Today I’m pleased to introduce to readers a few of the residents of Dry Lake, Pennsylvania, the community created in Cindy Woodsmall newest novel “The Hope of Refuge”, published by Waterbrook Press. Cindy will be sitting in on the interview as well. Here’s the jacket synopsis:
Raised in foster care and now a widowed single parent, New Yorker Cara Moore struggles against poverty, fear, and a relentless stalker. When a trail of memories leads Cara and her daughter, Lori, away from the city toward an Amish community, she follows every lead, eager for answers to mysteries from her past and a fresh start. She quickly discovers that Dry Lake, Pennsylvania, is no place for an outsider. But one Amish man, Ephraim Mast, dares to fulfill the command he believes that he received from God —“Be me to her”—even though doing so threatens his way of life.
Fearful of the strange Englischer woman causing turmoil for her family, Ephraim’s sister Deborah tries to focus on the marriage and home she longs to begin with Mahlon Stolzfus. Her dreams are threatened when her fiancé begins behaving oddly, withdrawing, causing concern for both Deborah and Mahlon’s mother, Ada. Will Ada’s vision for transforming a run-down house unite them all in a common purpose—or push Mahlon away forever?
Torn between the requirements of his community and trying to do what he believes is right, Ephraim risks losing everything, including a developing friendship with the guarded single mother. And only he knows that long-held secrets about her family history ripple beneath the surface of Dry Lake—secrets with the power to tear apart the home Cara is desperately trying to create.
I’m going to start with Cara, who’s shown a remarkable amount of bravery, though not by choice, I’m sure. Cara, you’ve struggled with a lot of fear and mistrust in your life. What made you willing to share your story with Cindy? And what was it like working with her?
“It was difficult at first to open up to anyone, but through my friendships with Ephraim, Ada, and Deborah I’m starting to understand that some people are trustworthy. Since people I’ve learned to trust told Cindy about me before we met, I found it easier to talk to her than I would have otherwise. She seems to put a lot of effort into truly hearing the story behind the simplicity of the words I share, and rather than judge me, she’s awed at what I’ve lived through—although it’s clear that she can’t truly know what it’s like to be jaded and streetwise from an early age.”
How were you and Cindy introduced to each other?
“A couple of times a year, Cindy visits Dry Lake—or rather she visits the place her book refers to as Dry Lake—and mutual friends shared my story with her.”
Some people have strong memories of their childhood years. Why do you think Cara has so few and fleeting?
“I read that when children are traumatized, their bodies’ first response is to become overwhelmingly sleepy. A child’s emotions are on overload during and after a trauma and they, by design, escape through falling asleep. Many times memories have a similar response to trauma.
“Children only remember snapshots of life from when they were young, and memories have a way of hiding if they only bring confusion and pain to the person involved. Sometimes after a serious trauma takes place, a child will gradually forget more and more of their life before the trauma took place. Parents and siblings and photos often help a child recall events by adding word triggers (“Remember when…?”). But if the child doesn’t have anyone who remembers any part of his or her past, those memories can fade into nothingness.”
Back to Cara:
Do you ever worry about Mike showing up in Dry Lake or Hope Crossing someday?
“You know, there’s not much chance of him finding me. He has no way of knowing which direction I headed when I disappeared. I don’t have the sort of job where he could track me. I don’t use my social security number, don’t own a phone, don’t use credit cards or even rent a house in my name. Still, the fear of Mike seeps into my dreams from time to time and it makes me wonder if I’ve left some clue I’m unaware of. I guess only time will tell.”
Have you thought about continuing the journal that your mother left for you?
“It’s full.” (She smiles.) “I will always treasure my journal and the connection to the past and the pathway to my future that it opened for me. But looking at it from a different perspective, I have a chance to live my own life now, and I have to do that rather than dwelling in a past that can’t be changed.”
You seem to be quite a ladies’ man, if you don’t mind my saying. What was it about all those girls you courted in the past that made you know that they weren’t the ones for you? And was it a little weird dating Anna Mary after you’d already dated her sister?
(Ephraim chuckles.) “A ladies’ man? Can’t say I ever saw myself that way, and I’m pretty sure an Amish man couldn’t be a “ladies’ man” in the way Englischers use the term. Most of the girls I’ve courted were great people, just not who I wanted to build a life with. There was an emptiness inside me that no one ever came close to filling until … well, you know. And you’re right, it was very uncomfortable courting Susanna and then her younger sister Anna Mary. I never wanted it to work out that way, and I avoided Anna Mary for a long time because of that. But then I realized that Susanna was married and happy, so why should she care? And I couldn’t ignore someone who might be the right one simply because I’d courted her sister years earlier.”
What sort of things did Cara find when she organized the closet in the bedroom of your house?
“Junk mostly. You know, old screwdrivers, door handles, strips of leather from when I had to rework a harness, suspenders with no elasticity left in them. Old clothes I never threw out but are too worn to actually wear” (He smiles.) “And then Cara discovered a box of stuff I hadn’t looked at in years—photos from my rumschpringe days both in Dry Lake and among the Englischers. Stuffed inside that box were letters my mother had written to friends of hers. Some of her friends gave them to me after she passed.”
Being Amish, how comfortable were you sharing your story, especially with an Englischer like Cindy?
“My Daed is the one who started telling her the story, so at first I was uncomfortable. As you know, Daed tends to say things he probably shouldn’t. So after Cindy sat in my hiddy and talked with me for a while, I went from just answering her questions to telling her my side of the story.”
How does Deborah seem to be doing these days, if I may ask?
“Just about the time I think she’s doing pretty good, she takes another dip into heartache. There’s something inside her that can’t seem to let go of what’s happened. But I don’t think I can be the one to help her—maybe Cara or Lena, but not me.”
To Deborah, Anna Mary, Lena, Rachel, Linda, Nancy, Lydia, Frieda, and Esther:
Do any of you wish that Cara had not told her story? If so, can you tell us why? Feel free to share any of your thoughts about Cara doing this . . . or about Ephraim telling his side of the story.
“I’m Rachel, and it’s a little hard to be completely open about that with Cara in the room with us at Ada’s House.”
(Cara straightens her shoulders.) “You think you can say something about me and how tough this has been for all of you that I don’t already know?”
(Rachel offers a lopsided smile.) “I guess you’re right.” (She draws a deep breath.) “We all talked about it one night, and Cara telling the story was the least of our frustrations. The hard part was when she showed up in Dry Lake. Her presence shifted and altered all of our lives as well as the lives of people we love. Most of us are still not sure how we feel about her, but she’s here now. Some of us dread how the next few years might play out.” (She glances to Anna Mary.)” And some of us believe we have already seen the worst that will happen.”
Are any of you considering sharing your own stories with Cindy?
“My name is Lena. A lot of readers will remember me as the one with a birthmark on her cheek. None of the other girls want to speak up, so I will. I think it’s time for my life to change. I’m twenty-three years old and I’ve never been asked out. Until now I haven’t minded. I chose to believe what my mother promised me before she died—that I’d find the right man, and when I did he’d see beyond my mark and into my heart. I know I can’t choose for it to be my time, but I’m sure ready to step forward and see what . . . and who . . . is out there for me.”
Have you played any hilarious pranks on one another lately?
(Cara looks to Deborah and shrugs.) “We played one on Lena, but she doesn’t know it yet. Not sure how that will end up going.”
(Lena laughs.) “On me? When? Where?”
“Last week,” Deborah says. “In your own home.”
(Lena’s brows furrow.) “Great. Now I’m afraid to go home.”
(They all giggle.)
Would anyone like to share the most important event that happened in your life before the story starts?
(Ada tilts her head.) “The most important events that have happened to me were marrying Mahlon’s father and giving birth to Mahlon. Those things changed who I was, but as it’s turned out, those events faded like chimney smoke on a winter’s day, and all I can do now is hope that contentment isn’t found in what was, but in what will be.”
To all the characters:
Do any of you have any final words or thoughts you’d like to share about what you’ve been through, your lives right now, your hopes for the future, and so on?
Deborah says, “I feel lost. Still, I know I’m blessed to have so many people who love me and want to help. I just hope I can get my feet under me one day so I can be there for them when the need arises.”
(Cara puts her arm around Deborah and squeezes, whispering something in her ear before turning to the rest of the group.) “As a girl who wasn’t raised Amish, my desire is to survive a culture that is so different from anything I’ve ever known. If I’d grown up believing in God, maybe the adjustment would be easier, but seeing Deborah’s family and friends rally around her gives me glimpses into the good parts of living Amish.”
Thank you for coming, everyone. We can hardly wait to hear the rest of your stories in the Ada’s House series. Perhaps as they’re told, you can all stop by The Secret Lives of Characters again, and share with us.
Cindy Woodsmall is the author of When the Heart Cries, When the Morning Comes, and When the Soul Mends. Her ability to authentically capture the heart of her characters comes from her real-life connections with Amish Mennonite and Old Order Amish families. A mother of three sons and two daughters-in-law, Cindy lives in Georgia with her husband or more than thirty years.
Visit her and read excerpts of her books at http://www.cindywoodsmall.com