Best-selling novelist Kelly Irvin writes romantic suspense novels. Her recent forays into this genre include Her Every Move and Closer Than She Knows, both set in San Antonio and South Texas. Publishers Weekly says of Closer Than She Knows, “this brisk, smoothly written thriller from Irvin pits court reporter Teagan O’Rourke, a murder mystery lover, against a cunning and vicious serial killer. Fans of serial killer fiction with a Christian slant will be satisfied.”
Kelly’s latest Amish romance series, Amish Blessings, takes place in Yoder and Haven, Kansas. The series takes a look at adoption in Amish communities. Let’s see what Kelly has to share about book number two in the series, The Warmth of Sunshine.
FF: What inspired the story in The Warmth of Sunshine?
As so often happens for me, The Warmth of Sunshine’s story grew from real life events. One of the ways I learn about Amish life is by subscribing to a newspaper called The Budget that includes articles written by “scribes” from Amish districts across the United States (and the world). Last year a scribe wrote about a young Amish couple that planned to adopt a baby. The baby’s birth mother changed her mind at the last minute. The couple was “going through a hard time,” according to the writer. This isn’t an uncommon story in our mainstream world, but it piqued my interest regarding how adoption is viewed in Amish communities. My research resulted in the Amish Blessings Series built around three different adoption stories, including the one featured in The Warmth of Sunshine.
FF: What can you tell us about the main characters in The Warmth of Sunshine?
Abigail Bontrager has a loving family, a good job that serves its purpose until she marries, and a beau who’s kindhearted and loving. Which is why she can’t understand why she doesn’t seem to fit in. She’s been accident prone her entire life. She’s clumsy. She burns the cookies. Her stitches are crooked. She worries about what kind of mother and wife she’ll be. Why does it seem so much easier for her friends? The harder she tries, the more nervous she gets, which leads to more accidents. Despite these daily hurdles, her faith is strong, and she knows she’s truly loved by her family and friends. Then she discovers she’s not who she thought she was and everything changes.
Owen Kurtz has known Abigail his whole life. Their friendship has deepened recently into a courtship that he hopes will lead to a lifetime spent together. Owen has had his own challenges. His mother died unexpectedly when he was sixteen. He works for his father constructing prefabricated structures, but what he really wants is to farm. He loves working with the earth. He’s a dreamer, but he also has a solid plan for a business of his own growing sunflowers for commercial use. A strong sense of family obligation makes it difficult to move forward with his plan—no matter how much he wants it.
Abigail returns home from work one day to find a woman in her family’s living room who claims to be her biological mother. Her parents never told her she was adopted. The revelation turns Abigail and Owen’s lives upside down and puts the future of their relationship in jeopardy.
FF: Which character surprised you the most?
Definitely Owen! I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer (I don’t outline or do character sketches) so I often get to know my characters in the same way readers do. As the story develops and new hurdles appear, I flesh out how my characters react and why. Their backstory is revealed to me as I write. I knew Owen had a good heart and he cared deeply for Abigail, but I wasn’t sure how he would react to her decision to explore a relationship with her English (non-Amish) family.
Owen has experienced loss. His heart is more fragile than he realizes. I wondered if he would choose to protect his heart and take a step back from the quagmire created by the sudden appearance of Abigail’s birth mother or stand firm. In some ways his journey is as difficult as Abigail’s. I love that he’s a dreamer who seeks a practical way to make those dreams come true while still honoring his commitment to his family. He’s a complex character—my favorite kind.
FF: Why do you think storytelling is such a powerful way to share truth?
A love of stories seems to be part of the human DNA. From the time we’re small children we love to hear stories. Jesus told stories to teach his followers, and we still read and learn from those stories today. Stories entertain us. It’s like the spoonful of sugar that “makes the medicine go down,” that Mary Poppins sang about. My first job as an author is to entertain my reader. No one likes to have the moral of the story shoved down their throat. If my readers turn to the last page of the story, close the book, and continue to think about the truth learned by the hero and heroine, I’m thrilled. If they think about how they might have reacted in a similar situation, even better. How does the truth apply in their lives? That’s the power of story.
FF: What can you tell us about your next book?
The third and final book in this series is entitled Every Good Gift, which will debut in February 2023. Of the three books in the Amish Blessings Series, Every Good Gift ranks as the most difficult story for me to write. Maisy Glick, a young Amish girl, finds herself in a family way after a tumultuous rumspringa that includes dating an English high school boy. Amish communities base their response to such a situation on biblical principles, unlike today’s modern world view. Maisy faces the consequences of her actions as an unwed, unbaptized eighteen-year-old who engaged in a relationship with an outsider. Scripture tells her every baby is a gift from God. How she chooses to receive and care for that gift results in a difficult, painful journey toward becoming the woman God expects her to be. She learns the truth of the Scripture that says God works for our good in all things. It’s an emotional story of redemption and one that I can’t wait to share with readers.
FF: How do you get in the right frame of mind to write for your genre/audience?
When I’m in the throes of writing my story, I’m not sure I’m writing for my genre or audience. I’m inside my character’s head, seeing the world from her vantage point. I have to set aside who I am, Kelly Irvin, 64-year-old grandmother, former journalist, former public relations professional, cancer patient, Christian, disabled, married, etc. I have to slide into the character’s life, her backstory, her experiences, her flaws, her hopes and dreams. With Amish romances that means carefully adhering to the Amish world view, including restrictions that modern mainstream women—even Christian women—might chafe at. Telling the story within those confines can be difficult, but it’s necessary to be respectful and honor their way of living their Christian faith.
FF: What do you want readers to take away after reading The Warmth of Sunshine?
God meets us where we are in all our flaws. We can’t become who we are really meant to be without his help, and it happens on his time, not ours. We’re his family. Our earthly families are the people who love us, care for us, and accept us for who we are. This doesn’t always have to do with biology, but rather a choice to love.
FF: What are the biggest challenges for you as an author writing in your specific genre?
That’s such an interesting question. I also write romantic suspense and I’m branching out to women’s fiction as well, so there’s definitely a shift in my frame of mind, knowing how different the audiences are (there’s definitely overlap, however).
All my stories involve strong female characters who have powerful stories to tell. However, the heroines are very different culturally.
With Amish romances, I’m careful to narrow my focus to encompass the Amish world view. The Amish end their formal education in eighth grade and follow it with what could be described as vocational training. Their choices of occupations are limited to those not requiring additional education. The women may work outside the home cleaning houses, in Amish-owned businesses, or teaching, until they marry. Their lives revolve around faith, family, and community. That said, they’re still smart, they still dream, they’re still creative, thoughtful, flawed, and rebellious. Writing their stories means embracing their world view without letting my own biases influence certain situations. Often the women are much younger than I am because the Amish marry young (and these are romances, after all).
With romantic suspense I’m able to bring all the cultural references and influences of the mainstream world. But, again, the women are much younger than I am (I’m a grandma, lol). They’re millennials so I must respond to situations the way a 27- or 28-year-old single woman, usually a professional, would. It’s about getting into the mindset or point of view of my characters and staying there even though it’s different from my own point-of-view.
FF: What authors or books have inspired you as an author?
Oh, my goodness. So many over the years. But I love to share the story of how I first found inspirational fiction—at my public library. I checked out The Healer, from Dee Henderson’s O’Malley romantic suspense novel series, along with Cape Refuge by Terri Blackstock. I had no idea they were faith-based. After reading them I knew these were the kinds of stories I wanted to write. I was 45 years old, had a full-time job, and two kids in middle school, but I carved out the time to write my first novel. It took seven years to get published, but here I am 14 years later with more than 30 published novels and numerous novellas.
FF: How has your faith or world view impacted the way you tell stories?
My faith has been seriously tested during a long season in which I’ve lost my mobility to a motor neuron disorder and my health to Stage IV ovarian cancer. Learning to cling to my faith when darkness seems to fill every nook and cranny has had a tremendous impact on what stories I tell and how.
I went through a rebellious time of shaking my fist at the sky, so I understand and empathize with readers who can’t relate to stories in which everything works out in the end–the “God’s Got This” theme. Yes, God has this, but we don’t always get the answer to the prayer we want. There’s not always a happily-ever-after. God has a plan, and we can cling to his mercy and grace, knowing He will walk through our trials with us.
Hebrews 12:1-3 tells us “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” I’m determined to run that race in all my weakness so that I may receive that “Well done, good and faithful servant” someday. My stories aren’t always easy to read, but they always reflect the hope we have in Jesus.
The Warmth of Sunshine
Amish Blessings Series #2
Genres: Romance, Amish Romance
Release Date: July 5, 2022
Abigail’s Amish life has always followed a certain path . . . until an Englisch woman disrupts all she’s known to be true.
Growing up Amish, Abigail Bontrager often felt like a square peg in a round hole. Her pie crusts always turned out tough. Her stitches always ran crooked. She was clumsy. Not ideal for an aspiring Amish wife and mother, but her faith and love of her family, which are so much more important, are solid. Plus, her relationship with the attractive and kindhearted Owen Kurtz is moving in the right direction.
Owen is part dreamer, part entrepreneur. His friendship with Abigail has gradually blossomed into a sweet and loving courtship. Inspired by the hope of a future with the girl of his dreams, he decides to take the next step in building a business of his own—in the promising new industry of growing sunflowers.
When an outsider claiming to be Abigail’s birth mother abruptly enters her life, Abigail’s world comes crashing down. Confused and upset, she is determined to discover who she really is. Her journey of discovery leads to the possibilities of a new life waiting for her in the Englisch world. But is this new life really worth giving up everything and everyone she’s known? How can Abigail and Owen follow their hearts—and God’s plan—when these new paths now lead them into the unknown?
In this second book in the Amish Blessings series, bestselling and award-winning romance novelist Kelly Irvin shares an inspiring story of following your heart while trusting God to lead you into your future.
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