"Masterfully told, The Midwife is a riveting story with enough twists and turns in the plot to surprise any reader – all while exploring the real ethical, moral, and emotional issues surrounding surrogacy." ~ My endorsement of The Midwife.
Several months ago, when I was asked to endorse Jolina Petersheim’s second book, The Midwife, I did so wholeheartedly. I am so excited to introduce you to her today.
Jolina Petersheim is the bestselling author of The Outcast, which Library Journal gave a starred review and named one of the best books of 2013. She will be sharing the great success she's had with her first novel.
Jolina’s sophomore novel, The Midwife, taps into hers and her husband’s unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. They now live in the mountains of Tennessee with their young daughter. Whenever she's not busy chasing this adorable toddler, Jolina is hard at work on her next novel.
Jolina, will you tell us about your first book The Outcast, including the success you've had with it?
Short version: The Outcast is a modern retelling of The Scarlet Letter set in an Old Order Mennonite community in Tennessee.
Long version: Four years ago, a family member told a true story about the power of desire that was left unchecked and how it trickled down through an Old Order Mennonite family, not only affecting that generation, but the generations to come. We were all sitting around the kitchen, and after the person finished speaking, I gasped, “That’s a book!” But I did nothing about it. At the time, I was writing Southern fiction and did not want to surrender to “Amish fiction”—a genre my father always told me I should write.
However, a few years later, I was on the London Underground when a tall, stoop-shouldered man in a black suit stepped on board. My best friend and I recognized him as the person who was friends with the woman who was allowing us to stay in her flat. On the subway, this unsung poet and prophet spoke into my best friend’s life. Then later, on the double decker bus, he spoke into mine. He told me I would give up the manuscript I was currently working on and begin writing again. I didn’t know I would listen, but when I came home, I could not hear anything else. I put my current manuscript in a drawer and began writing a fictionalized version of the story that had been told to me. The unsung prophet of the London Underground is mentioned in the acknowledgements section of The Outcast.
I have been so touched by the support this debut novel of mine has received. It was a CBA, ECPA, and Amazon bestseller. Library Journal, LifeWay, Baker Book House, and The Christian Manifesto all selected The Outcast as one of their Best Books of 2013.
More even than these wonderful accolades, though, countless times I have been moved to tears by messages from dear readers, who contact me to express how The Outcast’s story of heartache, forgiveness, and redemption has transformed their lives. To me, this is what it’s all about.
Wow, that's impressive success for a debut novel! Which brings us to your second book, The Midwife. Will you tell us about it?
I’d love to!
Since the day Rhoda Mummau was baptized into the Old Order Mennonite Church and became the head midwife of Hopen Haus, she’s been torn between the needs of the unwed mothers under her care and her desire to conceal the secrets of her past. Contact with the outside world could provide medical advantages, but remaining secluded in the community gives her the anonymity she craves.
Graduate student Beth Winslow is on a path she never would have chosen. Heartbroken after surrendering a baby to adoption, she devotes herself to her studies until she becomes pregnant again, this time as a surrogate. But when early tests indicate possible abnormalities, Beth is unprepared for the parents’ decision to end the pregnancy—and for the fierce love she feels for this unborn child. Desperate, she flees the city and seeks refuge at Hopen House.
Past and present collide when a young woman named Amelia arrives to the sweeping countryside bearing secrets of her own. As Amelia’s due date draws near, Rhoda must face her past and those she thought she had left behind in order for the healing power of love and forgiveness to set them all free.
You seem to be a natural-born storyteller. Do you come from a family of storytellers?
Funny you should ask! One of the reasons my family moved from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to Nashville, Tennessee, was to see if my father could break into the songwriting business. He won an award a few years back, and he continues songwriting to this day. My mother always encouraged reading, and since we didn’t have a TV for a majority of my childhood, I read every book I could get my hands on!
When did you know you wanted to become a writer?
Because of my father’s weekly songwriting sessions with a good family friend, I tried to make up songs before I could even read or write. Once I started to read (especially the Anne of Green Gables series!), I knew I wanted to be an author one day, like Anne. I have received some incredible support through my parents, teachers, friends, and husband, which was significant in making this dream come true. I’m so very grateful to each and every one of them!
The Anne of Green Gables books are my favorites too! Anne inspires us to be authentic to who we are. And it seems you are doing exactly what you are meant to do. Where do your ideas come from for writing fiction? (Do you dream them, are they sparked by your experiences, or do they hit you from out of the blue, separate from your experiences or dreams?)
My first novel stemmed from a story, but I used personal experience (watching my best friend go through a bone marrow transplant) to aid the plot twist. My second novel, The Midwife, was partly based on a conversation I had with a dear college friend, who—because of a medical condition—would only be able to carry a child through a surrogate. It made me contemplate all of the various decisions that would have to be made, and how one hitch in the process could set off a chain of events.
So, to answer your question, I guess my fiction ideas come from real life.
Will you describe your path to publishing?
I had a rather unusual path. I met my agent, Wes Yoder, at an author reading when I was 25,000 words into the first draft of The Outcast. He asked if he could read the portion of the manuscript I had completed. I sent the polished version to him one month later. He told me he thought the story had potential, so I began to write as quickly as I could. I was expecting our little girl at the time; therefore, I knew I had a narrow window in which to finish the manuscript. I completed The Outcast in six months, and Wes and I had a two-book publishing contract with Tyndale House when my firstborn daughter was 12 weeks old. She is now almost two, and all I can say is that it has been a delightful, somewhat challenging, but always a rewarding journey!
What an amazing journey, Jolina. What advice do you have for other fiction writers — both for those who are young and have their whole lives ahead of them and also for those who have spent years trying to publish their work?
Never, ever give up! That afternoon I met my agent, I was twelve weeks pregnant and had reconciled in my heart that it was time to set my writing dream aside. It seems that God was just waiting for my complete surrender to His plan in order to set my future career into motion. It is a dream come true to work from home and be with our daughter through every simple, exquisite moment!
Thank you, Jolina, for sharing so generously about your stories and your writing life. I wish you great success with The Midwife which is very likely, given your wildly successful first book.
To enter the free giveaway of The Midwife, simply leave a comment for Jolina Petersheim below. I will be doing the drawing one week from today, on Sunday, June 21.
To learn more about Jolina Petersheim and her writing you can visit her website: www.jolinapetersheim.com