Interview & Contest: Shelley Shepard Gray

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Shelley Shepard Gray ap1Jen: Today we welcome Shelley Shepard Gray back to Romancing the Book. Shelley, will you share a short bio with us?
Shelley: Shelley Shepard Gray writes Amish romances for Harper Collins inspirational line, Avon Inspire and historical romances as Shelley Gray for Zondervan. Her novels have been Holt Medallion winners and Inspirational Readers Choice and Carol finalists. Shelley’s novels have appeared on both the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists.

To date, Shelley has published over fifty novels for a variety of publishers. Her novels have been highlighted in the Philadelphia Enquirer,  Washington Post, Time Magazine, and USA Today. She has also been interviewed on NPR as well as numerous regional radio stations.

Before writing romances, Shelley lived in Texas and Colorado, where she taught school and earned both her bachelor’s degree in English literature and elementary education and later obtained her master’s degree in educational administration. She now lives in southern Ohio and writes full time. Shelley is married, the mother of two young adults, and is an active member of her church.

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Jen: Please tell us about your newest release and where the idea came from.
Shelley: A Daughter’s Dream is the second book in my Charmed Amish Life series.  I wanted to write a series set around a family owned lumber mill. A Daughter’s Dream focuses on Rebecca Kinsinger and her struggles with finding her place in the family business, and of course, her romance with a new arrival in Charm.

Here’s a short excerpt:

When the last of the students were gone, Rachel turned to Rebecca and smiled. “Danke for helping me today, Rebecca. You were a lifesaver.”

The praise was as embarrassing as it was unwarranted. “I don’t think that was the case at all, Rachel. I tried my best, but chaos reigned. I don’t know what happened—I was sure I could manage things easily for an hour.”

She chuckled. “Don’t fret. You did fine. It’s simply in children’s natures to stretch their boundaries. They like to push a bit, just to see when someone will push right back.”

“Well, they certainly pushed.” They also won. Again, Rebecca wondered how it was possible for her to work so well with hundreds of grown men at the lumber mill but be putty in twenty-five children’s hands. “I see I have a lot to learn about managing a classroom.”

Rachel waved off her concerns. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. Any job takes time to learn. I’m sure I would be a nervous wreck managing things like you do at the mill. Whenever I’ve come to visit Marcus, I’ve seen you at your desk, surrounded by demanding men and ringing telephones.” She shivered dramatically. “Give me children to manage any day.”

“That’s nothing. All it took was practice.” Hearing her own words, Rebecca grinned. “I guess I just need some more practice with the children.”

“You do, especially if you are serious about wanting to take on this job one day.”

“I am serious. But I don’t want your job,” she assured her quickly. “Simply a teaching job at one of the Amish schools in the area.”

“If that is what you want to do, I’m sure you will succeed just fine,” Rachel said. “I’ve never seen you back down or give up in all the years I’ve known ya.”

That was a nice compliment. Rebecca hoped Rachel was right in this case. She’d had a dream of being a teacher for years, but had never been able to give it much attention because of the demands of the mill.

However, after last year’s terrible accident at the lumberyard, which had killed five men, including her father, Rebecca had decided the time had come to stop putting dreams off and start putting them into practice. It was simply too bad that her first opportunity to be in charge of the classroom had gone so badly.

Not wanting to dwell on herself anymore, she looked at Rachel closely. “Did everything go all right with your appointment?”

Jah.” A small, secret smile appeared on Rachel’s face before vanishing.

Just as Rebecca was about to ask what that smile had been about, a man appeared at the door, his hand resting on the shoulder of a shy-looking thirteen-or fourteen-year-old girl. “Excuse me. Is one of you the teacher?”

While Rebecca found herself staring rather dumbly at the man who was entirely too handsome to be any teenager’s parent, Rachel lifted one of her hands. “I am,” she said in a sweet voice. “I’m Rachel Mast.”

“Hi,” the newcomer said with a tentative smile. He was a bit older than Rebecca, and was wearing a long-sleeved light green shirt and heavy boots peeking out from beneath his dark trousers. Rebecca also noticed his mesmerizing green eyes.

After squeezing the girl’s shoulder once, he dropped his hand. “My name is Jacob Yoder and this here is Lilly,” he said a bit awkwardly. “I need to enroll her in school.”

Rachel smiled at the girl.

As did Rebecca. Looking at the teenager, Rebecca noticed that she, too, had green eyes. But instead of dark brown hair like Jacob, she had dark auburn. She also seemed to be blessed with skin that tanned instead of freckled. She was a pretty girl who was going to be beautiful one day.

“Hiya, Lilly,” Rachel said in her sweet way. “Like I said, I’m Rachel Mast, the teacher here at Charm School.”

“Hi,” Lilly said. She met Rachel’s eyes briefly before looking down at her tennis-shoe-clad feet.

“Did you just move here?” Rebecca asked. Though she didn’t know every Amish family in Charm, she recognized most.

“I just arrived here from Florida,” the man said.

“Welcome to Charm, then,” Rachel said easily. “This is my friend Rebecca Kinsinger. She volunteers here from time to time.”

Feeling a bit tongue-tied, Rebecca lifted a hand. “Hiya.”

Jacob glanced her way, then stilled. “Hi. It’s, ah, it’s nice to meet you,” Jacob said.

Rebecca belatedly realized she was probably smiling so broadly that the dimple in her right cheek was showing.

When he didn’t add anything else, either about himself or Lilly, Rachel cleared her throat. “Rebecca’s family owns the lumber mill. Do you work there?”

Nee. I’m a farmer.”

Still looking at her feet, Lilly smiled for the first time.

When Jacob noticed her expression, he laughed. “Lilly’s smiling because I’m currently not much of a farmer. I keep making mistakes right and left. We just moved in with my parents, Lilly’s grandparents. I’m afraid farming is as unfamiliar to me as building houses in the Florida heat would be for most of the men around here.”

“Someone recently told me to have patience with my wishes and dreams,” Rebecca ventured, unable to keep from smiling at him. “Maybe that would work for you in this case, too?”

“I hope so.” He smiled back at her. “My daed is counting on my help.”

“I bet you both will get the hang of things here in Ohio in no time,” Rachel said. “Things are different from Florida, for sure, but the people are just as nice. Everyone helps each other, just like always.”

“Only he needs to get the hang of things here,” Lilly said, slowly coming out of her shell. “I’ve been living in Ohio. I was just over in Berlin.”

Just as Rebecca was going to ask why they’d been living in two different places, Rachel said smoothly, “How about the two of you come sit down? I have some paperwork you’ll need to fill out before tomorrow’s class.”

“What kind of paperwork?” Lilly asked. “Is it a test?”

“Nothing of the sort,” Rachel said. “I simply need some basic information. We’ll worry about schoolwork and figuring out where you’ll fit in best tomorrow.”

Jacob nodded. “That sounds like a plan. Now, what time should Lilly get here? Seven thirty? Eight?”

Feeling like she was in the way, Rebecca gathered her things. “I’ll be seeing you, Rachel. You know where to find me if you need my help.”

“It was good to meet you, Rebecca,” Jacob said.

She felt her cheeks heat. Seeking to cover it, she smiled more brightly. “Danke. It was gut to meet the both of you.”

“See you soon, Becky,” Rachel said before turning her full attention toward the man and the teenager.

It seemed to be another indication of Rachel’s expertise in the classroom. In less than an hour, Rachel had returned from a doctor’s appointment, taken back control of her class, counseled Rebecca, and was now greeting a new student and her father. She was able to manage multiple tasks easily and accept transitions with hardly a blink of the eye.

Rebecca, on the other hand, was juggling a dozen questions about the students, asking herself how she could have done things better, and wondering why Lilly hadn’t been living with her father until recently.

Rebecca stewed on all that had transpired that morning as she walked down the short sidewalk toward Main Street. It was time to go back to Kinsinger Lumber, where she usually worked at the reception desk eight hours of the day. Today it would only be for a few hours, but it was sure to be busy. She’d be lucky to have a minute to grab a cup of coffee.

 

Jen: Are you a plotter or pantser?
Shelley: I’m a reluctant pantser! Because of my writing schedule, I long to be able to carefully outline a book and stick to it. I think I would finish it a lot faster and more easily. However, that never seems to be the case. I’m always get lost in the story and go wherever my characters want to go.

Jen: What kind of research did you do for this book?
Shelley: The research I did for this series was a lot of fun. I spent a weekend in Charm and toured the area. I also went on a two hour tour of a family owned lumber mill. My guide took me through every warehouse and back room. It was awesome!

Jen: How do you come up with characters names?
Shelley: There are only about a dozen Amish last names. They also favor names from the Bible. Because of that, I often read The Budget, which is an Amish and Mennonite newspaper. There’s a section in The Budget in which scribes from every Amish community in the United States and Canada relay what has been happening with everyone. I read through those essays and look for first names.

Jen: Do you have a favorite character or one you most identify with?
Shelley: I really could identify with the heroine of this book, Rebecca Kinsinger. She comes across as confident, but has a lot of personal struggles. She often finds herself weighing duty and dreams. I’ve often done that.

Jen: What’s been the highlight of you career to this point?
Shelley: I’ve published over sixty books, so that in itself is a highlight for me, since I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to sell one. With that in mind, one of the biggest highlights for me was getting an 8 book contract. That represented job security, which is a difficult thing to find as a writer. My husband and I went out to a fancy dinner to celebrate that!

Jen: What do you do in your free time?
Shelley: I love to bake, so I often bake cookies or try out new recipes. We also have dachshunds, so I like to play fetch with our newest dog, Sadie, or take them on walks.

Jen: What’s next for you?
Shelley: There are four books in the series. Next up is A Sister’s Wish, followed by An Amish Family Christmas.

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