1) Your mother, to whom your book is dedicated, and your sisters are often busy preparing food throughout your memoir. What food or drink do you see as the epitome of Amish culture? Why?
Amish food is simple, delicious and starchy. We always had meat of some kind, gravy, mashed potatoes, and often noodles. Starch, right there. Usually, there was a vegetable, too, string beans or some such thing. For breakfast, always farm fresh eggs, gravy of some kind, and toast. Simple and very good. We drank water and coffee. I started drinking coffee as a young teenager.
I would guess the Amish focus on these foods, because they are readily available on the farm.
2) In your memoir, you remember penmanship in school. What were the other subjects like? How did your Amish schooling transfer into the academic world outside the colony (transfer denoting more the experience than literal GED, etc)?
School was very basic, focused on the basic subjects. Reading, writing and arithmetic. I had eight grades of formal education, then graduated to work on the farm. I would stack my Amish school education against any other program out there. We weren't taught a lot, but what was taught was taught well. That was my situation. Some Amish schools are lacking, as many English schools are, too. I stridently defend the right of the Amish to teach their own children.
3) While we set up this interview through email, you mentioned traveling to an ex-Amish meetup in the future. What is it like to be a member of the ex-Amish community? What holds the community together? What's it like?
It's very loose and informal, but we all recognize that each of us has traveled his or her own journey to get to where we are. The Bloomfield reunion happens about once every five years. I always look forward to reconnecting with people from my own place and my own background. It's a unique bond.
4) My grandparents are an example of the Amish's English neighbors. I remember chasing an Amish boy's loose rabbit around their farm, and (not catching the rabbit) hoping their neighbors would somehow grab the fiend when my grandparents returned from bringing them to the grocery store. How would the Amish community be impacted if they had no English neighbors? In your memoir, you discussed the personal importance of your English neighbors at a local coffee shop. How did they keep you grounded?
The first part of the question, I can't answer. The Amish have always lived among English neighbors, so I have no basis to imagine a scenario where they don't. I don't know if my cafe friends kept me grounded as much as kept me sane. I was thirsting for some sort of real outside connection that would not judge me. My English friends came through in flying colors.
5) Is there anything you would like to share about your upcoming sequel?
It's different. The first book is the agony and ecstasy of youth, the turmoil of breaking free and finding myself. The second book focuses a lot on my father, but so much more. It is the mature voice of a man who has seen and felt a lot of heartbreak and anguish, but is walking free. In the first book, the gospel was hidden. In the second book, it's just part of the narrative as an accepted fact.
6) The Amish have a significantly lower suicide rate than the rest of the population. Based on your memoir, I'd infer the 'Amish' shield and community support probably have something to do with it. Do you have any insight to this topic?
Suicide is not unheard of. My great-grandfather shot himself in the chest. The sequel will include this scene. He was bipolar, I guess we'd call it today. I suppose if the actual rates are lower than outside society, it may be because of the tight knit community that was so hard for me to break free from. You may post any of my answers.
How does Shikibu's existence as a woman in Heian Japan affect the way she writes Genji?
Shikibu's existence as a woman in Heian Japan allows her to portray women’s insecurities with fervor, yet her choice to place the story back in time gives the guilty mistreater of women enough space to read an internalize her message. She frames her entire narrative as an indirect commentary on a land a long time away.
As a woman, Shikibu writes with a sophisticated understanding of womanly fears and triumphs during courtship. Women must toe a delicate line between prudence and invitation during courtship. Once inside a woman’s blinds, men have the power to take a woman into his arms. Shikibu’s Genji repeatedly tells of men sneaking into the same room as women for sexual satisfaction. Outside the woman’s blinds, men also have the power to choose to visit women. Women can only reach out of their blinds with words. They cannot approach themselves. The trick is enticing men into the delicate grey fringe on the edge of their blinds. The Tale of Genji plays with the same structure of men visiting women with different outcomes based on anything from smell to a single word allusion. Shikibu details the powerlessness of women while also celebrating the thin line of a few steps they successfully walk. Women must poke the bear.
As a member of the Heian Period, Shikibu knows the Fujiwara Clan is about to hold nearly unchallengeable power. The Tale of Genji is set right before the Fujiwara’s gain their utmost power. Shikibu nimbly alludes to the Fujiwara’s outrage at yet another women being selected as Empress outside the clan. In this way, she nods to the power women possess. Through women, the Fujiwara Clan obtains emperors of their blood and regents of their leadership.
In what ways does she represent an insider or outsider's perspective on court life?
Shikibu’s perspective allows her an innate understanding of courtly rules, but still gives her the ability to distance herself from their pull and unbiasedly recognize multiple people’s assumptions and motivations. She represents an insider of the court through her years as a province governor's daughter and the lessons which her gentlewomen would have imparted. Yet, as a province governor’s daughter, she is at the edge of courtly society. Shikibu most likely grew up hearing the stories of the court without actually being engaged in the actions herself. This could have led her to writing as a way of mentally experiencing of the world outside her blinds.
Why would Shikibu's readers give her the first name of the character "Murasaki"?
Murasaki refers to the root which creates purple die. In poetry, Murasaki often symbolizes lasting passionate relationships. Shikibu’s readers would choose this name for her because it recognizes her depiction of relationships through The Tale of Genji. It is character interactions and search for lasting passions that propel the story. Furthermore, The Tale of Genji focuses on one fundamental lasting passion between Genji and Murasaki. Even after the demise of both characters, the next generations compare themselves to the love of Genji and Murasaki.
How does (re)writing folktales for your children and the greater globe compare to your other writing experiences?
First, let me say that I am a very new author. I had only one other book published, a YA Steampunk – The Ghost Engine, before I wrote The Girl Who Became a Goddess. So I was/am inexperienced.
When I wrote my first novel, I relied on years of storytelling experience as well as my previous career as an analyst/programmer. I put myself into the role of my protagonist, asking myself how Berd would have felt as a young woman growing up in the Industrial Age, when women had yet to obtain equality. I hope I would have made the same decisions as she. But what I wrote was fiction. Although I put my heart into my book, I could ‘hide’ behind the story.
Writing The Girl Who Became a Goddess was different as I was writing for my children. While I wanted them to know the world I had come from, I didn’t want them to see an idealized version of Singapore.
I was determined from the start to write the truth.
Truth is a cleansing experience.
Living in Australia, so far away from the childhood trauma, it was easy to ‘forget’ what had happened. Writing my folktales, I was forced to relive the pain, and ask difficult questions of myself. I didn’t realise until I started writing the folktales, how it was that I had heard so many stories.