Title: Levi's Will
Author: W. Dale Cramer
Publisher†: Bethany House BethanyHouse.com
Forgiveness is the most necessary action in every human being's life Ė giving it and receiving it. Without practicing forgiveness, our world is left in a state of bitterness rebellion hate and loneliness.
In Levi's Will, Author W. Dale Cramer tells the story of an Amish son and father who take decades to reconcile after the son leaves the Amish community to escape a life changing command.
With emotionally packed prose, this fictional account of part of Cramer's father's life, opens the door to the exploration of the damage unforgiveness leaves in its wake and the beauty of healing, since forgiveness "is the proof of love."
Cramer introduces readers to Will Mullet, son of Levi, a strict Amish father who demands his son's obedience in marrying the young Amish girl who became pregnant after she and Will got carried away during "bundling." Will rebels at the unfairness of the punishment; after all, what did his father expect when two raging-hormone teens are given privacy to get to know one another?
This story is ripe with characters who will live on in memory for decades. Kramer has managed to master the ability to bring characters to life, complete with abilities and disabilities, who remain unforgettable.
Beautifully and sensitively written, without glossing over the tragedies human stubbornness and pride bring, Levi's Will is a book for both genders and one to read again and again to experience the cleansing of one's own heart.
Cramer has been received well, and it's difficult to find a bad review. Sutter's Cross and Bad Ground were chosen in 2004 as two of the Top 50 books by Publishers Weekly. He has also been awarded a 2005 Christy Award for excellence in Christian Fiction. Cramer won in the general category for his acclaimed Bad Ground.
For more information on Cramer, visit his web site, http://www.dalecramer.com
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Interview with W. Dale Cramer, author of Levi's Will
Dian: Iíve learned that Leviís Will is a fictionalized story of your fatherís life. The details in this book speak of an insiderís knowledge of the Amish way of life, but it also speaks to an insiderís knowledge of the battle for reconciliation with our earthly fathers as well as our Heavenly Father. How much of the story is factual, acted out by fictional people, and how did you decide where to draw the line between truth and fiction?
Dale: Thatís actually a pretty good way to put itó "factual, acted out by fictional people." I have long believed that my fatherís story, if handled correctly, could paint a wonderfully clear picture of a great truth. But whatís timeless and profound from a writerís viewpoint is the story, not the individuals behind it. I thought it was better to create my own characters than to invade peopleís lives. When people ask, we always tell them the story is about half true, and then we refuse to tell them which half.
Dian: At times, while reading Leviís Will, which I did in one afternoon, I was overcome with emotion at the truth in so many of the scenes. How hard was it for you to write such an emotionally charged book, and which scenes were the most difficult?
Dale: The whole thing was hard. It was by far the hardest thing Iíve ever done, for a number of reasons. First, I always had to consider the people who are reflected in some way in the book and what might be revealed to their friends and family. Second, I set such a high standard for this one because it was important on a personal level. I was never sure whether other people would feel that way, but I knew it was important to me and my family, so I wanted it to be the most beautiful thing Iíve ever done. Third, the story spans more than forty turbulent years. You wouldnít believe how much research it takes just to make all those times and settings authentic. The easiest parts were the present tense scenes because I used a real setting and described much of it from memory.
Dian: Sometimes, a book will linger in the readerís mind as more than just a story, but rather it becomes a living thing that challenges our minds, our beliefs and causes us to pause for a moment in wonder and reflection. This book has joined the ranks of a select few in my library that will be read over and over because its words challenged me on many levels. What was your ultimate goal in writing Leviís Will, other than writing a book that people will read?
Dale: You know, while I was working on Leviís Will I never really thought it would be a book people would read. I know that sounds oddly pessimistic, but itís not that at all. Itís just that I knew I was writing a very personal story and I didnít believe other people would connect with it. What Iím discovering now is something Iíve been told over and over as a writeró that the personal is the universal. We all share basically the same stories. My only goal was to take the truest thing I know and frame it with the best story I could write.
Dian: Did you always know that your father came from an Amish background, or like Willís children, did you not find out until a later age? Please explain how this unique family history first impacted you and how it transfers to your life today.
Dale: I knew about the Amish from childhood, but there were parts of the story I didnít know until after I was grown. At first the knowledge didnít impact me much at all, but over time I began to put pieces together that explained, pretty much as the book does, how I came to be the way I am. If a man can ever learn to see his father objectively, to understand who he is and what shaped him, he can begin to understand himself.
Dian: How did you decide which parts of your fatherís story to fictionalize and how did you go about making fiction from fact?
Dale: Most of the decisions were common sense. I made some of them out of kindness, some out of expediency, and some to strengthen the story. I should point out that I really didnít know most of the Amish characters very well. It was easier, and more respectful in many ways, to create my own characters, even though they filled the roles left by real people. I also rearranged events chronologically to make the story stronger, and fictionalized whole segments of my fatherís life wherever I was more comfortable with fiction than reality. For instance, my father never worked on a bridge crew, but I did, which made it possible for me to write Willís background with authority. The character Jubal Barefoot is modeled after an old friend, but heís a friend of mine, not my fatherís. It really is a complicated mixture of fact and fiction. The questions are naturally going to come, but itís really so much easier to just read it as fiction.
Dian: What was your fatherís reaction to Leviís Will? And that of the rest of your family, both Amish and "English."
Dale: Oh, he loves it. He understood immediately that what I had done was take his story and elevate it to myth, which brought out the truth in ways that surprised him. My mother was a bit more reluctant until she read it, and then she was fine. I went up to Holmes County, Ohio, to sign books right after it was released, and the family got together at my cousinís house while I was there. Must have been sixty Amish relatives lined up to buy books. They were incredibly gracious and supportive. I would even say proud, but they were Amish, after all.
Dian: The dialogue in this book flows so naturally, and the characters themselves seem to step off the page. The sensation is truly that of becoming lost in a book. What methods do you use to develop each characterís individuality and immerse them into the bookís world?
Dale: I really canít answer this. The characters seem to introduce themselves. I guess itís a gift. I honestly wouldnít know a method if it was curled up asleep in my lap. Iíll say this: most of the time I can see my characters, and I can hear them talk. Maybe Iím delusional. I do have a theory about it, though. All my life I have walked around replaying conversations in my headó you know, going back over it thinking, "Boy, I wish Iíd said this." I honestly suspect that the best dialog writers are people who have always walked around talking to themselves. Weíre not nuts, weíre practicing.
Dian: The Amish lifestyle, though one of simple tradition and hard work, can oftentimes be envied for those qualities. Knowing that you have Amish roots, have you ever wanted to go back to those roots and live that lifestyle?
Dale: No, I like my truck and my computer, but I do believe theyíre onto something. Ask yourself, would our lives be better or worse if we all had the courage to throw away our televisions? Thereís a sense of connection, a pervasive sense of partnership with the earth. Watch an eight-year-old girl walk a team of giant Belgians around the barn, hook them to a rope and hoist a wagonload of hay into the mowó youíll see what I mean.
Dian: This is your third book. How was the process different this time as compared to your first?
Dale: My first book was a five year experiment in answer to the question, "I wonder if I can write a book?" This one was much harder, partly because I had a one-year deadline and partly because there was so much research involved. Leviís Will spanned forty years. All the times and settings had to be authentic, and the characters had to age realistically. My first novel was a hobby. This one was a job.
Dian: How did you come to be a writer?
Dale: Iíd call it a series of ten thousand accidents. Iíd always wanted to write but not until several years ago, when I quit my job to stay home with our two small boys, did I stumble across the tools I needed. First, I accidentally published an article in an international business magazine. Then, because of the article, I got involved with a writers group on CompuServe. They got me into short stories, then showed me how to get them published, and eventually I decided to write a book. All along the way, I always ran into exactly the right people, got exactly the right advice, and found exactly the right door open at exactly the right time. For a long time I thought I was just lucky, but you can only have so many coincidences before you start to see design. You start to see a hand behind it.
Dian: Forgiveness is probably the hardest thing we humans face; it certainly tears families, friendships, communities and nations apart. What advice would you give to those who would listen as to how both to forgive and be forgiven?
Dale: Understand, first, that there has only ever been one man who had the right to throw the first rock, and he chose instead to stand in the path of the rock. What right do we have to do otherwise? And understand, second, that forgiveness heals the one who gives it. To forgive is to release a weight, always.†
Dian Moore is a freelance writer, editor and reviewer and the hands behind Hands for Hope, www.handsforhope.com. If you would like to write to Dian, you can do so via the Letters page of this magazine.
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