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

Suzanne Dreams Coming True

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

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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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