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CINDY WOODSMALL INTERVIEW TALKS ABOUT GATHERING THE THREADS

ABOUT AUTHOR: Cindy Woodsmall is a New York Times, CBA, ECPA, and USA Today best-selling author who has written seventeen (and counting!) works of fiction and one of nonfiction. She and her dearest Old Order Amish friend, Miriam Flaud, coauthored the nonfiction, Plain Wisdom: An Invitation into an Amish Home and the Hearts of Two Women. Cindy has been featured on ABC Nightline and on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and has worked with National Geographic on a documentary concerning Amish life. In June of 2013, the Wall Street Journal listed Cindy as one of the top three most popular authors of Amish fiction.

She's won Fiction Book of the Year, Reviewer's Choice Awards, Inspirational Reader's Choice Contest, as well as one of Crossings' Best Books of the Year. She's been a finalist for the prestigious Christy, Rita, and Carol Awards, Christian Book of the Year, and Christian Retailers Choice Awards.

Her real-life connections with Amish Mennonite and Old Order Amish families enrich her novels with authenticity. Though she didn't realize it at the time, seeds were sown years ago that began preparing Cindy to write these books. At the age of ten, while living in the dairy country of Maryland, she became best friends with Luann, a Plain Mennonite girl. Luann, like all the females in her family, wore the prayer Kapp and cape dresses. Her parents didn't allow television or radios, and many other modern conveniences were frowned upon. During the numerous times, Luann came to Cindy's house to spend the night, her rules came with her and the two were careful to obey them--afraid that if they didn't, the adults would end their friendship. Although the rules were much easier to keep when they spent the night at Luann's because her family didn't own any of the forbidden items, both sets of parents were uncomfortable with the relationship and a small infraction of any kind would have been enough reason for the parents to end the relationship. While navigating around the adults' disapproval and the obstacles in each other's lifestyle, the two girls bonded in true friendship that lasted into their teen years, until Cindy's family moved to another region of the US.

As an adult, Cindy became friends with a wonderful Old Order Amish family who opened their home to her. Although the two women, Miriam and Cindy, live seven hundred miles apart geographically, and a century apart by customs, when they come together they never lack for commonality, laughter, and dreams of what only God can accomplish through His children. Over the years Cindy has continued to make wonderful friendships with those inside the Amish and Mennonite communities--from the most conservative ones to the most liberal.

Cindy and her husband reside near the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains in their now empty nest. 

An interview with Cindy Woodsmall,
Author of Gathering the Threads

Q: The Amish of Summer Grove series introduces readers to a pair of girls, one Englisch and one Amish, who were switched at birth. What are some of the challenges each faced when pushed to experience the life she would have lived had the switch never taken place?

Cindy: Ariana, who was raised Amish, battles to keep her sanity and survive in a lifestyle she’d never considered living. Her biological dad has devised what he calls a “bucket list” because he believes if she returns to the Amish ways, her life will be over. Her thinking and faith are undermined at every turn, and the changes demanded of her break her in ways her Englisch dad can’t understand. She finds it appalling he wants her to remove her prayer Kapp and wear modern clothes. She struggles when he insists she has some length cut from her hair. She’s never had scissors used on her hair. She must learn to drive. She also must study various religions and learn the original meaning of words in the Bible. Her biological dad’s goal is to undo her religious beliefs.

Skylar, who was raised Englisch, agreed to live with her Amish family to avoid rehab. She’s used to living a very comfortable lifestyle. The Englisch parents who raised her were never married and never lived together, so she’s learned throughout the years how to play them against each other to get what she wants. Suddenly she’s in a poor home, stripped of her cell phone, electronics, and spending money. Her immediate challenge upon arrival in the Amish community is how to score prescription drugs. A tight-knit family and community is foreign to her. Manipulating her authorities isn’t easy, and in this home, everyone works to put food on the table and to keep a roof over their heads.

Nora: I was instantly drawn into this story. I was surprised along with the characters about their predicament. I love how you made me feel for each girl and their family. I felt their struggles as each tried to navigate their new worlds. They also started to reevaluate what they were taught to believe and figure out a new normal. This story is powerful!

Q: What are some of the questions about identity the girls must work through as they adjust to life with their new families?


Cindy: Ariana’s journey is about coming to a place of not submitting to the authority over her when she thinks and sees things differently than that authority does.

In book two, Fraying at the Edge, Ariana adjusted to life with her Englischer family. Three months later she comes home, and that’s where Gathering the Threads opens. She left as a sweet, obedient Amish woman, and now she’s being accused of bringing the world into her insular Amish community. Yet she can’t compromise the gains she has made in her own personality and in her relationships. Is she still the “rule follower,” or is she now an “activist,” pushing others to open their eyes to see a broader life and a bigger God?

Nora: I think everyone can learn from Ariana’s struggle.

Skylar feels rejected by both families, passed over in favor of the “good” and “giving” Ariana. Skylar needs to work through her jealousy and her desire to put herself above others, but can she? Being self-centered comes naturally for her.

Nora: Both of these girl’s struggles were heart breaking but hopeful. I loved these books (especially Gathering the Threads) I couldn’t put them down. I liked how you showed this dilemma from all sides making the reader evaluate their own lives and why they believe what they do and how that affects every aspect of their lives.

Q: Today’s news stories, even our social media feeds, are full of people arguing and treating each other poorly due to a difference of opinions. As Christians, how can we be respectful of others’ beliefs while standing for the truth?

Cindy: Ariana wrestles with this very thing in Fraying at the Edge when she is living with her birth parents. In Gathering the Threads, she’s returned to her Amish community a changed woman who must stand up to some of the backward thinking and biases her older bishop holds.

It’s important to remember we have the ability, even when we are overwhelmed with emotions, not to dump our feelings on others. It’s helpful to remind ourselves we are all wrong at times. We’ve all had situations take place where we were lied to or were misinformed. If we’re as right as we think, why lose our temper over it?

I remember telling my mom about something really negative someone had said about me, and my mom asked, “Is it true?”

I shook my head, “No.”

“I don’t think so either, but always ask yourself if what was said is true. If it is, look at yourself and choose to change. If it’s not true, ignore it and move on.”

When we don’t like something, anger is our go-to response. It begins quite young for all people. Toddlers, regardless of ethnicity or socioeconomic background, are known for throwing tantrums.

As adults, we don’t have to let anger take control of us. We can take control and be in control. We can deal with our overwrought emotions in a way that makes us stronger and tomorrow better.

Nora: Amen! Amen! I do like how you have Ariana handle this situation. It really makes readers stop and think about their own lives. I loved that about these stories (actually all your books Grin!)

Q: Ariana was deeply conflicted between respecting the parents who raised her and the pull of the world outside the Amish community. How was she able to balance the two sides and still hold on to her faith?

Cindy: Her emotions were a wreck much of the time, but she didn’t let them have the last say or rule her actions. She could see the extremes in each lifestyle — the Amish and Englisch — and she saw each way of life had strengths and weaknesses. When too confused to know what to believe, she talked to Quill, a good friend she rarely agreed with but who’d been through many of the same things as Ariana. He took her to a planetarium, her first time to go to one, to view images from the Hubble telescope of the universe and galaxies. While there she saw the power and awesomeness of God and realized He was bigger than anyone could understand. Suddenly faith wasn’t about rules and lifestyles. It was about the God of energy and light and creation beyond what she could comprehend. She saw God had a way of her tiny life in the huge universe to be what He designed it to be. 

Nora: Both Quill and Ariana have had similar experiences. Each struggled to discover who God made them to be. They had to be true to that. They couldn’t be anyone else. I liked how you showed that.

Q: Skylar experienced a culture shock when she arrived in Summer Grove. What lessons did she learn from her new Amish family that helped her overcome her battle with drug addiction?

Cindy: Oh, my, where to begin when it comes to Skylar! I’ve had readers contact me, sharing they felt she was unredeemable and wished I wouldn’t waste any more time on her and just toss her to the side to focus on Ariana and her Amish family. That surprised me, and it hurt because I have someone in my life who once had many of Skylar’s traits. We can’t give up the fight. Everyone wants the sweet, stalwart child. However, like winning the lottery, reality doesn’t give us everything we want.

Skylar lives a selfish life unchecked. Her desires for admiration and drugs are a bottomless pit of hunger, but despite those things, when Ariana was forced to live with her biological parents, Skyler was the only person who had the ability to save Ariana’s cafĂ© from going under. Skylar is smart and talented, but her addiction threatens to ruin her life before it can really get started.

It was quite a battle for Skylar to get clean, and she fought with her Amish family to leave her alone and let her be an addict. One Amish sibling fought back, saying, “Don’t let something that cares nothing about you control your life. It will make you as apathetic as it is. Fight, Skylar. Decide that you, your family and your future are worth more than these stupid pills!”

Other things came into play concerning Skylar and her addiction, but Skylar finally understood the value of life. She began the battle to get clean and stay clean. 

Nora: I think many people can learn from Skylar’s struggle and what she finally understands about how precious life can be.

Q: What lessons in hope and faith do you hope readers takeaway from reading Gathering the Threads?

Cindy: Metaphorically, we often have an idea or vision or number in our heads of what life and people are supposed to add up to be. In reality, life is messy and confusing, and it’s rarely what we thought it would be. Even God doesn’t always add up to our ideas or dreams or that elusive number, and we can’t make ourselves, others or God add up. We must accept and believe despite all the messiness and confusion. In the series, Ariana realized there were many translations of God’s Word, and it seemed to her there needed to be more grace and less legalism about exactly how to live. That’s the theme. Hebrews 13:9 says, “It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace.” 

Nora: You stated, “In reality, life is messy and confusing, and it’s rarely what we thought it would be.” That’s what I loved about this book. I liked how you showed this fact; that nothing is perfect and tidy even in an Amish community. God is in control and we aren’t. It’s a powerful concept you explained through both families.
 
Cindy Woodsmall speaks to Finding Hope Book Club


Q: Is there a subtle, maybe even hidden lesson you hope readers consider as well?

Cindy: I think there are many. A fictional story has the power to slip into a reader’s skin and enable her to see nuances of understanding that make life as broad and beautiful as God intended. I didn’t intentionally write hidden lessons, but when readers slip into a character’s world, they often discover things the author didn’t see. As readers, personal insight is our superpower.

Nora: I know I’ll be reading this book again. The story is rich. There were so many things to consider. I was blown away on many levels.


Q: Gathering the Threads is the third and final book in your Amish of Summer Grove series. Is it difficult for you to end a series and leave the characters behind?

Cindy: Yes and no. After three books, there are many pieces to put together and many facets of the story to juggle and remember. It’s a bit of a relief to get to start a fresh story, but at the same time, it feels like I’m saying good-bye to close friends. How can I not write any more about Ari, Quill, and Skylar? Possible spin-offs about their future lives fill my mind when I close my eyes at night, even though it’s not feasible to bring those to the page right now. The good thing about book-friends is they are always there on the page and in my heart whenever I want to visit them.

Nora: I would hope that the Lord lays it on your heart to tell another aspect of their story. I think it would be wonderful.

Q: Can you share a little bit about the book you are you writing next?

Cindy: I just finished writing my first non-Amish novella with my daughter-in-law, Erin. It comes out in October and is titled The Gift of Christmas Past. I’m currently writing a full-length non-Amish book that will release in the fall of 2018. Its working title is Soft Dusks and Noonday Fire, and the setting will be the beautiful St. Simons Island, Georgia. I have an amusing, spunky cast of characters I think my readers will enjoy getting to know.

Nora: Wow, I’m excited about these new projects. I’m making a list!

Learn more about Woodsmall and her books at www.cindywoodsmall.com. She is also active on Facebook (@authorcindywoodsmall). 
Caught up with Cindy at ICRS Conference 2014

Thanks to Audra Jennings of Litfuse for allowing me to post this interview on TBCN Blog.

If you haven’t read this series and/or this book I highly recommend it. If you haven’t read books one and two don’t worry Cindy does a great job of catching readers up to speed to begin reading Gathering the Threads. But I suggest you read one and two afterward because you’ll grasp the depth of the situation and how profoundly this affected everything they were raised to believe. It also will show how it also affected both families.


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