable, a story that asks readers a question they can answer," he says. "I don't necessarily want to provide answers, but I want to ask the questions." —Ann Byle

Jane Kirkpatrick: Life And Fiction Are Messy Business

To read a Jane Kirkpatrick novel is to enter a world of complex and flawed characters, people like the ones you know. Kirkpatrick—a former social worker, wife to Jerry for 25 years, stepmother to two adult children, and grandmother of five—has lots of hard-won experience with the messy business of living. And she knows how to place her multifaceted characters in stories that continue to engage readers.

Kirkpatrick began writing after she and Jerry moved in 1984 from Bend, Ore., to a hardscrabble 160-acre property in the eastern part of the state known as Starvation Point. It was seven miles from the house to their mailbox and 11 miles to paved roads. The long "driveway" skirted heart-pounding drop-offs and wound through land inhabited by rattlesnakes, sagebrush, and quiet. Kirkpatrick's first book, Homestead (Word, 1991; WaterBrook, 2005), narrated the heartbreaks and joys of this experience—fires, farming failures, family member addictions and tragedies, faith in God, and her discovery of a vocation to write.

More than 26 years and 19 books later, Kirkpatrick's writing has earned acclaim, including the Wrangler Award from the Western Heritage Center and National Cowboy Hall of Fame. Her books have been finalists for the Christy Award, Spur Award, Oregon Book Award, WILLA Literary Award, and Reader's Choice awards.

More novels are on the way. Kirkpatrick is a contributor to the forthcoming collection A Log Cabin Christmas (Barbour, Sept.) and is a contributing author to The Midwife's Legacy, a collection of four novellas (Barbour, Mar. 2012). Her first book for Zondervan—and her first contemporary novel—Barcelona Calling, releases in September. Kirkpatrick also has contracted for three historical novels with WaterBrook; the first is The Daughter's Walk (Apr.; reviewed in this issue). Set in 1896 and based on a true story, it tells of a mother and daughter, in danger of losing their family farm, who are promised a cash prize if they can walk across the continental United States in an allotted time period. As the story unfolds, Kirkpatrick explores family secrets, loss, choices, and forgiveness.

"Life is messy," Kirkpatrick says. "Finding peace and love and grace within is inspiring, and offers readers ways of looking at their lives with new eyes." She adds, "I try to give readers things to breathe in—through landscape, relationships, spirituality, and work—even if the story doesn't always have the ‘met my prince' ending. My stories may not always have happy endings, but they have hopeful ones."

Although Kirkpatrick and her husband still own the ranch at Starvation Point, they recently moved back to Bend. Life there is less complex, at least in one respect: "The postman actually rings the bell and delivers packages instead of our having to drive seven miles to the mailbox." —Cindy Crosby

Joyce Magnin: Putting On The Curlicue

Joyce Magnin grew up attending a quirky church in Drexel Hill, Pa. She remembers the hellfire and brimstone sermons and the politics at potluck dinners. Whether it was the church or her humorous parents or her own offbeat nature, Magnin says this environment contributed to her writing style. Writing "quirk" has helped her make sense of a strange childhood.

After writing two books about characters in the fictional town of Bright's Pond (including The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow, Abingdon Press, 2009), Magnin is publishing her third work in the series, Griselda Takes Flight (Abingdon, Apr.; reviewed in this issue). Magnin says the townspeople are exaggerated versions of the people she grew up with. She also credits the influence of Norman Rockwell's art. Rockwell exaggerated everyday events like trips to the doctor—the people looked taller, their fingers longer, she notes. "It speaks to things that are true but over the top, with a curlicue on it," she says.

When she teaches writing workshops, Magnin tells students that a distinctive voice and story are more important than some moral theme, and clearly she has taken her own advice. She knows her fictional town as though it truly exists (a map of Bright's Pond is on her Web site). Not only does she "live and breathe Bright's Pond," Magnin says, but she also has taken the time to research her characters' activities. For the new book, in which the main character takes flying lessons, Magnin contacted a friend to learn about small aircraft. To depict the town's pumpkin contest, she researched hybrid pumpkin seeds developed in the 1970s.

Magnin says she wants readers to identify with the characters, with their struggles and triumphs. "Maybe at some point one of the things that my characters are going through might relate to something someone in a book club is going through, and the people in the book club will help her along," she says. "It's not about reading in isolation but reading for community." Magnin has visited the book clubs of some of her readers and hopes to continue that as readers explore her latest book.

The quirk will also continue. Magnin's fourth Bright's Pond novel (Blame It on the Mistletoe) is slated for release in September 2011, with three more Bright's Pond novels to follow. She also recently signed a deal with Zondervan to write a novel about a woman who travels cross-country using every form of transportation except buses and airplanes. —Jackie Walker