Since I am asked why I write Amish fiction, from friends and family who see my posts on Facebook and/or Twitter, I guess it's a good time to formulate an answer.
As it happened, five or six years back, the Amish were not even a glitch on the radar screen of my brain. An agent, who I'd submitted a contemporary romance novel to, suggested I look into it, because at that time, it was what she published most frequently. She told me I have a gift for good 'characterization' and might want to give it a try.
When I e-mailed a friend about it, she promptly sent me a Christian catalog featuring many Amish novels and also sent a copy of, The Shunning by Beverly Lewis.
My jaw dropped. How could there be such a genre and I haven't heard of it? I immediately began reading the novel. I got hooked. BUT...could I ever write any kind of story about a group of people I knew so little about?
And so the journey began...the research...the drives to an Amish area in upstate, NY...the seeking out of ex-Amish who could help clarify things...the regular reading of the many Amish novels by various authors... exhausting the Internet of every bit of Amish info I could get...watching all the Amish reality shows that had suddenly become so popular...and a blog of my 'Amish Discoveries.' http://amishdiscoveries.blogspot.com
I even went as far as making Whoopie Pies.
Granted, back-in-the-day, my husband and I had visited Lancaster County, PA and were among the Amish for several days, enjoying their fresh markets, hearty family style restaurant meals, and a tour of a 'real' Amish farm and home. When we got back, I made my first Shoofly Pie, and that was the end of my curiosity about the Amish people and their customs.
Upon introspection, I've asked myself why I pursue this genre of writing, when after all, I can write about what I have a stronger platform on; a firm knowledge and familiarity. Sure, an agent suggested it, and I respected her book market savvy within the Christian Inspiration genre when I first set out doing this, but...the Amish? She might have well as asked me to write about the Alaskan Tundra, that is how far removed I felt.
I realize now, that I've become genuinely interested in these unadorned hard working people from the gradual, at times arduous, pursuit of gathering information about them. Could be because I've always enjoyed learning about different cultures, their customs, religion, and foods. I love languages, especially since I come from a bi-lingual background of Italian and English. Got a taste of Japanese, when I played Judo, Spanish, in High School, and Russian, when new neighbors moved into our area. And now it's Pennsylvania Dutch, the language most Amish speak in their homes. Of course, other than Italian, I am by no means, fluent in these languages, but I can say enough to be polite and friendly.
Of course, there is much more depth and complexity to the Amish, as with every other culture, than meets the eye. And as contradictory as this sounds, I want a fair amount of truth to ring forth in my fictional Amish stories. It seems to be, for me (coming from a non-fiction writing background) the hardest part of this endeavor toward creating a good Amish novel.
Many readers want to read about an idyllic lifestyle they assume the Amish lead. Others want every dark detail that emerges about Amish life. For the most part, it is a mixture of the secrecy (we being outsiders, and they being in the world but not of it) and uniqueness of the Plain people (no electricity, an eight grade education, horse and buggies, and other mandated traditions) that tend to fascinate and draw readers to the Amish genre. The Amish are a very private people, even among themselves. And it took personal interaction with them for me to learn that truth.
Note: Photos taken by Sylvia Hasenkopf during a 2014 visit with me to Palatine, NY
Sunday, January 25, 2015
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Sometimes we come across one of those stories with no mysterious turns, no surprises, and undeniable predictability. Perhaps even typos and failings of good grammar. Yet we continue reading on.
While many of us enjoy novels and even biographies for entertainment, a good number of us relish the being swept away part…taken into a pleasant atmosphere; an ideal environment…respite from various stressful struggles in each of our unique realities.
Simplicity often finds its way to a needy heart and soul in just such books. The author simply tells his or her story well, with no intent except to bring a spark of hope, maybe a twinkle of light, and a dribble of faith into our lives.
In such stories, there are no murders to figure out, no love triangles, or cliff hangers leading to Book Two. (No criticism of those books meant – I am merely speaking of another kind of book here.)
Instead, we might find ourselves in the midst of a loving family with full acceptance of who we are, gracious siblings, and two parents who are not only kind to their children but also to one another. We want to visit there for a while.
Or we might find ourselves in a dream we aspire to, or have long ago lost and unable to rekindle…dancing in a school play, singing a favorite song without flaw, cuddling a newborn infant, looking out from the top of the Empire State Building, rowing on a peaceful lake, living in a house in the mountains or by the sea, being able to run freely without the burden of chronic pain or limitation. How wonderful to be taken to these places and/or experiences in the midst of our storms.
We all have wishes and dreams dancing around inside of us. And some stories let them dance free, even if just for a day or two. And that is all that such stories do. That is the task of them.
No alluring hook at the end of each chapter, or a clincher at the close of the overall story.
The goal is to bring the reader to a good place for a while. Calm and easy.
The simplicity of good story telling can ‘take’ us to a rainy day in Manhattan, where people gather in cafes and coffee shops sipping hot lattes, ‘tweeting’ and chatting, as yellow taxi cabs rush by. Those not fortunate enough with time to stop, hurry past under colorful umbrellas nearly colliding into one another. It all makes for a cozy kind of rainy day. We linger.
We turn to the next page, and the next…we finish a book that perhaps ends up in the bargain bin of Barnes and Noble because it is not one of the big name authors or an attention grabber that might procure movie possibilities. But it has done its job…for me…maybe for you…the way a simple smile can change the day of the weary recipient.
For this, I write on…
Monday, January 12, 2015
We are the people who stay up past 12am
finishing a story.
We're misunderstood and underpaid.
We spend our free time fixing plot bunnies.
But we bring to life characters and a
world that society never knew about.
Because we remember being like you,
wanting to escape from reality.
I am a Writer...and I love it."