Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Interview and Book Give Away: Paradise Valley by Dale Cramer

LeAnne Hardy: Christy Award winner, Dale Cramer, is the author of Levi’s Will and other highly regarded Christian novels.  His latest, Paradise Valley, was partially inspired by his family’s history in Mexico.  Can you tell us more about that, Dale?

Dale Cramer: It started when I asked my father how he came to be born in Mexico.  I knew his family was Old Order Amish, and that they were in Mexico, but I had no idea why.  Turns out there was a huge conflict with the state of Ohio in the early 1920s over school attendance laws, and their solution was to move to Mexico.  My great grandfather was the elder statesman of the colony.  He had a bunch of daughters, one of whom was newly married to my grandfather, Harv Miller.  My father and two of his siblings were born while they were down there, so for at least a few years there were three generations of my family living in Mexico.

LH: Did anything else figure significantly in your inspiration?

DC: The makeup of my great grandfather's family inspired me to create a similar family in the Benders— lots of daughters, lots of opportunities for romance and conflict.  I also was drawn to the larger issues like church versus state, pacifism under fire, the rights of individuals to raise their children without interference, those kinds of things.

LH: When I reviewed Paradise Valley on my blog, one of my readers asked privately if revising laws to allow the Amish to educate in their own way didn’t open doors to Muslims in North America doing the same. Do you have any comments?

DC: Well, this is the dilemma of a democracy, isn't it?  America's answer to discrimination is rule of law, and the law, once written, has to be applied evenly whether you're Christian or Muslim.  In the end, I'd have to say if the Amish can have schools then the Muslims can have schools; it's a government issue, and the government should treat all its citizens the same.  One of the things I wish Christians in this country [USA] could get through their heads is that the battle between Christianity and Islam does not take place in a courtroom or a battlefield.  It takes place in the heart.  The church and the state are two different things.

LH: Your characters go against the prevailing Spanish culture of the time that disparaged the local Native population. Do you see parallels with our own time and place?

DC: I do see some parallels in modern issues of racism as well as class consciousness, both recurring themes in my books, but it's intrinsic to the characters.  I mean, after Caleb Bender walked on the stage and presented himself as a wise, compassionate, principled man, I couldn't see him reacting any other way.  He treated animals with respect because he knew that it brought out the best in them, and he treated people the same way.  It's something I've learned from my own work experience.  People will do a job because they're afraid not to, but they'll do it better and faster if they're doing it because they care.  Genuine mutual respect brings out the best in both parties.  There's no loyalty in fear.

LH: Did you visit Mexico to prepare for writing Paradise Valley or is the setting based on book and internet research?

DC: Regrettably, no.  There's just too much chaos, too much killing and kidnapping down there right now— sort of ironic, given the background of the book.  But I pictured myself stumbling around Mexico with a translator trying to gather information for a book, and word getting around about this easy-target gringo novelist who would probably bring a fat ransom.  I mean, we all know writers are rich, right?

But I have studied the geography, history and culture of the time extensively.  I've also talked to a lot of Amish who've heard stories handed down from the Mexico colony.  Using landmarks from my research, I've even been able to locate the valley on Google Earth. 

LH: That is so cool! Paradise Valley is more than light romance (although it contains some delightful romantic plot lines.) What would you most like readers to take away from this book?

DC: Among other things, Paradise Valley asks readers, 'What do you do when the law of the land comes in conflict with your beliefs?'  No matter what's behind or underneath the story, it must first be a story, and it has to entertain or it won't thrive.  Beyond that, what I want readers to take away from any story of mine is a new perspective, something they've never thought about before, or never thought about in quite that way.  I've long said the purpose of nonfiction is to provide answers, while the purpose of fiction is to ask questions.  Consider parables.  Whenever Jesus used a parable, which we generally assume to be a snippet of fiction, it always presented a question to the listener and made him search within himself for the answer. When you read a parable you find an answer in yourself, and then you can't help comparing your answer to your own life and circumstances.  That's my highest aim.  If I can write a gripping parable that leaves a reader saying, "I never looked at it like that before," then I'm happy. 

LH: Dale has graciously agreed to send a signed copy to a name drawn from comments to this blog by Saturday, March 5.  Non-North American readers are eligible for an electronic copy, which can be read on your computer if you don't have a e-book reader.  To enter, comment on this post and include your e-mail address, substituting (at) for @ and (dot) for the full stop. (Void where prohibited; the odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. Entering the giveaway is considered a confirmation of eligibility on behalf of the enterer in accord with these rules and any pertaining local/federal/international laws.)

Thank you for being with us today, Dale.  We will look forward to more books in this series.

LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books for young people come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will impact lives. You can find out more at .


  1. My family background is Mennonite, and I, too, have relatives in Mexico and Belize who left Canada for similar reasons many years ago. My parents drove to Mexico (from Manitoba, Canada) in the 50s to visit family. Your story is an interesting premise, Dale!

    valerie at valeriecomer dot com

  2. Several people have told me they tried to comment on this blog and couldn't make it work. If you are one, please write me at Leanne (at) leannehardy (dot) net and I will enter you in the competition anyway!

  3. Hi Dale and LeAnne

    Many thanks for the interesting interview.

    Dale some of your books are available on South Africa and I bought Sutter's Cross and really enjoyed reading it.

    Please enter me for the draw for the electronic copy of Paradise Valley.

    Thank you

    Ruth Ann

  4. The book winner is Peg Smith one of several who wrote me personally when she was unable to post here. My apologies for the difficulty some of you experienced.