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Author who left Amish returns to EMU to launch new book

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In recent history, so-called “bonnet fiction” has flourished. That is, fabricated stories relating to the Amish or plain Mennonite cultures, often written by authors not from one of those backgrounds and sometimes critiqued for lacking in accuracy.

But executives at Herald Press, the publishing branch of Harrisonburg-based Mennomedia, believe they’ve tapped into the next genre in Anabaptist literature: the memoir.

They’ve been on a mission to publish such novels, which is why they backed books such as Harrisonburg actor Ted Swartz‘ book, 2012 title “Laughter Is Sacred Space,” and Friendly City-based author Shirley Hershey Showalter‘s 2013 memoir, titled “Blush,” last year. And that’s why the publisher has picked up Saloma Miller Furlong‘s latest book, “Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds.”

“I’m thinking that the next phase or the next genre might be those of us who have lived the life or are living the life of Amish or Mennonite writing our own story,” Furlong said.

“There’s been so much out there about the Amish that’s just so false. I’m thinking it’s time for the true stories to come out.”

Saloma’s Story

Furlong, 56, left the security of her Amish community in Ohio at the age of 20. She headed for Burlington, a city she had only been introduced to in her history books, and secured her dream job as a waitress at a Pizza Hut.

“The first book [`Why I Left the Amish'] basically takes the reader to the point where I left the Amish for the first time,” Furlong explained. ” `Bonnet Strings’ picks up pretty much where that one left off.”

While she was in Burlington, Furlong made plans to enroll in college courses and met David, the man she would later marry, whom she began dating in the winter of 1978.

But it wasn’t long before a vanload of her family and friends showed up unannounced at her front door, with full intent of returning her to the Amish community.

“I basically did not want to find out what would happen if I resisted,” she said, explaining that she then returned to her hometown for almost three years before she left again.

“In the meantime, David did not give up wanting to communicate with me,” she added.

When she did leave the community again, it was David who picked her up in his truck. A year and a half later, the two married.

“The book is basically a story about being torn between my two worlds, but it contains a love story, as well,” Furlong said. “It basically leaves off when David and I got married.”

David wrote three of the book’s chapters and joins his wife during her presentations of the novel. The couple will return to Eastern Mennonite University to discuss the book March 25; Furlong first came to the university to discuss “Why I Left The Amish” in March 2013.

This year, the event will take place at 4 p.m. in the Strite conference room, 105, in the Campus Center at EMU. Don Clymer, another author who has been published by Herald Press, will introduce Furlong.

A Speedy Process

Amy Gingerich, editorial director for Herald Press, was so convinced that “Bonnet Strings” would be the perfect installment in the publisher’s string of Anabaptist memoirs that she fast-tracked the process of buying Furlong’s book.

Last July, on a Friday evening, Showalter mentioned to Gingerich that Furlong was planning to self-publish the memoir; by Sunday, Gingerich had set up a time to talk with the now western Massachusetts-based author.

“Typically, we kind of dance around with an offer for a few weeks,” Gingerich explained. “But I was really excited about this book. I said to Saloma. … `I want to get this thing sewed up Monday.’ ”

However, there was a slight complicating factor.

Gingerich was nine months pregnant and expecting her baby that Thursday.

“By Thursday, which was my due date, [Furlong] signed,” Gingerich said, laughing. “I went into labor Thursday night.”

Furlong then wrote the second half of her novel during September.

“I saw a lot of beautiful autumn days go by my window,” she jokes now.

The book was released Feb. 3, the day before a documentary featuring Furlong aired on PBS American Experience, called “The Amish Shunned.” She also had a lead role in a film simply titled “The Amish,” produced by the same company in 2012.

Gingerich explained the new novel’s universal appeal this way: “Whether or not you grew up Amish, I think all of us have to deal with questions of belonging.”

For more information on Furlong and “Bonnet Strings,” visit salomafurlong.com or heraldpress.com.

Courtesy of the Daily News Record, March 22, 2014

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