Q: What are some of the misconceptions the public has about the Amish way of life?
It’s always foolish to generalize a population. That’s what happens when people watch TV shows about the Amish—they draw a conclusion and apply it to 250,000 people. The Amish can’t be jammed into one-size-fits-all. The problem with these TV shows is that they focus on a few Amish who have chosen to leave . . . and they left for a reason. The shows are not highlighting the lives of the 85-90% who choose to remain in the church. Their story isn’t getting told. That’s one of the reasons I like to read “The Budget,” an Amish-Mennonite newspaper—it gives a nationwide picture of the Amish and you can see the satisfaction and contentment in their lives.
Next myth: Stopping school at eighth grade means that one’s education stops. So not true! The Amish have a core value of lifelong learning and mastering concepts. My favorite story is about an Amish man who ran a dairy until his eldest son was old enough to take over the day-to-day management of it. This dad then taught himself all about electricity and hired out as an electrician. Keep in mind—he had never used electricity!
I could go on and on and on.
Q: In your latest fiction series, one of the characters has a heart transplant. It comes up in this story as well. Are the Amish open to modern medical treatment?
The Amish do use doctors and hospitals and are open to modern medical treatment. They don’t have medical or life insurance because it would require joining with others who are not Amish. Instead, the church pools money to help families cover medical costs of their members. Perhaps because they are cost-conscious, they do make use of alternative health treatments: remedies, chiropractors, reflexology, etc. Above all, what I’ve noticed is that they have a deep belief in eternal life, so a grim diagnosis (like Amos Lapp had in The Keeper) is faced with acceptance and trust in God.
Q: What first drew you to writing Amish fiction?
My grandfather was raised Plain and I grew up interacting with my Old Order German Baptist relatives. I was always intrigued by them—lovely, gentle, kind, faithful people. I admired their simple life—their homes, their gardens, their interest in things without the need to own things. When my agent connected me to an editor at Revell who was looking for a writer about the Plain people, it all came together in a non-fiction book contract, Amish Peace. That book became a foundation for me to write credible fiction about the Amish, and was a finalist for the ECPA Book of the Year. I just love that book.
Q: It seems that the Amish can sometimes be apprehensive about letting outsiders into their communities. How are you able to research certain aspects of Amish life?
My relatives have opened some doors for me, and I’ve had the blessing of making some wonderful Amish and Mennonite friends who are willing to answer questions and be a resource. I have a full disclosure policy with anyone I am writing about—they know I’m a writer, they can read and correct the essays, and then we change names and location to protect privacy. Don’t get me wrong—I have faced some shut doors! But many open ones, too.
Q: Amish fiction is such a popular genre of Christian fiction. Why do you think so many readers love stories of the Amish?
There’s not just one simple answer to that question, but I think you could combine some current issues and see why the sub-genre is attractive to readers and continues to grow.
The recession certainly plays a role—this sub-genre took off as the economy crashed. Amish stories transport a reader into a more peaceful world—and peace combats financial insecurity and anxiety.
The galloping pace of technology might be another piece of this puzzle. Isn’t it ironic what little spare time you have despite so many time saving devices?
The pastoral setting speaks to, and reminds us, of the soothing effect of nature.
And then . . . naturally, a love story is always wonderful. Amish or otherwise.