Judith Miller is an award-winning author whose avid research and love for history are reflected in her novels, two of which have placed in the CBA top ten lists. In addition to her writing, Judy is a certified legal assistant. Judy and her husband make their home in Topeka, Kansas. Visit her web site at www.judithmccoymiller.com.
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Judith Miller is the author of numerous works of historical and period fiction, including the Broadmoor Legacy and Postcards from Pullman series. Her latest novel, SOMEWHERE TO BELONG, is the first installment in a new series that centers on members of the Amana Colonies, which were religious communal villages in Eastern Iowa. In this interview, Miller explains how she first became interested in writing about this German Christian community, and discusses her struggles in accurately portraying them as unique from the religious societies we read about today. She also elaborates on some of the themes at the center of the story --- including those of trust, spirituality and familial relationships --- and draws similarities between this book and previous titles in her backlist.
Question: For those who don't know, what are the Amana Colonies?
Judith Miller: The Amana Colonies were made up of seven separate villages in eastern Iowa in which the occupants lived communally. The community supplied homes, jobs, food, and other essentials of life. Each village had a group of elders that were essentially a governing body for that village, and members had to seek permission from the elders to do things such as marry or change jobs. The Amana women wore dark calico prints that were manufactured in their calico mill and small dark caps. When they worked outdoors, they wore large calico sunbonnets. The Amana men dressed simply in the common attire of the day.
The Colonists were primarily of German Christian descent and believed that living communally allowed them more time to worship God; they attended church often and lived a pious, peaceful life. Unlike the Amish, they embraced technology if it helped the community, and the Amanas were known for producing high-quality textiles, and later appliances such as refrigerators. The communal system was disbanded in the 1930s, and today the Amana Colonies are primarily a tourist destination with shops and museums.
Q: What attracted you to write a series about the Amana Colonies?
JM: I live in Kansas and had heard numerous friends mention visiting the Amana Colonies in Iowa. I was intrigued by the history and faith of the Amana people. I soon discovered that a number of nonfiction books had been written about the Colonies. After studying the society further, I thought the Amanas would provide a wonderful setting for a fictional series that would showcase how this particular group successfully lived in a communal setting for more than one hundred years. I knew it would also provide me with an opportunity to reveal differences between the Amana Colonists and the Amish. The two groups are often confused.
Q: How did you develop the initial storyline for SOMEWHERE TO BELONG?
JM: I wanted to show the differences between living in an Amana village and living in the outside world in the 1870s, so I decided one way to do this would be to have a somewhat rebellious young woman move to the villages and be faced with the challenge of adapting to a communal society. The book is written in dual first person and moves back and forth between the two female protagonists, the newly arrived and rebellious young lady, and a young woman who has grown up in the Colonies and is charged with training the new arrival in kitchen work.
Q: Did you encounter any challenges while researching the Amana Colonies?
JM: The historians at the Amana Heritage Society were extremely helpful and I couldn’t have asked for more cooperation as I’ve researched this series. I think my greatest challenge has been to show that this communal society in no way represents the type of communal group we read about in the news nowadays. These people were free to leave at any time and were even permitted to return if things didn’t work out for them in the “outside world.”
Q: Is there a particular theme that SOMEWHERE TO BELONG focuses on?
JM: In almost all of my books, readers will find there is some issue of trust because it has been very important in my own life, and I think it’s so important in our relationship with God. As small children, we trust our parents to meet our every need and we know they want the best for us. Once we accept Christ as our Savior, we need to have that same trust. We need to trust that no matter how our prayers are answered, He has our best interest at heart and wants only the best for his children.
Beyond the issue of trust, I wanted to portray the brokenness and damage that can occur when there are family secrets. While there never seems to be a “right time” to tell such secrets, the longer we wait the more difficult it becomes. It is important to share the truth, no matter how painful. Living with lies can cause irreparable damage and break the bond of trust between family members and friends. While telling those secrets can be daunting, the damage caused by withholding them can destroy from within and even do greater damage if they are revealed by someone else.
Q: Does the book tie in to any real historical event?
JM: The settling of the Amana Colonies in Iowa is historically true, and the villages still exist today. I have done my best to portray the Amana settlement and the Colonists’ way of life with historical accuracy. While it was my desire to give readers a historically accurate view of the Amana lifestyle and their villages, none of the characters are based upon real historical characters.
© Copyright 2010, Judith Miller. All rights reserved.
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