It is an honor to welcome Jennifer Beckstrand to The Power of Words this week! Jennifer loves to write Amish fiction and is beginning a new series called "The Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill" with the book we are featuring today, Huckleberry Hill. She has also completed a series called "Forever After in Apple Lake," which you can learn more about here.
After reading Huckleberry Hill, I am so glad to have discovered Jennifer and her writing. (See my review here.) She has a great sense of humor that shines through in her writing (take note of her Ferris wheel story), and it has been a joy to get to know her through the interview process. Jennifer has graciously offered to share a copy of Huckleberry Hill with one of you; contest details are at the bottom of this post. Now sit back and enjoy your visit.
Q: Jennifer, share a little about yourself and your family. Do you write full time?
I grew up the second daughter in a family of six girls. My oldest sister introduced me to Jane Austen, and I’ve never looked back. I’ve been married for almost 30 years, and my husband is my biggest fan. He checks my sales numbers way more than I do. I have six children. My first four children are girls, and I thought I would follow in my mother’s footsteps until I had my two boys at the tail end. Once all my girls were out of the house, I had to come to peace with the fact that the long periods of silence in our house do not mean that my boys are mad at me or don’t love me. They just don’t say much.
I love music and theater. I often coax my family to sing together in church or other events. (For my youngest son, who hates being in front of people, this is a particular trial.) I have been known to organize and direct the neighborhood youth in productions of Shakespeare.
I write 10,000 words a week. Sometimes this takes part-time hours, sometimes full-time hours. I always take time off “work” to play with my two grandsons.
Q: What is writing to you?
Probably deep down at the core of writing for me is the absolute delight of creating two characters and helping them fall in love. I love the romance, and I love happy endings. I won’t read a book or watch a movie if the ending isn’t happy.
Q: What are three things that most people don't know about you?
I have a degree in mathematics. I do the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle every week. I once played one of the ugly stepsisters in “Cinderella.” It may or may not have been type casting. J
Q: I loved one of your recent blog posts where you wrote about an experience that truly frightened you. You've just got to share that with us, Jennifer!
LOL! If you only knew how many humiliating experiences there have been… I am one of those people who has absolutely no sense of adventure. None. I don’t like to travel. I hate to camp. I shun public restrooms, most especially toilets that don’t flush. I avoid getting into cars with teenage boys when they are driving (this is difficult when you have to teach them how to drive). I don’t like to try new foods, new hairstyles, or the new Alpine slide at the local ski resort. The thing I am the most terribly, horribly, irrationally afraid of is heights.
A few years ago, I made a dreadful error in judgment. I decided that it would be great fun to ride the Ferris wheel with my family at our local amusement park.
When you are on the ground looking up, the Ferris wheel doesn’t look so scary. It doesn’t go fast or sway dangerously side-to-side, and when it is the only ride the entire family wants to go on, your judgment gets cloudy.
By the time our spacious Ferris wheel car was twenty feet above solid ground, I started to panic. I wondered, quite justifiably, why by any stretch of the imagination I thought hanging a hundred feet in the air sounded fun. I grabbed the nearest bar for support and held on until my knuckles turned white and then blue. My family chuckled loudly, which only served to make me laugh hysterically and bawl in panic, both at the same time. The wheel made a full revolution, and as we passed the attendant, I yelled, “Can I get off?”
That very nice young man took pity on me and stopped the ride so I could disembark. Tears streamed down my face, and my children had the nerve to make fun of me. As I walked away, I heard the attendant ask my kids, “Is that your mom?”
“No,” came the reply.
My heartless children still mock me about that experience. I’m writing them all out of my will.
Q: Tell us about The Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill series and the inspiration behind it.
The Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill has been called “Amish romantic comedy.” The series is about a pair of Amish grandparents, Anna and Felty Helmuth, who are bent on helping their grandchildren find true love in their little community of Bonduel, Wisconsin. What could be more fun than throwing two young people together to see if sparks ignite? And who would ever suspect two elderly Amish folks of mischief?
I think the concept of Huckleberry Hill started with the idea of two irresistibly loveable grandparents, Anna and Felty, who only want what’s best for their grandchildren. They are a little like my own parents and are the embodiment of a married couple who have been through the ups and downs of life and still are very much in love.
Q: Today we are featuring book #1 of the series, Huckleberry Hill. Describe this story in 5 adjectives.
Endearing, funny, romantic, feel-good, romantic (yes, I said “romantic” twice. There’s kissing, and there’s a barn, and there’s kissing in a barn. What could be more romantic than that?)
Q: I don't imagine I was the only reader particularly drawn by the beautiful cover. Were you pleased with it, and were you at all involved in the process?
I LOVE my cover. My publisher always asks me what I think should be on the cover. Huckleberry Hill is exactly the cover I envisioned—only better.
Q: I thought one of your story's strengths was its rich characterization. Tell us about some of your favorite characters. What was it like to write about such an irritating character as Rachel?
Anna and Felty are definitely some of my favorite characters. I think they are the grandparents everybody wishes they had. One of my favorite lines describing Anna is, “Her blue eyes twinkled persistently, as if every day were Christmas.” She’s that kind of grandma, or mammi, as they say in Deitsch. Felty is a little bit like my dad. He just goes with the flow but isn’t afraid to set someone straight if they need it. Another favorite character is Sarah Beachy, the midwife. Sometimes her brutal honesty can seem abrasive, but in a tough situation, there’s no one you’d rather have in your corner. And of course, I think Moses and Lia are adorable.
I enjoyed writing Rachel, the girl everybody loves to hate. I tried to make her motivations as believable as possible so that she wasn’t just a caricature. I even felt a little sympathy for her at the end—but just a little.
Q: What are some aspects about Huckleberry Hill that you particularly enjoyed writing?
This was really a fun book to write. One of my favorite things was exploring the relationship between Anna and Felty. They’ve been married for over sixty years so they’ve learned what love really means. While they recognize each other’s faults and foibles, they would never hit each other over the head with them.
Anna’s cooking adventures were super fun to write. I’m not a very good cook, so I could really relate to Anna’s desire to cook something edible.
Q: Did you have a primary spiritual theme, and what do you hope readers will take away from this story?
One theme of Huckleberry Hill is gratitude. Felty and Anna experienced great tragedy in their lives, and they realized that the only way to get through it was to thank the Lord in all circumstances. When Lia, my heroine, looks for reasons to be grateful, her whole outlook changes.
Another idea I wanted to highlight is that even though we often look on outward appearance, God looks on our hearts. Lia has been told all her life that she’s not good enough. I love the moment when she finally realizes that she deserves to be loved.
Q: What's on the book horizon for you, Jennifer? Will we see any of these characters again?
Oh, yes. Anna and Felty have sixty-four grandchildren and ninety-six great-grandchildren. There are plenty of matches to be made! Huckleberry Summer, the next book in the series, sees Anna and Felty trying to match their reckless and rebellious grandson Aden with well-behaved, obedient Lily Eicher. But Lily’s stern dat might have something to say about that. In Huckleberry Christmas, due for October release, young widow Beth insists that she’ll never marry again. Anna and Felty try to convince her to give Tyler Yoder a chance.
Q: What are some ways we can support and encourage you, both personally and as an author, Jennifer?
How very nice of you to ask! You’re always welcome to come to my house and clean a toilet or mop my floor. J These days, those pesky little chores don’t get done very often.
Seriously though, if you sign up for my newsletter on my website, you will get updates on book releases, reviews, and giveaways. I love it when people like me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Once a month I host a blog with seven other Amish authors (on my website) where we tell hilarious stories about our lives and our writing.
And I love to hear from readers. I can’t tell you what an uplift it is to get a note from someone who enjoyed one of my books. People are so kind, and book readers are the best people out there.
Q: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?
Thanks for the chance to be on your blog, Carole. It’s been a blast.
Here are the links where you can find me:
To enter the Huckleberry Hill contest, simply leave a question or comment for Jennifer, along with your e-mail address in a safe format. And I'm always glad to have new followers on my blog and "likes" on my Facebook page, The Power of Words Reviews.
Contest ends at midnight on Saturday, May 3. Winner will be chosen by Random.org and announced on Monday, May 5. Due to postage costs, US and Canadian addresses only.