Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mary's Rants - Guest P.L. Gaus

Welcome to Mysteries and Margaritas, my guest today is 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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

Paul: Each book In the series was written to illustrate an important aspect of Amish faith, culture, or lifestyle.  It is my goal in them to illuminate Amish culture as much as possible, and to let my readers see what it is like to think Amish, to live Amish, to pray Amish.  My books are for English folk who want to know more.

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, 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.


Mary Martinez said...

Good Morning Paul,
Thank you again for Joining us!
Very interesting getting to know you better,

Liz Lipperman said...

Welcome to M&M, Paul. I am intrigued by the Amish mysteries because first off, I write mysteries and secondly, I grew up in Bridgeport, Ohio.

Since you are the second Amish writer we've had in recent weeks at M&M, it's true that Amish novels are becoming very popular. Besides mysteries, are there any other genres that you know of that have seen an upswing of these type novels?

I also loved your two injunctions. It's a directive all writers should live by. I am a medical person and it infuriates me when writers get it so wrong.

Thanks to you and Mary for this great interview.

Lindsay said...

Paul thank you for an interesting interview. As with Liz, I agree with your two injunctions.
Now my question-In your Amish series, do you have one or two characters that appear in all the books or do you use the Amish locale as the binding factor in the series?

Cassy Pickard said...

Welcome, Paul! It's great to have you here. It sounds as though a memoir or biography could be one of your next works!

I'm intrigued with how popular books about the Amish communities have become so popular. Do you have thoughts on what to attribute that to? Is it a sense that the communities are at times quite closed to the outside world and therefore there is a mystery to them? Or, are we jealous of a lifestyle that is more simple and sincerely endorsed? Or??? What are your thoughts?

Thanks again for joining us today.

Scott said...

Great interview.

In your writing, do you reference actual newspapers, television stations, etc., or create fictional versions?

For example, if the setting was Chicago, would you have a character reading the Chicago Tribune, or would you create a fictional newspaper?



Paul L. Gaus said...

Thanks, Liz. You are right about Amish stories - they are increasingly popular. I think the reason is the curiosity of readers about other cultures, and this is where I think the upswing is - readers are increasingly interested in thoughtful novels that illuminate culture. I try to demonstrate what it is like to be "other" in America.

Paul L. Gaus said...

Thanks you Lindsay, I am glad you like my two injunctions. I learned them the hard way, but maybe it will help new writers. My stories have three main sleuths, all childhood friends in later middle age: a pastor, a sheriff, and a college professor. It is a recurring ensemble cast, and the women in their lives play significant roles in the mysteries. I love giving them the deep insights that help the solve cases.

Paul L. Gaus said...

I don't know about a memoir, Cassy, but I do have hundreds of poignant and humorous Amish stories that I think would make a fine volume. As to the Amish, I think they are intriguing for just the reason you suggest. But also, I think readers are hungry for quieter, more contemplative novels where grand spectacle is not the principle goal. We have plenty of thrillers. Instead, I write about a plain lifestyle that is so foreign to most Americans, that it is actually exotic.

Paul L. Gaus said...

Hi Scott. I have used one actual newspaper in my stories, The Sugarcreek Budget. It is a local paper published for the Amish all over the world, and every issue has letters from around the world, written by the scribes of the local congregations, passing on news about families and relatives who live in the Amish communities. They even write about the crops and the weather. It is well worth a read, if you are interested in Amish culture.

Obat Tradisional Usus Buntu said...

Thanks, Liz. You are right about Amish stories