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)