Interview with W. Dale Cramer, Author (Part 1)

by Camille Eide

This week, (Jan 4 – 7), the Water Cooler will feature a special discussion with critically acclaimed author Dale Cramer in four parts, so be sure to come back each day for the rest of this interview.

W. Dale Cramer is one of my favorite authors, in both Christian and general markets. His books include Sutter’s Cross, Bad Ground (2005 Christy winner), Levi’s Will (2006 Christy winner), Summer of Light, Paradise Valley (1st in the Daughters of Caleb Bender series) and the newly released The Captive Heart (2nd in the series).

I’ve read each of these books and loved them all. If this tells you anything, my copy of Summer of Light is soft and crumbling along the binding. I recommend the book to others but often buy people their own copy because I refuse to loan out mine. I’ve dissected this story from cover to cover hunting for clues on how to write with such authentic, lyrical, resonant yet humorous style. I sometimes fear these qualities can’t be learned, but I am not giving up and will continue my feverish studies. In the meantime, Dale has graciously agreed to let me pester him with questions.

On Amish Fiction:

CE: Amish fiction is clearly here to stay. To what do you attribute its long-standing popularity?

DC:  They’re hobbits. The Amish clip-clop along in their unhurried pace, more or less oblivious to the rush and crush of the world around them, and they seem to be at peace in their own insular world. The contrast is striking, and I think it gives us an inescapable nagging sense that maybe they know something we don’t, that maybe we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere in our heedless dash toward high-tech opulence. The Amish have managed to preserve some endangered values, when you think about it. They put family and community above material gain and creature comforts; they teach cooperation instead of competition; they work hard, save their money, spend with thrift, rely on common sense, never depend on the government, and their minds are not shaped by television. 

CE: What do you hope readers will take away from this series?

DC:  I’ve tried to paint a picture of a people who refused to put a price on their principles. I think that’s the most important question The Daughters of Caleb Bender asks— How far would you go? What would you be willing to give up to preserve a way of life based on your beliefs? The story also brings up some very pertinent questions about the roles of church and state in our lives.

CE: You have a family connection with the Amish community and have based this series on actual historical events in your family, which makes the stories that much more intriguing to read. How much assistance with research did your Amish relatives provide?

DC:  Not as much as you’d think. My father was born in Paradise Valley, and he just turned 86. It was the generation before him who remembered much of what happened in Mexico, and they’re all gone now. A few stories have been handed down, but not that many. I wish I had known when my grandfather was alive that I would someday write the story because he could have given me a wealth of information. I’m told he dug bullets out of the wall of his barn after a bandit raid and kept them in a jar in the cupboard for the rest of his life. I never even saw them. 

CE: Outside of research, do you enjoy regular interaction with your Amish relatives?

 DC:  I do, yes. It’s an incredible story, really. I’ve lived in Georgia most of my life, and there was a twenty year period when I didn’t get up to Ohio very often—my father was banned, and there was a pretty deep rift in the family because of it. But about ten years ago, thanks to my cousin Henry, things started to change. Henry decided to have a Miller family reunion (my father’s real name) at his place that year. It was the only reunion I ever recall them having, and when we drove up we saw that Henry had put a sign out at the end of the lane saying, “Miller/Cramer Reunion.” I think it was that one simple gesture, the inclusion of my father’s name on the sign, that started to turn things around. That was the reunion where my father publicly acknowledged his daughter. A few years later I told the story in Levi’s Will, and the restoration of the family since the writing of that book has been the most remarkable turn of events in my life. Now I do book tours in Ohio and spend a lot of time with family while I’m there. I’m even starting to learn the language.

CE: Has writing this series affected your relationship with them? How have they reacted to these stories?

(For the answer to this and more, come back tomorrow for Part 2)

28 Replies to “Interview with W. Dale Cramer, Author (Part 1)”

  1. Summer of Light was an amazing read. I can’t even describe how I reacted to it. Then when I read Daughters of Caleb Bender… I thought, “this can’t be a man writing about women as though he was one.”

    1. Summer of Light still tops my stack of favorite books! And Dale answers my nosy question about how he wrote in a female perspective in a following post – stay tuned. 🙂

  2. Love this interview. Great questions, Camille, and Dale, you have an amazing gift of words. Thanks for the behind-the-scenes look at your writing and your life. Summer of Light is my husband’s all-time favorite read and a book he shares with anyone who will take it. I loved it, too, but I don’t remember every chainsaw and explosive mishap the way he does – I guess it’s a guy thing! Blessings!

    1. The chainsaw scene is priceless, (Summer of Light – story of a iron worker forced to stay home with his kids one Summer) but it’s what happens a little later on the neighbor’s front lawn that made me lol, and I don’t often lol when reading a book. Your hub has fine taste, Miss Carla. 🙂

  3. Camille, I’m so excited to read these posts! For a decade I’ve wondered why people read Amish books (I’ve never read one) and you just answered my question. I may have to pick up one of Dale’s books and I’m definitely going to share these posts with my mother-in-law who loves Amish books.

  4. Camille & Dale,
    Thank you for part 1 of what promises to be a rewarding interview! I especially appreciated the theme of family renewal woven through this post — how story reunited Dale with his family. So, so encouraging. And how wonderful to be able to recount family history, even in a fictionalized form.

    1. Levi’s Will is a beautiful story of restoration & redemption, Beth. Highly recommend it. Good point about the renewal theme, who can’t relate to that…

  5. My arm hairs rose to attention and gave a salute at the mention of the events prompting the writing of Levi’s Will. THAT is an all time favorite read of my own which I tell everyone about. I appreciate Dale’s sharing both the story seed and the positive outcome of it’s growth. I could never have predicted that. I would imagine additional ostracizing. And possibly because it’s my own fear. Thanks Camille! And thank you, Dale.

    1. I think that’s one of the many reasons I liked Levi’s Will so much, Leah. Oh, the possibilities, if only grace were allowed to have its way… and I KNEW you’d be hooked. What’d I tell ya? 🙂 Stay tuned, my poetic friend….

  6. What an interesting interview beginning! I’m looking forward to reading the rest. Hearing how Dale’s family has begun to heal the rift touched my heart.

    1. Then if you haven’t read Levi’s Will, I highly recommend it. Definitely moving. Well written. (Sheesh, I sound like a commercial! I promise I’m not getting paid to say this…. and though I did get a free book to review, I was going to buy it anyway and will probably buy copies to loan out, so that doesn’t count.) 🙂

    1. If you have a hint of appreciation for work on the literary side that reads with humor, style and “every-man” resonance, you will like Cramer’s work. Promise.

  7. Fascinating. I’ve read Levi’s Will, but hadn’t realized how much the story was based on Dale’s own family. I look forward to the rest of the interview. Great job Camille!

    1. I don’t think I realized it at the time I read it, either, Lori. Knowing that makes the story all the more intriguing, I think. What a great gift, to be able to take what we’ve experienced and craft it into a story that touches others. I try…. and I will keep trying. 🙂 (Looking forward to your “Kindred” that I saw a lovely, lyrical sample of long ago…)

  8. I read Levi’s Will and was pulled right in, and I’m not much of a ‘bonnet’ fictionado. Working on Summer of Light right now and loving it. I just read the chainsaw scene, Camille, but haven’t gotten any further. Don’t spoil it for me. 😉
    Thanks for the great interview; can’t wait to hear more from Dale!

    1. I won’t. Keep reading. 🙂

      “Dr. Lethal” is also good for some chuckles. ( I think most of what’s humorous in that book is the monologue going on inside Mick—the main character’s—head. As it probably is for some of us.)

  9. Wow, it’s great to see all the comments, and if you have other questions I’ll try to stop by every day and answer them. I had a FB exchange earlier today with Leah where I told her that the reconciliation story is posted on my website in a blog titled Thanksgiving (Nov 2010). It’s in the afterword of the 09 edition of Levi’s Will, but I posted it verbatim on the blog because I thought people would like it. I know I do.

  10. Camille, thanks so much for this interview so we could get to know Dale better. Having never read Amish fiction (yes, really!) I’m perusing his titles now. What better way to start than with a Christy award-winning author! Congratulations, Dale, and nice to meet you.

  11. What a great interview. I haven’t read Dale’s books but I’m definitely adding them to my list. The reunion story pretty much had me in tears. Oy! I think my hormones are acting up again. 🙂 Thanks for asking such wonderful questions, Camille!

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