Years ago, while fishing on Ice Lake on Manitoulin Island in Canada, my family and I discovered the ruins of a huge, mysterious-looking stone house overlooking the lake. There wasn’t much left standing except a few portions of the old stone walls.  

Later, we met a man in Michigan who had grown up in that house. He had a photo of it hanging on his nursing home wall and he told us stories of how their family had built the house with rocks that they dragged from the earth with horses.  

Soon after that we heard the good news that the house, which the islanders called ‘Stoney Castle’ had been purchased by an outsider who was having it rebuilt. The difficult restoration project was tackled by Sheppard Bros. Construction, a company known on the island for the quality of their work.

The next time we went, the house had been restored to its former glory. The new owner was kind enough to allow us to make a video to take home to show our nursing home friend.  

In showing us the house, the new owner said that master stone masons were rare, and he had worried about finding one expert enough to take on the complicated task. Fortunately, one of the best lived on Manitoulin Island, and Sheppard Bros. Construction was able to hire him to do the stone work. The owner proudly pointed out how well the old walls had been blended in perfectly with the new.

(Photo: Master Stone Mason Launie Gibson and Ron Sheppard of Sheppard Construction )

Ultimately, that experience inspired the thread in my latest book series. Love’s Journey On Manitoulin Island. Which is a story about a master stone mason who takes on the job of restoring a derelict lighthouse and the granddaughter of the family who once lived there.

While researching stone masonry for the story, I read a book written by a stone mason. My favorite portion was a passage in which he explained that the human eye craves variety, and that is why stone walls are so much more appealing than those built with concrete blocks. He described the value of each stone being unique and said the stones he worked with often seemed to take on personalities. Sometimes he found a stone that was such an odd shape he thought he’d have to throw it away. Then there would come a moment when that “grumpy old rock” turned out to be the perfect fit for some portion of the wall which would be stronger because of it.  

I thought back to how many times my husband, during his years of ministry, would deal with an individual church member who just didn’t seem to fit in. Then suddenly, there would be this unique niche only that “grumpy old rock” could fill, and the church would be stronger because of it.   

 

To my delight, a reader who lives on Manitoulin Island, Wanda Whittington, recently sent me photos of some of the men who rebuilt Stoney Castle. So many readers have contacted me since the first book came out, telling me about their own good memories of Manitoulin Island and their first glimpse of Stoney Castle that, with Wanda’s permission, I’m including these photos for their enjoyment.   

Love’s Journey on Manitoulin: Moriah’s Fortress (Book 2) was released Friday (September 1st) and I’m really excited about this new series and I hope everyone really enjoys it too! I can’t wait to hear what people think about it!

 

-Serena  

Picture a hungry writer sitting in an unheated attic, wearing a ragged head scarf and moth-eaten sweater over shabby clothes. She’s blowing on her fingers, warming them just enough to dip the pen into the ink well again. Then she scribbles a final sentence “the end” on a page of cheap paper, lays it reverently atop a pile of similar paper, and sighs, knowing she has written a book of aching genius that will make her fortune.  

At least that’s the romantic image I grew up with.  Most of my young life I envisioned myself being like Louisa Mae Alcott’s heroine, “Jo.” A writer suffering for her art.

Being a writer in America in the 21st Century is nothing like that.

 

 

The glut of manuscripts, thanks to the ease with which one can churn out thousands of words a day on a computer—readable or not–has made publishers very suspicious of unsolicited manuscripts. Slush piles grow to towering stacks. Endless on-line submissions queue up in an editor’s in-box. Few editors have the time or manpower to skim through all of them.

For those of us who first published during the days of hoping to be picked up by a traditional, royalty-paying publishing house (before the Kindle was invented and getting published through Amazon made self-publishing a viable venue) the struggle to get noticed was real.

I completed manuscripts and sent them to publishers. After a while felt like I was tossing them into a black hole. Then I joined Romance Writers of America and was told about the Catch 22 of publishing. The more experienced writers said that publishers didn’t want to look at a manuscript unless it was first vetted by a literary agent. Literary agents preferred not to look at a manuscript until an author was already published.

It was like being told as a child that I could not go near the water until I could swim. 

Eventually I learned about and joined Romance Writers of America, where I learned that the only way to break through this invisible fence was to 1) write a good book 2) go to writer’s conferences where the admission price bought us wannabes a whole fifteen minutes to make a pitch to a literary agent or editor.

Problem was—writing conferences cost hundreds of dollars and my husband and I did not have deep pockets. We were trying to raise three sons on a country preacher’s pay.    

Things changed when a friend called and offered to give me a part-time job of stocking Hallmark cards in area grocery stores. I jumped at it. The hours were flexible, the money was decent, and the work was pleasant. Best of all, I made enough to pay for several conferences and workshops, where I sweated my way through interview after interview until a literary agent finally decided to take a gamble on me.

That gamble paid off for both of us.

A lot of wonderful things have happened since then career-wise. I’m a full-time writer these days. I gave the Hallmark job to a friend who needed it.

 

 

Even though I no longer work for Hallmark, I have a big soft spot in my heart for that company. They unknowingly helped me sell my first book.    

I doubt the company is aware that the author of one of their latest movies once worked for them. I was a teeny-tiny cog in a huge company.

But here’s the big news. One of my Amish books, An Uncommon Grace, has been turned into a movie and will air February 12, 2017 at 9:00 pm EST on the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries channel.

I think this is called coming full circle…and I am so very grateful.  

Joyanne and her husband had traveled all over the country before settling in Holmes County, Ohio. Soon, they began driving a van for the Amish and became close friends with several Old Order families.

One night as we were discussing our mutual respect for the Plain community, Joyanne said, “I am convinced that Amish children are the happiest children in the world.”

I had to agree. From what I had seen, Amish children were the happiest, most contented, most competent, and the most cheerfully obedient children I’d ever seen and I wanted to know why. Was it merely the lack of television and video games that made them so content, or did the reasons go deeper?

Photo credit: John Starnes / Foter / CC BY
Photo credit: John Starnes / Foter / CC BY

My editor, a young mother raising two daughters in New York City, also wanted to know why. That desire to find out the secret behind the admirable behavior of Amish children led to me to many discussions with the Amish about their methods of parenting, which eventually culminated in a non-fiction Amish parenting book titled More Than Happy: The Wisdom of Amish Parenting.

I discovered many things during these interviews, but the most profound lesson came from a conversation I had with an Amish minister.  We had discussed everything from the necessity of having family meals together to the methods with which they teach their children a solid work ethic. I was just about to close my notebook when my husband asked this final question:“What is your dream for your children?”

I silently ran through several possible answers an Amish person might give. I already knew the answer that most non-Amish parents would give—that they just wanted their children to be happy.

What the Amish minister said rocked me.

“My dream for my children,” he said, simply, “is that they become people of value.”

Another Amish man who was in the room nodded his head in agreement. That was his dream for his children, too.

The interview had been unemotional up to that point, but when I heard those words, I had to fight back the tears. I knew I had found my answer. The goal of an Amish parent is not to make their children happy. Their goal is to raise children who are so much more than happy.

Amish parents very deliberately teach their children how to be good workers, how to show compassion and respect for others, how to live lives of integrity, and how to be people of faith. The need for a parent to be a good example was often emphasized.

More Than Happy HIRESMany of us non-Amish parents, often without realizing what we’re doing, find ourselves prioritizing our children’s temporary happiness over helping them learn principles of permanent importance. Often we do this because it is just so much easier.

The Amish have learned one of the great secrets to life–persons with true value generally become very happy people.

If you’d like a chance to win a copy of More Than Happy: The Wisdom of Amish Parenting, jump on over to AmishWisdom.com and scroll down towards the bottom to sign up!