What Happens when Author Leslie Gould Creates Military and Amish Families as Neighbors?
What would happen if a military family moved next door to an Amish family? That’s the premise of Leslie Gould’s latest novel, Amish Promises, the first book in her Neighbors of Lancaster County series. The new series explores pacifism and non-resistance, the sacrifices of a military family, and what it means to “love your neighbor.”
What was your inspiration for the Neighbors of Lancaster County series?
I started writing Amish fiction in 2009 while my husband, Peter, was commanding an Army Reserve Combat Support Hospital. At the time I was co-authoring Amish fiction with Mindy Starns Clark and escaping into the world of Lancaster County day after day. But my real world wasn’t quite as peaceful. As a family, we were dealing with the what-if of deployment in real life. I couldn’t help but compare the world of a military family to an Amish family as I wrote. What would happen if the two became neighbors? What conflict would ensue? How would the children get along? How would the parents react? The possibilities seemed endless!
How did your family’s experience influence the novel?
My husband was deployed again, this time to command a field hospital in Afghanistan in 2011-12. During that time, I was working on my Courtships of Lancaster County series (four novels that retell four of Shakespeare’s plays). Each day, for a time, I escaped the worries of having a husband in a war zone, but still my desire to write about a military family continued to grow.
What was the impact of deployment? I was able to Skype with my husband almost every day, which was a huge blessing, but several times while we were talking rockets landed and exploded near his hooch. To say the least it was unnerving for me and added to my worries—but it was a regular occurrence for him. He was in Afghanistan during the surge and had more patients through his field hospital than at any other time during the war. He worked horrendous hours and got little sleep. The war was non-stop for him. As far as our children, our youngest was in middle school at the time. Her dad—and biggest fan—missed a year of her club soccer, her eighth grade graduation, and her transformation from a girl into a young woman. Our three older children were in college, so in many ways that was easier than if they were younger, but they were more aware of what was going on in Afghanistan. They all supported their dad, but they also had concerns about how long our nation had been at war and what the future held.
What was life like post-deployment?
We all entered a period of recovery. First we were all relieved Peter was home safe. Then there was a transition period for him as he eased back into civilian life. And then, as far as our family, there was an adjustment period as we acclimated and sorted out who was in charge of what and other challenges. We were all changed in some way, but my husband most of all, of course. He’d had a soldier hit by a rocket and killed. Over ninety-eight percent of the wounded who made it to his hospital survived—but he’d seen horrible injuries, lots of trauma, and numerous attacks to his base.
What did you enjoy about writing your story?
Even though the story I wrote is very different from our experiences, it was cathartic for me to write about the sacrifices a soldier makes and the impact of war on a military family. But I also enjoyed exploring the pacifist and non-resistant world of the Amish—of a group of people who choose not to fight or even defend themselves.
What’s the background of the non-resistant philosophy of the Amish?
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is the inspiration for the Amish embracing non-resistance. Jesus instructs his followers to “…whoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39). The Amish view violence as un-Christian and have held the belief since the beginning of the Anabaptist movement in Switzerland, in the early 1500s. Although many people believe the Amish don’t pay taxes, that’s a misconception. They do. So in that way, they end up helping to pay for wars they don’t support.
How do Amish people respond when they find out your husband is in the Army?
The Amish people we have visited—if the topic came up—have voiced their appreciation for Peter’s service. And he has commented several times that he’s honored to serve a country that protects the freedom of a group like the Amish to live out their beliefs.
What has been the general response in the U.S. to the Amish not serving in the military?
During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army branded many Amish as traitors and imprisoned them. By the Civil War the government allowed the Amish to hire substitutes to fight for them. During World Wars I and II the Amish, with their German dialect, were suspect for not serving although many did in non-military roles in camps and hospitals. During the Korean and Vietnam Wars many Americans resented the Amish for not serving, feeling they weren’t doing their part. Again, many served as conscientious objectors in support roles. By the Gulf War and then during the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, Americans as a whole weren’t suspicious or resentful toward the Amish for not serving. However, with no draft in place the percentage of all Americans currently serving is less than one percent.
Are there accounts of Amish who have joined the military?
I have two specific stories that I’ve recently come across about young men who grew up Amish and then joined. The first is about a young man named Herman Hostetter from Lancaster County who joined General William Howe’s British forces in Philadelphia in 1778. He ended up in Nova Scotia, where he lived among other loyalists who fled the Continental Army. More recently, Ervin Byler of Kentucky joined the Navy in the early 1960s and served until the 1980s, including during the Vietnam War. “I thought there was more to life than viewing horses’ behinds…” he said. (Two novelists that I know of, Dale Kramer and Elizabeth Byler Younts, have written novels about the Amish and World War II, inspired by stories from their own families.)
In your novel what are the clashes that result from the Amish family and the military family being neighbors?
One of the Amish sons is already interested in the military so it’s especially disconcerting to the Amish father to have the influence of a soldier next door. The military family has a TV, computers, cell phones, and all the other things an average American family has, plus the oldest son recruits the Amish kids to play “games” such as “Roman soldiers.” Over and over, something having to do with the neighbors offends the Amish father.
What good comes from the families living next door to each other?
First of all, the women in the story work around the differences between the two families and meet halfway, forging a mutual friendship on all that they have in common. Second the Amish dad was raised to serve others. When the military family needs help, he’s there in a heartbeat and doing all he can to support them. Finally, in the middle of a catastrophe, the teaching of Christ to “love your neighbor as yourself” hits home.
Leslie Gould is the #1 bestselling and Christy Award winning author of twenty novels. She and her husband, Peter, live in Portland, Oregon and are the revolving-door parents of four children and three cats. Besides writing, Leslie enjoys history, Shakespeare, traveling, and going to the movies with her hubby on Friday nights. Her latest release is Amish Promises, the first in the Neighbors of Lancaster County series. Find out more at www.lesliegould.com.
© 2015, Vicki Hinze. Hinze is the award-winning, USA Today bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Her latest release is The Marked Bride, Shadow Watchers, Book 1. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s online community: Facebook. Books. Twitter. Contact.www.vickihinze.com.