Check This Out: Mennonite Daughter—The Story of a Plain Girl

I’m very pleased to welcome to the blog the amazing Marian Beaman, who is here to discuss her memoir, Mennonite Daughter—The Story of a Plain Girl, which launched on September 14.


You probably know Marian from her blog, which you can find here. After I talk to Marian, I’ll tell you about a giveaway of Mennonite Daughter—The Story of a Plain Girl.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Marian: 1. I met my first husband on a blind date. (He is my only husband!)

2. I flunked my driver’s test twice.
3. On Sunday mornings, I like to play with two-year-olds, making abstract art with tennis balls and paint on cardboard, blowing bubbles.
4. I watch my Fitbit like a hawk. Gotta get those step in!

El Space: What made you decide to write a memoir?
Marian: My blog readers helped make the decision for me. I wrote stories about my parents, grandparents, and other relatives on my blog. Readers wanted more, and suggested, “Write a book about it!” Though for many years I have wanted to leave a legacy of stories for my children and grandchildren, these readers pushed me toward actually doing it!

Granddaughter Jenna at guest book with hostesses Judy and Carolyn at Marian’s book signing at the Deerwood Country Club

El Space: How did you decide how much to include and what sections of your life to leave out? What was your process as you wrote? Did you write an outline of events? Talk with family members along the way?
Marian: My life as a Mennonite was dramatically different from my life now, so I decided to make the first 24-year slice of my life the focus of my memoir.

A memoir is not a biography. Memoirs need a focus. My focus was the imprint of two forces upon my life: the boundaries of my life as a Mennonite and the blessings of two homes (my parents’ and my grandmother’s house close by).

The collage on the easel is a composite of various snaps of Marian’s family with Bossler Mennonite Church in the background (done by artist Cliff Beaman).

I agree with May Sarton who said that she has “never written a book that wasn’t born out of question I needed to answer for myself.” For me, that question was this: “What was the source of my father’s anger?” My memoir explores possible answers.

To learn the craft of storytelling, I took a memoir-writing course from Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner: “Writing Your Story in Six Months.” And to get me started, I wrote topics I could remember on colored sticky notes I pasted to ply-board. Some of the topics became scenes that made it into the memoir; others did not.

El Space: How did growing up in a Mennonite background shape you into the writer you are today? What did you appreciate most about your upbringing?
Marian: I grew up loving my faith traditions and my family. Also the Swiss/German stock from which I am descended has imprinted on me a strong work ethic, which gave me the strength and discipline to persevere through the five years it took to write my story.

El Space: After you described your baptism [chapter 28], I was struck by this quote from page 157: “I had to find a way to reconcile pleasing God with expressing my love for beautiful things, hairdos and clothes included.” Such a turning point in your life. What was one step you took as you were “beginning to ‘kick against the pricks’”?
Marian: My mother, aunt, and grandmother expressed their love of beauty by planting flower gardens in a riot of colors. They, along with women in my church, also made exquisite quilt designs. I wanted to look pretty like a flower, wearing bright colors and shiny shoes. My desire to buck the strict dress code enforced by my church at that time caused friction with authorities at the Mennonite School, where I was employed in my early twenties. My reaction to these restrictions is told in two chapters which bookend my memoir.

These are the most cheerful looking flowers I have seen in years. They remind me of Marian. 😊

El Space: What books or authors inspired you as you worked on your memoir?
Marian: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life—Sassy, sometimes sarcastic, but always instructive.

Jordan Rosenfeld’s Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time—A good one to read early in the writing game.

Dani Shapiro: Still Writing—If you like Shapiro’s novels and memoirs, you’d like her take on the craft of writing.

Louise DeSalvo’s The Art of Slow Writing—A breath of fresh air, especially if you are tied up in a wad about your story and the writing process.

Dinty W. Moore’s The Story Cure: A Book Doctor’s Pain-Free Guide to Finishing Your Novel or Memoir—Book Doctor Dinty provides cures and checkups in his manual embellished with case studies. Humorous and practical!

El Space: What advice do you have for memoir writers?
Marian: 1. Write every day, even if you don’t feel like it. Inspiration comes to those who sit in the writing chair. But don’t go nuts over it; take walks, go shopping, chat with friends. 2. Don’t impose a strict Get-Done-By deadline on yourself. I hoped to finish in three years, but it took me five years. 3. Life goes on! In those five years, my mother and my aunt died, and we had to clear out two houses with scads of stuff. Last year my brother died. Three years ago we also moved from a house we had lived in for 37 years to our current address; lots of sorting, recycling, and tossing out.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Marian: When people ask that question, I say, “Give me a break! I need a vacation or at least time to relax.” 😃 However, two ideas are playing tag in my brain right now: 1. A children’s book based on the oak tree my children and their cousins planted in the Grandma Longenecker’s back yard after she died. I have an in-house illustrator—ha! 2. My year and half in the 36-foot trailer with two babies while my artist/performer husband did art and music performances all over the Southeast. The object was to keep our family together; the reality of the itinerant life wreaked havoc on my sanity!

Thanks, Marian, for being my guest!
Looking for Marian? Click on the icons below:


Looking to buy Mennonite Daughter—The Story of a Plain Girl? Head to Amazon or to your mailbox, since
one of you will receive a copy of this memoir just for commenting! Winner to be announced sometime next week!

The book club, after reading and loving Mennonite Daughter—The Story of a Plain Girl, unanimously decided to shop for red shoes.

Author photo by Joel Beaman, courtesy of Marian Beaman. Mennonite Daughter—The Story of a Plain Girl cover designed by Cliff Beaman, courtesy of Marian Beaman. Other covers from Goodreads. Book signing photos courtesy of Marian Beaman. Book club and flowers photos by L. Marie. Neonlicious and Royal Bee OMG dolls are products of MGA Entertainment, Inc.

Take a Leap

Man LeapingEver been to a place with water so clear, you couldn’t wait to leap in? The Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios was such a place for me. As I contemplated what to write for Leap Day, I couldn’t help thinking of the waterfall there and how I leaped in. But this post isn’t about that trip, which happened several years ago, so don’t expect a travelogue or personal photos. 😀 But I’ll at least leave you with this one:

Dunn Falls

Happy Leap Day! What a great day to post! After all, February 29 only comes around every four years!


You’ve heard people talk about making a bucket list—places to go or things to do before you die. Ever thought about making a leap list? I think of this list as things to do to help you live the kind of life you’ve always wanted to live. Perhaps a bucket list and a leap list might seem to be the same thing. But so many people make a bucket list for the future. A leap list includes things you can do right now. You don’t have to make a long list. Just decide to do one thing.

Maybe you’ve been on the fence awhile. Could it be time for you to come off that fence? Maybe you could . . .

Become a fighter for a cause. My mom’s surgeon became a doctor to fight against breast cancer. But at some point, she had to make a commitment to do what was necessary to be an effective fighter (i.e., go to medical school). What cause will you champion? How far are you willing to go to fight for that cause? Think of a simple step you can take to start. When you engage in a fight, expect to get knocked down sometimes. The important thing is to get back up and keep fighting. What do you believe in so strongly that you’re willing to keep going toe to toe in a scrap?

Boxer Kitty
Take a leap of faith. This could be as simple as making the leap from doubt to belief. Or it might involve doing something you’ve been afraid of doing, because you were afraid to fail. I can’t help thinking about my friend, Jill Weatherholt (many of you know her), who took a leap of faith by entering a Blurb to Book contest. You can read her story here.
Kick a habit. You don’t need a pair of rain boots or fancy sneakers to kick a habit. You just need willingness and determination that this time, nothing will stand in the way of your success. Don’t let your doctor be the one to force you to do it!

Forge a new relationship or renew an old one. Perhaps you have an acquaintance whom you’ve wanted to get to know better. Or, perhaps a relationship has been interrupted in some way. Are you willing to be intentional about building or rebuilding a relationship? Make a memory as my friend (and a friend to many of you), Andra Watkins, talks about on her blog.
Try something new. Choose something you’ve always wanted to try. Or, return to something you loved before. As for me, I’d like to return to my art roots and take an illustration class. I’m a bit rusty!

When you’re about to leap off a diving board, do you tend to look behind you? While there are some dives that require you to stand at the edge of the board with your back toward the pool, generally you face forward before leaping off. That’s what we need to do when taking a leap. Looking behind at past failures might be a detriment to taking a leap.

Of course, taking a leap doesn’t mean throwing common sense out of the window! I don’t know about your mom, by mine used to ask, “If all of your friends leaped off a bridge, would you leap off too?” as a caution against giving in to peer pressure. So facing forward still means looking before leaping!

By the way, Marie of 1WriteWay, get ready to leap! You have won The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye. Congrats! Please comment below to confirm.


Leap Year image from Man leaping from Dunn’s River Falls from Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Believe

Because of an episode of Call the Midwife, the song, “Catch a Falling Star,” is going through my mind. And if you know the song, you probably have it in yours now. Anyhoo, with me on the blog today is a rising star to catch—the energized and engaging Sarah Aronson. (And yes, I know Sarah from VCFA.) Sarah is represented by Sarah Davies of the Greenhouse Literary Agency.


Sarah is here to talk about her latest book, Believe, which is available right now, thanks to the good folks at Carolrhoda Lab. She also is the author of Beyond Lucky and Head Case.

believeHere is the synopsis of Believe:

When Janine Collins was six years old, she was the only survivor of a suicide bombing that killed her parents and dozens of others. Media coverage instantly turned her into a symbol of hope, peace, faith–of whatever anyone wanted her to be. Now, on the ten-year anniversary of the bombing, reporters are camped outside her house, eager to revisit the story of the “Soul Survivor.”

Janine doesn’t want the fame–or the pressure–of being a walking miracle. But the news cycle isn’t the only thing standing between her and a normal life. Everyone wants something from her, expects something of her. Even her closest friends are urging her to use her name-recognition for a “worthy cause.” But that’s nothing compared to the hopes of Dave Armstrong–the man who, a decade ago, pulled Janine from the rubble. Now he’s a religious leader whose followers believe Janine has healing powers.

The scariest part? They might be right.

If she’s the Soul Survivor, what does she owe the people who believe in her? If she’s not the Soul Survivor, who is she?

What a ride, huh? I’m giving away a $20 Amazon card this time with the stipulation that you must purchase Believe. More on that later.

El Space: Hey, Sarah! Congrats on the release of Believe. Please share four quick facts about yourself.
Sarah: I never read manuals. I once won a state sanctioned power lifting contest. I could deadlift 320 pounds. When I’m drafting, I also cook a lot. I delete all my first drafts. My mottos are “Try everything,” and “They’re only words. Re-imagine!” I met my husband when, thinking he was someone else, I kissed him. About the time when my lips hit his cheek, I realized I had no idea who he was!

El Space: Wow. Cool facts! I would never try to arm wrestle you! What inspired you to write Believe?
Sarah: Faith, fame, and family are themes I write and think about a lot. These themes, in some way, are important to all my stories.

camera_09I started thinking about Janine’s story when I was at the salon, reading People! There was a story about the woman who was once known as Baby Jessica. She was the baby who fell into the well. I was surprised to find out that one of the men who saved her had killed himself—he couldn’t deal with his life after his fifteen minutes of fame was over. I was also surprised how judgmental I felt about her adult life. This was a person who never asked to be famous. She didn’t seem to want it either. I decided to explore the nature of celebrity in our world today. I knew right away that I was taking a big risk making Janine a figure in the faith community. But I also knew that faith was something that would present itself no matter what I did. The more I wrote, the more I understood Janine’s skepticism and doubts and her selfishness. She lost her parents! She would naturally wrestle with the nature of faith.

El Space: What was most exhilarating or challenging about writing Believe?
Sarah: The voice. The challenge of creating a character who was not all that likeable, but still interesting, who grew up a celebrity, was a lot of fun.

El Space: What strength does your main character have in common with you?
Sarah: She’s determined. She loves her family. She’s impulsive and skeptical and can be pretty impatient. She wants to be admired for who she is, not what people want her to be.

3188580El Space: What authors/books inspire you?
Sarah: There are so many! I love books that take chances, that explore a darker side of life. When I first decided to write and was finding my own voice, these were the authors and books that inspired me: Nancy Werlin’s books. The prologue of Killer’s Cousin. The risks she took in Rules of Survival and Impossible! I was thrilled when she blurbed Believe. Walter Dean Myers, especially Monster. That book! The Rag and Bone Shop by Robert Cormier. That ending! Carolyn Coman’s Many Stones and What Jamie Saw. I still strive to write sentences as perfect as hers.
44184Of course, there are many other books that continue to inspire and motivate me! I could give you a long list!

El Space: What do you hope readers take away from after reading your book?
Sarah: I hope that people will talk about faith and how it divides us, when it should bring us together on every level. I hope that we can begin to have more interfaith conversations. Skepticism is normal. I would love it if this book gave young adults a chance to have that discussion.

Of course, I also hope readers think about our world and our obsession with fame and an unending stream of information. We idolize celebrities and at the same time, we love to watch them crash. We are a nation of rubberneckers! I hope Janine’s struggles with her celebrity get people talking!

El Space: What advice do you have for an author who wishes to write about a provocative subject?
Sarah: Be brave. Be determined. Take out an index card and write down what you want your book to say. Find a supportive reader and don’t worry about the politics. Explore your character. Be true to your story. There’s an audience for this, and they need your book.

Thanks, Sarah, for being my guest!

If you’re looking for more about Sarah, you can find her at her website, Twitter, and Facebook. Oh, and also here too. Believe is available here:
Barnes and Noble
The Book Stall
Powell’s Books

One of YOU will receive the Amazon gift card just by commenting. This giveaway is for followers and regular commenters. Eligibility has reset, so past winners are now once more eligible.

POST UPDATE: The winner will be announced on Thursday!

Book covers with the exception of Believe, are from Goodreads. Camera from