I grew up in a town populated by Mennonites who moved from the Steppes of Russia to the plains of Kansas in the 1870s. It wasn't until I moved to New York City that I realized how odd my upbringing was, and I've written about Mennonites ever since.

Good News! Shaken in the Water has just been picked up by Foxhead Books!

Here's a brief synopsis:

Just outside the tiny Kansas town of Ulysses in 1903, a Mennonite woman gives birth to Agnes, a girl bearing a birthmark known as a Tieja Kjoaw—Tiger’s Scar. In the Molotschna Colony in the Ukraine, such a mark was said to portend either greatness or tragedy.

Agnes becomes the matriarch of a family that struggles for greatness. Her husband Peter shaves his entire body in order to win back God’s favor. Her daughter Huldah claims she was carried into the eye of a tornado on a clear winter’s day. Her son Johan frees a truckload of cattle in an attempt to be a modern Moses. Her granddaughter Minerva butchers a cat to save her marriage. A white tiger residing in Huldah’s backyard claims to be Nora, the love of Agnes’ life.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Shaken in the Water


Agnes had a birthmark that crossed her back from her left shoulder to her right hip. The midwife who had brought her into the world once whispered to her that it was a Tieja Kjoaw—Tiger‟s Scar. It was thin and delicate, with a slight swirl to each end like the underscore of a signature. It was slim and sensitive to touch. Usually she wore her corset to bed to keep it protected from the maneuvering sheets. When her husband, Peter, touched it on their wedding night she gave a little gasp of pain. He stopped caressing her back and curled his fingers around the back of her neck. It was completely dark; even the curtains were drawn against the feeble light of a mid-cycle moon. All that could be heard beyond their stifled breath was the lonely echo of a cricket somewhere downstairs.

Peter's hand fell away from Agnes‟ neck. Daut deit mie leet, he whispered. Forgive me.

Agnes knew she should fumble for that hand, press it against her breast and whisper any sort of lie to explain it away. That would end his embarrassed conjecture; it would help make their milk-fed marriage stronger. But she could not lie to him just yet. She wanted to be married more than a half of a day before she began lying to her husband.

Noch nijch, was all she could force through her lips. Noch nijch.

Not yet, he whispered in anxious agreement. Noch nijch.

Agnes had tucked her nightgown beneath her pillow so she would not have to find it in the dark. She slid it over her head. It was made of a light silk that she had sewn months ago during an ice storm; she was not surprised by how cool the threads felt as they slid over her August-soaked body.

Peter had not been so prudent. He shook the sheets and felt the floor for his pajamas. Had they been in love, this would have been shyly hilarious. Agnes lay down on her side of the bed and let him search alone. Finally, he found the pajama bottoms and struggled back into them. The bed swayed, creaked and bumped against the wall beneath his shifting weight. Peter's parents' bedroom was below; two of his unmarried sisters slept across the hall. Nearly everyone in the Harder household would breathe a sigh of relief and believe Peter was now truly married.