Elizabeth Byler Younts released her debut novel, Promise to Return, a few days ago. Elizabeth has been a military wife until recently and is a homeschooling mom of two young daughters. She was raised in an Amish home as a child. After her parents left the church, she remained close to her large, extended Amish family and still speaks Pennsylvania Dutch.
At the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference, you practically started a bidding war among agents for your historical Amish series. Did an agent hand you a contract at the conference?
Natasha Kern offered to represent me at the ACFW conference in Dallas last September. Technically, I signed the contract a few days later. J It was an absolutely overwhelming experience. I could’ve have asked for a better agent for me. She is amazing.
How did you get “The Call,” offering you a book contract? Was it for just one book or a series?
It all happened so fast I barely had time to catch my breath. It was for the three-book series. It was what I’d dreamed about for years ... really, as long as I can remember… but it’s a lot more of a reality check than living in a dream world. You have to be ready for the deadlines and real life at the same time. We were readjusting to life after deployment at the time so everything happening at once was a big deal. I was so amazed with Natasha and talked with my editors before I said “yes” to the contract offer… it was just such an unbelievable experience. It’s hard to express how my heart and mind felt at the moment. All I can really say is that it was all God!
What’s the premise of Promise to Return? Why did you decide to tell this story?
This story idea came after writing my grandma’s childhood story Seasons: A Real Story of an Amish Girl and I found a voice in Amish fiction that really excited me … historical! Since my grandpa “Daudy” had been drafted in WW2 and joined the 12,000 other conscientious objectors who served in the Civilian Public Service instead of going to war, this history has always been a part of my life. But I imagined what it might have been like if he had decided to enlist instead. And what if he’d left behind a woman he loved and planned to marry? Henry and Miriam’s story was born.
I’m so glad you wrote it! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading Miriam and Henry’s story. There's such authenticity to your writing. What was happening in your life as you wrote this novel?
My husband was actually deployed when I wrote Promise to Return — which was titled Miriam’s Soldier at the time. Though my husband was in a safe location and we Skyped daily … I was still able to tap into some of my own emotions to feel Miriam’s heart. The story came alive to me. I lived with my parents for most of the deployment, and since they were Amish into adulthood, they were the most amazing resources. My grandma “Mammie” lives about 35 minutes from my parents and she was also very helpful with some of the period questions so that the Amish in the 40s was believable.
Well, you did a fabulous job — I was captivated. Did you learn a spiritual lesson while writing Promise to Return? If so, how did that influence Miriam’s spiritual journey?
Absolutely. I tend to really feed on the emotions and burdens of other people. It weighs me down and it exhausts me. It is difficult for me divide fact from fiction. I have a VERY hard time being still and just listening to God and not letting the world (or my own mind really) interfere with HIS voice. Wow … that was exactly what Miriam needed. She needed to block out the world (even a good church like hers) to hear the pure voice of God so she could learn God’s plan for her life. This is an important lesson for us all. There are plenty of good, spiritual people and good standards of life that can help us live really Godly lives … but unless we are truly letting God’s voice soak into our souls we can’t have ultimate joy, happiness, and the guidance we need to learn about God’s will for our unique lives. We need HIS voice above all others.
Promise to Return is part of a series. Can you tell when the next novel and when it releases?
Promise to Cherish focuses on a secondary character in Promise to Return. I won’t give away who yet … but you can read more about the premise in the back of Promise to Return. It will also take the reader into the mental asylums where the Mennonite/Amish conscientious objectors served for years and improved the conditions substantially. It’s a romantic story between an Amish man and an English nurse. It releases October 2014. I hope you will love it!!!
It's definitely going on my to-buy list. You mentioned self publishing a memoir called Seasons: A Real Story of an Amish Girl. What's it about? Would you recommend self-publishing to others?
I did self-pub it for a variety of reasons … mostly since it was originally written for my family to honor my grandma’s life and how God worked in her childhood. I was blessed beyond measure when it became an Amazon bestseller in several categories. As far as recommending going indy … that’s really a very personal decision. I think with family stories it usually is fine but you still handle it as professionally as absolutely possible. Do everything you can do to make it the best possible…as far as what your budget will allow. It will be out there forever. I can tell you that impatience is not a great reason to go indy. Think it through and if it’s the best fit for you, do it right. I cannot stress that enough. Indy publishing has grown so much in the last 5 years — the standards have been raised. Take the time to make your book the best it possibly can be and be prepared to do A LOT of work.
Do you have a writing mentor? If so, how has this writer influenced you?
I’ve never taken a writing class in my life so when I joined award-winning author Allison Pittman’s critique group a few years ago, it was the best education I could possibly have asked for. I give huge props to Allison and I consider her a very dear friend in addition to being a mentor. I love her writing and I’ve read all of her books. I am very thankful for Allison. I feel extremely blessed that she’s been such a good friend to me! I only wish we didn’t live more than a thousand miles apart!
When I was growing up there were two brothers, Michael and Christopher Dack who poured themselves into me. They took me under their wing and just took me seriously as a writer even when it all seemed like a pipe dream. For as long as I can remember they were the ones I looked up to. Their creativity and out-of-the-box thinking captivated me. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude. They have been the best “big brothers” I could ever have asked for. They are filmmakers, screenwriters, and fiction authors also and just really fantastic guys.
What have you had to give up in order to make time for writing? You’re a wife and a homeschooling mom. How do you manage it all?
Well, I definitely don’t manage it all. I don’t believe in super-moms and won’t let anyone call me that. ;-) I know my flaws and how I fall short. I give up quiet evenings for lots of writing and have by far a less clean house. Ha.Ha! I really do the best I can with God’s strength. I don’t get it right a lot of the time and ask for forgiveness when I fall short with God and my family. My husband is the most supportive man on the planet. He is seriously my hero and my rock. I could never do this without him. His support has given me the opportunity to pursue writing as a career. I praise the Lord for him.
What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned in your research for this series?
My whole life I’ve known about the Civilian Public Service but when I started writing this series and started buying tons of books and looking online for information, I was blown away. Some of the “campers” (also called: conscientious objectors, C.O.s, conscies) were away for the entire war with no pay. There were churches that supported the camps and so some of them received a few dollars a week. Remember, these were gov’t camps and were to serve the nation in a variety of ways but these 12,000 men were not given a real wage. They were away from their families (many of them were husbands with families or sons who were still at home and helping their families monetarily) without an actual wage for years. My grandpa said that his pay was so low it wasn’t enough for HIM to live on even though the camp provided food and shelter. In some locations, the public called the C.O.s “Hitler’s Helpers” and very belittled and considered unpatriotic because their conscience would not allow them to serve.
Now, I am a proud military wife and truly support our efforts … but I do stand by someone’s right to be a C.O. I think it’s great when the government is able to provide them some way to serve that doesn’t go against their belief system but I really believe they should still get a wage. Thank God the local churches stepped in.
During these same years, the German POWs captured by the Americans were being paid 80 cents a day for their work. While that may not seem like a lot, it was money coming from the US government to the German POWs but not it’s own C.O.s. You can make your own judgment call on that … but the bottom line is that this is fascinating history.
Elizabeth, Thanks so much for sharing your story.
Readers, it’s your turn to ask questions. What would you like to ask Elizabeth Byler Younts?
Readers, it’s your turn to ask questions. What would you like to ask Elizabeth Byler Younts?