Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Lessons to Be Learned and Thanks to Be Given by Jo Ann Brown

When inspiration struck while doing some research for another story, the Amish Spinster Club books were born. Deciding on the location was simple. I would set it in my hometown, not far from where an actual Amish settlement has recently set down roots. I decided to let the last book in my Amish Hearts series serve as a transition by moving one of the Stoltzfus siblings to a farm along a creek not far from Salem, New York.
But now it was time to start creating the characters for the new series, especially the four members of the Harmony Creek Spinsters’ Club. These young women, who were past the usual marrying age, didn’t want to hang out with teens any longer, but wanted to have get-togethers and frolics and outings. I knew the heroes they deserved would come along as the stories developed.
But who were my heroines? I chose Miriam Hartz as the heroine of the first book because she was already intriguing to me. She’d come to the new settlement with her brother whose idea it was to create it in the first place. What sort of person was she?
In this case, the answer came quickly. Miriam was someone who brought out the best in others by being there for them, supporting her friends and community, stepping up when there was a task to be done, inspiring others to doing better than they’d thought they could. She had a heart-deep reason not to want to be around children, so of course, her brother asks her to be the temporary teacher for the settlement. To me it seemed obvious, because I see teachers as those who support and inspire.
I had some extraordinary teachers. We were a small school, covering five townships/villages, with 650 kids in K-12. We knew each other and everyone’s siblings and parents, and our teachers were part of that extended family. Some teachers had been there long enough to teach our parents. One of those was Miss Barkley, my third grade teacher. We were her 65th class (yep, you read that right – she’d been teaching for sixty-five years), and she believed in inspiring students by making learning fun. As a result of her skills, we were through our year’s syllabus before Thanksgiving. The rest of the year, we kept learning and were far ahead of where we were supposed to be in math and language arts by the end of the school year. She inspired me with a love for words and books and daring to do things I couldn’t have imagined until I met her.
On the other hand, Mrs. Musser, my freshman and sophomore English teacher, was fresh out of college, and she believed in inspiring students by challenging them. I’d been coasting along in school on my creative writing...doing enough to get by while I worked on my own stories at home. My first homework assignment came back with a C+ instead the usual A. I was shocked and heartbroken...and I realized I was going to have to learn more if I wanted to be an author as I dreamed. So, after wiping away the tears (the only time I ever cried over a grade), I promised myself right then and there, I was going to prove to her that I was a good writer. That was our last assignment for freshman year, but I was ready the year. The first creative writing project meant thinking about exactly which words I wanted to use to convey the mood of what I was trying to create in those three pages. It was returned to me with a grade of B+ and a note that said (and I remember it all these years later): What happened to you over the summer? I was walking on air, so happy that I’d dared to show her what I really wanted to do rather than hiding my dream in my heart. Years later, when I was a newly published author, I did a presentation for her freshman class...and told that story to the delight of every student there. I hope I inspired at least one as she’d inspired me. Though she didn’t remember the circumstances.
For almost thirty years, I’ve been teaching creative writing. Every time I get in front of a class, I think of those two teachers and how inspiration was their most important teaching tool.
That’s why I chose for Miriam to be a teacher, not just in the classroom, but in her life. I hope all of you have such teachers in your lives, too. They’re a true gift we’re blessed to have light our way. Thanks to each and every one of you.
Check out Miriam's story in The Amish Suitor, the first book in the Amish Spinster Club quartet. It's available in print today May 22, 2018. The ebook will be for sale on June 1, 2018.


  1. What an amazing story of inspiration, Jo Ann. Teachers truly inspire us to try harder, reach for those goals. Miriam's story sounds interesting. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Lovely post! Teachers play such an important role in our lives. I remember my English and writing teachers with great fondness. And yes, each inspired in a unique way.

  3. I still think of two previous creative writer instructors - one who said to me "Did you really write this?" and implied that I'd plagiarized. And the other who has applauded me for more than 20 years. Cool beans, eh?

    1. How wonder you have a teacher who's been in your cheering section for so long! A special one!

    2. That's supposed to be wonderful! In the midst of finishing up a ms, and my brain is mush...


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