Today Adina Senft, author of many Amish novels, answers our questions about the writing of Herb of Grace. If you haven't already read the book review, here is the LINK.
When I was writing the Amish Quilt trilogy, the main character’s mother in the first book is a Dokterfraa, or herbal healer. I didn’t delve into her work very much in those books, but she did pass in and out with her packets of herbal teas. Then, I went to a conference on medicine and technology in the Amish community at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania and had my eyes opened to the extent of the practice, especially among women. So then of course I had to track down some of these ladies, and saw how they worked out of their homes and gardens. After that, it was just a matter of paring down what I had learned and working it into the story.
What intrigues you most about your character, Sarah Yoder?
She’s human … she’s flawed … and she takes her lumps and gets back up again. Like many of us, she sincerely believes that when she reaches out to help someone, she’s doing the right thing. But sometimes she has to wait just a moment and reach out to God instead, to make sure that her motivations are the right ones. This aspect of her character sometimes gets her into trouble … but that makes for an interesting story, I think.
What was the writing process like for this book? Did you have to do a lot of research?
Oh yes. Lots and lots of research. I took a six-week herbal medicine class, which served to show me the extent of what I didn’t know! It also showed me the wealth of medicine I have growing in my backyard. The local herbalists have been very kind and willing to diagnose my imaginary people and prescribe treatments for them. I’ve made up tinctures and teas and tried them on myself. And of course, my research trips to Lancaster County every summer are an education in themselves. An interesting side note—the young Amish mother who reads my manuscripts for accuracy tried one of the cures in Herb of Grace and was delighted to find that it worked!
Why do you think this book is different than other Amish fiction books out there?
Funny you should say that—just this spring and summer there has been a marked increase in books about Amish herbalists! But I think what might make the Healing Grace series different is that I use real recipes in the text, so that a person could make up their own cures if they were so inclined—after speaking with their doctor, of course. And then there’s the spiritual theme going on behind the herb used in the title that informs the books. For instance, Herb of Grace is the title of the first book, and it’s also the country name for rue, a bitter, astringent herb used in very small amounts for digestive problems. And as we know, rue is also a verb meaning to be sorry for something. So the character that Sarah Yoder is treating with herb of grace is deeply sorry and ashamed of something he did in the past … and for that, only the Great Physician has the cure.