Elizabeth Byler Younts may be new to the Amish fiction scene,
but with deep roots in the Amish culture and an ongoing relationship with many
relatives in the Amish community, writing Amish fiction is a perfect fit for
the stories she has been incubating since childhood.
THIS NOVEL, PROMISE TO CHERISH, IS AN AMISH HISTORICAL SET IN 1946. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THAT TIME SPECIFICALLY?
Some of my earliest memories are hearing my Amish grandma’s stories while she
sat in her hickory rocker. Every story was spoken with such clarity and passion
in those early years. The celebrations and burdens in her life developed a
steadfast and faithful woman with a loyalty and love for her family that I
didn’t just want to learn from but wanted to share.
The Promise of Sunrise series was born out of my Amish grandma’s story SEASONS:
A REAL STORY OF AN AMISH GIRL that was released in 2011. My voice in Amish
history directly came from writing my grandma’s memories. I dug deeper and
learned that over the course of World War II there were about 12,000 drafted
conscientious objectors (C.O.s) working in Civilian Public Service (CPS) camps
throughout the country but their experiences have nearly been forgotten.
Hearing what the Amish dealt with during wartimes inspired me, and Eli and
Christine’s story took shape. I can’t wait to bring this history to life for
THE PLOT IN THIS BOOK IS ABOUT A GIRL WHO FINDS HERSELF WITH AN UNEXPECTED PREGNANCY AND ALSO FINDS SANCTUARY IN AN AMISH COMMUNITY. DID YOU FIND REAL STORIES FOR INSPIRATION MIRRORING THIS PLOT?
I was actually first inspired by one of those 12,000 C.O.s who
served in the CPS—my grandpa “daudy” Freeman Coblentz. He worked in a labor
camp and also in a mental institution. Growing up I was especially fascinated
with his work as an orderly. In Promise to Cherish, Eli is sent to work as an
orderly giving new life to so many forgotten memories of those who served our
country in an alternative way. Christine also blossomed within my own family. I
have a cousin who fell in love with a young woman outside of the Amish faith.
Since I don’t want to give away the ending of the book, all I can really say is
that their romance and life choices were a great inspiration to me in the
writing of Promise to Cherish.
HOW WAS THE PROCESS DIFFERENT WRITING THIS NOVEL FROM YOU FIRST NOVEL, PROMISE TO RETURN?
I’d have to say that generally the process was the same. There’s
a lot of brainstorming, research, plotting, and prayer.
What was different from my first novel was the theme. What I’d
love for readers to take away from Promise to Cherish is that we all have value
in God’s eyes. As a busy mom I know the pressure from society and ourselves.
Many of these standards were different in the 1940s but I still found myself
relating so much with my character Christine. When she fails to live up to
social expectations she doubts her worth and must learn that her value lies in
the eyes of God. I pray my readers will grasp this truth.
FOR SOME AUTHORS, STORIES LIVE WITH THEM FOR YEARS. WAS THIS A STORY THAT LIVED WITH YOU FOR A LONG TIME BEFORE YOU FINALLY WROTE IT?
The plot is rooted in my grandpa’s stories that have been with
me since childhood. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how few
people knew anything about this wartime history. Romance is universal and
sharing amazing love stories through fiction has been living with me since I
was a small child.
HOW DO YOU CONDUCT YOUR RESEARCH, ESPECIALLY FOR AN AMISH HISTORICAL NOVEL?
I’m fortunate to have been born into an Amish family. My parents
left when I was a preschooler. From the beginning, however, they worked very
hard to rub salve on the wound of their shunning by refusing to grow bitter
over their circumstances. Through patience and prayer their broken
relationships were rebuilt. I am thankful to have a very comfortable and easy
relationship with my Amish family. My “mammie” (grandma) and I have talked for
hours about Amish life in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. I absolutely treasure this
unique understanding of the Amish as it has always been a wonderful part of my
life. There was a great deal of research outside of the Amish also. I found
several websites and books about the Civilian Public Service and the life as
C.O. I was also able to connect with a nurse that worked at Hudson River State
Hospital in the 1960s. I was grateful for her first-hand knowledge of the
book’s institutional setting.