Tuesday, February 14, 2012

genre & gender happenings

Murray Pura was born and raised in Manitoba, just north of Minnesota and the Dakotas. He has published several novels and short story collections in Canada, and has been short-listed for a number of awards. His first books to be published in the United States are the inspirational works Rooted and Streams (both by Zondervan in 2010). His first novel to debut in the USA is A Bride’s Flight from Virginia City, Montana (Barbour), which was released January 2012. The second, The Wings of Morning, will be published by Harvest House on February 1. Both of these novels center around the Amish of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Genre Happenings
Men and Amish Fiction

In 2009 I was asked by my agent to consider writing a work of Amish fiction. My concern was that I would write about the Amish as real people with real-life struggles and real faith concerns. I did not want to glamorize them or paint a fantasy in words that made them figures out of a fairy tale. I never looked to see who was or wasn’t writing Amish fiction at the time, so I never knew how many men were or weren’t writing in that genre. I just focused on telling a story and telling it as well as I could, Amish fiction or not.

I know about the Amish, of course. A large population of Mennonites live in southern Manitoba, where I grew up, and they share common roots with the Amish. They also hold some of the same beliefs, including a pacifist approach to war and peacefulness in their daily interactions. A number have connections to the Amish communities in Ontario, just north of those in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. I was a member of a Mennonite church for several years. So early on I gained some understanding of the Amish and Mennonite approaches to the Christian faith.

But writing Amish fiction didn’t just mean writing about Amish beliefs and lifestyle. It meant writing about Amish men and women falling in love. It also meant being sensitive to the woman’s point of view in such romances. Fortunately, I have a mother, sister, wife, and daughter, so I know something about the woman’s world. And I had fallen in love myself and know about wooing my beloved and carrying her away in my arms.

At this time, I was working on a series of novels in Canada based on the lives of two of my aunts. Even though a brother tells the story, the tale is mostly about the two sisters. And when the story moved from Canada and America to Ukraine, two more sisters enter the story as well. So when I tried my hand at Amish fiction, I came fresh from writing hundreds of pages about four sisters and a romantic relationship with the woman who became my wife. I felt I could approach the story from both the male and female points of view.

To my surprise, when I began to pen the first chapters, I enjoyed writing the romantic sequences as much or more than I did the action sequences. Something about reliving the pleasant experiences of falling in love and holding the woman of your desires in your arms and telling her how beautiful she was struck a chord within me. I grew more and more enthusiastic about creating a good work of Amish writing.

My first effort was picked up by Barbour in 2010. In it, a young woman is forced to return to her Amish roots in Pennsylvania to save two orphans from a murderer. The only one who will help her is a young rancher who refuses to carry a gun. When Barbour made a contract offer, it inspired me to write a second piece of Amish fiction. This was completed in 2011 and picked up by Harvest House.

Whereas the first story took place in 1875 United States, the second occurred in 1917, also set in the United States. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Amish are challenged to adopt the technologies that will eventually define them by their very absence from Amish communities: the telephone, the motorcar, public electricity, and the airplane. It is while they are still debating the role of the airplane that my story begins with a young Amish man who wants to fly and the beautiful young Amish woman who wants to fly by his side. This story, The Wings of Morning, became the second work of Amish fiction from my hand to receive a contract.

Since then I have written a third Amish novel and have been contracted to write two more. I try to tell the stories as beautifully, dramatically, and, yes, and romantically as I can. I strive to make my characters real people, not cardboard cutouts of Amish men and women from Pennsylvania or Indiana or Ohio―not that anyone I know writes about the Amish that way, it’s just that I was worried I might have to do so to make a sale to a publisher. The publishers were looking for Amish romance all right, but they were looking for good stories that were also well written, with flesh-and-blood heroes and heroines that are attractive and inspiring. Being able to write authentic and true-to-life Amish fiction turned out to be far easier than I thought. In fact, it became enjoyable. It was like describing one beautiful sunrise after another as my characters found faith and love together in the midst of perilous and challenging circumstances.

The romantic aspect has never been an issue with me. I still love to court my wife, so it is easy to put romance in the words of my heroes and heroines. I would give my life for my wife and family, so it is not hard to put that same attitude in the hearts of my heroes. In fact, it is not difficult to imagine being the hero in my bride’s eyes, and doing the courageous and Christ-like things that need to be done, so there are no obstacles to putting all that in the good men of my Amish novels. Nor is it problematic for me to write about the strength and depth and heart of women when I admire so much the women of my world.

Although I write for a predominately female audience, I also endeavor to write in such a way that is not only attractive to the women of America but to the men of their lives as well―sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers. I want to create books a woman can read with pleasure and satisfaction, then turn around and give my books to the men of her world and say: “You’ll like this too. It’s a good read for men as well as women. Really. Give it a try.”

are the Amish technophobes?

are the Amish technophobes?

In my research on another subject a writer called the Amish technophobes and I paused to consider this. The word was used derogatorily and, as a writer of Amish fiction, I felt a bit defensive.

Possibly the writer who flung out this remark didn’t know the Amish had used Alexander Graham Bell’s invention for a decade before dissing it because it was being used as a means of talking about others behind their backs. He likely also didn’t know that many Amish communities keep a phone booth on site in case of emergencies. (The school teacher who alerted the police to the Nickel Mines shootings used such a phone.)

I doubt he was aware that the Amish use modern medical facilities, surgeries, and medicines to care for their sick when necessary. Nor did he stop to consider that, in their time, horses and buggies and well-made wheels were the modern technology of the day. Nor had he investigated and discovered that the Amish will fly on planes, take trains, and sit as passengers in cars and trucks. They aren’t permitted to own or pilot planes. Or own and drive cars. But they make use of them.

This involvement with modern technologies of the past and present hardly makes them technophobes.

But unquestionably the Amish have a healthy fear of modern technology. They are afraid it may destroy their families and churches and communities. Not because all technology is bad – as I’ve mentioned, they use modern pharmaceuticals and treatments. Simply because all technology is a two-edged sword.

One man uses the internet to look up Bible verses or even research Amish beliefs. Another uses it for the purpose of sexual trafficking. Nuclear energy can light up cities or blow up cities. Smart phones can help people communicate or help isolate them from others nearby they are too preoccupied to speak with face-to-face. If there are cyber blessings there is also cyber bullying. Cars take people to family and friends and on Christian missions. They also pollute the air of our large cities and make it almost impossible for certain people to go outdoors and get a breath of air.

So perhaps the correct terms to use to describe our Amish friends when it comes to modern technology are aware or cautious. As in techno aware or techno cautious. Or techno restrained. They are not knee-jerk afraid of technology nor are they against all technology. However they are very much aware of the harm technology can do and so are cautious of implementing all technologies that show up each year into their communities and homes without discussion and debate. Most of the rest of us just grab all the modern technologies that show up without a second’s thought.

It is the Amish who are techno wise. They reject much but they accept some.

It is a practice many of us could benefit from. Not every device that shows up on the shelves at Wal-Mart is a blessing or enhancement to the Christian lifestyle.

Or any human’s lifestyle.

Last 5 posts by murray

* Are the Amish Quaint? - January 17th, 2012
* Reader's Review from New Mexico - January 4th, 2012
* Virginia City Released - January 1st, 2012
* RT Reviews Top Pick - December 21st, 2011
* Before Amish were Amish - December 18th, 2011

Monday, February 13, 2012

a review by christian manifesto

Here's a cool book review of The Wings of Morning by Christian Manifesto:

The Wings Of Morning

Book Overview
Genre: Amish, Books: Fiction, Historical, Romance
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers
Author: Murray Pura

Well-researched historical detail; encouraging presentation of the Amish; gets the reader emotionally invested in the story


Our Review:
5 / 5 - Near Perfect

2012 Lime Award Nominee

Reviewed by: Rachel Ropper




It is 1917 and the Amish have not yet decided whether to ban the flying machines that are taking the country by storm. While they abhor the use of them as a weapon of war across on the frontlines of France, Jude Whetstone has been allowed to take flying lessons in Philadelphia and members of the Lapp Amish community are amazed at the tricks that his plane can do. But Jude is only intent on impressing one person – Lyyndaya Kurtz, a childhood friend whose parents do not approve of his flying. Being banned from spending time with Jude is bad enough for Lyyndaya, but when Jude and several other young men from their community are imprisoned for refusing to fight in the war taking place in Europe, Lyyndaya wonders if she’ll ever get to see Jude again. When Jude’s friends are mysteriously released from military prison on the same day that he volunteers to fly on behalf of the United States Air Force, Lyyndaya’s fears are confirmed as Jude is placed under the bann. But soon she has matters closer to home to worry about, as her sister and various other members of the community fall ill with the Spanish Flu. While continuing to write letters to Jude that she knows he won’t be able to read until he returns home, Lyyndaya helps the local doctor nurse her friends and family back to health. Meanwhile, Jude is quickly being lifted up in the ranks of aviation as members of the Air Force witness his flying abilities. But can he bring himself to kill? And even if he manages to survive the war without taking another man’s life, will he ever be accepted back into his community? And will they ever understand why he felt called to sign up?

Just as with Ruth Reid’s The Promise of an Angel, I was doubtful as to whether this unusual blend of genres would work. And just as I was completely won over by the angelic characters in Ruth’s novel, I completely fell in love with Murray Pura’s take on the Amish during the First World War. The Wings of Morning wasn’t simply an attempt to break out of the typical mould of Amish romances by sticking the story in front of the backdrop of WWI. Murray’s writing showed that he’d researched not only military camps and bases, the treatment of conscientious objectors and the role that aeroplanes played in WWI, but the actual flying of these planes. I don’t claim to be an expert on early twentieth century flying machines but I’ve visited the Museum of Flight in East Fortune and listened to my dad talking about aviation enough to figure out that the descriptions given in this novel had to be based on research. I never thought I’d enjoy reading flight sequences but Jude and Lyyndaya’s descriptions of their experiences surprised me and made me think about what it would have been like to fly in one of the open-cockpit planes that were flown in this period.

Murray presents us with a view of the Amish that hasn’t been overly explored before. Nowadays, we think of them as a religious group who have rejected many modern conveniences. But The Wings of Morning visits the Amish while they’re still trying to figure out whether or not to permit the use of electricity and aeroplanes, having recently banned the telephone and ownership of motorcars. The picture presented in this novel is not of religious leaders who wish to make life hard for their followers by rejecting the use of certain technologies, but of a group determined to preserve the bonds of family and community over convenience. The leaders of Jude’s community struggle to come to an agreement over how they should deal with his interest in flying and are unhappy when they feel they must shun him when he agrees to use his flying skills in the war in Europe. Murray definitely seems to have captured the essence of what we “Englishers” admire about the Amish, and while he doesn’t openly endorse their way of life, he presents the dilemmas and struggles that made them into the iconic people we see them as today.

The biggest issue surrounding the shunning of aeroplanes is that they can be used as a weapon of warfare, and although the Lapp Amish community may be joyful when watching Jude flying his plane at their Fourth of July picnic, they are acutely aware that the aeroplane is a force that can be used for good and evil. Jude struggles with this dilemma also when he finds himself based in France. He does not want to kill, but how can he sit by idly as his friends are shot down by enemy planes? Murray does not condemn nor endorse pacifism, and I appreciated that he didn’t take sides on this issue. I found myself becoming increasingly wrapped up in Jude’s struggle and wondered how I would react in a similar situation. While ideologically I oppose to the concept of war, I don’t think I could suggest that my country should not defend itself if it were attacked. The Wings of Morning subtly discussed this idea, as both Jude and Lyyndaya serve their countrymen and without compromising their beliefs.

I would class The Wings of Morning as a historical novel, but it does contain a romantic aspect to it. But because Jude and Lyyndaya are kept apart for the majority of the story it does not take on the conventional romantic structure that readers of Amish fiction will be familiar with. Jude and Lyyndaya are unable to receive letters from each other, but continue to write in the hope that when Jude returns from war he will be accepted back into the community and then they can read each others’ letters. I loved this device, as it kept the reader aware of the characters’ emotions regarding their relationship and gave them each a place to express their feelings about the wider situation of the war and the Spanish Flu. Of course, Jude and Lyyndaya get their happy ending eventually, but I felt it appropriate that the novel ended on a positive note considering all that they had suffered over the course of the book.

The Wings of Morning crosses the genres of historical, Amish and romantic fiction and will hopefully appeal to readers of each of these groups. Murray Pura shows the beginnings of being a popular voice in inspirational fiction and I look forward to reading more emotionally stirring and well-researched depictions of history in the next volume in his Snapshots in History series.

contest giveaway!

How about a free copy of the World War One novel The Wings of Morning? Check out this contest below:

The contest ends on February 19th and the winner will be announced Monday the 20th.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

what's in a genre?

Lots of writers wrote genre pieces that became literature & lots of writers did and do both (John Grisham, for instance, if you'd like to consider a contemporary). Here's one of my takes on trying to do genre writing well.