P.L. Gaus author of The Amish-Country Mysteries from Plume (a division of Penguin). Paul will be giving away three books today. All you have to do is comment and/or ask him a question.
Mary: Before we begin, Paul, could you tell us a little about you personally, not as an author? Where did you grow up, etc.
Paul: I was born in Ohio and raised here, so I guess you’d have to say I’m a Buckeye. I have lived in several Ohio cities, but for my graduate education, I spent four years at Duke University. I taught college chemistry for 31 years, while raising two daughters, and my wife and I love to travel in Holmes County, Ohio, where the largest Amish settlement in the world is found. We have lived in Wooster, Ohio, for the last 33 years, just north of Holmes County. My wife Madonna is also a retired teacher.
Mary: You took an interest in writing fiction in 1993, and you were encouraged by Tony Hillerman. Why did you pursue mystery novels?
Paul: I taught a college seminar on aspects of different, lesser-known American cultures, including Navajo and Amish culture, and I got to know Tony Hillerman because I used his mysteries in my seminar. It seemed natural to write about Amish culture, since we have so much of it here, and because I had been teaching about it for so long. But to answer your question, I write mysteries because that type of literature offers so many different ways to introduce culture and lifestyle into the story. Hillerman did this with his work, too.
Mary: And most importantly why were you interested in the Amish in Holmes County?
Paul: We have so many different and interesting Amish sects in Holmes County, not to mention Mennonite and other Anabaptists, and the interaction of these religious groups with the so-called English (non-Amish) folk of the county offers a writer like me so many wonderful opportunities to draw out culture, lifestyle, tradition, and such. A mystery gives me the chance to explore motives, and that always leads to important aspects of Amish culture and thought. It is a very fertile setting for a story teller.
Mary: Tales about the Amish community are springing up everything. It’s almost the new ‘vampire.’ You have a six novel series coming out, why do you think readers are so hungry to read about the Amish?
Paul: I think American readers are ready for something other than what I call the grand spectacle of excess that we see in modern life. I write quiet, thoughtful novels about people who take their lives seriously and have devoted themselves to simpler ways. I think this serves as a natural draw for my readers. People want to know that these pacific communities, set apart, are still out there, and they are curious to know how and why Amish people choose to live as they do. We wonder, sometimes, I think, if maybe they don’t know a secret.
Mary: I see on your bio, that you grew up near a community of Amish so you must have learned a lot about their religion and their traditions over the years. Even so, how did you do the research for your books?
Paul: My wife and I have been exploring Holmes County for nearly thirty years, and wherever we go, we make it a point to stop to talk with people we meet. We have gotten to know quite a few Amish folk, and the stories we collect and the insights we gain in our explorations serve as the basis for my writing.
Mary: What is the most common reaction you receive when you tell people that you not only write mysteries, but they’re based in an Amish community?
Paul: Some people seem incredulous, but most think about it a moment and realize that Amish are just people like all the rest of us. But I make a bargain with my readers. We don’t expect that an Amish person will be the murderer in one of my mysteries.
Mary: Do you ever plan to write something other than Amish Mysteries? If so, what?
Paul: I am working on a series about a wealthy pharmaceutical entrepreneur who uses his resources to help people, but it is very different from the Amish stories, and I don’t know if it will ever be published.
Mary: If you feel strongly about it, I'm sure it will. And you have a good following, which means you're a fabulous writing. Can you tell us a little about your writing process? Do you plot out each chapter, or do you write by the seat of your pants?
Paul: I think about the story for a very long time before I begin to write it. Each story has a theme based on a scriptural principle important to Amish faith, and I design the characters and the plot to serves that theme. I would never say that I write by the seat of my pants, but I have also learned over the years not to outline a story too heavily. Sometimes the characters show you an aspect of the story that needs to be addressed, and if I am wedded to an outline, it is difficult to adjust to these types of new insights.
Mary: What is the one piece of advice you wish someone had told you about writing that you’d like to a give new author?
Paul: I’ll give you two injunctions, here, and if violated, I think a writer’s work will suffer. First, you can’t write what you don’t know, and second, you shouldn’t write what you don’t like. That is - don’t set a story in Hawaii if you’ve never lived there, and don’t write about cowboys if you don’t like them. So, write what you know, and write what you like. You’ll be a lot happier as a writer if you do those two things.
Mary: Can you tell us a little about the series?
Mary: Do you have a web site? Are you on any social medias? Please tell us where we can find you.
Paul: My website is www.plgaus.com, and I maintain several blogs that are linked at the website.
Thank you, P. L. Gaus for joining us and sharing your insights with us today.