On Writing: Using the Amish in a Story

There are pockets of Amish people all over the southern half of Ohio. In the southeastern quadrant of the state and to the east as far north as Canton, you can find them wherever you can find tillable countryside. They are abundant around the little village that I live in and, about 20 miles away, they practically own the town of Coshocton. They’re also the largest cultural set in the village fast turning city of Berlin (Ohio) and of Millersburg named after it’s Amish founders. Surnames like Miller, Yoder and Hershberger are as common around here as Jones and Smith are in the rest of the country.

Go into any Amish owned or operated general store or gift shop these days and you’re likely to see an interesting site: romance books focused on Amish relationships. They’re being sold primarily to the ‘English’ customers of these Amish businesses, of course. The vast majority of Amish women don’t read such things…at least not that we English would ever know about. There seems to be a pretty strong market for the books that has no doubt been fueled by the nationwide exposure the Amish orders are getting on their culture and lifestyle from hit television series like ‘Breaking Amish’ (TLC), ‘Amish Mafia’ (Discovery) and ‘Return to Amish’ (TLC). Women are buying these books full of sweet (read ‘chaste’) romances.

In the village where I live, interaction with members of the Amish order that’s predominate in this area is pretty  common. They use the post office and buy supplies and feed at the store. They eat in the pizza shop. They buy ice and sometimes fuel (for those whose particular church allows power tools) at the gas station. There isn’t a homeowner in town who hasn’t contracted at some point with an Amish roofer or carpenter. Most have bought livestock feed or lumber from Amish millers, vegetables from Amish farmers, and baked, canned and dried goods (like noodles) from Amish women.

Amish roofers put a new roof on our garage shortly after we bought this house. We bought it with the full knowledge that the roof leaked like a sieve. During the replacement work, we had an interesting conversation with a young Amish man who just didn’t get the concept of a female head of household and no men around to speak of. His father and boss, long used to dealing with the ‘English’, just laughed at his confusion and told us ‘Amishman’ jokes.

Young Amish carpenters set the posts and fixed the support beams for the deck that leads from our back door some 48 feet to our above ground pool. They were from an order that completely forbid the use of power tools of any kind, even those powered by battery. The dug holes for and placed 30 4″x 4″ support posts by hand. They affixed support beams with huge lag bolts – by hand. When it was time to lay the decking, our then 17 and 19 year old nieces helped by running drills as the Amish carpenters set the thousand plus screws the whole operation took. Of course, in the heat of July and with an open pool before them, you can imagine what the young ladies were wearing. The young Amish men didn’t have to imagine it at all…

With books featuring the Amish for an ‘English’ audience already out there and sold in Amish stores, with the Amish featured on cable television, and with the proliferation of their interaction with the worldly people around them – including with me personally – it’s an enticing thought to use them or some sort of interaction with them in a story. If you’ve been following this blog at all, you know my current published books, ‘Relic’ and ‘Busy Bees’ are works of lesbian themed mystery fiction. My next book, ‘Dana’s Dilemma’ continues the series and features the same two lesbian protagonists. The book has a secondary story line focused on an Amish character.

Have I crossed the line? Is it bad to include an Amish or former Amish character in a book that has lifestyle themes so different from the Amish lifestyle? Thoughts?

Amish

About Anne Hagan

I'm an East Central Ohio based government employee by day and a fiction author by night. I specialize in mystery fiction featuring lesbian sleuths and cozy fiction featuring women sleuths. I also dabble in romance especially romantic lesfic. I live with my wife and our dogs in a tiny town that’s even smaller than the Morelville of my first fiction series and we wouldn't have it any other way. My wife grew up here and she has always called this little village home. Though it’s an ultra-conservative rural community, we're surrounded here by family, longtime friends and many other wonderful people with open hearts and minds. My wife and I are the co-owners of a commercial haunted house: Hagan's House of Horrors. Much as my dream has always been to write fiction, hers has been to create it through the medium of horror. We went full commercial in 2015. Watch us as we grow!
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2 Responses to On Writing: Using the Amish in a Story

  1. Amish are the same as the rest of us. Their lives are being sold through books and TV shows because they’re different from us at first glance and that difference is interesting in the same way fantasy books are. Using an Amish character is absolutely not crossing a line. I live near Pittsburgh so while I was aware of the Amish there were never any near me, but now that I’m going to school in central PA it’s not uncommon to see them at Walmart when we go shopping or to have to pass their buggies on Sundays. I worked here at school with a girl who was ex-Mennonite and she was just like the rest of us working there, but when we got to talking I found that she was basically shunned even though she had never formally joined the church because she had tattoos, had children out of wedlock, and was a lesbian. They’re people just like anyone else and deal with the same problems. Some people are more respectful of them, like when I drive up my boyfriend’s driveway at night he has be turn off my headlights since he shares a driveway with an Amish neighbor, but you can write them and still respect the people even if you don’t agree with their culture (such as shunning, the lack of education, not gays allowed, etc.).

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    • Anne Hagan says:

      Thank you for your input Charlotte. I am including an Amish/ex-Amish character in my third book but there’s the potential to take the character further in the series and perhaps even interact with the community. I look at this a lot like the sex/no sex in a mystery story debate. How much adds to the story in a viable way and how much of it is done just to sell books?

      Liked by 1 person

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