JOLINA MILLER PETERSHEIM
Jolina Miller, University of the Cumberlands class of 2008, was born in the heart of Amish country, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but moved to the hills of Tennessee with her family when she was only three years old. Although her childhood was filled with stories of her Mennonite heritage, she took them for granted until she was older and began to seek the simpler life that she had initially shunned.
Pursuing the dream of becoming the next Katie Couric, Jolina graduated from South Haven Christian School and left in the fall to attend University of the Cumberlands. She was the first person in her immediate family to attempt a higher education. At UC, Jolina double majored in Communication Arts and English with an emphasis on creative writing. Soon thereafter, as if the latter major required it, Jolina started wearing peasant blouses and Gypsy jewelry, reading on a fake mink blanket under the crab apples trees in Boswell park, and submitting rather bad poetry to the student literary journal, Pensworth, which was very gently turned down.
Her sophomore year, Jolina took a creative fiction class under the guidance of Nancy Jensen and wrote a short story loosely based on her waitressing experiences at a schoolhouse cafeteria located in the rural town where she’d grown up. “Secrets at the Thresherman Show” won UC’s first creative writing award and fostered Jolina’s confidence to write about what she knew.
Two more years of solid instruction from the professors in both the English and Communication Arts Departments helped streamline Jolina’s writing. She continued working with the student newspaper, and loved the staff there, but felt herself steering away from journalism and embracing creative writing instead. She became a student editor on the literary journal, Pensworth, took another creative writing class with Nancy Jensen, and began to think that perhaps storytelling was what she was always meant to do.
After attending UC’s graduation, and having tears in her eyes as the English Department rose to their feet as she and another English major were announced as the recipients of the Berger Award, Jolina moved to East Tennessee with her newly-wedded husband. There she matched her last name to his (Petersheim), and then divided half of her time working in their outlet grocery store and half of her time up in the office, writing.
Jolina penned two novels in that 11,000 square foot warehouse, sent them out to readers one year at a time, and promptly received mixed reviews. After the second book, she took a three-week breather to go backpacking in the UK with her best friend, came home, returned to her laptop, and tapped into a fresh story that incorporated her Mennonite heritage.
A Nashville-based literary agent who knew a mutual friend asked to see the first portion of Jolina’s third novel: a modern retelling of The Scarlet Letter set in an Old Order Mennonite community in Tennessee; a community that was loosely based on the Old Order Mennonite community Jolina’s family had often visited when she was a child. The agent read that portion when he was flying home from a book festival in Brazil and asked to see more. Jolina continued to write as her expectant belly continued to grow.
Twelve weeks after the birth of her husband and her first child—and four years after graduating from UC—Jolina Petersheim signed a two-book contract with Tyndale House: a fifty-year-old Christian publishing house that had never launched an Amish fiction title because they wanted to wait until something different came along.
The Outcast, the modern retelling of The Scarlet Letter, will release on July 1, 2013. Jolina’s second stand-alone book, The Midwife, is slated to release in the summer of 2014.
In between writing on her front porch, Jolina Petersheim enjoys gardening, cooking, hiking the mountains with her one-year-old daughter strapped to her back and her Akita puppy, Kashi, for protection against wild boar (Jolina’s only seen one boar up close, but once was enough!), and spending time with her husband, who has supported her writing dreams day in and day out.