A Conversation with Jolina Petersheim

Today, the INSPY Awards warmly welcomes author, Jolina Petersheim. Her novel, The Alliance (Tyndale) is on the 2017 shortlist in the General Fiction category. Please join us in welcoming Jolina.

Jolina beautifully shares a piece of her heart today through the inspiration of her shortlisted title, shares about her love of dark chocolate – plus more!

ABOUT the BOOK

When Leora Ebersole sees the small plane crash in her Old Order Mennonite community, she has no idea it’s a foreshadowing of things to come. Once the young pilot, Moses Hughes, regains consciousness, they realize his instruments were destroyed by the same power outage that killed the electricity at the community store, where Englischers are stranded with dead cell phones and cars that won’t start.

Moses offers a sobering theory, but no one can know how drastically life is about to change. With the only self-sustaining food supply in the region, the Pacifist community is forced to forge an alliance with the handful of stranded Englischers in an effort to protect not only the food but their very lives.

In the weeks that follow, Leora, Moses, and the community will be tested as never before, requiring them to make decisions they never thought possible. Whom will they help and whom will they turn away? When the community receives news of a new threat, everyone must decide how far they’re willing to go to protect their beliefs and way of life. – Goodreads

Interview Questions

INSPYs: What was the inspiration behind The Alliance? I guess you could say I had a slightly different childhood. When I was six and my brother ten, our family stood in a field on the camp where my parents were caretakers, and my parents told us that this was where we would meet if we were separated when the world “blew up.” From this field, our family would travel by foot to our friends’ elaborate, fairytale home and live in the blue room hidden behind their bookshelves.

My parents in no way meant to instill fear in us. Now that I’m a parent, I see that they were trying to assuage their own fears by coming up with a disaster-recovery plan. But I was born with an overactive imagination, and therefore this plan planted in me the seed of fear—and, subsequently, a driving need to control my environment.

I wish I could say I uprooted this fear once I became an adult, but after I had my firstborn daughter, my fear grew worse, for not only did I have to control my environment; I also had to control hers.

When my eldest was six months old, an unnerving exchange with a logger caused my fear to deepen its roots and for me to ask myself whether I would ever use lethal force to protect myself and my family. I believed I would, even though, growing up, I sensed that my own father would adhere to his pacifist heritage if placed in such a situation.

The final puzzle piece for my book, The Alliance, slid into place when my father told us that we needed heirloom seeds to last us until the next harvest season. I remember standing in my darkened kitchen and repeating that phrase to myself—The Harvest Season.

Initially, I believed this would be the title of the book, but over time, I knew a community having enough food to last until the next harvest season was only a small element of the story. The larger element came from the protagonist, Leora Ebersole, and her driving need to control her environment, even after society crumbles around her, because if she controls her environment, she believes she will be able to keep her orphaned family safe.

With every one of my books, God’s been faithful to allow me to experience some portion of whatever topic I’m addressing. The Alliance is no exception. My family and I moved from Tennessee to Wisconsin shortly before I finished the rough draft. Eight weeks later, my husband went in for a CAT scan, which revealed a tumor near his brain stem. He had surgery the next morning, and all through that night next to his hospital bed, I feared for my family.

I feared for our two young daughters; our firstborn was two and a half and our youngest was four months old at the time. I feared that I would be a widow, living on a grid-tie solar-powered farm six hundred miles away from our immediate families. In a matter of hours, one of my worst fears had come true, and I didn’t know how to handle it.

However, all through my Garden of Gethsemane night, during the hours my husband was in surgery, and the critical weeks that followed the craniotomy, I felt God’s presence as if he was sitting beside me. I then understood that God had allowed me to face one of my greatest fears so that I would learn that inner peace can never be acquired through my futile attempts to control my environment—and therefore keep my family safe. Moreover, I can only achieve inner peace if I continually surrender my life and the lives of my family to the One who called us into being.

So I pray, dear reader, that you will discover the author of the peace that passes all understanding and daily surrender your life—and the lives of your family—to him.

What were some of the greatest challenges you found while writing this story? Well, it’s always challenging, trying to write around the demands of my two young children, but I would have to say that the greatest challenge for me, while writing The Alliance, came from the isolation I felt while living in Wisconsin. A lot of this had to do with my stage of life. It’s difficult to get out and about with a toddler and a newborn when it’s cold and there’s snow on the ground. Also, my husband’s health crisis was, needless to say, a great source of distraction. However, I believe that the cold, the snow, the isolation, and the fear all coalesced to allow me to really get into my main character, Leora’s head as she is also isolated, cold, and fearful while living in the mountains of Montana with her community.

JUST FOR FUN QUESTIONS

1. What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand? I just finished Elizabeth Strout’s new novel, Anything Is Possible, which provides sneak peeks at the characters she introduced in her blockbuster, My Name Is Lucy Barton. I’m also listening to M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans for the second time. It’s a beautiful novel, and the narrator is fantastic…though sometimes he mumbles. I also just started reading a novel called, How It All Began by British writer, Penelope Lively. As you might be able to tell, I read a lot and widely. I carry a book around with me like my two-year-old carries her security blanket. But hey, at least I don’t suck my thumb! 

Photo: BBC

2. What are you currently watching? I don’t have the opportunity to watch much TV, but I am looking forward to the Poldark series when it releases on Amazon Prime. The date, May 25, I believe, is right after my due date for my third daughter, so I think I might indulge a bit during my “recovery.”

Faceoff Questions:
  1. PC or Mac? PC, simply because I’m so technologically inept I go through computers like they’re disposable!
  1. Milk or Dark Chocolate? Dark chocolate all the way! Unless, you’re swirling it in there with the milk! You’re talking to a pregnant lady, here….
  2. Comedy or Action? Hm, that’s a hard one. I lean more toward period dramas with beautiful soundtracks and costumes. My husband just loves it (sarcasm), though he did enjoy the first seasons of Downton Abbey more than he admitted!

ABOUT the AUTHOR

Jolina Petersheim is the bestselling author of The Midwife and The Outcast, which Library Journal called “outstanding . . . fresh and inspirational” in a starred review and named one of the best books of 2013. Her writing has been featured in venues as varied as radio programs, nonfiction books, and numerous online and print publications such as Reader’s Digest, Writer’s Digest, and Today’s Christian Woman. Jolina and her husband share the same unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but now live on a solar-powered farm in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin with their young daughters. Follow Jolina and her blog at jolinapetersheim.com.


Thanks so much for joining us on the INSPYs blog today, Jolina. It was a pleasure to host you and spotlight your shortlisted novel, The Alliance.

  • Jolina

    Thank you for letting me visit with you! What a joy! 🙂

  • Staci

    Lovely novel!!

    Enjoyed the interview. I didn’t realize Poldark was coming out on Amazon Prime. Good to know. I loved season one.

    I look forward to reading The Divide soon.