Genre-bending novel The Alliance (Tyndale House) is a dystopian novel set in an Old Order Mennonite community. When an apocalyptic event leaves the Englischers without electricity or technology, the Pacifist community must forge an alliance with a handful of stranded Englischers to protect not only the food but their very lives. In this Q&A, author Jolina Petersheim explains how her own Mennonite heritage led to a dystopian story, her own struggles with pacifism, and how her faith informs her storytelling…

The Alliance is a unique take on the standard apocalyptic novel. How did you come up with this?

Petersheim-Alliance-300-450I guess you could say I had a slightly different childhood. When I was six and my brother ten, our family stood in a field on the camp where my parents were caretakers, and my parents told us that this was where we would meet if we were separated when the world “blew up.” From this field, our family would travel by foot to our friends’ elaborate, fairytale home and live in the blue room hidden behind their bookshelves.

My parents in no way meant to instill fear in us. Now that I’m a parent, I see that they were trying to assuage their own fears by coming up with a disaster-recovery plan. But I was born with an overactive imagination, and therefore this plan planted in me the seed of fear–and, subsequently, a driving need to control my environment.

Would you say you were from a very apocalyptically-minded family?

Very. This mindset is generational, it seems, for my grandfather—who grew up in immense poverty during the Great Depression—was very “end of the world” as well. I breathed fear all my life and am only now, at twenty-nine, learning to live by faith. This story is an extension of my own personal journey.

Can you tell us a little more about this journey?

Of course. When my eldest was six months old, an unnerving exchange with a logger caused my fear to deepen its roots and for me to ask myself whether I would ever use lethal force to protect myself and my family. I believed I would, even though, growing up, I sensed that my own father would adhere to his Mennonite (pacifist) heritage if placed in such a situation.

This is very similar to what the Mennonites in The Alliance are faced with when a cataclysmic event causes society to break down around the community and begin closing in.

You drew on personal experiences to create this story. One character in The Alliance has a driving need to control her environment–even after society crumbles around her–because she believes that if she controls her environment, she will be able to keep her family safe. Is this something you’ve experienced?

Petersheim_Jolina_2-100x100Unfortunately, yes—or perhaps fortunately, depending on how you look at it. With every one of my books, God’s been faithful to allow me to experience some portion of whatever topic I’m addressing. The Alliance has been no exception.

My family and I moved from Tennessee to Wisconsin shortly before I finished the rough draft. Eight weeks later, my husband went in for a CAT scan, which revealed a tumor near his brain stem. He had surgery the next morning, and all through that night next to his hospital bed, I feared for my family. I feared for our two young daughters–our firstborn was two and a half and our second was four months old at the time. I feared that I would be a widow, living on a grid-tie solar-powered farm six hundred miles away from our immediate families.

That must’ve been terribly frightening, seeing one of your worst fears come true.

It was. I really didn’t know how to handle it. However, all through that Garden of Gethsemane night, during the hours my husband was in surgery, and the critical weeks that followed the craniotomy, I felt God’s presence as if he was sitting beside me. I then understood that God had allowed me to face one of my greatest fears so that I would learn that inner peace can never be acquired through my futile attempts to control my environment—and therefore keep my family safe.

Moreover, I can only achieve inner peace if I continually surrender my life and the lives of my family to the One who called us into being.

Find out more about the novel here:

The Alliance

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