Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Guest Post: Just For Nice by H. M. Shepherd

Title: Just For Nice 
Publisher: Dreamspinner
Release Date: February 9, 2018
62 pages

Blurb: Nick Caratelli flees the city in an attempt to escape a broken relationship and a career he never wanted. He plans to set up a bed-and-breakfast in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country—despite the fact he has no experience in renovating the old building. Luckily his handsome neighbor Sam approaches him with a curious proposal: he’ll help with the restoration in exchange for Nick babysitting his niece.

As they work to have the bed-and-breakfast open for business by summer’s end, their lives become interwoven without them even trying. Before he knows it, Nick is recovering from his loss and taking his place in the unconventional family that seems determined to form. But for Nick and Sam to be together in all the ways they desire, they’ll have to realize all the arguments against romance exist only in their heads….

Why did you choose to set your book in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country?

Both of my paternal grandparents are PA Dutch to some degree -- my grandmother more than my grandfather. My grandfather died when I was very young, and to my knowledge cared more about his Scots-Irish/Appalachian ancestry more than anything else, so my primary source for What It Means to Be Pennsylvania Dutch was grandmother.

I loathe the woman. It's a long story, but suffice it to say you know you've done something wrong when your grandchildren can tell who your unfavorite child is without being told. (My dad. It was my dad).

So funny enough, I did not identify as Dutch until I went to college at Kutztown University. It actually started as a school for teachers and was the only one that insisted that their students learn Pennsylvania German in order to communicate with their students. Of course, it's also the school that eventually decided that English only was the way to go, ESL students be damned. So the school has a sense of pride in its roots, as well as extreme guilt for attempting to destroy them. The Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center is housed on its campus, and it is as far as I know the only school that offers Pennsylvania German Studies as a minor.

I had the opportunity to fill a sociology/anthropology elective with a course in Pennsylvania German Cultural History. The professor went around the room asking why we were there, and of course I wasn't about to answer honestly that I was trying desperately to avoid taking an introductory course (you know, where some poor adjunct tries to pry any sign of participation from the students who don't want to be there), so I said it was because I was of Dutch ancestry. A lot of us did, actually.

"You know," she said, "you could all just cop to it and call yourselves Dutch."

That class, even though it was way more focused on the Anabaptist groups than the non-sectarian Dutch groups, put me more in touch with my Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry than twenty-some years of being ignored by my grandmother ever did. I still remember eagerly showing my professor an old genealogy book I'd found in the library, and pointing where I had discovered my seventh-great-grandfather in a ship's manifesto (and as an aside, he also apparently wrote a letter back home that was found by the German branch of the family; they titled it "The Horrors of the Immigrants’ Voyage," so you know it's super-cheerful). I did research papers on folk art and actually enjoyed the work. I went to museums, attended festivals, and even finally, after months of prodding, tried scrapple. It also managed to bring me closer to my grandmother's sisters, who I didn't see too much of growing up but who have been happy to make up for lost time.

I chose to set my story here because it contains a part of me I've come to love. I also did it because it's unusual; at least, I've never seen a same-sex love story set here and I thought someone had to try it. And German things aside, Pennsylvania is my home and I care about it deeply despite its flaws. Even my ancestor's letter, which is more or less a screed begging hit countrymen not to follow him had to concede, "The land of Pennsylvania is a healthyland; it has for the most part good soil, good air and water, many high mountains, and also much flat land; it is very rich in wood; where it is not inhabited, a pure forest in which many small and large waters flow."

And also, I know that a good chunk of you only know Dutch Country from terrible movies like For Richer or Poorer or the half a second it showed up in North, or that slew of Amish-centered reality shows, and that has to be rectified. Go watch Witness instead. Or read my book. It's totally up to you.

Author Bio: H. M. Shepherd is a twentysomething paralegal living in Berks County, Pennsylvania, with both parents, two dogs, a baby sister who should stop growing up, and a brother who similarly failed to launch. Contrary to the Millennial stereotype, however, she does not live in the basement—a blessing considering the size of the spiders down there. She crochets as a hobby, cooks when she can, and reads as though it were her vocation. She is also an amateur genealogist and spends entirely too much time squinting at old census records and church documents. A little spacey, she once managed to forget that her car needed an oil change until it stopped running, and regularly has milk-in-the-cupboard-cereal-in-the-fridge moments. While she is an avid writer, Just for Nice is her first and so far only professional publication.

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