Author Linda Byler continues her Great Depression-era Dakota series with Hope on the Plains (Good Books). After Hannah’s family settles into a new town, a terrible drought and windmill fire devastate the community. Hannah faces some difficult questions—including whether her new suitor deserves her trust. In this Q&A, Linda talks about the challenges of writing about the Amish, the flaws her characters wrestle with, and what she hopes to convey to her readers.
What were your goals in writing Hope on the Plains?
I tried to portray the natural disasters that struck frequently on the prairie. Hannah’s reaction to the challenges brought on by the disasters was quite different than her mother’s, in most cases. I wanted Hannah to be an Amish heroine who is less than perfect.
How do you approach writing about the Plain people in a way that is accurate to that way of life?
Being Old Order Amish myself definitely helps. I have lived for almost 60 years among the Amish, so can probably write more honestly than anyone else about our daily lives. In the end, we’re all just people, so I like to think I can keep it real, and not hold my characters to ridiculously high standards that are basically untrue.
What can you tell us about the main characters?
Hannah is a girl who has been affected deeply by the sins of her father, who harbors a sense of shame about the financial failure in Lancaster County. She is rebellious to a fault. Mose and Sarah are devout Amish parents, true to their upbringing, but Mose’s leadership is questionable, as is Sarah’s blind submission. Mose gets his faith mixed up with determination and sheer force of will.
What was most challenging?
Staying true to the boundaries of Amish writing. I often curbed what could have been more descriptive, especially between Hannah and the Jenkins boys and their way of life.
What can readers take away from the story?
The reality of Amish characters being flawed, even in the thirties. The chance to encounter an Amish heroine who is prickly, outspoken, certainly unconventional. Yet I hoped to convey the deep sense of belonging to a culture that is cherished.