Articles 2009 – Text

Epilogue: 5 More Tales from P.L. Gaus

Saturday, March 21, 2009
By Ben Beagle

Readers came to hear author Paul L. Gaus speak because they wanted to learn about the stories behind the stories that form Gaus’ Ohio Amish mysteries. Others wanted to be part of the community of readers that the “A Tale for Three Counties” reading project has created over the past seven years.

And some wanted to learn about how Gaus writes.

“I can’t imagine writing a novel, so I love to know how people do it. He seems to have everything all planned out,” said Eleanor Jacobs of Warsaw, who writes stories of a more technical nature as an agricultural journalist.

More than 360 people attended Gaus’ programs March 12 to 14 in Batavia, Medina and Perry. Many more participated in book discussions at area libraries and other locations that featured his sixth book, Separate From the World, in the weeks leading up to Gaus’ visits.

At each talk Gaus shared often humorous stories about his interactions with the Amish residents of Holmes County, Ohio, where he travels frequently and has set each book.

With another Tale project in the books, here are several more stories from Gaus:

‘They’re all true!’

Gaus related a story of the bookmobile that serves Holmes County and the popularity of his books; they’re constantly checked out.

In one instance, an Amish man read his first book Blood of the Prodigal and came back for the second, and then the third.

“And he told the lady that ‘These are such wonderful stories. And just think, they’re all true,'” said Gaus, the tone of his voice raising with excitement as he recreated the conversation.

When the woman explained that, in fact, the books were not true, the man got angry and stomped out, Gaus said.

Two or three weeks passed and the man returned, apologizing for the uncharacteristic outburst and explained that in his district, the bishop did not permit its members to read fiction.

The events in his books, Gaus explained, are “all directly related to specific things that I myself have witnessed, or seen, or come to understand as a result of my interaction with real Amish people. The concepts are all rather ethereal but the events are very real.

“It all descends from various specific real events, but the stories are designed — and the stories are completely fictional in their final form — but they’re designed to portray very real and actual types of things that happen a lot in Holmes County.”

Murder mysteries?

The pacifist nature of the Amish has presented a unique challenge in writing mysteries that often involve death and violence. Gaus has heard more than once that the Amish “are never murderers.”

“I have to make a bargain with the reader,” Gaus said. “I think everyone knows that when they start one of my Ohio Amish mysteries it won’t ever be an Amish person that does the murder.”

“The hard part for me is to write about spiritual concepts that fit into murder mysteries,” Gaus said. “If you think about the idea — Amish and murder — it’s preposterous.”

The next book

Gaus’ seventh Ohio Amish mystery “arises from a concept that a violent act by an Amish person is so completely unthinkable in the Amish world that if something should ever happen it would be almost impossible for them to deal with that event successfully,” he said.

The author explained that in the English, or non-Amish, world people can turn to lawyers and courts and law enforcement, among others, to deal with an act of violence. The Amish, however, “are not set up for that sort of thing,” he said. “So the concept is this separation between this unthinkable act and the Amish ability to handle it.”

Part of the story involves an English man who makes an effort to become Amish.

Going backwards

A couple of people asked Gaus about his earlier books. What, if anything, would he change if given the chance.

Dialogue, was his quick response. He’d like to improve the way his characters talk. He’d also try to provide more detail in scenes.

And even Separate From the World, published last July, got scrutiny from its author.

“I’m not entirely satisfied with Eddie,” he said. “Sometimes, I think, maybe he’s too much of a caricature.”

A new series

Gaus freely acknowledges that writing mysteries set among the Amish is a niche genre. He’s developing a series that will be in a decidedly non-Amish setting.

The series will be “about a man in Chicago who is ridiculously wealthy and able to contemplate and do just about anything he desires to,” said Gaus, who is searching for a literary agent to help him find a publisher. “It’s so far removed from Amish society that it is unrecognizable to any of my other work.”

Another notable difference will likely be in the writing style of this new series. Gaus purposefully writes rather plainly in his Ohio Amish stories, recognizing, in a way, the simple lifestyles of his Amish characters. With this new series, Gaus said he will be able to “let myself go quite a bit in the other direction.”

“As I’ve become more accomplished as a writer I find myself drawn to more elaborate descriptions and more intricate sketchings of characters and places and settings,” he said.

Winners of the Tale book review contest drew even more details from the author, who noted his wealthy main character is a bioengineer who experiences a family tragedy and then spends “the rest of his life and fortune, and technology to set people right who can’t get justice on their own.”

“I understand the biotech endeavors, I know a lot about boats and watercraft, the justice systems and the differences people have,” Gaus said. “And I have an overly developed sense of vengeance that I will exercise thoroughly with this new character.”

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

2009 Tale writes final chapter in Perry

Monday, March 16, 2009
By Ben Beagle

TALE FINALE: The 2009 “A Tale for Three Counties” reading project wrapped with author Paul L. Gaus’ talk in Perry on Saturday afternoon.

Author Paul L. Gaus has come to know hundreds of Amish during 30 years of traveling “off the blacktop” in Holmes County, Ohio.

They’ve provided him with dozens of stories to tell. And after this year’s “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project he has another.

Gaus’ talk and book signing at Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, Medina, on Friday night was attended by an Amish bishop and his wife.

“I was surprised, a little discombobulated. He threw me off,” Gaus acknowledged Saturday afternoon following Tale’s final program at Perry Elementary-Middle School. “It was a little different for me to speak to a group of English with an Amish bishop in the audience.”

Gaus is a writer of mysteries set in Holmes County, Ohio, where Amish and non-Amish “English” societies often intersect. His most recent book, Separate From the World, was this year’s Tale title.

The program wrote its final chapter for 2009 with a talk and book signing in Perry organized by the libraries of Wyoming County. About 65 people attended the presentation.

The seven-year-old Tale program encourages people to read the same book, discuss it and then meet the author. About 360 people attended author talks in Batavia, Medina and Perry that began Thursday and ended Saturday. Gaus also met with four of the five winners of Tale’s annual book review contest during a Friday lunch.

“I really like the camaraderie of all the people” that the Tale project creates, said Ruth Gibson of Perry Center. “All the people reading and talking about the book, makes a

closeness among the community.”

Donna Sanford of Castile picked up Gaus’ book because she liked other Amish fiction from authors such as Wanda Brunstetter and Beverly Lewis, who write stories that explore family, relationships and heritage.

“So this was very different,” Sanford said of Separate From the World, Gaus’ murder-mystery. “At first, I wasn’t sure about it. But by the middle I couldn’t put it down.”

At each appearance, Gaus shared stories of his encounters with the Amish and the changes they are experiencing around Holmes County — all of which influence the actions and events in Gaus’ six Ohio Amish mystery novels.

The bishop whom Gaus met Friday night had moved to the Medina area from Holmes County.

The bishop — who Gaus said appeared to be about 35 — offered a couple of points during Friday night’s presentation, according to librarians who attended and Gaus. The bishop indicated that Amish parents are not happy with the perception that the reumspringa, a coming-of-age period for Amish teens, is often characterized as a time of wild and risky behaviors; and that he does not make up arbitrary rules for the sect to follow.

“It’s phenomenal to me to think that a man of 35 could be responsible for leading a congregation of 35, 40 families, and lead them through discussion of pretty significant matters,” Gaus said.

In Perry, Gaus talked about another experience meeting a bishop.

During one trip to Holmes County, a short drive from Gaus’ home in Wooster, Ohio, Gaus recalled sitting on a park bench when an Amish man in blue denim trousers, a blue denim jacket, black hat and nicked work boots approached.

“Well, sir, what is it that you do for a living?” Gaus recalled the man asking. The author told the man that he was a college professor.

“And he looked me over sternly and said, ‘Ohhhh … yes, college professor,'” Gaus said.

Then the Amish man started in with questions. Gaus relates the story: “‘I understand that you have these trans,’ and we wrestled with ‘-vest’ and got to ‘-ite.’ And I’m blushing all the while and wondering what he intended.

“We talked for about 40 minutes; one question after another. It was like he was mining for gold,” Gaus said. “I was embarrassed and blushing at times, but I stuck with him.”

Eventually, the Amish man explained that he was “looking for an English scoundrel who would tell him everything he needed to know,” Gaus said. “He had just been named bishop and was being asked questions about all manner of life.”

Gaus went on to explain that the bishop’s role was more than just establishing the spiritual rules by which the sect would abide, but that they could be called on to decide all manner of things, including the proper length of a summer dress or the size of a hat brim. The bishop’s own choices often provide the example that others in the sect will follow, he said.

“It’s not that they’re automatons, but they give themselves over so completely to the idea of submission as spiritual grace, that they all want to be the same,” Gaus said.

Gaus acknowledged the difficulty many have in understanding the concept.

“We’re all here today dressed differently, with all our own personalities,” Gaus said. “That’s who we are. It’s part of our identity to be individuals, but for the Amish the whole point is to be like one another, to live like one another.”

Gaus spoke for an hour, capturing the audience’s attention with an entertaining array of stories that often revealed the Amish to be curious about the world and have a sense of humor.

“I thought he was a wonderful storyteller, even in talking about his experiences — particularly about the details,” said Eleanor Jacobs of Perry. “There was so much more detail in his presentation.”

Gaus shared stories of traveling to Holmes County in his red Miata sports car — with the top down — and attracting the attention of an older Amish man. Their conversation began with predictable jokes about “how many oats does that baby take” or “how many horses do you have under the hood.” A short time later, Gaus was driving the man to several towns so he could complete a number of business arrangements. Along the way, Gaus’ passenger leaned over to him and said, “Just so you know I’ve always wanted to go 100 mph.”

“Now, I’m not going to admit to any sort of lawlessness, but in an open-topped Miata at certain speeds, Andy Weaver’s beard splits down the middle and blows itself back along the sides,” Gaus said, demonstrating by pulling on his own beard.

The experiences Gaus recalled hardly fit the expectation many would have of the Amish. Their world is not as insulated as some believe, he said, and they have an enterprising nature that allows them to make use of such things as cell phones and cars without going against the tenets of their beliefs.

Gaus also noted the changes happening among the Amish, who are turning to other work pursuits as farmland becomes scarce and expensive. Weaver, who lived in Minnesota, refurbished sawmills and would have his deliveries stop in Holmes County so mill pieces could be repaired before he sold them.

Other Amish are turning to trades that might appeal more to tourists, such as handmade quilts and baskets.

“Amish people are like anyone. They can be funny, spontaneous, entertaining,” Gaus said in an interview after his Perry program. “They are an engaging people, you meet some in town and they wonder who you are and the next thing you’re talking and sharing.

“But there are plenty of Amish who won’t bother me at all,” he said, “and that’s the way it should be, too.”

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

BLOG: The Writing Method

Sunday, March 15, 2009
By Ben Beagle

Paul L. Gaus, this year’s “A Tale for Three Counties” author, is an untraditional novelist.

He published his first work of fiction, “Blood of the Prodigal,” a decade ago while still a chemistry professor at Ohio’s College of Wooster.

And as he talked about his latest book, “Separate From the World,” and his fiction-writing career during a series of programs in the last few days he was never far from his scientific mind.

The description of his writing process, in response to a question during his Tale talk in Perry on Saturday afternoon, sounded a lot like the scientific method.

Gaus begins with a CONCEPT for the novel, often a theological theory that is significant to Amish life that he would like to illustrate.

For “Separate From the World” that concept is one in which God commands this sect of Amish to live their lives separate from the outside English, or non-Amish, world. His murder-mystery story is framed by a rift in his Amish community between a group that favors the use of medicine and is participating in a college study of genetic traits particular to the Amish community, and another group that rejects any outside influence.

Next, comes the DESIGN. This is where Gaus creates additional characters (he has three recurring characters – a college professor, sheriff and pastor – in each book) and plot sequences.

“This is where I lay down a road map for myself,” Gaus said.

These first two steps may take a month of two to complete. Then comes CREATION, which may take the rest of the year.

During the creation phase, Gaus “writes and writes and writes some more. Though not long, it’s a lot of writing.”

He often writes from 8 a.m. to noon each day, “but finds when I’m ready to write, that’s the time to write,” he said during a Friday lunch with winners of the annual Tale book review contest.

The final and most involved phase is REVISION.

“It gets serious now,” Gaus said. “This is the longest, hardest work of all.”

Revision, the author said, is more than just “reading through and fixing things like commas. That’s a waste of time” and doesn’t accomplish much.

For Gaus, revision is done with a purpose — or two — and can often mean significant changes throughout the entire work. For example, he often goes through a work to revise dialogue so that the tone is more conversational.

“The hardest thing to write is dialogue,” Gaus said at Friday’s lunch.

Sometimes, he said, characters sound like they are making speeches, and “people don’t talk that way.”

Of writing, Gaus said in Perry Saturday afternoon:

“This is a labor intensive operation. It’s like no other I’ve known.”

Gaus had published a number of professional articles, and co-authored a best-selling chemistry textbook before trying fiction in the mid-1990s.

“I had always intended to do science,” Gaus said. “Until I was 50, I though science was challenging enough.”

“Writing has to be something you want to do,” he said. “And, as it happens, it needs to be important to you to inform you as you write.”

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

Author shares his ‘Tale’ in Batavia

Friday, March 13, 2009
By Ben Beagle

BATAVIA — About 130 people joined author Paul L. Gaus on a virtual journey down his favorite dusty country lane on Thursday night.

“It’s pretty typical,” he said from the Reading Room at Richmond Memorial Library, “and it’s been the key to my travels in Holmes County for the last 30 years.”

Gaus, whose mystery novel Separate From the World is this year’s selection for the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project, described a road that passes across a meadow, skirts alongside a creek, goes up a hill that overlooks Amish farms as far as the eye can see and affords a view uncluttered by utility poles, television antennas and few cars. The author went seemingly house to house along the road — Salt Creek Township, Lane 601 — as he related his encounters with the road’s Amish residents and shop owners.

“I loved to hear his stories, and how he’s learned about the Amish. I love to hear stories about people’s encounters,” said Betsy Abramson of Corfu, who read Separate From the World, as part of a book club — called “The Chick-a-Lits” — that started among a group of friends after their daughters graduated high school and the women wanted a way to keep regularly seeing each other.

“And he has a nice voice, very soothing,” she said.

Gaus’ Thursday night talk and book signing was the second of four such programs he is giving this week as part of the Tale project.

A record turnout of 110 people for an afternoon session at Genesee Community College was followed by near-record numbers at Richmond library, with a few people attending both sessions.

Tale programs continue through Saturday. Today, Gaus will have lunch with winners of a book review contest sponsored by The Daily News, and give another presentation at 7 p.m. at Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, 620 West Ave., Medina. His final visit is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday in the Perry Elementary/Middle School auditorium, 50 Olin Ave., Perry.

“I thought he gave a real understanding of Amish culture,” said Mary Joan Gleason of Le Roy, who read Separate From the World as part of a book discussion group at Woodward Memorial Library, Le Roy.

Gaus commanded the library’s Reading Room, displaying a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of Amish culture as he explained a little history, Amish rites, and recalled his frequent visits to Holmes County, Ohio, home to the world’s largest Amish settlement.

“I have made it my purpose to get off the blacktop and onto the gravel,” he said.

This could mean a stop near a pasture, or ducking in to a wood lot. More often, though, it’s Gaus sitting on a park bench and observing.

“I wait for the opportunity to present itself,” he said, “and often they approach me.”

Gaus’ stories revealed an Amish culture that was curious, but reserved, about the outside world they call the “English.” His stories also illustrated a resourcefulness among the Amish that many readers did not expect. He noted an acceptance of cell phones, automobiles and shared how a former engine shop owner adept at electronics now installs security systems — while dressing and behaving in the ways of the Old Order Amish.

“It’s been 30 years of getting to know people casually and gathering material for my course,” said Gaus, a retired chemistry professor at the College of Wooster in Ohio, where he also taught a freshman seminar course on American cultures such as the Amish and Navajo.

At one farmhouse — the first on that favorite lane — Gaus recalled his discovery of a car parked behind a barn after years of seeing nothing but horse-drawn buggies, open hacks and surreys in the yard. He would see the car for several years, eventually learning that the family’s teens — who had not yet been baptized into the church — were allowed to use the car to drive into town on weekends to see friends, and that the teens would often use the car to drive the family around on business.

Later, the car was replaced by a tractor, which one of the enterprising young men would rent out to other farms in the valley, Gaus said, explaining that only after deciding to join the church would the young man have to give up the car or tractor.

During a visit a couple of weeks ago, Gaus noticed the car was gone. So was the tractor. Buggies again filled the farmhouse yard.

And at the end of the lane, near a steep hill, was a large red barn that belonged to an Amish dwarf Gaus befriended and whom he would often take students from his freshman seminar to meet.

Years ago, Gaus recalled walking past this barn and hearing a voice ask if he would like a drink of cold spring water. Gaus could not see who was speaking, and when he peered into the barn he barely saw the man who stood only to the window sill of the barn.

“I stopped for a drink, even though I had water. Truth is, I had a Diet Pepsi in a cooler,” Gaus said. “But this was the kind of thing I’ve looked forward to for 30 years — the opportunity to talk.”

Another trip about 10 years ago found Gaus coming through the area with the top down on his Miata sports car. While stopped along the road he heard a rapid-fire mechanical sound that he took to be a weed whacker. But when the sound zipped over and around his car he realized it was a remote-control airplane — being flown by a young Amish boy from beside a nearby barn. When Gaus turned toward the boy, the child gave a quick thumbs up and disappeared behind the barn.

“His father was Old Order Amish. They were very religious and proper, it’s just that they really liked remote-controlled airplanes and flew them in the valley frequently.”

While the evening program was a largely personal take on the Amish, Gaus did offer some insights into his book and how each of his three recurring characters — college professor Michael Branden, sheriff Bruce Robertson and pastor Cal Troyer — each serve specific roles — a thinker, a law enforcer, and a religious connection — in bridging the cultural divide among Amish and “English” society in his six books.

Of Robertson, Gaus said, “he’s more fun to write than maybe you realize. He’s such a rascal, not so sophisticated. He’s like a bull in a china shop.”

Thursday’s Tale events included two programs at Genesee Community College, a luncheon that was followed by an afternoon talk and book signing.

Gaus shared different stories about his Holmes County experiences at GCC, where he also noted how the proximity of Amish and non-Amish residents sometimes creates “cultural friction” as a result of their different lifestyles. The friction, though, provides excellent material for writing novels, he said.

Gaus’ remarkably detailed stories frequently revealed how Amish are increasingly faced with the challenge of balancing their strict religious ideals with their involvement in the modern, technological world.

About a dozen invitees attended the GCC luncheon, including several instructors who used Gaus’ book as part of their classes this semester and representatives from GCC’s Tale committee.

“A Tale for Three Counties” is organized by 20 libraries in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties. GCC has been participating in the Tale program since 2005.

(Includes reporting by Daily News Intern Kevin Kennedy.)

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

GCC’s ‘Tale’ involvement a continuing success

Thursday, March 12, 2009
By Kevin Kennedy Daily News Intern

Susan Chiddy, an adjunct instructor of social sciences at Genesee Community College, remains optimistic about the effect of the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project at GCC.

The college’s fifth year of involvement in the seven-year-old project has seen continuing growth in the popularity and investment in the Tale program.

A full 19 classes integrated this year’s Tale book, Separate From the World by P.L. Gaus, into their curriculum, with about 350 students participating in class discussions.

Gaus’ book, the sixth in his Ohio Amish mystery series, investigates the death of an Amish dwarf and a college student. The cases eventually become linked and show the contrasts between Amish and “English” — or non-Amish — societies. As the story progresses, a rift is revealed in the Amish community.

Integration varied by class — in Chiddy’s human relations class, students used the characters in the book as models for discussing emotion, while an introductory biology class used themes from the book as a “jumping-off” point for lessons.

Other subject areas that used the book were reading, English, sociology, biology and First Year Experience.

The goal of Tale at GCC, according to Chiddy, is to encourage dialogue, and get students to view reading and discussing as a lifelong habit.

That goal, for the most part, seems to be working. At a recent discussion session in GCC’s student union, students expressed a variety of reactions to the book and characters. Some were perplexed or upset by the “simple and complacent” life of the Amish, while others saw the benefits of living outside a “technological” culture.

The discussion brought mixed reviews of the book. Shellene Bailey, a sophomore at GCC, enjoyed the book as a piece of fiction, but was “unimpressed with the educational value of the book,” describing it as “cutesy.” Another student, John Goodenberry, noted that he hated the book, but really enjoyed the discussions and varying insights that they introduced. Matt Dennison, another sophomore, agreed, calling the book a “good one for (studies in) the humanities.”

Participation in the program isn’t limited to classes alone — the book is available free to all students, provided they agree to read and attend discussion sessions. In fact, the involvement of the program at GCC has been so successful that it has received GCC’s President’s Innovative Award, given to projects and programs that successfully involve the college and the community.

The Tale program has been implemented in a number of areas during the past five years. Last year, a “plague art” exhibit connected with themes from 2008’s Tale book The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen; the year before, the Student Association sponsored a “Dinner and a Movie” event, screening the film version of An Unfinished Life, that year’s Tale book.

The college also has its own essay contest for students, with winners receiving the opportunity to meet with the author.

The Tale for Three Counties program is a cooperative effort between public libraries in Genesee, Orleans, and Wyoming counties, as well as Genesee Valley BOCES, Genesee Community College and The Daily News. Each year, the organizing committee selects a book from a promising or relatively-unknown author that has serious literary potential while still remaining accessible to casual readers.

Gaus will present talks and sign books at events scheduled today through Saturday at GCC (1 p.m. today); Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., Batavia (7 p.m. today); Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, 620 West Ave., Medina (7 p.m. Friday); and Perry Elementary-Middle School, 50 Olin Ave., Perry (2 p.m. Saturday).

For more information on Tale, visit the Web at

Professor was once author’s student

Brendan McCabe, an adjunct biology professor at Genesee Community College, is a former student of Paul L. Gaus, the featured author of this year’s “A Tale for Three Counties” program.

Gaus taught for more than 30 years at the College of Wooster in Ohio. McCabe took one class from Gaus, the retired chemistry professor’s first-year seminar class about different American cultures.

“One of the objectives of first-year seminar at Wooster was to have professors teach some of their interests outside of their department,” McCabe explained. “We read several books and class mostly consisted of discussions.”

Gaus helped guide the discussions and, McCabe said, “posed questions that encouraged me to think deeper and in a more objective manner.”

“I even changed my viewpoint about gun-control in his class,” McCabe said.

Other topics covered included the Amish, with a field trip to visit with one of Gaus’ Amish friends; the Navajo, with a Tony Hillerman novel or two; and inequity in the United States.

McCabe acknowledges that he didn’t read any of his professor’s Ohio Amish novels while in college, but he has since added them to his personal summer reading list.

Of his professor’s second career, McCabe said “it is not surprising given the Amish and mystery topics that he chose to include in his first-year seminar class.”

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

Tale author an old hand at public speaking events
But former college professor prefers Q&A’s over long lectures

Wednesday, March 11, 2009
By Ben Beagle

Paul L. Gaus taught chemistry at the College of Wooster for more than 30 years so talking in front of a library full of people shouldn’t be a problem for the featured author in this year’s “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project.

But readers of his novels, including this year’s Tale title Separate From the World, need not fear a long lecture when the author makes a series of visits to Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties this week.

Gaus, for one, says that’s not his style.

“One of the things that I find audiences enjoy are stories of the people I’ve met over the years in Holmes County,” Gaus says of the community where he has set each of his six books — and which has the world’s largest community of Amish. “What I do with that is I’ve chosen my stories to illustrate one thing or another about Amish society. So I mix a little bit of history with a little bit of personal experience.”

He also looks forward to audience questions.

“I try not to go too long with any remarks I have,” he says. “Sometimes the most interesting things arise as an answer to a question or an experience someone else has had with the Amish.”

So bring plenty of questions. There’ll be time to ask them during four talks and book signings Thursday through Saturday as part of the reading project.

The first two public programs are scheduled for Thursday: 1 p.m. in Room T102 at Genesee Community College, 1 College Rd., Batavia, which will be followed by a reception with Amish-style refreshments such as cookies, lemonade and ice tea; and 7 p.m. at Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., Batavia.

Similar programs are scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, 620 West Ave., Medina; and 2 p.m. Saturday in the auditorium at Perry Elementary/Middle School, 50 Olin Ave., Perry. The latter program is hosted by the Perry Public Library with assistance from other Wyoming County libraries. Admission to each program is free.

Copies of Separate From the World, and two other Gaus mysteries — A Prayer for the Night and Cast a Blue Shadow — will be available for purchase at each program.

Readers can expect a talk of about 30 minutes, followed by a question-and-answer period and a book signing.

“The Q-and-A’s tend to be lively because most people have read the author’s book ahead of time and are very interested in how and why things were done the way they were,” says Leslie DeLooze, reference and community services librarian at Richmond.

DeLooze also notes that the book signing is a good time for people to have a short conversation with the author.

Separate From the World is the sixth book in Gaus’ Ohio Amish mystery series. The story finds college history professor Michael Branden investigating two suspicious deaths — that of an Amish dwarf and a female college student. Branden also discovers a rift between two Amish factions in Holmes County, one that favors the use of medicine and is participating in a college study of genetic traits particular to the Amish community, and another that rejects any outside influence.

Since January, readers in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties have been reading Separate from the World. They’ve discussed the books at library-organized events, local book shops and other discussion groups.

Now, they get to talk directly to the author.

Gaus says he expects to talk about Amish culture in general, Holmes County in particular and, of course, his books.

“I have a number of approaches to the stories and to Amish culture,” he says. “I don’t think I’ll have any trouble bringing anything to each group that I meet.”

He also anticipates that some people will be interested in creative writing as an endeavor, and he’s prepared remarks about the good habits of successful writers.

David Sanders, director of Ohio University Press, which has published each of Gaus’ mysteries, said the author’s education career makes him a very capable speaker.

“He’s very deliberate,” Sanders says. “He conducts himself very professorial, but he does so with each audience in mind. He’s a gentle man, a lot like the people in his books. He’s very gracious.”

Gaus says he has made frequent visits to small towns and cities that have adopted one of his books for projects and discussions, but he says Tale is easily the biggest program he’s been involved in.

“People often have stories of their own to share,” he says. “That’s the fun stuff, that’s always the fun stuff. I look forward to that.”

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

Editorial: Good book; good time
Don’t miss Tale for Three Counties author

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tale for Three Counties community reading project this week welcomes Paul L. Gaus, the author of this year’s selection, Separate From the World. Mr. Gaus is set to present four talks and sign his books beginning Thursday at libraries and Genesee Community College.

Separate From the World is the sixth in a series of mysteries set among the Ohio Amish. The Wooster, Ohio, author says he has two goals with his books: Illuminate aspects of Amish culture and tell a good mystery. His goals mesh well with the goals of Tale for Three Counties: Bring people together in discussion of good books and introduce them to authors they might not otherwise know.

Mr. Gaus comes to novel writing from an untraditional background. A retired chemistry professor, he helped co-write a best-selling chemistry text. But don’t look for dry, academic writing in his mysteries. No, there he crafts a story involving another interest — while at Wooster he taught a freshman seminar that explored different cultures in the United States, including the Amish. So he writes with knowledge and appreciation for a culture few ‘‘English,’’ or non-Amish people see up close. And meantime, there’s the intriguing mystery …

This is the seventh year of the Tale for Three Counties program, which provides a welcome distraction from the seeming endless winter. Reading the author’s book also is a welcome escape from the doom and gloom of Wall Street and 401(k) statements.

Even if you haven’t read the book (and copies are still available for loan or sale at area libraries and bookstores), plan to come out and hear Mr. Gaus speak.

Back to 2009 Articles

Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

2009 review contest entries

Monday, March 9, 2009

Five winners of the annual “A Tale for Three Counties” book review contest will have lunch with author P.L. Gaus on Friday afternoon.

A total of 11 entries were submitted. Judging was conducted by members of the Tale for Three Counties Council Inc., the group of librarians that organizes the annual Tale for Three Counties community reading project.

Writers were encouraged to write about a single topic that interested them, and avoid summarizing the book. Reviews were limited to 150 words, though some writers wrote longer.

Here are the winning entries:

Julie Caton, Oakfield

Paul Gaus depicts three professional men as the heroes of his murder mystery. But in the wings of this book’s stage, three women take on the role of the true heroes. Cathy Billet, a college sophomore, stands against the murderer by threatening to divulge his fake research. She is killed for her integrity. Rachel Ramsayer, a lonely lady, writes to Pastor Cal Troyer asking boldly if he might be her biological father. In the end Rachel not only meets her father, but learned about the Amish community from where he great-grandfather originated. Finally, Caroline Branden, the professor’s wife, surprises us with her hidden skill, pistol shooting. She stands “in the doorway with a double-fisted grip on a black revolver, her feet planted wide.” It is Caroline, not a man, who ends the life of the murderer. Praise to Mr. Gaus for including three empowered women as heroines in his story.
• • •

Linda Daviau, Batavia

While weaving his mystery, “Separate from the World,” author P.L. Gaus shares with his readers a glimpse into the Old Order Amish culture, often for many of us, a mystery unto itself. This mystery skillfully intertwines the lives of the Amish and English. His Amish characterizations bring to the reader insight into their desire for life’s simplicity while having to face conflict from the outside world. This story begins with an Amish man, knowing the history and importance of being “separate,” reaching out for help from the English to solve the suspected murder of his brother. Through the eyes of his character, Professor Michael Brandon, Gaus tells his tale of murder, kidnapping and deception. As a lover of a good mystery, there was a smile on my face as I read the last few pages. Read “Separate from the World,” to see what I was smiling about!

• • •

Meghan Hauser, Perry

The rapid fire series of murders, kidnappings and intrigue that unfold over a short few days in P.L. Gaus’ “Separate From the World” made me sympathize with the book’s Amish community and their desire to insulate themselves. However, turning our backs does not keep the world’s events from infiltrating and affecting our lives, and so both the book’s Amish community and the reader are compelled by unexpected events to get involved in solving the mystery.

In this sixth Ohio Amish Mystery Series book, I learned enough about main characters to recognize their motives and to care about their fates. Supporting cast members were more caricatures than characters, perhaps an unavoidable consequence of the story’s fast pace. The author’s layering and eventual collision of the frenetic mayhem of the “English” world (on steroids) with the simple life of the Ohio Amish made for a startling and successful contrast.

• • •

Frances McNulty, Batavia

Friday, January 23

6 a.m.

JUST FINISHED the book. I liked Caroline immediately upon meeting her. The author portrayed her as an understanding, intelligent, and supportive partner to her husband, Professor Michael Branden. It was probably intentional that she was not presented as integral. Her distaff role as wife and homemaker, although a worthy career, is often considered insignificant today.

Although most of us probably know few (if any) Amish people personally, the book offered interesting details about the sect’s beliefs and lifestyle. Their genetic aberration (dwarfism) is another aspect about which we were probably unaware. It seems the Amish have always been a curiosity and somewhat of a tourist attraction to us “English” folk.

Caroline’s insightfulness in dealing with the Amish families during their time of crisis provided evidence of her compassionate character and her sensitivity. Therefore it was a delightful surprise to have her revealed also as so heroic.

• • •

Joyce Thompson-Hovey, Pavilion

From the very beginning, I could easily relate to the main character, Professor Branden, whether it was from having taught for 30 years, loving history and mysteries, attending college in the 1960s, living near an Amish community once, or by currently contemplating retirement. The author goes about masterfully interweaving several subplots and smoothly transitioning from one event to another, making for a very fast paced page turning story. There is something there to interest everyone – murder, suicide, fact or fabrication, which is it? Even a kidnapping occurs, but for what purpose? It is a very well written story with the use of interspersed similes that creatively describe seemingly unimportant things. However, as you read, you become increasingly aware that many of these incidents were both relevant and important. By the end of the book, you discover that the inner turmoil, emotions and feelings of each character somehow seem to be all interconnected somehow by a common thread.

• • •

Here are the additional entries:

Linda DeVito, Oakfield

In all of P.L. Gaus’ Amish mysteries, including his latest, “Separate From the World,” Michael Branden is the central character. He solves mysteries with his friends, Sheriff Robertson and Pastor Troyer, but Gaus never reveals much about Branden. We know that he is respected by the Amish because of his past sensitivity to their culture, but little else.

Integrity is an important theme in this book, both to the story and to Michael Branden himself. Branden questions whether he should continue teaching when the routine papers, grades and tests have become burdensome. He is disappointed in the self-serving antics of his colleagues, Aiden Newhouse and college president Arne Laughton. In the end, Branden realizes that he has an important role to play in restoring integrity to the college. He must work to remove Laughton as president, a story that may be told in Gaus’ next mystery.

• • •

Sandra Kushner, Bliss

“But we’ve trained for that, Michael.”

“Because if you can’t shoot back…,” Caroline started.

“You’re just a target,” the professor finished.

“Caroline was standing in the doorway with a double-fisted grip on a black revolver, her feet planted wide. … Caroline shot him (Eddie) three times in the chest.”

Caroline Branden is not just the thoughtful housewife of professor Michael Branden who reminds him, “Try not to be morose,” and a good friend to Pastor Cal Troyer when she urges him to meet the daughter he didn’t know he had. She somehow gains the trust of Hannah and Arthur Erb, when no one else seems to be able to reach them, to assess the effects of Arthur’s kidnapping and torture.

She proves in the end, that she would fight with her life, if she had to, for her husband, her friends, and even strangers.

• • •

Corliss S. Murphy, Attica

When thinking about the Amish, beautiful quilts, great food and quaint dress come to mind, not dwarfism. In “Separate from the World,” Gaus uses this genetic mutation as an important thread throughout the story.

After reading the book, I did a little research, finding that those in the Amish community are all descended from 200 immigrants from 200 years ago. Because of their cultural and religious choices to be separate from the world, families have intermarried, increasing the chances of genetic mutations within their closed community. A doctor from John Hopkins has undertaken a long term medical study, finding among other things, a kind of dwarfism almost unique to the Amish – only four non-Amish dwards of this type are known in the world.

With this background, Gaus’s use of dwarfism as a theme in the treatment of the Amish is natural as well as thought-provoking.

• • •

Leatha Taber, Albion

The 2009 Tale for Three Counties is “Separte From the World,” a novel of multiple mysteries by P.L. Gaus. A student jumps from the roof of a school building in front of her boyfriend, a soon-to-be graduating senior. A local Amish farmer is at a professor’s office at the same time, asking for help because his brother’s death was ruled an accident. an accident? A suicide? Or two murders?

The medical mystery of dwarfism affets a larger percentage of Amish than the rest of the population, and the possibility of a cure divides its community.

Parenting is the remaining mystery. An Amish child is kidnapped and then returned. A friend of the professor may be the father of the child his “dear John” girlfriend gave birth to while he served in Vietnam.

We are all separate from the world, but loving another connects us profoundly.

• • •

David Stevens, Le Roy

P.L. Gaus’s latest novel, “Separate from the World,” is a study of two worlds. One of those worlds exists inside the mind of Eddie Hunt-Myers, a senior at the local college. The other world is the Amish community near that college. Eddie Hunt-Myers kills one member of that community and kidnaps two of its children in an effort to hide the fact that he didn’t really interview anyone for his senior thesis, which portrays the Amish as a religious cult.

Eddie paints the Amish community in this light because he wants to please his psychology professor, Aiden Newhouse, who hates religious cults. But Eddie’s evidence is based on fake interviews with members of the Amish community, and he intends to kill anyone that knows about them, including his girlfriend, Cathy Billett, whom he pushes off the campus bell tower.

And that brings us to the main problem with the story: it is hard to believe that Eddie would start killing people just to cover up the fact that he cheated on his senior thesis. After all, even if Eddie were expelled from college, he still had a job waiting for him at the family boatyard back home in Florida. But if Eddie lacks any credible motivation for his murders and kidnapping, then he must be some kind of psychopath; and that present a problem for anyone trying to interpret Gaus’s novel.

For if Eddie Hunt-Myers is seen as a psychopath, Gaus’s novel is not a study of conflict between evil and innocence, as first presumed. It is rather a study of the conflict between sanity and insanity – the ultimate sanity of the Amish community in contrast to Eddie’s destructive insanity. And that is the basis of my ultimate conclusion concerning Gaus’ novel: it is, in the end, an account of the sanity of the Amsih people as seen against the background of the insanity of the Amish people as seen against the background of the insanity of the present-day college community.

• • •

Jim Gillen, Warsaw

“History in the Making, A brief story of the Amish in Wyoming County”

On or about the year 1995 the first Amish family settled in Wyoming County – New York. They had left their home in Northern Pennsylvania to start a new life here.

They were not entirely alone, however, as just across the county line in the townships of Hulme and Centerville, Allegany County, were about 35 other Amish families that shared the same beliefs.

Today, in the towns of Pike and Eagle, Wyoming County, a sizeable group of Amish reside. All told I estimate that 55 to 60 families of Amish live in the nearby area. Three Amish schools exist. This is where they receive their education up to the eighth grade. After which time they start their working lives.

Many of the men are employed in the forestry industry. Many directly in the woods, as lumbermen, log skidders, etc., etc.

A few sizeable sawmills exist. Also, a number of very small one-man sawmills turn the logs into lumber products.

Most family units own and operate small farms, keep a few dairy cows for their own use and many raise much of the food that they consume.

One will observe several small general stores that cater to Amish needs. A furniture manufacturer lives and works in Pike. One man designs and sews custom built tarps, patio drapes and welding tents. Also some of the women have small retail bake food stores operating from their home.

Historically, the Amish are good, honest, hard-working citizens of their communities. Asking very little from the outside world but to be left alone. Time will tell what the future holds for the Amish in Wyoming County. I for one welcome them to the area.

Back to 2009 Articles

Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

Readers ready to meet the author
5 winners in review contest

Monday, March 9, 2009
By Ben Beagle

Joyce Thompson-Hovey of Pavilion loves history. She loves to read mystery. And she’s a longtime teacher. This year’s “A Tale for Three Counties” book selection, Separate From the World, combined all of her interests.

“This book rolled all that into one,” said Thompson-Hovey, one of five winners in this year’s Tale book review contest.

ADDITIONAL COVERAGE: More stories about “A Tale for Three Counties.”

On Friday, the winners will gather for an invitation-only lunch discussion with author Paul L. Gaus at the D & R Depot in Le Roy.

Other winners are Julie Caton of Oakfield, Linda Daviau of Batavia, Meghan Hauser of Perry and Frances McNulty of Batavia.

The contest, sponsored by The Daily News, asks readers to react to the overall book, a theme or characters. Winners were chosen from 11 entries judged by the Tale for Three Counties Council, the non-profit group of librarians that organizes the Tale community reading project.

Separate From the World, the sixth book in Gaus’ Ohio Amish mystery series, finds college professor Michael Branden investigating the suspicious deaths of an Amish dwarf and a female student and a kidnapping. The book frequently depicts the differences between the lifestyles of the Amish and “English,” what the Amish call outsiders.

“There were a lot of subplots,” Thompson-Hovey said in an interview. “In the beginning, I kind of wondered how they were related, but then it all came together. And it happened very fast.”

In her review, Thompson-Hovey wrote that Gaus “goes about masterfully interweaving several subplots and smoothly transitioning from one event to another, making for a very fast-paced, page-turning story.”

Hauser also noted the rapid-fire series of murders, kidnappings and intrigue, in her review. She wrote: “The author’s layering and eventual collision of the frenetic mayhem of the ‘English’ world (on steroids) with the simple life of the Ohio Amish made for a startling and successful contrast.”

Other reviewers focused on Caroline Branden, wife of the story’s main sleuth, Michael Branden.

“I liked Caroline immediately upon meeting her,” McNulty wrote in her review. “The author portrayed her as an understanding, intelligent and supportive partner … Caroline’s insightfulness in dealing with the Amish families during their time of crisis provided evidence of her compassionate character and her sensitivity.”

Caton praised the author for “including three empowered women as heroines in his story.”

When Daviau finished reading Separate From the World she went back and read all of the other books in the series.

“When you get done with each one you learn a little bit more” about Amish culture, Daviau said. “It’s been very interesting.”

Daviau said you can see the development of Gaus — a retired college chemistry professor — as a writer through each book.

“His first book (Blood of the Prodigal) was good, but the description was plain. The story was plain. With this one, I never expected the ending,” Daviau said, noting she enjoyed the tougher side of professor Branden’s wife that was revealed in the story’s climactic scene.

“He really stepped out of his comfort zone,” Daviau said of the author. “Oh my, of all the books, I enjoyed this one the most.”

Gaus will be visiting Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties this week for talks and book signings in each county. His schedule: 1 p.m. Thursday at Genesee Community College, 1 College Rd., Batavia; 7 p.m. Thursday at Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., Batavia; 7 p.m. Friday at Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, 620 West Ave., Medina; and 2 p.m. Saturday at Perry Elementary/Middle School, 50 Olin Ave., Perry, a program hosted by Perry Public Library.

Several book discussions for Separate From the World are also scheduled this week. All are in Batavia. They are: 7 tonight at Genesee Community College, 1 College Rd., in the library periodical lounge; 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at GCC, Room S103; 7:45 a.m. Wednesday at Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St.; and noon Wednesday at Present Tense, 101 Washington Ave.

Read all the entries for this year’s “A Tale for Three Counties” book review contest online at

Back to 2009 Articles

Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

Finding common ground
Author P.L. Gaus looks to illuminate Amish culture, tell good mystery

March 7, 2009
Ben Beagle

A wry challenge from best-selling mystery writer Tony Hillerman put Paul Gaus on the path to becoming a novelist.

Gaus, this year’s featured author for the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project, was a chemistry professor at College of Wooster in Ohio who also taught a freshman class on minority American cultures. In the class, Gaus used Hillerman’s books which were set among the Navajos of the American Southwest.

At one point, about 15 years ago — and nearly 20 years after he began teaching the class — Gaus arranged to meet with Hillerman and talk about the author’s novels which, Gaus said, “not only tell a pretty engaging mystery story” but are also “salted thoroughly with Navajo culture.”

It was the summer of 1995 and over lunch Gaus shared with Hillerman that he had had some success as a science writer (He co-wrote a best-selling chemistry text, Basic Inorganic Chemistry.). But that he had never tried fiction.

Hillerman responded, Gaus recalled, with “a wry comment at the lunch table that I might find fiction much more challenging than science and I ought to give it a try.”

“He thought it would be entertaining, I suppose, to watch a scientist struggle with all the creative aspects of fiction,” Gaus said in a recent telephone interview from his home in Wooster, Ohio. “So I started. And after a while I got something respectable that I thought was perhaps ready for someone to look at.”

Books receive acclaim

With six books down Gaus has established himself in the admittedly unusual niche of Ohio-Amish mystery novels.

His latest, Separate From the World (Ohio University Press, July 2008), brings him to the area next week for a series of talks and book signings in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties.

The Tale for Three Counties project began in 2003 as a way to encourage readers in each county to pick up the same book, read it and discuss it. Then meet the author during a series of visits — Gaus stops Thursday through next Saturday — in each county. The goal is to foster literacy, promote discussions among all kinds of people, and introduce local readers to an author they may not be familiar with.

Leslie DeLooze, the librarian at Batavia’s Richmond Memorial Library who started the Tale program, first learned of Gaus’ books about a decade ago, and then discovered the author was a professor at her alma mater.

“I love reading mysteries and was interested in the unusual setting,” DeLooze said. “The books have all gotten good reviews, but when the newest one was published last summer, it caught my eye because it had received two ‘starred’ reviews, designating an outstanding book.”

The stars came courtesy of Publishers Weekly, which said “a convincing plot and credible sympathetic characters make another winner in this fine regional series,” and Kirkus Reviews, which called the novel a “perceptible look at problems that have no easy solution.” Praise has also come from BookList and The New York Times; the latter says Gaus is “a sensitive storyteller who matches his cadences to the measured pace of Amish life.”

A unique niche

Gaus’ novels have all been published by Ohio University Press. It’s an unusual route for a mystery writer as such publishers are usually the domain of poets, academics and non-fiction works.

The untraditional method means measuring success comes a little bit differently. But with six Ohio-Amish mysteries published, a seventh on the way, and a city-set non-Amish tale in development, Gaus — writing as P.L. Gaus — is having a solid career by most accounts.

Success, said David Sanders, director of Ohio University Press, is gauged “partly by the critical response we get, and that’s been pretty good, and the number of people who come out to hear Paul talk. And his books sell much better than our typical texts.”

Amish & English

Gaus has set all six of his mystery novels in Holmes County, Ohio, which claims the world’s largest Amish population. It’s here that a recurring cast of characters — a college professor, the sheriff and a local pastor — investigate cases that typically mix the insulated world of the Amish and the outside world of the “English,” or what Amish often call outsiders.

Separate From the World begins at the end of another college year for professor Michael Branden, the main character in each of Gaus’ mysteries. This story opens with the discovery of a dead Amish man, who is also a dwarf. His death is thought to be an accident, but his brother — who is also a dwarf — is suspicious. He turns to Branden for help.

Their discussion of odd details of the case is interrupted by a commotion on campus. A student has fallen to her death from the college bell tower in an apparent suicide. But again, there are suspicions, and the investigation becomes intertwined as Branden teams with recurring characters Pastor Cal Troyer and Sheriff Bruce Robertson to discover what happened.

‘Unadorned’ writing

Along the way readers get contrasting glimpses of small-town college life and the determined faith of the Amish. But the violence — and there are at least a couple of gruesome acts in Separate From the World — mostly happens off the page.

“I think that’s necessary considering the kind of story I’m trying to write,” Gaus says. “I really have some constraints as an author. I write purposefully in a fashion that is clearly unadorned. It is not elaborate writing. Well, to be direct about it, it’s fairly plain writing,” Gaus acknowledged. “But I do that as a means of honoring the plain culture that the Amish have. I try not to adorn the stories with any gratuitous violence or salacious sexuality or any of those types of things that might be more common in other forms of literature.”

Living in Amish country

Gaus, an Ohio native, and his wife have lived among the Amish for more than 30 years. From their home in Wooster, they can be in the heart of Ohio Amish country within minutes.

“What I’ve done most often is just show up down there and wait for someone to approach me and talk to me,” Gaus said. “I’ve spent a lot of time nosing around the back corners of Holmes County and talking to people I meet on the trips I take down there.”

“I’ve traveled in sports cars, in four-wheel drives. I’ve walked the dusty country lanes, time and time again, I’ve been out on bicycles. I’ve sat in the shops and tourist attractions and been down to the courthouse to talk with Amish people who hitched their buggies there. I’ve just been all over the place talking to people.”

On one occasion, Gaus said he gave an Amish fellow a ride around three or four counties in northeast Ohio so the man could get some business done.

“I spent the whole day with the fellow who proved to be very talkative,” Gaus said. “I’ve done that hundreds of times over again … I’ve done it over a stretch of many years and somehow I seem to remember every little thing that has happened. I put details from these trips to Holmes County into all of my stories.”

Begins with concept

Gaus said he has two goals with each book: illuminate Amish culture and tell a good mystery.

Each story begins with a concept of Amish culture that Gaus wants to explore, a scriptural theme or an article of faith that illustrates why people of Amish faith live the way they do.

His stories have centered on such topics as repentance, pacifism, greed, child abuse and the Amish rite of passage known as “Rumspringa,” in which Amish adolescents forego their traditional clothing and religious strictures as they experience the outside world before deciding if they will become baptized in the Amish church. Some teens go on fairly sedate adventures, while others are tempted by more dangerous behavior.

“I know first hand quite a lot about that particular problem, and anyone who lives in this part of Ohio knows about it, too,” Gaus said.

Separate From the World looks at genetic disorders that afflict the Amish, who often intermarry. The story finds the book’s Amish community divided over a question of modern medicine and the ethics of cooperation with science in an effort to find a cure for their illnesses.

The story for his next novel — the seventh in the series — “arises from a concept that a violent act by an Amish person is so completely unthinkable in the Amish world that if something should ever happen it would be almost impossible for them to deal with that event successfully,” Gaus said.

“In fact,” he said, “there would be a lot of trouble that would descend from such an act. That Amish people really wouldn’t understand or be able to handle at all whereas out in the English world we have lawyers and courts and law enforcement officers and all sorts of mechanisms in place to handle an act of violence. Amish don’t. They’re not set up for that sort of thing. So the concept is this separation between this unthinkable act and the Amish people to handle.”

A little bit of the author

While Brendan, Robertson and Troyer are familiar to regular readers of Gaus’ mysteries, the cast of Amish characters is constantly revolving. He has not revisited any Amish characters — save for the Miller family from “Prayer for the Dying” which was related to a pivotal family in Blood of the Prodigal, Gaus’ debut novel.

“I have always designed Amish characters to fit the concept of the story,” Gaus said. “I haven’t found yet that any one of my previous characters was suitable to the new story. The stories are different enough, one from another, that I was never tempted enough to reuse a character.

“Now the three English characters I designed right from the start to be specific and definite people with recurring roles in all the stories. I designed the three English characters all very purposefully, and they’ve stayed true to that step throughout all the books, and the women in their lives, too.”

And with a main character being a college professor, might Gaus share more than a few characteristics or attitudes with Branden?

“Actually, there are parts of me sprinkled into all three of those characters,” Gaus said with a chuckle. “I chose a history professor because I’ve always loved history. I made him a professor of American history and a specialist in the American Civil War because that’s an interest I’ve had for decades now myself. … I wanted a thinker and I have very much admired the history professors over the years at the College of Wooster. It seemed natural to me to have the pensive, articulate member of my cast be a history professor.”

The other characters were brought on for their own unique specialties. Robertson fills the law enforcement role and Troyer, the pastor, provides a strong connection to the churches of Holmes County, including the Amish community.

“I did all that because when I first started writing it seemed unrealistic to suspect that any one character could be all three of those things,” Gaus explained.

An understanding press

As Gaus initially shopped his first novel, Blood of the Prodigal, to publishers he got a lot of encouraging comments about the story and the writing.

“But no one really could quite understand what to do with a murder mystery about Amish people,” he said. “So I let it sit in a drawer.”

Hillerman, who died in October (a few days before Gaus was named as this year’s Tale for Three Counties author) would explain to Gaus that he needed to find a publisher “who had an ability to understand what (Gaus) was trying to do.”

That’s when Gaus shipped his manuscript off to Ohio University Press. The publisher, like many university presses, largely published non-fiction, poetry and academic texts, but Gaus also saw that they did a lot of work in cultural areas and thought “they might understand Ohio Amish society better than anyone.”

“And they did,” Gaus said. “They got it right away.”

David Sanders, director of Ohio University Press, said publishing a mystery series is “a bit of a diversion” for the press, but the Ohio connection in the stories led him to take a second look.

“If it was about Teamsters on a dock in New York City it probably wouldn’t interest us as much,” Sanders said. “It presented an angle into the Amish, and what Paul calls the ‘English,’ the standard population, in a way that you would be hard-pressed to get from a scholarly or sociological study.

“What I thought was really nice is there can be moments in the books where you have insight into the characters and the culture. Paul really gave a sense of what it was like without it being a lecture or some dry recitation.”

The first book, Blood of the Prodigal, was published in 1999.

“It’s been an amazing project that’s gone on for a number of years,” Sanders said. “I didn’t necessarily expect it to take off as it has. I think that’s partly due to the nature of the books themselves. The stories lend themselves to a fairly broad market. People appreciated mysteries, and they don’t necessarily want the violence.”

Gaus is working on the seventh book in the Ohio-Amish mystery series. He can go as long as there are deep religious principles to write about and scripture verses to include in the front of each story.

“Young authors and inexperienced authors dream always of the biggest and the best, so I thought to myself at the time, why not make it a series of books,” Gaus recalled. “I hoped that it would be more than just a few.”

Author Visits

P.L. Gaus will discuss his work and sign copies of his books during a series of four programs in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties. The schedule:

THURSDAY: 1 p.m., Genesee Community College, 1 College Rd., Batavia; 7 p.m., Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., Batavia.

FRIDAY: 7 p.m., Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, 620 West Ave., Medina.

MARCH 14: 2 p.m., Perry Elementary/Middle School Auditorium, 50 Olin Ave., Perry, presented by Perry Public Library.

Back to 2009 Articles

Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

What others are saying, ‘Separate From the World’

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A sampling of reviews for P.L. Gaus’ novel “Separate From the World”:

DAVID L. NEUHOUSER, THE ENGLEWOOD REVIEW OF BOOKS: The author shows real understanding of Amish culture and also of the culture of academe. And, although he is sympathetic with both worlds, he shows the darker sides of each as well. In the academic world, we read about student cheating, partying and studying; faculty and student protests against war and the police: and the pressures of presidential fund raising. Town/gown problems are evident here as well. Amish beliefs and culture are portrayed sympathetically but the “English,” as the Amish refer to outsiders, are frustrated and sometimes angered by the non-resistance of the Amish. When asked if they are not going to do anything to protect themselves, they answer that they are praying. The Amish show patience and peace throughout their troubles. They believe that suffering is God’s will for them and that they will grow through the process.

BARBARA BIBEL, BOOKLIST: The latest in this too-little-known series again combines a fascinating, realistic look at an Amish community in Ohio with a gently satiric take on academic life.

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: While Gaus may not be an elegant stylist, a convincing plot and credible, sympathetic characters make another winner in this fine regional series. (starred review)

THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW: With each new mystery, P. L. Gaus treats us to yet another view of life among the Old Order Amish in Wayne County, Ohio. But Separate from the World feels darker than some of his previous books…. (H)e has great admiration for the Amish themselves, writing with quiet gravity about aspects of their lives rarely shown to strangers.

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

P.L. Gaus bibliography

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Here’s a capsule look, in order of publication, of P.L. Gaus’ Ohio Amish mystery series:

BLOOD OF THE PRODIGAL: Jon Mills decides to retrieve his 10-year-old son from the hands of the Bishop who had 10 years earlier cast Mills out of the Order. When Mills turns up dead, dressed in Amish garb, and with the boy missing, Professor Michael Branden plunges head-long into the closed culture to unravel the mystery and find the boy. Working in tandem sometimes and at cross purposes at others with his old friend Sheriff Robertson, Professor Branden digs through the past, recent and otherwise, to uncover the truths that many would prefer to leave undisturbed.

BROKEN ENGLISH: The peaceful town of Millersburg, Ohio, in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, is rocked by the vicious murder of one of its citizens at the hands of an ex-convict. When a local reporter covering the story ends up dead as well, with the convict already behind bars, suspicion falls on David Hawkins, father of the first victim.

CLOUDS WITHOUT RAIN: In the wake of a fatal accident involving an Amish horse-and-buggy and an 18-wheeler, Professor Michael Branden, working with the Holmes County Sheriff’s Department, becomes suspicious about the true nature of the crash. His suspicions grow when the trustee of the dead man’s estate disappears, and Branden knows he has more on his hands than a buggy crash on a sleepy country road. Faced with Amish teenagers robbing buggies on dusty lanes, land swindles involving out-of-town developers, several people dead, and a bank official missing, Branden struggles to understand the connections that will eventually link all of the pieces together.

CAST A BLUE SHADOW: Martha Lehman, a Mennonite college girl with a troubled past appears curled up and bloodied outside the offce of her childhood psychiatrist. That same morning, the mother of Martha’s boyfriend is found murdered in her mansion west of Millersburg, Ohio. Professor Michael Branden and Sheriff Bruce Robertson begin an investigation that, in the space of a single weekend, implicates Martha, threatens to tear apart the fabric of Millersburg College, pits one professor against another, and brings Caroline Branden near to a breaking point over the girl she once tried so fervently to help.

A PRAYER FOR THE NIGHT: Amid a whirlwind of drugs, sex, and other temptations of the “English” world, a group of Amish teenagers on their Rumschpringe test the limits of their parents’ religion. The murder of one and the abduction of another challenge Professor Michael Branden as he confronts the communal fear that the young people can never be brought home safely.

SEPARATE FROM THE WORLD: As another college year draws to an end, Professor Michael Branden is weary after nearly 30 years of teaching. Sitting in his office, he receives an unexpected visit from an Amish man who claims his brother, a dwarf like himself, has been murdered. Their discussion of the case is interrupted by a commotion on campus, which turns out to be the apparent suicide of a young woman. The investigations of these two deaths become intertwined as Professor Branden again teams up with his colleagues Pastor Cal Troyer and Sheriff Bruce Robertson to seek explanations for these bizarre events.

SOURCE: Ohio University Press.

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

Schedule of events

March 7, 2009

There is still time to participate in this year’s “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project.

Book discussions for P.L. Gaus’ Ohio Amish mystery Separate From the World are scheduled through Wednesday. The author will visit Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties Thursday through next Saturday.

Copies of the book are available for purchase or loan at area libraries and local bookstores.

Book Discussions

— TODAY: 1 p.m., Wyoming Free Library, 114 South Academy St., Wyoming.

— MONDAY: 7 p.m., Genesee Community College, Library Periodical Lounge.

— TUESDAY: 12:30 p.m., Genesee Community College, Room S103.

— WEDNESDAY: 7:45 a.m., Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., Batavia.

— WEDNESDAY: Noon, Present Tense. Lunchtime Book Group.

Author visits

Gaus will make four presentations and sign copies of his books during programs in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties:

— THURSDAY: 1 p.m., Genesee Community College, 1 College Rd., Batavia; 7 p.m., Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., Batavia.

— FRIDAY: 7 p.m., Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, 620 West Ave., Medina.

— MARCH 14: 2 p.m., Perry Elementary/Middle School Auditorium, 50 Olin Ave., Perry, presented by Perry Public Library.

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RICHMOND REPORT: Author will share his ‘Tale’

Leslie DeLooze, Richmond Memorial Library
March 7, 2009

BATAVIA — What would an 18-year-old student and an 88-year-old woman have in common? hey are among the many readers who are captivated by this year’s “A Tale for Three Counties” book, Separate from the World by P.L. Gaus.

Author Paul Gaus will speak at the Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., at 7 p.m. Thursday. He will also talk at Genesee Community College at 1 p.m. Thursday, at Lee-Whedon Memorial Library in Medina at 7 p.m. Friday, and at the Perry Elementary/Middle School Auditorium at 2 p.m. March 14. These free programs are the culmination of the seventh-annual “one-book” project for Genesee, Orleans, and Wyoming Counties.

Gaus writes books set in Holmes County, Ohio, where the largest settlement of Amish is located. His books are a fascinating look at this group of Americans who place their faith and community in front of individuals. His books contain interesting looks at other communities, such as a small Midwestern college campus and local law enforcement workers.

In these books, both English and Amish face complicated decisions about their lives. In Separate from the World, one Amish family is struggling with genetic health issues and whether they should accept modern medicine; dilemmas in his other books concern teens’ decisions to live English or Amish following their Rumschpringe, the loss of affordable farmland, and turning away from revenge.

Like many novels, his books present thoughtful ways to look at life’s big questions. How do you end a meaningful career? At what point do you allow your children to make their own decisions about their adult lives? How can you balance pacifism and justice? What benefits are there for offering complete forgiveness? Can friendships survive when friends hold completely different points of view?

And from these books specifically, we can contrast English and Amish culture and wonder about what the Amish can teach us about faith and community, helping others, about living “green,” and about evaluating the importance of technological devices in our lives.

The author’s visit this coming week gives readers a chance to hear how Gaus has researched his topics, what inspires him to write, and how he happened begin writing mysteries while also teaching college chemistry. For more information, visit

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Readers become reviewers in Tale for Three Counties project

February 7, 2009
By Ben Beagle

Frances McNulty of Batavia has read each of the “A Tale for Three Counties” books. She’s a regular at the community reading project’s book discussions at Richmond Memorial Library. And she’s likely to write a review for Tale’s annual contest — even when she knows she wouldn’t be available to attend the winners’ lunch with the author if she were chosen.

“It’s a lot of fun. It adds to my enjoyment of the book,” McNulty said. “I’ve never found it to be difficult.”

The annual contest, sponsored by The Daily News, started six years ago with author number two, Howard Frank Mosher.

It was one more element to the reading project organized by libraries in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties. Tale encourages readers to pick up the same book, discuss it and then meet the author in a series of visits each spring.

This year’s Tale title is Separate From the World, a mystery by Paul L. Gaus that is set in Ohio’s Amish country. Gaus explores the differences between Amish and non-Amish, or “English,” culture as his main character, Professor Michael Branden investigates the apparent suicide of one of his students, and the death of an Amish dwarf.

Entries for this year’s Tale book review contest are being accepted until Feb. 17. (Entries must be submitted on the official entry form, which can be found on page B-4 in today’s paper. It will also appear several more times.)

Up to six winners will be chosen by the “Tale” organizing committee, and then gather for lunch with Gaus on March 13 at an area restaurant.

McNulty, the Batavia reader, has had lunch with three of the previous six Tale authors.

“They were all different personalities, all very interesting,” McNulty said. “It’s just such a nice personal experience to hear the author one on one. It’s a much more intimate and personal experience.”

With a 150-word limit, the contest isn’t looking for a review of the entire book, but encourages readers to think about a particular aspect of the Tale title and then share their thoughts.

The contest “adds the dimension of individual readers sharing one on one time with the author that goes way beyond simply hearing the author speak at a particular library,” said Mary Zangerle, director of Lee-Whedon Memorial Library in Medina, one of the locations that will host an author visit. “The personal access to the author is certainly appealing” to readers.

Last year saw a record-tying 16 reviews submitted for consideration.

“I think that the review contest has become popular because people understand that they’ll get a nice meal with a chance for an in-depth conversation with the author,” said Leslie DeLooze, the Richmond Memorial librarian who spearheaded the Tale project, which debuted in 2003.

Of course, there are other ways to join Tale’s community of readers.

Book discussions are scheduled through March 11 at local libraries and bookstores. The next is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Byron-Bergen Public Library, 13 South Lake Ave., Bergen.

Additional programs are also being scheduled, including a documentary film screening on Feb. 25 at Richmond Memorial Library.

Gaus will stop March 12 to 14. His schedule: 1 p.m. March 12 at Genesee Community College, 1 College Rd., Batavia; 7 p.m. March 12 at Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., Batavia; 7 p.m. March 13 at Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, 620 West Ave., Medina; and 2 p.m. March 14 at Perry Elementary/Middle School, 50 Olin Ave., Perry, a program hosted by Perry Public Library.

A full schedule is available at the Tale Web site,

Past book review contest entries, including the winning submissions, are posted on the Tale Web site at

How to write a review

Don’t be intimidated. This isn’t a homework assignment. It’s supposed to be fun. Record impressions as you read and note effective passages. When writing, describe and evaluate the story. Remember, a description is not a summary of events. The judges want to know how you reacted to characters or events in Separate From the World.

Consider, generally:

• What did you like or not like about the novel?

• Perhaps you reacted strongly to a particular part of the story. Tell us what it was, and why you reacted that way.

• What goals do you think the author had in writing this novel? How well does he achieve them?

Or, specific to Separate From the World:

• What purpose does Aiden Newhouse serve in the story?

• Which character displays the greatest amount of foregiveness?

• Can people truly be “separate from the world”?

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation


Latest ‘Tale’ book selection stirs soul-wrenching questions

February 5, 2009
Tom Rivers

I finished the latest “A Tale for Three Counties” book over the weekend and it may take a while to wipe the grime from my mind.

I was intrigued by the book, Separate from the World, mainly because it included Amish people. I seldom see them as literary subjects. Usually I see people gawking at them when they come to town. I saw a father and his son in Tim Hortons in Albion about three months ago. People were staring.

I’ve met many of the estimated 200 Amish and Mennonite folks who have settled in the Lyndonville area the past decade. I see them often in Albion and even Batavia, putting on roofs and doing other jobs. Us “English” folk admire them for their work ethic and their amazing responsiveness to customers.

The Amish and Mennonite typically have a community phone and they check messages frequently. Other local people drive them to job sites so the crews with straw hats can give estimates and do the work. While some “English” contractors may take months to get around to a job, the Amish and Mennonite crews will show up the next day or two and have a new roof on in sometimes less than a week.

Those of use who live with modern amenities wonder about the Amish community, how they manage without many of our technological conveniences, and how they seem to support each other as a group.

I was expecting some insights into their culture by reading Separate from the World. I learned there is a debate among the Amish over modern medicine and how to help the Amish combat a high rate of genetic defects. Some Amish favor a modern approach and others shun genetic testing.

That’s one of the backdrops of the book, and ultimately the issue draws college professors and students into contact with an Amish community in Ohio.

The Amish seem overly caricatured in the book, depicted as blind sheep in their rigid adherence to their beliefs. One of the college students, the villain of the book, finds the community’s Christian devotion “quaint” and sees the Amish as easy prey for his corrupt mind. This character, Eddie, is truly an abomination, inflicting unspeakable horrors on his girlfriends and on children.

I would just dismiss it as a story. But the horror of Oct. 2, 2006, is still vivid in my conscience. That day a gunman showed up at an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster County and shot five girls, ages 6 to 13, in the back of the head. The shooter wounded five other children before killing himself.

When the media caravan converged on the Amish town, the world was shocked to see the forgiving attitudes and concern for the shooter’s family.

In Separate from the World, many of the Amish are willing to forgive when tragedy hits the community. But one Amish man isn’t. He seeks “English justice” and asks for help from a college professor.

I don’t blame the guy. His brother was murdered.

I called Leslie DeLooze, the Tale coordinator, and told her I didn’t like the book, clearly the most unpleasant of the seven books so far in the three-county reading project. But the book wasn’t meant to be a happy read, said DeLooze, the community services librarian at Richmond Memorial Library in Batavia.

“It relates to the whole question, ‘Is anyone really separate from the world, and all the things in the world that are good and bad?'” she said.

The Tale committee picked the book because of its rural flavor and the impact of a college on a small-town community, she said.

But she knows the good-versus-evil questions and the response in the face of evil will provoke lively discussions at local libraries before author Paul Gaus arrives March 12-14.

Gaus will be leading discussions about the book during his three-day trip out here. I’ve got a few questions for him.

Tom Rivers is a general assignment reporter who also writes columns, which are published alternate Thursdays.

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

‘Tale’ reading project adds talks, film screening

February 4, 2009
By Ben Beagle

BATAVIA — The “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project has announced the addition of three new events.

Susan Chiddy, an adjunct instructor at Genesee Community College, and GCC professor Marirose Ethington will discuss how their students are using this year’s Tale title, Separate From the World, during the first of two “Talks Sandwiched In” at Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St. The program is scheduled for 12:10 p.m. Feb. 18.

Students in six different subject areas will be reading the book as part of their classes this year. Chiddy teaches reading and human relations; Ethington teaches biology.

At least 16 classes are using the Tale book this year, said Richmond librarian Leslie DeLooze, organizer of the Tale project.

“This is the biggest group of students to participate,” she said.

The second “Talks Sandwiched In” program, scheduled for 12:10 p.m. Feb. 25, will feature a screening of the documentary Reflections of Amish Life.

The 65-minute film offers insight into Amish history, religious beliefs and lifestyles through scenes of an Amish community through the seasons of the year. The film is presented with permission of E.I.V Productions.

Those attending the Talks programs may bring a lunch; coffee, tea and Amish-inspired desserts will be served.

A book discussion is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 23 at Burlingham Books, 2 South Main St., Perry. Burlingham Books is one of the sponsors of the Tale reading project.

Author Paul Gaus’ book, Separate From the World, is the sixth story in a series of mysteries set in Holmes County, Ohio, that blend life among the Amish and “the English,” which the Amish call the non-Amish. In this story, college professor Michael Branden investigates the deaths of a student and of an Amish man, who is a dwarf. The investigations soon become intertwined as Branden teams with recurring characters Pastor Cal Troyer and Sheriff Bruce Robertson.

A full schedule of Tale events, including library book discussions and author visits, can be found online at

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‘Tale’ reading project adds 2 events

February 2, 2009

BATAVIA — The “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project has announced the addition of a book discussion and a documentary film screening.

The discussion is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 23 at Burlingham Books, 2 South Main St., Perry. Burlingham Books is one of the sponsors of the Tale reading project.

This year’s Tale title is “Separate From the World” by Paul Gaus. It is the sixth story in a series of mysteries set in Holmes County, Ohio, that blend life among the Amish and “the English,” which the Amish call the non-Amish.

The documentary “Reflections of Amish Life” will be shown at 12:10 p.m. Feb. 25 in the Gallery Room Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., Batavia.

The 65-minute film offers insight into Amish history, religious beliefs and lifestyles through scenes of an Amish community through the seasons of the year.

The screening is part of the library’s “Talks Sandwiched In” program. Those attending may bring a lunch; coffee, tea and Amish-inspired desserts will be served.

The film is presented with permission of E.I.V Productions.

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

5 questions for your ‘Tale’ book discussion

January 24, 2009

Here are five things to think about while reading Paul L. Gaus’ Separate From the WorldI:

1. What did you learn about Amish life from this book?

2. Who is your favorite character and why?

3. How does the first chapter set up the rest of the story?

4. Forgiveness is a basic tenet in the Amish faith. How is that theme expressed in the book?

5. Why do you think this book is titled, Separate from the World?
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Past ‘Tale’ authors working on new books

Jan. 10, 2009
Special Section
By Ben Beagle

It’s shaping up to be a very exciting year for Vermont writer Howard Frank Mosher, the featured author for 2004’s “A Tale for Three Counties.”
A new novel, Walking to Gatlinburg, is due in September and he said he is “planning to tour all over the country.”
“That will be my main project,” Mosher said.
But not his only project.
Mosher is also working on a memoir, The Great American Book Tour, which chronicles the 100-city road trip that he undertook in 2007 to promote his last novel, On Kingdom Mountain.
The memoir, Mosher said, will include stories of his first years in Vermont “and how I came to fall in love with Northern Vermont and this area that is the Northeast Kingdom.”
Mosher and his wife moved to Vermont for what they thought would be a year of teaching and have stayed 44 years.
This year also finds Mosher with a new publisher – Random House – that reunites him with Shaye Areheart, editor of A Stranger in the Kingdom.
Walking to Gatlinburg is the story of an epic Civil War-era journey by 17-year-old Morgan Kinneson from northern Vermont, south through war-torn America, to the Great Smoky Mountains. Morgan is searching for his older brother, who is missing in action. The novel includes scenes along the Erie Canal from near Albany to Utica, and at the Union prison camp in Elmira.
Mosher’s Tale book was Northern Borders.
Here’s a quick look at what author tale authors have been doing:

LEIF ENGER (2003, Peace Like a River): Enger’s long-awaited second novel debuted in May. So Brave, Young, and Handsome kept Enger on tour for a large part of the year. By year’s end, the period story of a struggling writer and aging outlaw had made numerous best book of the year lists, including those of The Christian Science Monitor and The Washington Post, and was a finalist for the Christianity Today Book Award for Fiction. So Brave… was also a 2008 Midwest Booksellers’ Choice Award Honor Book for Fiction.
Still popular is Peace Like a River, the pick for an upcoming city-wide reading event in Austin, Minn. Enger is scheduled to visit that program in April.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING (2005, In the Bleak Midwinter): Work continues on what is expected to be the final book in Spen-cer-Fleming’s mystery series featuring the impulsive Rev. Clare Fergusson and small-town Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne. The Maine author published a serial story online, “Collect for a Noonday Service,” featuring Clare and Russ. Read it at
JENNIFER DONNELLY (2006, A Northern Light): A trade paperback of The Winter Rose is due this month. Donnelly continues work on The Wild Rose, the final book of the Rose trilogy, which takes the saga of the rambunctious Finnegan family through World War I and into the 1920s. Donnelly says she is also “working feverishly on a new young adult title” that is expected out in 2010.
MARK SPRAGG (2007, An Unfinished Life): Currently working on his fourth book at his home in Cody, Wyoming, Spragg visited Greencastle, Ind., in October for the first “Putnam County Reads” community reading project.
THOMAS MULLEN (2008, The Last Town on Earth): Last year’s Tale title was featured in November for the Stanwood-Camano Together We Read project near Everett, Wash., a community featured in Mullen’s historical novel. Mullen writes that he relocated from Washington, D.C., to Atlanta and “what little time for writing I’ve been able to squirrel away has been devoted to editing my forthcoming second novel, The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers. Read more at

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

A ‘Tale’ to treat readers

Nov. 1, 2008

As the days get shorter, the weather colder and politics blathers on, there’s a bright spot in the announcement of this year’s Tale for Three Counties selection.

The selection is Separate From the World, the sixth book in a mystery series by Paul L. Gaus. It is set in Ohio’s Amish country, and thus is in keeping with Tale for Three Counties’ focus on rural and small-town family life.

A Tale for Three Counties encourages readers in Genesee, Wyoming and Orleans counties to all read the same book, discuss it and then meet the author. It has attracted a growing base of fans each year, with many trusting Tale organizers to choose a book that both entertains and provokes discussion. Leslie DeLooze of Richmond Memorial Library was a key person in its inception, and she was soon joined by librarians throughout the three-county area, as well as faculty and librarians at Genesee Community College.

Past selections have been Peace Like a River by Leif Enger in 2003; Northern Borders by Howard Frank Mosher in 2004; In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming in 2005; A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly in 2006; and An Unfinished Life by Mark Spragg in 2007. This year’s selection is the second mystery to be included — In the Bleak Midwinter was the other — although A Northern Light included a mysterious death.

Mr. Gaus has done extensive research into Amish culture, which provides the setting for his series. He is scheduled to visit the area March 12-14. The book is available at local bookstores and from libraries at modest cost, or can be borrowed from area libraries.

If you haven’t participated in previous Tale programs, consider giving this year’s a try. You’ll be in very good company.
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‘Tale’ is a mystery, but no longer secret Selection looks to Ohio’s Amish country

Oct. 28, 2008
Local News
By Ben Beagle

BATAVIA – The mystery of what would be the next book in the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project has been solved.
Separate From the World, the sixth book in a mystery series set in Ohio’s Amish country by retired chemistry professor Paul L. Gaus, was revealed as the 2009 Tale selection during a Monday luncheon at Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St.
Tale, which began in 2003, encourages readers in Genesee, Wyoming and Orleans counties to pick up the same book, read it and discuss it, and then meet the author during a series of visits in each county. The goal is to foster literacy, promote discussion among all kinds of people and create a positive experience for the community.
Gaus is looking forward to his visits, scheduled March 12 to 14.
“I think what will happen is people in Batavia and nearby will very much get to look inside my mind and discover why I write these Ohio Amish mysteries and what I do to research Amish culture,” Gaus said in a telephone interview with The Daily News. “And on the other side, I expect very much to learn a lot from readers.
“It’s always fun to talk to readers. I enjoy that as much as the writing,” said Gaus, who has lectured frequently but never before had his work featured in such a large-scale reading project.
The counties’ public libraries and Genesee Community College will schedule a series of book discussions in early 2009 leading up to the author visits. A book review contest, in which winners have lunch with the Tale author, will also return.
About 25 invited guests, librarians and representatives from some of the program’s 20 sponsors, were the first to learn the book that would be the seventh Tale title.
“I can’t begin to tell you how difficult it is to select the book and author for the year,” Leslie DeLooze, the Richmond librarian who has spearheaded the Tale project since its debut, said moments before removing the piece of cardboard that covered the 2009 Tale poster featuring the cover of Separate From the World.
“We consider many, many books for this program, looking for just the right one,” DeLooze said. “This year, our choice is very different from our past selections, although it still has a central theme of rural and small-town family life.”
Separate From the World is set in Holmes County, Ohio. As another college year is drawing to an end, professor Michael Branden gets an unexpected visit from an Amish man who claims his brother, a dwarf, has been murdered. Their discussion of odd details of the case is interrupted by a commotion on campus, which turns out to be an apparent suicide of a young woman who may have leaped to her death from the college bell tower.
The investigation of the two deaths soon become intertwined as Branden teams with recurring characters Pastor Cal Troyer and Sheriff Bruce Robertson.
“The story provides an interesting look at the Amish community, as well as a view of campus politics and concerns and how these two worlds intersect,” DeLooze said.
Gaus’ 184-page novel has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, which said “a convincing plot and credible, sympathetic characters make another winner in this fine regional series,” and Kirkus Reviews said the novel was “a perceptive look at problems that have no easy solutions.” BookList called it a “too-little-known series.”
The New York Times has called Gaus “a sensitive storyteller who matches his cadences to the measured pace of Amish life, catching the tensions among the village’s religious factions.”
Gaus, an Ohio native, taught chemistry – and co-wrote a best-selling chemistry text – at the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, where he also taught a seminar on different American cultures that included Navajo and Amish. It was through this course that Gaus became acquainted with late author Tony Hillerman, who encouraged Gaus to use fiction to illustrate and explain the differences between his Amish neighbors and the “English,” or non-Amish community.
“I found it to be a useful way to step outside the lab and do something different for a time,” Gaus said. “I would be a professor of chemistry during the academic year, and for a couple of other months each summer take time to work in this other arena.”
Previous titles in Gaus’ series have explored such topics as repentance, pacifism, greed, child abuse and Amish rites of passage.
“As time went by I found Tony Hillerman to be right,” Gaus said. “Fiction was a completely different challenge. I found it refreshing and stimulating after a long career writing science.”

Copies of Separate From the World are available for loan at libraries in each of the three counties. Books will be available for purchase in early November at Richmond Library, Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, 620 West Ave., Medina; and Perry Public Library, 70 North Main St., Perry, and area book stores.

On the Net:
Paul L. Gaus “Ohio Amish” blog:

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