From as early as he can remember, Paul Gaus has immersed himself in the written word. As a child, he enjoyed Zane Grey westerns and a bit of science fiction by Jules Vern. His love of literature spanned history, the classics, and extended as far as Russian literature. He would even admit to delving into a few Hardy Boys mysteries. But for 31 years, Gaus pursued a career with no obvious connection to writing, that of chemistry professor at Wooster College, the occupation which originally brought him to Wayne County.
Gaus liked the rigorous, precise and detailed nature of chemistry and began exercising his writing talents by researching and developing academic texts. At some point, Gaus said, he realized that he had stories inside of him, things he wanted to say. And so, that rigorous attention to detail snuck its way into Gaus’s imagination, paired itself with his love of literature, and pushed him into writing fiction. Now Gaus is enjoying the life of his second career as a successful novelist with seven Amish country murder mysteries under his belt.
"I was 50 years old before I even gave writing a thought,” mused Gaus. “I realize now that I had an interest in literature all along. I guess I spent the first fifty years of my life getting ready to write something."
During those fifty years, Gaus collected the information he’d accumulated about life near a thriving Amish community and began compiling them into a completed novel, Blood of the Prodigal. With that finished, he wrote a second, Broken English, before pairing up with Ohio University Press, who then published his first six works. He has no intention of slowing down and uses what he has at his disposal to craft believable stories.
“I have a scientist's eye for detail, a memory that serves me well on geography and culture, and I know scriptures well enough that I can understand each of the concepts that underpin the Amish society, so I write about it.”
After finishing his sixth book, Separate from the World, Gaus received a phone call that took his works in an unexpected direction. He was hammering away on a new series when he was informed that his books were of interest to an international publisher. Plume, a division of Penguin Books, one of the largest English-language trade book publishers in the world, wanted to talk to Gaus. Within six months, Plume republished his first six books and sent Gaus and his wife, Madonna, on an eight-state tour to promote his works, far exceeding his greatest expectations.
Gaus is ready for the change. It has given him the energy to continue producing the mysteries he describes as cerebral stories he hopes will leave his readers deep in thought. With each book, Gaus invites others into a world that provides insight into humanity in general and Amish culture specifically.
“The books are designed to illuminate one aspect or another of Amish life, especially in the sense that, in Holmes County, the Amish are mixed right alongside English and Mennonites, creating a very diverse community.”
While his works address important principals and concepts both within and outside of Amish culture, providing page-turning intrigue, Gaus has no interest in filling pages with gratuitous acts of violence or salaciousness.
“These are thoughtful, mostly quiet stories for English people to understand what it's like to live, pray and grow up Amish. They're a thinking person's mystery,” said Gaus, who insists that his suspects always have a reasonable motive.
“A motive allows a mystery novelist to address the human condition in compelling ways. There's always justification or reason involved. The concepts I write about have to lead the reader in some way that preserves the fictional dream. So many of the thriller-type novels blurt out violence as a matter of course rather than portray it as a consequential act that involves some other motive that isn't just random or sensational.”
His formula seems to be working. The complaint of most of Gaus’ readership is that his works are not long enough.
“I have something to say, and once I'm satisfied that I've accomplished that, I quit. The scientist in me always had to write succinctly for professional journals, so these are not lengthy works.”
But fortunately for Gaus’ readers, he’s a prolific writer, so there is always another mystery on the way. Book seven, Harmless as Doves, which explores cultural pacifism, currently awaits printing and book eight is near completion. Gaus is also working on a completely different series, one that does not take place within the Amish culture.
Gaus’ ongoing publishing success finds him attending many writers conferences, both as a participant and a speaker. This year, he presented the keynote address at The University of Akron Wayne College Writers Workshop on Saturday, April 2, and was pleased to be presented with the The Wayne College Writer of the Year award, given in recognition of a writer's body of work.
For a man who makes it his life’s work to provide others with the element of surprise, Gaus’ recent successes have been a welcome twist for this internationally published mystery writer.
P.L. Gaus’s online journal can be read here.