Nancy Grossman is the author of A World Away, a story about an Amish teen named Eliza who wishes to experience the modern world. I recently listened to this book and couldn’t stop thinking about Eliza and the difficult choices she must make between her home and her new life. Nancy Grossman sheds some light on the inspiration for the story, how she researched the Amish community, and of course, her favorite writing snack.
Where did you get the idea for A World Away? Do you have any personal ties to the Amish community?
Every year I take a trip with two of my girlfriends from high school. One year we chose Lancaster, PA, because (frankly) we were curious about the Amish. The inn where we stayed offered guests the opportunity to have dinner at an Amish house, and there I met a 15-year-old Amish girl who talked to me about her love for reading. That dinner (described in the first chapter of the book) was a revelation to me. The house was dim and rustic, but so comfortable, and I remember how the mother carried a lantern outside to guide us to our cars because the darkness was so absolute. I was quite taken with this world, and the young Amish girl I met at the dinner, and after I came home the images of the kapps and aprons and lanterns stayed with me. I imagined what it would have been like to take this girl home and show her our world, and I tried out a few narrative ideas that would place an Amish teenager here. One day my husband showed me a newspaper article about Rumspringa, the time when Amish youth are allowed to run wild before deciding to join the church, and I felt that I’d found the premise for my story.
How did you research the Amish community? Did you have the opportunity to interview people or visit an Amish village?
I read a lot of books and articles about the Amish culture, including one text specifically about Rumspringa. This research helped me understand some of the history and ideology of the Amish way of life, while providing me with some practical explanations of how they go about their daily lives without electricity. I also viewed the documentary “The Devil’s Playground”, about Amish youth during Rumspringa, and I watched the movie Witness about thirty times! I didn’t have the opportunity to interview any Amish, but I did read several interviews as well as first-person accounts written by Amish people. And I also recalled my conversations with the Amish girl and her mother (though those occurred before I knew I’d be writing the book.)
In the book, Eliza keeps a journal of all of her “first experiences” living in a new world. Which one of these is your favorite?
The journal portions of the book went through many revisions. Originally, I wrote the book in third person, so the journal was an important means of hearing Eliza’s voice. Then, on the excellent advice of an agent, I rewrote the story in first person from Eliza’s point of view. This change was critical for the narrative, but I found that it made the journal passages a bit superfluous. We were already hearing her voice as the narrator, and there was no need to have more than one version of how the events were unfolding for her. But the journal was still necessary as a device through which Eliza learned about her mother’s secrets (sorry for the spoiler!). So my editor and I brainstormed about how to best convey Eliza’s experience through the journal without being repetitive, and we came up with the idea of the “new experiences” list.
My favorite parts of her list were the references to the Cubs. I grew up in a Cubs-obsessed family, and I have many childhood memories of going to Cubs games, and watching games on TV, and hoping each year that it would be the Cubs’ year, and lamenting at the end of the season that it wasn’t. My dad taught me how to keep a scorecard at the games, and I later taught my son, who is now a sports journalist, how to read the box scores. I enjoyed incorporating that part of my experience in the book.
What was the most challenging part about writing this story?
I loved imagining Eliza’s life at home, and those scenes were so much fun to write. But once I got her to our world I found it a bit challenging to see this place through her eyes without boring the readers with information they already knew. The “fish out of water” passages were a central part of the narrative, but they had to be handled with care so as not to be tedious or overdone.
I have to admit that I also struggled a little with the romantic scenes in the book. I was a shy and awkward adolescent, and I never had a teenage romance or went to a school dance. While I was never an Amish girl either, I was at least able to research that life. For Eliza’s scenes with Josh and Daniel, I had to imagine what those interactions were like, so those parts of the book took a different type of writing effort.
I always like to ask authors: do you have any favorite reading (or writing) snacks?
I always have a bag of 5-flavor lifesavers with me when I read and write. Cherry is my favorite.
Thank you, Nancy! For more information about Nancy Grossman’s book A World Away, please visit her website: http://nancy-grossman.com