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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 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 plain folks 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 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 old order 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 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 forbade the use of power tools of any kind, even those powered by batteries. They 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?