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