Dreams Coming True: Plain Upbringing Inspires A Memoir (and a giveaway!)

Dreams Coming True is a Thursday feature on my blog, a way to highlight those whose goal is to create community. The dream might be a blog, a published book, a small business, volunteering, or even fundraising for a charity. Something that makes the world a better place . . . for others.

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10, NLT).

Welcome Shirley Hershey Showalter, author of Blush, to Dreams Coming True! Tell us a little about yourself, Shirley.

z-dutchdoor-closeupI grew up Plain, and I’ve always wanted to share what it was like to have a Mennonite childhood. Yet I was also named for Shirley Temple, a movie star I was forbidden to watch. Within these two facts lies the central plot of my story, recently released as Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World.

I’m also a wife, mother, daughter, and grandmother. Every member of my family has helped make my dreams come true. My first dream was to become a teacher. I went to a Mennonite college (the first person to go to college among the ten generations of my family who preceded me in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania). At Eastern Mennonite College, I met and married my husband Stuart Showalter.

I went on to become a professor and a college president at Goshen College in Indiana. After working in a foundation for six years, I finally had the time to write and was able to create Blush, my dream project and first book.

When did this creative dream begin?

Psalms 139 says that God loves each one of us as individuals and knit us together in our mother’s wombs. I think my dream began before I was born because my mother had two unmet dreams of her own. She had wanted a Shirley Temple doll (and a sister, something the doll represented) and she also wanted to be a writer. As I grew up, I became the sister and the doll she never had. Mother would have liked to be an author herself, but she had only been able to use some of her gifts to serve the church. I hoped that I would be able to develop my own gifts and also indirectly help fulfill my mother’s dream.

As a teenager wearing a prayer covering, I had the opportunity to talk with some of the millions of tourists who visit Lancaster County every year and to answer their questions about what the covering symbolized (I Corinthians 11). I could tell even then, in the 1960’s, that many people were not only curious about Amish and Mennonite practices but they had longings of their own for a simpler life.

Flash forward. 2010. After a career of teaching and administration, Stuart and I move back to his home, the place where we met, Harrisonburg, Virginia, in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. I finally have time to write a book. It was easy to decide that the book should be about my childhood, about the 1950’s and 1960’s, and especially about growing up Plain.

How did the idea for Blush get started?

I wrote and published many essays, chapters, and forewords of books both for an academic and church audience. In the 1990’s I began to publish personal essays. My first appeared in a book called Godward. This kind of writing allowed me to pour out my spirit unto the page and to ask the Holy Spirit to guide me. I entered a writing contest in 2006 when we lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I went on a three-day silent retreat and came back home with three essay drafts. When I won awards in each of the next three years, I began to feel an inward tug. God has nudged me like this in the past, so I paid attention.

What makes your book stand out from the crowd?

There are very few stories on the market like mine. Only a few people have written about what it’s like to be Plain from inside the culture, using their own lives as the source of the story. What is even rarer? A Plain girl who is still Mennonite and who still aspires to be plain on the inside even though the rules of her church have relaxed. I have not yet encountered another story that fits all these criteria—a Plain childhood and a chosen Mennonite adulthood. My publisher refers to this path as the third way. I didn’t leave. I didn’t remain Plain. I attempt to live the principles of my faith without relying on symbols of separation. I affirm simplicity, peace, kindness, as a follower of Jesus and appreciate the way my Plain church and family taught me by precept and example.

What are the goals and intentions of Blush?

Blush_frontcover-copy-optimizedI hope the book will inspire those who are already Christian to live out the values above and help answer the questions about what it’s like to live a Plain life from anyone who is curious. I’ve tried to give an honest account of what was delightful and what was difficult about being Plain. I am so delighted to know that readers laugh and cry when they read this book. I want them to see some aspect of their own struggle to live faithfully and whole-heartedly.

Of course, I want my family to have this book as a legacy, and I hope others will be inspired by reading this book (and by going to my website and Facebook author page) to leave a legacy of their own.

I will be donating profits from this book to The Longhouse Project at the Hans Herr Museum, a project that educates visitors to Lancaster County about the woodland Indians who lived on what became Lancaster County land before the arrival of my ancestor Hans Herr in 1713.

I have always loved the way Bach and Handel signed their creative work: Soli Deo gloria –glory to God alone. I want this book to be a testament to the amazing grace of God.

How does Blush create community?

Online: I started a blog in 2009 and started offering a weekly newsletter called Magical Memoir Moments (a photo with a writing prompt). The blog has attracted almost 100,000 views since it was redesigned in 2012. I have a Facebook author page where readers can come to meet each other and see posts about the book, Mennonites, and memoir. I sneak in a few pictures of my grandkids, too. 🙂

Many have creative ideas but have trouble following through with them. What advice would you give to creative types who start projects eagerly . . . but then enthusiasm drizzles off?

Grow up on a farm! 🙂 All other work will then become a piece of cake.

Seriously, it helps to have past experience in which things got tough but then you just kept going anyway. I’ve had lots of discouraging moments in this process. It takes so much time and attention to write. To do so while building an online community, taking dishes to potlucks and shut-ins, teaching a class, making new friends in a new place, and helping other authors with their work. . . well, let’s just say that prayer and fortitude are the only solutions I know to forward motion.

Describe the behind-the-scenes effort of your project. Where do the ideas come from? How many are involved in the process? Does each contributer have a specific role?

I must praise my family for their contributions, which are many and varied. I’m so blessed to have a husband who is an editor and a really versatile, helpful person. Without him I would not have completed a PhD or become a college president and now author. He must have contributed thousands of small favors and, most importantly, daily affirmation of my worth and the value of this project. My daughter Kate is my marketing director. Son-in-law Nik set up my website after son Anthony gave me the original one for my birthday. Daughter-in-law Chelsea is an expert in online marketing. Could I have a better crew than this one?

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1949: Shirley being held by her mother, with her aunt and cousin on the left

Then there is my mother, still my biggest fan at age 87. Readers see her as the secret star of the book and love to meet her. At the launch in Lititz Mennonite Church, she stood up, beamed, and waved when she was introduced to the crowd. My three sisters, my brother, and my in-laws all contributed to an amazing launch with homemade sugar cookies and special outreach to all their friends.

What’s been the hardest part about getting it off the ground?

The biggest difficulty I face is the competition from eight million books currently being offered by Amazon and all the “noise” on social media and mass media. How does a quiet book like this one stand a chance in such a noisy world? Even with a modest community of expectant readers, it’s hard for any first book from a small publisher to reach a large audience. I’m counting on the fact that early readers overwhelmingly loved the book (reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are just under a five-star average) and that they will ask for the book in libraries and bookstores and spread the word one customer at a time.

What have you learned?

I love the engagement with readers after the book has been published. Many authors struggle with marketing. To me, marketing is just another word for building relationships. I love that.

Have there been any unexpected surprises?

I was surprised when my publisher decided to order a second printing of my book just one week after the launch! That was exciting.

What are the biggest misconceptions people have about?

The biggest misconceptions people have center on the difference between Amish and Mennonites. My publisher answers this question every day, and I have blogged about it. Of course, misconceptions are really opportunities in disguise. I love to talk about my faith.

What are some ways you promote Blush?

  1. A professional book trailer
  2. A launch tour of five states over three weeks. I spoke to 1,000 people and signed over 400 books.
  3. Updates on social media. Book blog tour. Many with giveaways.
  4. Giveaway on Goodreads. Gave away 20 books. 900 people entered the contest.
  5. Helping other authors and bloggers. Social media is a two-way street, not a megaphone.
  6. I will be speaking to three local book clubs and one women’s prayer breakfast in the next six weeks.

Creating something is one skill. Marketing and promoting it is an entirely different skill set. How has that gone for you? Shocked by the amount of work marketing takes? Or pleasantly surprised?

Again, I compare my dream project to the rural values I was raised with. My grandmother knew how to market! She took farm produce and baked goods to the Central Market in Lancaster twice a week for thirty years. The whole family helped, and they did a prodigious amount of work—dozens of freshly dressed chickens, baked cookies, pies, and cakes, and fresh fruit and vegetables.

I love markets to this day! If I hadn’t been a college professor, I might have gone into business. Both my children are entrepreneurs. I don’t have the same aversion to marketing that many authors have.

Here’s another analogy to farmer’s markets. The work is never done, and there would always be more to sell. But it’s important to take a Sabbath. I’ve tried, not always successfully, to do that.

Any marketing mistakes you would avoid?

Anything that promises a lot of reward for little effort (“I can get you 5,000 followers on Twitter overnight!”). There are lots of hucksters out there trying to sell to gullible writers. Fortunately, all the experts I’ve worked with have been well worth any investment I made in them.

What social network has worked best for you?

Facebook.

What advice would you give someone else who has a creative dream like yours?

Go for it! The phrase I use when I talk to other authors is “embrace your blush.” The very thing you think is your problem can become your greatest opportunity. I know because I’ve lived it.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I’m being asked by readers and my publishers to write a second book. I’m considering it, but right now I am giving my all to speaking and teaching and traveling. I’d love to do a world-wide book tour. Several former students have begged me to visit and offered to set up events for me in France and the Philippines, for starters.

What question do you wish that someone would ask about your creative dream, but nobody has? Write it out here, then answer it.

 How did you extract wisdom from your memories of childhood?

As I wrote my book, I reread the entire New Testament, especially the Gospel of John, which I had nearly memorized as a Bible quizzer. I used my 50 year-old KJV Holman Bible. When I was ready to add epigraphs to each chapter, I decided to re-read Ecclesiastes and Proverbs, two of my other favorite books and ones I had studied in my youth. Every epigraph I chose came from verses I had underlined in my teens, proving the declaration in Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the ways he should go: and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

How can we find your creative dream come true?

My website: www.shirleyshowalter.com

 Facebook: www.facebook.com/ShirleyHersheyShowalter

 Twitter: www.twitter.com/shirleyhs

blush-fbcover

 

Congratulations to the winner of last week’s giveaway, the Mighty League Storybook app, Amy B! Email info@suzannewoodsfisher.com to claim your prize!

Leave a comment below for your chance to win a copy of Blush. Winner will be announced next Thursday! 

 

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About Suzanne

Suzanne Woods Fisher writes bestselling, award winning fiction and non-fiction books about the Old Order Amish for Revell Books. Her interest in the Plain People began with her Old Order German Baptist grandfather, raised in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Suzanne's app, Amish Wisdom, delivers a daily Amish proverb to your phone or iPad. She writes a bi-monthly column for Christian Post and Cooking & Such magazine. She lives with her family in California and raises puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. To Suzanne's way of thinking, you can't take life too seriously when a puppy is running through your house with someone's underwear in its mouth.

Comments

  1. Julie Smith says:

    I would love to read Blush! I enjoyed the interview and my curiosity is really piqued! pudy68 @ gmail dot com

  2. barbara says:

    I would love to read this book! I have always admired the values of the amish and Mennonite. It would be great to read a book by someone who mixes the modern and Mennonite world. babscorbitt@gmail.com

  3. Hi, Julie. So glad to meet you. I’d be happy to answer questions here, either before or after you read Blush. I love engaging with readers.

  4. Liz Gray says:

    Would love to read this book! Thanks for the giveaway. 🙂

  5. I would love to win this, read it, and then donate it to our local library. I live in Lancaster County, so there would be many here that would enjoy it. 🙂

    • What a cool double reward — a great way to help an author, Doreen. Thanks for thinking of this. My appreciation for Lancaster County has really deepened through the process of writing this book. You have something special there. So glad that my family is still there and that I can still go “home.”

      Shirley

  6. Robyn L says:

    such a great story and interesting\
    would love to win

  7. Julana says:

    Thank you for this interview. I have reserved the book at the library.

  8. Kathleen Berman says:

    I had a Mennonite penpal in the ’60’s. She was a nice girl I met on a trip. I have not heard any mention of Lititz in ages. My husband and I went there when we were first married & had such a good time his parents went there also. He was from near Philly. It is probably much more crowded now. What pleasant memories you have brought back to me!

    • Loved this story, Kathleen. Penpals were a big thing among Mennonites. I forgot to write about how we used our Sunday School materials (Words of Cheer) to connect with each other. Often people would have six-ten siblings and live on farms from Pa. to Ohio to Va. to Iowa to Oregon and Indiana.

      And Lititz was voted the “Coolest Small Town in America” this year. It’s an amazing little place. Maybe you can get back there and reignite more memories and make new ones!

      Shirley

  9. angela chesnut says:

    would love love love to win.

  10. carol covato says:

    I really enjoyed the interview and I am looking forward to reading Blush.

  11. I loved your blog. I would love to read Blush – it sounds so very interesting!! I’d love to read about her life as a Mennonite. Please enter me in this contest. Thanks much. Judy F

  12. Julie Haefner says:

    Would love to win a copy.

  13. LeAnn Mooneyham says:

    Would love to win her book. Thank you for sharing and a lovely interview. It was informative and exciting to hear about the author.

  14. Bonnie Traher says:

    Sounds like a must read.

  15. Cindi Altman says:

    The interview has me quite interested in reading Blush. Please enter my name in the drawing to win a copy.
    Thanks!

  16. Jackie Tessnair says:

    Great post.Thanks for sharing.I am looking forward to reading this book.It sounds great.

  17. Jackie McNutt says:

    Shirley, I found your interview really interesting. I think there are a lot of us who are interested in the differences in Amish and Mennonite religion and lifestyle.
    While I know some of the basics there is a lot I don’t know but would like to. How nice you were able to have a full support team to encourage you to fulfill your goals .
    I will put this on my to read list as it sounds like a very interesting book.
    Thank you.

    • Hi, Jackie. Thanks for reaching out. In addition to my book, you can find resources on my website by using the search box and typing in “Amish.” I have been writing blog posts since 2009, so there’s a lot of material there both about memoir and about Mennonite and Amish faith and communities. I am truly grateful for my family and their support. Just talked with my 86-year old mother today. She says she keeps the book on her bedside stand and has read it a dozen times. 🙂

  18. Joan Hoffman says:

    I am very much looking to reading Blush and would love to win a free copy! Thank you.

  19. I began many fun, new things during your 100 days challenge and did not win that – so will try for this one! 🙂

    I am looking forward to reading this, especially having followed bits and pieces of the writing, editing and publishing processes through your posts. Will be great to see the final product. Enjoyed this interview as well!

    • I love your spirit, Michelle. Rosy Cheeks (my high school nickname) always enjoyed putting her hat in the ring, so I completely identify with your eagerness to try for things. Good things happen when we win and when we don’t. After a while, we can’t tell the difference. 🙂 I appreciate your encouragement and support. Would love to know your reaction after you’ve read the book.

  20. Connie Roberts says:

    I would love to win a copy of your book, I love to read about Plain people, they are very fascinating to me. Thank you!

  21. Jan Hall says:

    I really enjoyed the interview. I learned a lot. I look forward to reading Blush. I am headed to your Facebook page right now.

  22. I enjoyed this wonderful interview. BLUSH sounds like a very special book! Thank you, Shirley, for sharing your story.

  23. Darlene E says:

    I would love to receive this book. Te interview was great. PICK ME, PICK ME

  24. Julie says:

    What a great interview and very inspiring to me as a writer. Thank you for sharing this and for entering me in the giveaway!

  25. Would love to have a copy of this book!

  26. Shirley this was very interesting. I love learning more about the Plain people. Both Amish and Mennonites. I love the peacefulness of the community, with the closeness of family, and the way the people are always helping others who need help. But They are also hard working people with long days, and I wouldn’t be strong enough for that. And, for sure and for certain I could not learn to speak German. I like the way they are not always rushing around when thats all it seems the Englishers do. Never really having time to enjoy family time. I would love to win your book. Sounds like it is a big seller already. Thanks! And, thanks to Suzanne for having you here. Maxie

    • I too thank Suzanne for having me here. It’s been fun getting to know new people. Thanks for explaining what you enjoy about Plain life. I would agree that life both a slower pace when I was growing up on the farm and yet it was also endless work. Kind of ironic, but true.

      One of the ways Mennonites in my part of the world differ from Amish is that Mennonites use English as their first language and only a few words of Pennsylvania Dutch persist among them. So you could attend most Mennonite services and understand every word. You would be welcome, Maxie.

  27. Shelley Morris says:

    Wow! Blush sounds like a good story. I would love to win/read/share with my family & friends. Thank you for this opportunity to win this great book. Keep up the good work.

  28. Tammy says:

    Hello

  29. JANET says:

    Blush sounds very different and I would love to read it and post a review.

  30. Teresa King says:

    I love to read books about the Amish & Mennonites & am always looking for new books & authors to read. Loved your interview & would love to read your new book.

  31. Bonnie S. says:

    I am really looking forward to reading Blush.
    We are now living in an Amish/Mennonite community in Allensville, PA.
    The community is much like It was in the 50’s and 60’s. I am constantly asking questions or researching their beliefs and dress. On Good Friday this year we were invited to a Mennonite service. On top of their prayer caps the woman wore black scarfs once they were inside. I asked what was the meaning behind the scarf. The ladies I talked to didn’t know. Said they have always done it.
    Since we are retired it would mean so much to win the book.

    • Bonnie, thanks for sharing this personal story explaining your interest. I never heard of the custom of wearing black scarves inside the church — which proves that Mennonites vary greatly from region to region and over time. Good luck with the drawing.

      Shirley

  32. Karen G says:

    I would really, really love to read this book. It sounds really good. Thank you for the chance to win a copy.

  33. Kay from NY says:

    I would love to win a copy of this book. It sounds like a great book. Thank you for the opportunity

  34. Kevlin says:

    Great interview! Looking forward to reading your book. Thank you for sharing this and for the giveaway. Have a Blessed day.