Why did you write this novel?
When I was 18 years old I was living with my family in a small town in Iowa; population of around 3,500. Like so many other youth from small towns, I was restless and eager to leave that farming community and discover the world. Now, over 25 years later, I've come to appreciate the beauty of that place and its people. I wanted to write a novel to pay tribute to those in all communities who quietly go about their lives making a difference in the lives of their families and others around them—people with strong values; people whom I believe are the backbone of our country.
Is this novel about one particular town in which you've lived?
No. I've lived and worked in many towns in the upper Midwest throughout my life. Marquette, Minnesota is an amalgamation of those towns.
How did you come up with the idea for this novel?
There was an elderly gentleman in my church, who has since passed away, who immigrated to the United States from Germany with his family when he was a youth. He was of the WWII generation, which I found fascinating. I guess my imagination took over from there.
Who was instrumental in helping you complete this project?
Hand's down, my wife and best friend, Jil, whom I met and fell in love with in that small town in Iowa. I am truly blessed to have her as my wife. She stretches me to be better in every area of my life—as a husband, father, and in my career and civic involvement. She always believes in me and encourages me in all that I do. As a journalist, it was always a secret dream of mine to write a novel. I don't think I even shared that dream with Jil, but she must have sensed it because there was a point in our lives where she began making comments about "when" I write my novel...not "if," but "when."There were several other members of my family and close friends that encouraged me greatly, as well. My sister-in-law, Lynn, who is an avid reader of fiction, was the first one other than Jil to read my manuscript. To see that she truly enjoyed it made me think that getting it published might actually be possible.
How long did it take to complete it?
several years, maybe six. Honestly, I lost track. Our four children were young, all under the age of 10 or 12, so it was a crazy and exciting time in our lives. Most of my writing was done after we put the kids to bed. Life often got in the way, as did my desire for sleep, so it was done in fits and starts. I finally completed it in late 2007. From there it was a harrowing journey to find a publisher. I was thrilled to sign my contract with OakTara in 2008, and owe a debt of gratitude to them for taking a chance on me. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, publication was delayed about two years. It was an opportunity for me to practice patience.
There appears to be a faith component to this novel. Why did you include that?
To exclude the source behind why Gutzman lived the way he did would have been wrong. I think that faith in God and living as He wants us to live—loving others—is the common thread among people who touch the lives of others. When people truly love God they naturally show love to others. That's what happened in Gutzman's life, and that is what is happening today in the lives of so many people around the world.