Cindy Woodsmall is a New York Times and CBA bestselling author of twenty-five works of fiction and one nonfiction book. Coverage of Cindy’s writing has been featured on ABC Nightline and the front page of the Wall Street Journal. She lives in the foothills of the north Georgia mountains with her husband, just a short distance from two of her three sons and her six grandchildren.
Erin Woodsmall is a writer, musician, wife, and mom of four. She has edited, brainstormed, and researched books with Cindy for almost a decade. More recently she and Cindy have coauthored five books, one of which was a winner of the prestigious Christy Award.
In this interview they both talk with us about their latest book, Yesterday’s Gone.
FF: What inspired you to write Yesterday’s Gone?
Erin experienced the same kind of loss as our beloved character Eliza in Yesterday’s Gone. When we experience a hard loss, our root system to God, to ourselves, to close family members, to friends often sustains trauma. When roots sustain trauma, our family tree may or may not survive it. I thought our family was incredibly strong, but at one point in the grieving process, I wasn’t sure we’d make it out whole. Why? How on earth is that even possible? It didn’t make logical sense. Through a fictional story, Erin and I dared to explore the strengths and fragilities of our closest relationships.
FF: How do you expect the novel to resonate with your audience? What are you most excited for your readers to experience through this story?
I think that like us, they’ll cry, laugh, be encouraged, and feel the joy of surprise. Our readers are very much rooted in using a portion of their time regularly to add to their whole being, and I think this story can be a fulfilling part of that journey. What are you most excited for your readers to experience through reading this story? I have to make a confession. I’ve spent entirely too much of my life longing to go back and make different decisions. Some of that kind of thinking can give us perspective, but too much of it is us using our limited energy and valuable time on beating a dead horse or crying over spilled milk. How do we learn to forgive ourselves and accept life for what it is? I’m most excited that while readers are enjoying the journey in Yesterday’s Gone, they will soak in new ways of viewing acceptance, new ways of using their energy on what can be changed.
FF: Please describe your writing process.
I like to spend a lot of time, often years, to mull over a story idea, nurturing it from a tiny seed to a grove of trees. That process stirs my creative soul and my excitement builds until I’m ready to give that story my all. Erin and I talked of this story idea for five years before we began to write it. Still, we only outline the first five to seven chapters so creativity has the final say in where the story takes us. When those chapters are written and we’ve honed them well, then we do the same for the next five to seven chapters. We repeat that process until the end of the book. We don’t decide up front who is writing what chapters or characters. We listen to our hearts.
FF: What role does faith play in this story?
Faith is everything, and it plays a huge role, even when the struggle for a character is a lack of faith or anger with the seeming results of their faith. A huge question in life is Where is a person’s faith? Is it in themselves? In their loved ones? In God? In the medical field? In a system (school, political, religion)? If we’re honest with ourselves, faith is usually found in a combination of those things. But if our faith gets unbalanced, we can end up walking by opinion rather than walking by faith.
FF: What lessons or truths do you hope people take away from Yesterday’s Gone?
In certain difficult circumstances, we can’t stop grief and pain, and if we try too hard to change what is, we simply end up doling out the pain differently rather than erasing it.
FF: Can you give us a sneak peek into the main characters in the novel, Eliza Bontrager and Jesse Ebersol?
Eliza is a powerhouse of energy and skill, but she can’t see it. She sees her place as an Amish woman, and her overwhelming desire is to please her husband, to give him his dream life. Jesse Ebersol is also a powerhouse of energy and skill, and his dream is to break the poverty of his people in the Appalachian Mountains. He sees Eliza’s worth. She doesn’t. Loss hits them, and the tug-of-war is on!
FF: Who was your favorite character to develop in the story?
Cindy: My favorite character was often Jesse. I love how he navigated the hardships made worse by the one who loves him most.
Erin: My favorite to write was often Ruth, the main character’s younger sister. She’s a freethinker, but she also minds the Old Ways. She sees threads others don’t, and she’s willing to pluck at them. In doing so she unravels all sorts of mysteries.
FF: As authors, what did you particularly enjoy about writing this story? What was hard about writing it?
My greatest joy was taking a step back from our personal experiences with this topic and in so doing, seeing how life events have a life all their own, ones we often miss when we’re in the throes of a storm. The hardest aspect was something readers won’t see and that’s the copious notes and the zigzag mess of keeping the chapter-by-chapter timeline accurate no matter what time the characters were in.
FF: You’ve said that Yesterday’s Gone addresses underlying themes of grief, miscarriage and infant loss, and alcoholism. Why was it important to address these topics within the pages of this book?
These sensitive issues—grief, miscarriage, and infant loss—became a part of our personal stories. As storywriters, we long to explore thoughts and emotions deeper. When a tragedy strikes, the human mind is likely to constantly ask, “What if?” This story was our way to explore that. One of the hidden facets of life is that we can’t undo the pain without also undoing good. Writing this book crystalized this message for us.
Regarding alcoholism, even though it hasn’t been a personal struggle, it’s a very common struggle that many families face. We wanted to explore this and show how it’s possible to rebuild sibling relationships in a healthy way with safe boundaries in place. Cindy did some great research with AA and the ways that they work with families in similar situations.
FF: You say it took time and healing to be able to tell this story. Can you explain why?
Because the loss—a daughter for Erin and a granddaughter for me—was so personal and difficult, it took a few years before we were able to talk about it without getting emotional, much less to be able to deal with these topics in fiction. But even when the loss wasn’t fresh, we could see the connections between reality and fiction. We write Amish and us having a one-in-a- million genetic disease that’s a slight variation of one that’s common to the Amish community hit a deep place in our hearts.
FF: What is one thing you learned about yourselves through writing this book?
During the deep spiritual dive that writing this book required, we had to face and answer some difficult questions. For example, regarding self-esteem: What determines a person’s worth? The answer that we thought we knew grew new and deeper roots: We’re all worthy only by the grace of God and we’re all equal despite our circumstances, which can include genetics, income level, place of birth, color of skin, and more. We learned new and deeper ways to own the pain without the pain owning us.
FF: What will fans of your writing find surprising about this story?
We explore the concept of chaos theory, which is the study of how when you’re dealing with a complex system, small alterations can give rise to strikingly great consequences. We explore this concept using a familiar framing device: one similar to the classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life. Eliza feels like Jesse would be better without her, but she can’t grasp all the vast consequences of what feels like should be a small change.
We also feel they’ll be pleasantly surprised by the budding romance between Eliza’s sister Ruth and her boyfriend, Andrew. It’s a journey with numerous twists and enjoyable outcomes.
Cindy Woodsmall, Erin Woodsmall
Genres: Amish, Historical, Historical Romance
Release Date: August 30, 2022
Eliza holds a secret that can rewrite the past.
Eliza Bontrager and Jesse Ebersol have fallen in love and are determined to marry, despite the belief of their Amish community and respective families that there’s a hidden curse—one that only shows up when an Ebersol and Bontrager marry.
Before the ceremony on the day of the wedding, Eliza’s great-aunt Rose gives her a family heirloom quilt and tells her that she may use it to change one event in the past. Eliza appreciates the woman’s heart, but she dismisses the strange conversation while keeping the beautiful quilt.
Several years later, mourning the loss of their third child, Eliza discovers her inability to deliver a healthy baby is genetic. Remembering her great-aunt’s strange words, she decides that if she can go back in time and reject Jesse’s proposal, she can save him the heartache of a childless marriage. Her sacrifice will allow him to marry someone else and raise a family. But once she puts her plan into action, she discovers the true impact of her decision—on Jesse and so many others within their community.
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