Elizabeth Byler Younts is an Air Force officer’s wife and a homeschooling mom with two young daughters. She grew up in an Amish family and, although her parents eventually left the church, she continues to speak Pennsylvania Dutch.
She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, and her debut novel, Promise to Return, released this month. It’s the first of her three novels in The Promise of Sunrise series from Howard Books (Simon & Schuster).
Elizabeth makes her home wherever her family is stationed—currently in Pennsylvania.
What sparked your writing journey?
As long as I can remember I wanted to be an author. I even wrote my first novel by the age of eleven and promised my Amish grandma that I would someday write her memoir. Though it was over twenty years later before that memoir would be published, my grandma’s stories from the tiniest of ages were always a spark in my life.
How does your faith play into your work?
I’m not sure my faith is separated from any part of my life, writing included. Everything I do I filter through the faith God has given me. I’m so thankful that through my writing I can feel closer to my Creator. My books have an element of faith, of course, but Amish stories are built on their faith first and the story second.
Let’s talk about your debut novel from Howard Books, Promise to Return (October 2013). Please tell us about it.
Promise to Return highlights the life of the Amish during WWII. As conscientious objectors (C.O.s) their perspective during the war was vastly different from the majority of Americans. Society saw them as disloyal to our country. When boys got drafted they had four choices: serve, serve in a noncombatant role (not popular in the church), imprisonment, and Civilian Public Service (CPS).
The CPS was brand new in WWII and (there) were camps throughout the country where all C.O.s would have the option of working. They were all fairly labor-intensive camps: working land, digging ditches, building fences, building out-buildings, raising chickens, fighting fires, some allowed themselves to be experimented upon, and many worked in mental institutions. The C.O.s were unpaid by the government but provided millions of dollars of work; local churches stepped up and provided the C.O.s with a small amount of money. This money barely covered their living expenses which left very little to be sent home to their families, as many of these men were husbands with wives and children or sons who helped support their families. Over 12,000 C.O.s worked in these camps across the country, yet so few of Americans know their story. I wanted to share their convictions and stories through fiction, and Promise to Return was born.
Please tell us a bit about your writing processing. When/where/how you prefer to write, etc.
I prefer to plot out the storyline and write a synopsis before I start writing. I gather research and pictures and put files on Evernote and Pinterest to help aid in my writing. Because I have a quick turnaround on my books for this series, this preparation goes a long way. Once I start writing I usually only get the chance to write late at night after my daughters are asleep. Every few Saturdays I also take most of the day to work at a Starbucks. I’m still so new at this and my amazing agent and editors have been incredibly patient with me and helped me along the way.
Detours in life can be frustrating—kind of like plot twists in the stories we write—but the outcome is often more intriguing than our original plan. Can you tell us about a recent “detour” in your life—or in one of your character’s lives—that taught you something?
Well, currently I am about two and a half weeks away from moving from Alabama to Pennsylvania. In the midst of planning a move I am homeschooling, attending the ACFW conference, writing book three, and marketing for release of Promise to Return on October 8. All of this really seems overwhelming to be happening at the same time . . . moving your family across the country was a huge decision but a necessary one and what we believe God wants for us . . . but definitely is a detour for me. Our house hunting trip was in the middle of edits for book two and that wasn’t an easy combo. But God has been faithful in all ways. He has also given me the most amazing and supportive husband and children.
The thing with detours is that it brings you into further dependence on God and a deeper relationship with Him. This detour is amazing to me because I am an author of Amish Historical Fiction . . . what better place to live but in PENNSYLVANIA!!! Of course, my roots are deep into the Amish church but I haven’t lived near any Amish family in over nine years. While I have no close Amish family in PA, this does bring me back to my heritage and it was all an act of God.
A few fun questions…
When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food and why?
I’m weird because I love protein smoothies! I’m not the most “exercise-y” person ever but I do try to stay active. My husband, on the other hand, is an amazing runner and got me started on protein smoothies. So, when it’s 10:30-11 p.m. and I’m still working but I’m famished . . . I get a shake! Fruit, yogurt, protein powder, almonds, and ice . . . seriously, I’m addicted.
When it comes to truly celebrating (like after a deadline) . . . nothing does it like chocolate cheesecake!
This website features musicians as well as writers. Do you have musical, as well as literary, talent?
I played the trumpet from 7th through 12th grade and some during college. I don’t play often anymore. I do love to sing and have off and on been a part of the worship groups in a few churches as we’ve moved around. I would love to do that again if it works in my schedule.
If you were a song, what kind of song would you be?
I LOVE Praise and Worship music, but I often use it to lift my spirits. So who am I as a song . . . probably something darker like the songs by Sarah Brightman. Her music and voice and theatrics inspire me. Her songs like Scarborough Fair or A Whiter Shade of Pale are stories to me and I identify with it on a variety of levels.
In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?
Oh boy, that’s a tough question. I’d love to say I’m the strong female lead—like Ruth or Esther in the Bible. What is probably more accurate is that I’m more of the far too introspective character who waivers and can even be, shall I say—moody. I’d be the character always looking for the lesson in every plot twist. I’m definitely not mysterious, I talk too much, and I’m not the super woman . . . I’m more of the “anti-supermom” because I just know I don’t have it all together. I’m probably the girl next door on the outside but the little girl trying to walk in high heels on the inside.
I’m a dog lover. Please tell us about your pets, if any, or your favorite pet as a child.
Oh, I have the sweetest pets. We have Fiona, a westie, and two crazy cats Babushka and Mousey. Fiona was my dog before I was married she just had her twelfth birthday. This dog has been through it all . . . she ran around the woods with a pitbull as a puppy, thinking she could keep up, she’s been lost in Colorado Springs when we had to leave to move away on military orders the following morning . . . after my music pastor found her and kept her for a few weeks a pet transport picked her up and, to make a long story short, lost Fiona in Las Vegas as they traveled her down to us . . . she was found and finally made it to Texas. Her most recent adventure was getting bitten by a copperhead in the nose in our very sub-divisiony backyard! Yes, Fiona is super special and an amazing part of our family.
Thanks, Elizabeth! It’s nice to have you as a guest at DivineDetour.
You are so welcome. Thank you so much for the opportunity.
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For more information about Elizabeth, visit her website. Or connect with her on social media:
Facebook ~ https://www.facebook.com/AuthorElizabethBylerYounts
Twitter ~ https://twitter.com/ElizabethYounts
Pinterest ~ http://pinterest.com/ElizabethYounts/boards/
Goodreads ~ www.goodreads.com/author/show/5117175.Elizabeth_Byler_Younts
To purchase Promise to Return, logon to:
I never knew about the C.O.s during WWII. I’d love to read about this! WWII is one era I’m not well versed on. Now that it’s “history” – as opposed to “just a few years ago” when I was in school – I’m happy to see so many fine fiction books coming out during that era.
I hope you find my book informational as well as inspiring fiction. I so enjoyed hearing stories about the COs growing up and the research I odd as an adult was fascinating.