Mindy Starns Clark added Amish fiction to her extensive booklist a few years ago. She now has four Amish fiction books under her belt: Shadows of Lancaster County and Secrets of Harmony Grove, and, with co-author Leslie Gould, The Amish Midwife and The Amish Nanny (July 2011). In addition, she wrote the nonfiction A Pocket Guide to the Amish Life, from which she created a website, www.apocketguidetoamishlife.com. She’s currently working on The Amish Baker with Gould.
Recently, The Christian Post asked Clark about her Amish books and the genre’s growing popularity.
CP: Why do you write Amish fiction?
Clark: Living near Lancaster County, Pa., I have always been curious about the Amish, what they believe, and why they live the way they do. As frequently happens with topics that intrigue me, I found myself wanting to research and explore the subject in a novel.
What I didn’t anticipate was how big a challenge researching the Amish and getting things correct was actually going to be. Believe it or not, though the preliminary plotline for that book (Shadows of Lancaster County) featured three topics I knew very little about going in – Amish life, DNA/genetic manipulation and Napoleonic history – but of those three, the hardest topic for me to grasp, by far, was the Amish.
The reason I wanted to write Amish fiction in the first place was simple curiosity; the reason I continue to write it now is twofold. First, I deeply respect the Amish faith and enjoy exploring it in my stories. Second, I’m eager to continue correcting inaccuracies about the Amish, what they believe and why they live the way they do.
CP: What makes a book Amish?
Clark: That seems to be a matter of opinion. Most booksellers would consider that anything with a buggy or a bonnet on the cover to be an Amish book. Personally, I think any fiction that includes fully-fleshed out Amish characters – whether peripheral to the story or at its center – can fall into that category as long as the story delves at least a little bit into Amish beliefs or practices or mindset. A lot of the reviews for my mysteries call them “unlike most Amish novels” or “not your grandmother’s Amish novel,” but for the most part they are still considered Amish novels. As long as my titles, front-cover design and back-cover descriptions make it clear that mine are primarily mysteries, I think they can fairly qualify as Amish novels as well.
CP: How authentic are most Amish books to the Amish way of living?
Clark: There are tremendous inaccuracies about the Amish on the Internet, on television, and in film documentaries. But, I’m happy to report that most Amish fiction seems to be getting it right-so far, at least. Statistically speaking, of course, the more authors who attempt to write about the Amish, the more chances there will be for mistakes. But by and large, in my opinion, one of the most accurate, authentic views anyone can find of the Amish and their way of life is in Amish fiction.
CP: How do you keep your Amish books “real”?
Clark: I use only those sources that I know for a fact are correct. My sources include a small group of trusted Amish scholars such as Donald Kraybill, John Hostetler, Steven Holt, Richard Stevik and David Weaver-Zercher. I also use information from the accurate and very helpful blog www.amishamerica.com. In addition, I use the first-hand knowledge and impressions that I have gained from the Amish themselves.
CP: Who is buying Amish fiction?
Clark: Amish fiction used to be just for people who liked to read peaceful, gentle stories that unfolded slowly and gave the reader a sense of calm and rest and simplicity. These days, that audience has expanded to include anyone with curiosity about this people group or who yearns for a simpler, more God-centric way of life.
CP: Why have Christian readers embraced Amish fiction?
Clark: Believe it or not, there are no significant theological differences between the beliefs of the Amish and those of every other mainline Christian protestant denomination. I think Christians recognize that for the most part the Amish “walk-the-walk” of our faith, living out what they claim to believe in – in everything that they do. At a time when even mature Christians can struggle to be “in” but not “of” the world, we non-Amish Christians can often find ourselves compromising in many small ways. The Amish, on the other hand, have set up their society specifically so that it will be easier for them to resist cultural temptation and religious compromise.
The wider reading audience, Christian or not, has also embraced Amish fiction, and I think that’s mostly because of its presentation of a simpler, gentler way of life. The more harried, activity-packed, digitally-bombarded we become, the more appealing the Amish lifestyle can seem – even to those who cannot fathom giving up even a single one of their modern comforts or conveniences!
CP: What’s the future for Amish fiction?
Clark: During the summer of 2010, I asked the same thing of three different people: a buyer for a major bookstore chain, a sales representative for a major publishing house, and a renowned literary agent. All three answered me differently!
The buyer said Amish fiction had peaked, and would now begin to fade, and ultimately disappear. The salesman agreed that it had peaked, but said that Amish fiction was still a strong and established subgenre that wasn’t going away, but simply settling down from its initial surge. He felt it would be around “forever” in some capacity.
The agent told me that whether or not it had peaked yet in the Christian market – and he wasn’t ready to make that call – he was now hearing from secular publishers who were looking for Amish fiction projects. I really hope it doesn’t come to that (to non-Christians writing Amish fiction), because I doubt a non-Christian could ever comprehend the subtleties of the faith, or depict that part of the Amish experience correctly.