Friday, August 5, 2011

G. is for Gaus: P. L. Gaus: Book Giveaway

Continuing the Mystery Author Alphabet Meme today, I welcome P.L. Gaus, author of The Amish-Country Mysteries: G is for Gaus. I was lucky to sit with Paul and his wife at Malice Domestic. You'll love his books that give you an insight into another culture. Great sense of place.

P. L. Gaus is the author of six books in the Amish-Country Mystery series. He lives in Wooster, Ohio, an area that is close to the world’s largest settlement of Amish and Mennonite people. Gaus lectures widely about the lifestyles, culture, and religion of the Amish. Read more about his unique experiences at P. L. Gaus’s Ohio Amish Journal.

Book Give-away: Comment below for a chance to win the latest novel HARMLESS AS DOVES by P.L. Gaus. Be sure and leave your email address.. can be in john  at  comcast dot com (form)

P. L. Gaus:

At nearly every appearance I have made, I have been asked why I write murder mysteries about Amish people, who are plainly among the most peaceful Americans anyone knows, and my answer is always in two parts. First, Amish society is infinitely fascinating to me, and I believe it deserves to be better understood. Second, murder mysteries are especially fun (I don’t need to explain that to anyone in this audience), and crime fiction gives us what I think is the best opportunity in popular literature to explore the human condition. I’ll elaborate.

How can Amish people not be fascinating? They hold themselves apart from the rest of us. They travel only in horse-drawn vehicles. They farm the old ways, eschewing most modern conveniences in life. They worship privately. And they hold to Christian pacifism more doggedly than they hold to their own safety and wellbeing. Then, crime fiction connects naturally with all of the underlying reasons for conflict, and an examination of motive is really an examination of the human condition. Our passions expose the rawest and most authentic emotional dilemmas. But why combine these two – Amish and murder? A bishop near Batavia, NY, once asked me at a talk I gave at the local library why I write murders mysteries about Amish people. The answer that appeased him the most is that I do not write for an Amish audience. I write for English people who want to know more about Amish society.

In each of my novels, I explore an issue that is pivotal in Amish society, and there is usually a scriptural theme that is the focus of the plot and of the choices the characters face. In Blood of the Prodigal, the theme was repentance and forgiveness surrounding a shunning event. In Broken English, I examined Amish pacifism with a story about a vengeance quest. Clouds without Rain was about authoritarian leadership, through the vehicle of broken leadership and lapse of faith. In Cast a Blue Shadow, I wrote about child abuse in a closed society. The choice every Amish teenager faces about taking the vows to live Amish was the theme in A Prayer for the Night. The dilemma of interactions and compromises with the modern word of science and medicine was the issue in Separate from the World. And in Harmless as Doves, I wrote about the need we all have for forgiveness, from the viewpoint of several characters who understood this to widely varying degrees.

My stories are also about life in small-town America, where everyone knows everyone else, and where friendships last a lifetime. It’s a place of quiet competence, steadfast loyalties, and sturdy moralities. My three main protagonists are like this, as are the strong women in their lives. Sheriff Bruce Robertson, Pastor Caleb Troyer, and Professor Michael Branden have been friends since kindergarten, and as strong as their friendship is, the strain of a case often divides them sharply. These characters give me my connection to law enforcement, religion, and academia. Their wives and families give me the opportunity to portray these men with soft lighting and close familiarity. Then men are not complete without their families, and the women often out-think the men on the more subtle points of a case.

For my setting, The Amish-Country Mysteries are parked on the numerous cultural divides in Holmes County, Ohio, where the world’s largest Amish and Mennonite settlement is found. English folk are perplexed and challenged by Amish folk. One type of Amish sect is pitched against another. The differences are highlighted in a mix of cultures that nevertheless seems peacefully and gracefully to get along for the most part. Where could an author find a better source of material?

I have been traveling the back roads and lesser gravel lanes of Holmes County, Ohio, for nearly thirty-five years, now, and the material for my novels comes from my experiences there, watching the culture, talking with people, wandering through the countryside. I seem to have an excellent ability to remember detail (I was a chemistry professor for thirty-one years, and I have an eye for detail), and I have met hundreds of fascinating people. At library, bookstore, and literary appearances, I almost always tell stories about the Amish people I have met in Holmes County, and each story I tell gives me a chance to illustrate some important point about Amish culture. There was the one-armed Amish entrepreneur who traveled the southern and Midwestern states to buy broken down sawmills, which he shipped to his home in Minnesota after they were refurbished in Holmes County. He makes quite a handsome profit reselling these sawmills to Amish families around the country, and incidentally, he lost his arm at a young age in his father’s sawmill. He is a proper old order Amish man in every aspect of life, and he is not in trouble with his bishop for any infractions of the rules. But he has managed to earn a living doing something other than farming. In a similar, way, I once met an old order Amish man who’s first job many years ago in Indiana was to install electric wiring in travel trailers.
He studied various aspects of electronics and computer circuitry through mail-order courses, and now he installs high technology home security systems in English people’s homes, traveling to nearby states in a van his chauffeur owns and drives. He is likewise not in danger of any infractions of lifestyle rules – after all, it is his chauffeur’s van, and he himself never drives. There was the Amish dwarf with a life-long goiter condition, who lost his fingers in a threshing machine when he was ten, and whose family is being studied by geneticists who are interested in the types of disorders that arise from close inbreeding in restricted societies. And then there was the young bishop I met on a park bench once, whose teenaged charges had been asking him embarrassing questions about sexuality, which he, as leader of the church, could nevertheless not answer. It seems he came to town that day for the same reason I did – to sit on a park bench and talk to someone who understood life on different terms. As best as I could, I answered his questions for over an hour, blushing at times, but always fascinated by his sudden need to know details that he probably had never thought about. You see, Amish teenagers have access to all of the modern devices – videos, DVDs, radios, computers, TV, magazines, cell phones, FAX machines, and the like. An author could not ask for a more subject-rich environment.

Finally, the one other question that I always get at talks, lectures and appearances I give is: “How do you know your stories are authentic?” By that people almost always mean ‘true-to-life.’ My best answer is the story of an old order Amish man who read several of my novels and remarked to the neighbor from whom he had borrowed them that, “These are such marvelous stories. And just think - they are all true!” When she told him that they were works of fiction from start to finish, he became angry, announcing with some considerable consternation that his bishop did not permit his congregants to read fiction. As an author, I take it as a high complement to the stories that at least one Amish fellow thought they were entirely plausible.

That’s precisely the kind of authenticity I have been striving for in The Amish-Country Mysteries – to illuminate Amish culture so thoroughly that even the practitioners will think it is real.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting thought, interesting enough that I will have to give one of your books a try! Thanks for sharing with us and for the chance to win a free book! Lynn/MI lynn@tangledyarn.com

Pattie @ Olla-Podrida said...

I'd be interested in giving this series a try. I'd read a cozy mystery featuring an Amish main character and was so put off by her rudeness and sanctimony that I could barely finish the book. Somehow I think this series will provide far more accuracy and intelligence. Enjoyed this post.

Elizabeth said...

I have been interested in this series since first noticed a half year or so ago. I have wondered whether they would be suitable for our church library. "Amish Fiction" is very popular with my readers. Does each book carry through? I am not sure I would want to read the last one first to see if would be OK, in case I should win, that is.

Enjoyed your blog entry. Thanks for writing.

fishea52atgmaildotcom

Janet Rudolph said...

Good point, Elizabeth, about reading books in a series, starting with the first. I'll ask Paul what he thinks, and he'll post later..

traveler said...

Thanks for this lovely giveaway which appeals to me greatly. I would be very interested in reading this book and reading the series and learning more. many thanks. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

Margot Kinberg said...

What a wonderful giveaway idea! And this series especially appeals to me because I grew up very near Amish country so the topic's really interesting!

I'd love to win the giveaway!


MargotKinberg(at)gmail(dot)com

Anonymous said...

I have read all of Gaus's books, and I highly recommend them. I too am fascinated by the Amish people (and a lover of mysteries) and welcome this insight into a usually closed world.

Debbie

John said...

Please add me to the list of potential winners. I have three of his books already. An original and compassionately written series. crimeguy[at]clear[dot]net

PoCoKat said...

Sounds like a great series!

littleone AT shaw DOt ca

Paul Gaus said...

I think my books are best read in order, because there is a cast of English regulars in all of the stories. However, this is not necessary. The trade paperback editions by Plume are the latest versions of the first six novels, and the new one, Harmless as Doves, has now been published by Ohio University Press, my original publisher. Mostly, I have tried to write stories that nearly anyone could read, with characters who have a quiet dignity and sense of ethics. I think that makes sense with most of my readers.

Kari Wainwright said...

I always like to learn more about cultures that are different from mine. I'd love to try this series. It sounds intriguing.

gkw9000 at gmail dot com

Carol M said...

This sounds like a series I would enjoy! Thank you for the chance to win a copy!
mittens0831 at aol dot com

Mollie Bryan said...

The series sounds fascinating. I'd love to read it.
molliebryan at comcast dot net

Anonymous said...

We hired Amish to build a barn on our Ashland county farm. Interestingly enough, the farm is now owned by an Amish family who recently built another house there for the elderly parents. A fascinatingg culture.

boots9k at wowway dot com

Prentiss Garner said...

This sounds like a series that I would really like. I am going to give it a try and would love to win the giveaway.

prentissg at gmail dot com

skkorman said...

Sounds like a great series—please enter me to win!

skkorman AT bellsouth DOT net

pennyt said...

I've read and enjoyed all the previous books in this series and would love to win a copy of the newest one. Thanks for the interesting interview.

pennyt at hotmail dot com

SandieHerron@gmail.com said...

I would just love to win a copy of any of your books. I review books with Lesa Holstine at Lesa's Book Critiques. When we noticed that a recent book was set in Sarasota, we were highly interested because I live in Sarasota not very far from the Amish / Mennonite section of town. The differences and similarities in our communities has alwas confused me and intrigued me.
Lesa used to live a bit south of us and as a librarian she arranged the Lee County Book Fair. She has since moved to Scobttsdale, Arizona, but we figure that widened our interests.

We would very much like to review at minimum pieces of the series.

Sandie Herron is reachable at sandieherron@Comcast.net.

Less Holstine can be reached at less.Holstine@ gmail.com.

We would love to hear from you.

Dee said...

It is always good to learn something new - keeps the brain active. I would love to win, but if I don't I will look for these books. grammyd01@comcast.net

H. L. Banks said...

I follow your blog daily and am so glad I do otherwise I would have missed out on a writer whose works I would like to read.

hlbanks dot banks at gmail dot com

Lori said...

I have enjoyed the Amish mysteries from the beginning. They give a different perspective on life in the U.S. and exemplify a closed community that actually lives its beliefs. And the books are thoughtful, with characters who seem real. A reader doesn't chew her nails over these books, but she does think about them afterward.

Paul Gaus said...

I take that as a high compliment Lori - that you think about the books after you read them. I spend a great deal of time thinking about them, too, before I begin to write. Each book has a theme, and I hope that comes through with my readers.

Paul Gaus said...

Thanks, Sandie. I met Lesa at a lecture she invited me to give at her library last fall near Scottsdale, while I was touring for the release of the Plume edtiion of Blood of the Prodigal. I will make sure you get a review copy of Harmless as Doves, plus future books in the series.

Paul Gaus said...

Pattie is right to think of my mysteries as cozies. But I'd say they are cozies with gun play. The stories are parked authentically in Holmes County, Ohio, and they are parked as well on the cultural divide between Amish and English society. So they are cozies, yes, and cultural mysteries, too. I'd call them cultural cozies, with gun play in the mix.

nance marie said...

Paul,
I have not read your work. Yet, i do find the Amish life to be interesting.

Janet,
Thanks for the give-away fun.

nance.mdr@gmail.com