Tuesday, March 18, 2014

An interview with J.M. Hochstetler, author of Northkill

J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. She graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Germanic Languages and is an author, editor, and publisher. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. One Holy Night, a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story, was the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year. Joan is a direct descendent of the Amish immigrant Jakob Hochstetler, the subject of her newest release, Northkill, through his oldest son Johannes.

This week, one of our U.S. or Canadian visitors will receive a copy of her new release, Northkill (Northkill Amish, Book 1). To be entered for the drawing, just leave a comment with your name, email, and answer to this question:

What are the names of the 2 oldest Hochstetler children who were married and living elsewhere at the time of the attack?

Joan is one of our contributors here at Novel PASTimes, so we’re thrilled to host her and give you the chance to learn more about her and her books, especially her brand-new release, Northkill! Tell us a little bit about the storyline.

Thanks so much for having me, Leigh! This place feels like home. Oh, yeah—I’m on the team here, so I guess it would! LOL!

Northkill is based on the inspiring true story of my Hochstetler ancestors. Anabaptists such as the Amish were persecuted in Europe during the Reformation for refusing to baptize infants and serve in the military, and my ancestors came to this country in 1738, seeking religious freedom. Along with other members of their church, they settled in the Northkill Amish Mennonite community on the Pennsylvania frontier along the edge of Indian territory at the base of the Blue Mountain. Their farm (or plantation, which is what farms were called at that time) was near Northkill Creek, for which their community was named.

Northkill begins a couple of years before the French and Indian War burst into flame in 1754 as the French incited their Indian allies to attack the border settlements. Our characters’ lives are deeply shadowed by the conflict, and on the morning of September 20, 1757, their home is attacked by a party of Delaware and Shawnee warriors. Facing certain death with his wife and children, Jakob Hochstetler makes a wrenching choice to stay faithful to his nonresistant convictions. As a result, the mother and two of the children are killed, and Jakob and his 2 youngest sons, Joseph and Christian, are carried away into captivity among the Indians. Book 2, The Return, will cover the period of their captivity, Jakob’s harrowing escape, and his efforts, along with his 2 older children, to find Joseph and Christian and bring them home.

Wow, that’s a story just waiting to be told! Introduce us briefly to the main characters in Northkill.

Jakob is the father of the family. The name of the mother was never recorded, but Bob and I uncovered convincing evidence that she was named Anna, so that’s what we named our character. The name and age of the young daughter who was killed was also lost to time, and following the typical Amish naming patterns we ended up naming her after her mother. We have no way of knowing how old she was, but we decided to set her age around 1 year when the attack happened.

The oldest children, Johannes and Barbara emigrated with their parents from the St. Marie-aux-Mines area of the Alsace between France and Germany. Both were married and living on other farms when the attack happened. The rest of the children were born in this country, Jakob Jr., who was around 17 at the time of the attack; Joseph, who was about 15; and Christian, who would have been 11.

Almost all of the other characters are also real people who lived in the Northkill community or who are mentioned in contemporary accounts of attacks against the border settlements during the war. It’s amazing how much information has been recorded in various sources about our family and about this specific time and place. Needless to say, that helped tremendously as we attempted to flesh out their story while keeping it historically accurate.

Most of your writing centers on the American Colonial and Revolutionary War time periods. What drew you to write about those?

The history of my ancestors, who arrived in this country in 1738 initially sparked my interest. Then back in 1983 I watched a TV movie, The Scarlet Pimpernel, with Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour, set during the French Revolution. I absolutely loved it, and I knew right away that I had to write my own version, but with a different setting. Thankfully we have our own Revolution—an era I was already interested in. So Book 1 of my American Patriot Series, Daughter of Liberty, was born.

At the same time I began to realize how very little most Americans know about our nation’s founding. In fact, the depth of ignorance about that period continues to concern me. What began simply as a story of adventure, intrigue, and romance soon became a mission to educate readers about the Revolution through thrilling and entertaining stories.

Northkill goes back 20 years earlier to the time of the French and Indian War. The setting among the Amish pioneers who settled along the borders of Indian territory as well as the themes in this story are very different. I hope readers will find it equally compelling.

I’m sure they will. J You have a wonderful page on your website that explains the history of the Hochstetler family and how it plays into your writing. Can you share some of that with us here?

I think of my ancestors as the cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews 12:1 who urge us to remain faithful in our walk on this earth. They were courageous pioneers who left their homeland to come to a vast and unfamiliar new country where they could live and worship God according to their sincere convictions. By their example they bequeathed to their descendants a heritage of faith that has extended through the years to me and my children.

I’m very blessed that my parents taught me from an early age to know, love, and serve my Savior. The tales they told of our ancestors and of their own lives inspired in me a great love of history that God called me to share through the stories I write. I pray they will touch my readers’ hearts for God’s glory.

You co-wrote Northkill with Bob Hostetler. How did that partnership form? And how do expect it to benefit your readers?

It’s been a challenge at times because the two of us have very distinctive styles and voices. We couldn’t have it sounding like a patchwork of his and mine, so we’ve had to work on developing a unified voice. Between the two of us, I’m the one who has the most experience writing in the historical fiction genre and doing the research needed. Bob contributed a great deal in character and plot development and keeping the project on track, and he added some pretty snappy dialog as well as deep insights, too, from his experience as a pastor. All in all, I think each of us brings experience, talents, and abilities to the project that make this story exciting and inspiring.

How do you think basing stories off people in your own family either makes your work easier or brings more challenges?

Visitors, come back tomorrow for the answer to this and other questions about Northkill and Joan’s other books. In the meantime, don’t forget to answer her question for you so you’ll be entered in our drawing to win a copy of Northkill:

What are the names of the 2 oldest Hochstetler children who were married and living elsewhere at the time of the attack?

Be sure to include your name and email address (spelling out ‘at’ and ‘dot’ to help cut down on spam) with your answer. The drawing will be held on Friday morning.

Thanks for stopping by, and we’ll see you again tomorrow!


Amy C said...

I think this book sounds absolutely fascinating to me. Can't wait to get my hands on it.
I guess lucky for John and Barbara living elsewhere during the attack
Campbellamyd at gmail dot com

J. M. Hochstetler said...

Hi, Amy! You've got it right, and you're entered. Thanks for stopping by and good luck in the drawing!

Lori Benton said...

I was privileged to read this story already, so don't enter me in the contest. I just wanted to say I'm so happy to finally see this story in print (because I agree with Joan that not nearly enough of our 18th century history is remembered, and because I love these types of frontier novels best) and I'm looking forward to reading its conclusion in the second book of the series. So hurry Joan and Bob! :)

Janet Grunst said...

Johannes and Barbara were the oldest siblings, who fortunately were elsewhere. I'm looking forward to reading Northkill.
JanetGrunst at gmail dot com

Christina said...

I enjoyed this interview. Prior to this post, I hadn't heard of your book. I'm adding it to my TBR list for my next online shopping trip. Good luck!

Joan said...

Hi, Lori! Thanks for stopping by, and for your very kind words! :-)

Joan said...

Hi, Janet! Thank you for stopping by and entering the contest!

And Christina, it's good to see you here too! I'm so glad you dropped by.

Jennifer Smith said...

The oldest children are Johannes and Barbara. Thanks for an opportunity to win! jennismith1983(at)gmail(dot)com

J. M. Hochstetler said...

Hi, Jennifer! Thanks for stopping by and good luck in the drawing!

MsRubyKat said...

Johannes and Barbara were the oldest Hochstetler children who were married and living elsewhere at the time of the attack. I really, really would love to read this book. It sounds like a great story. Thank you for the chance to win a copy.
Karen G.

Rebecca DeMarino said...

Joan and Leigh ~ enjoyed the interview and I'm looking forward to the second part!! Northkill sounds fascinating and I'm looking forward to reading it!

Rebecca DeMarino said...

Oh! and that would be Johannes and Barbara to the contest question and you can reach me at rebecca at rebeccademarino dot com !!

KayM said...

I am so looking forward to reading Northkill. Thank you for offering a copy. The names of the two oldest children, who were not living at home were Johannes and Barbara.
Johannes and Barbara

J. M. Hochstetler said...

Karen, Rebecca, and Kay, I'm so glad you stopped by! Thank you for entering the drawing, and I wish you all the best of luck!

Bonnie Roof said...

Johannes and Barbara are the names of the two older siblings.

Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy of "Northkill" - it sounds like such an interesting story!! Love the fact that it is based on actual people and events!!


Dodi Wozniak said...

The oldest were Johanne (John) and my direct ancestor Barbara.