Happy Monday reader friends! Today I am pleased to welcome Elizabeth Byler Younts to talk about her wonderful book, The Solace of Water!
What made you write a story with diverse characters?
Elizabeth: I didn’t set out with that as my mission or goal—I’d say it came to me. It was around 6 years ago that I saw in my mind’s-eye an Amish woman running through the woods to a non-Amish neighbor’s home. The neighbor was a distraught African American woman—I didn’t know much more than that for a long time. Then it just came little by little in layers: the alcoholic Amish husband, the child who died, the daughter with guilt over her lost brother, and the relationship between the Amish boy and the African American girl, and what water had to do with it all. It just came piece by piece.
Jessica: It always amazes me at how stories come to authors!
Can you tell us a little bit more about The Solace of Water?
Elizabeth: Besides the retail summary, ultimately this story is about unlikely friendship. It’s about 3 women who find each other in the midst of isolation and heartache and form a bond with one another that in the 1950s their social circles would not have considered a positive friendship. It touches on things that no one really wants to talk about—child loss, self-harm, alcoholism, and racism. But folded within all of that mess and sadness is hope.
Jessica: So many people today need to hear that there is hope. No matter what hand life has dealt you, there is hope.
Did you struggle writing these characters?
Elizabeth: I did! Their pain was so palpable and I cried often. I wanted to be authentic and honest about not just the diversity within their races, regions, and religions but within their pain and the reason for their isolation. There are so many things that cause us to feel different or be separate from our communities and I didn’t want to cheapen what they were in the midst of or their most obvious difference in their races. I wanted the reader to be able to enter into each character’s unique story. Each of them had such a beauty about them that I knew would be used for their spiritual and emotional healing. Their burdens were heavier because they loved so deeply and it can be hard to carry that as a writer and a reader.
It was challenging to make sure that every word and every plot choice was about the story and not about anything else. To overly simplify it—I tell stories. I tell stories about people who feel incredibly real to me and I intend to do it honestly and with the weight and beauty of the truth I believe in woven within the story.
Jessica: I like reading “real” stories. The characters are easier to relate to.
What do you hope readers will gain from this story?
I don’t know if I can put my finger on that exactly since every reader is coming into the story uniquely… but what I can do is tell you what I’ve come away with and what I’ve gained. I’ve been deeply affected by the stories of Delilah and Emma and Sparrow. They have been traveling with me in my head for years and they became fixtures in my life. I have never written a book with the intention to teach someone or to prove some point, but often realize there’s something important for ME to learn. I learned that I’m not as good as I think I am and that I don’t seem to love well the person God is growing me to be—but instead I fight His chosen growth in me. I learned that bitterness will destroy everything it touches—always. I learned that withholding forgiveness is never worth it—never-ever. I learned that the person on the other side of that inflammatory FaceBook post that makes you want to “unfollow” them has a story behind that post—it’s usually worth hearing. I am learning to bite my tongue and listen and see what God wants from me once I’ve heard. I learned so much in writing this book and I’m still learning.
There’s a quote by L.M. Montgomery that says, “My pen shall heal, not hurt.” This was where my heart is in writing any book that I find at my fingertips. In walking with characters and entering into their burden or pain with them we can journey full circle in their shoes and maybe find some of our own healing. With healing comes learning, wisdom, and often repentance. That’s what I experienced in several areas in writing The Solace of Water.
Jessica: Thank you for sharing this. We all have things to learn in our lives, and how wonderful that God has blessed you with learning while you’re writing.
Which Diverse Reads are you most excited about putting on your TBR stack?
Elizabeth: You have an amazing list of Diverse Reads on your website and some of them are “new to me” authors. Since I love a good series, the two that especially stand out to me to add to my TBR stack are the Maple Run series by Toni Shiloh and Piper Huguley’s Milford College books. I love that you have put so much at a reader’s fingertips!
Jessica: Warning – do NOT read the Maple Run series hungry 😉
What are you reading right now?
Elizabeth: I’m currently reading Peace Like a River by Lief Enger and Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. Enger’s is especially a beautiful and literary and both are pushing me to think outside of myself. I am drawn to literary fiction that is usually historical and to be led to consider a life that is different from mine. I am not an escapist reader so much as I like to be challenged, to think deeply, and to cry! I also like some non-fiction that can be a little random but must be thought provoking.
Jessica: I am intrigued! Thank you for visiting with us today!
About the Book
The Blurb: “After the loss of her young son, Carver, an African-American preacher’s wife named Delilah Evans moves with her family from Montgomery, Alabama, to Sinking Creek, Pennsylvania, for a fresh start. The last thing she could have imagined was becoming friends with Emma Mullet, a reclusive Amish woman.
Emma is fighting personal battles of her own and feels estranged from her small Amish community. The secrets that have kept her isolated from her own community serve to unite her in an unlikely friendship with Delilah.
Sparrow, Delilah’s eldest daughter, knows she is responsible for the death of her little brother. When tensions at home become unbearable, she seeks solace at Emma’s house, becoming the surrogate daughter Emma has always wanted. Sparrow, however, is hiding secrets of her own, secrets that could sever all ties to her safe refuge.
Life for these three gets harder when church and social issues confront them, causing rifts within Sinking Creek’s three distinct communities: whites, blacks, and Amish. When their carefully protected secrets come to light, there seems to be little hope for friendship, restoration, or even forgiveness. But when the unthinkable happens, Delilah and Emma find themselves looking into the mirror of their own self-deceptions and are forced to make a choice that will set the way of their future. ”
About the Author
Elizabeth Byler Younts gained a worldwide audience through her first book Seasons: A Real Story of an Amish Girl and is a RITA nominated writer. She is also the author of The Promise of Sunrise series. She has consulted on Amish lifestyle and the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect two award-winning television shows. Elizabeth lives in Central Pennsylvania with her husband, two daughters, and a cockapoo named Fable.