Nov 10, 2020
Amish fiction tends to be a bit polarizing. Readers tend to love it or hate it. Are the criticisms valid? One has to wonder because, despite the naysayers, Amish fiction has a huge following. What is so appealing about Amish fiction, what do readers expect, and is the claim that "If you've read one, you've read them all" a fair one?
Amish author, Jennifer Beckstrand, joined me in a conversation about Amish fiction, her books, and a super exciting collection that released today, Amish Christmas Miracles.
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I had a list of questions that probably took poor Jennifer for a wild ride, but anyone who visits many of the Christian fiction Facebook groups, the Goodreads discussions, or just chats Christian fiction with friends knows that Amish fiction has rabid fans and derisive critics. Knowing how readers felt about that, I thought it would be nice to get an author's perspective. I asked about:
Jennifer loves it because enjoys a happy story, and she said that people appreciate the simplicity of the lifestyle and that it's a kinder, gentler romance than many contemporary romances. I'm going to out her here and share that while I cut it out of the audio, she did coin a new word. "Kindler." We had a good laugh over that.
She also made a fascinating point about how it really does combine historical fiction with contemporary. That really hit home with me because the first Amish fiction I really loved was Suzanne Woods Fisher's Anna's Crossing series.
Additionally, one of Amish fiction's most criticized elements is also why it is popular. Jennifer shared that publishers like it because Walmart does. Readers know exactly what to expect from a book with an Amish cover. The very predictability of general Amish plots is also what those readers like. I found that fascinating.
They also love the strong faith element of people whose entire lives are an act of worship.
Not hardly. For example, in the collection we discussed, there are fourteen different Amish authors and Jennifer reckons that this probably means fourteen different locations including Maine and Maryland--two states that I didn't know had Amish communities.
Some say that the characters in these books are a bit too "perfect," and Jennifer admits sometimes they are. She and many authors like her, however, enjoy writing more flawed, relatable characters.
I pointed out that the tendency to write "Mary Sue" characters is by no means limited to Amish fiction, and after some reflection, I think that like many others, I've often held Amish fiction to a higher standard than other fiction. That doesn't seem quite right, does it?
So we ended up discussing how genre fiction all have formulas within each genre and how the author's job is to avoid turning it into a cliche.
Not just location differences, but cultural differences within those locations make all Amish stories different. They actually put a foreword in Amish Christmas Miracles pointing out that the different places would have different lives, rules, traditions, and things.
Jennifer also talked about her original research when she decided to write Amish fiction, and after immersing herself in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Amish culture, she decided to set her books in Wisconsin and was dismayed to learn from an Amish friend that those Wisconsin folks were very different!
People have ideas about what Amish is and isn't and when we impose our ideas of what is and isn't sufficiently Amish, we're kind of arrogant. Fun fact: In my daughter's Amish town, I saw an Amish man getting out of a car at McDonald's, talking on the phone. That's okay there. However, they're only allowed to use a certain kind of (uncovered in crazy cold Indiana, no less) sort of buggy. Larger families have "three-buggy garages" because they need them to fit everyone into said buggy!
When I read Buried Secrets by Rachel J. Good, my knowledge of the Amish was limited to groups NOT like the one Rachel was writing about and that yes, some Amish do decorate nurseries for their babies!
People love varying amounts of the Pennsylvania Dutch in their books, and as we were talking about it, I realized it would be a good thing to have a list of authors who use a lot and others who don't use as much for folks who enjoy it.
Jennifer likes to use just enough to create that setting--a reminder to the reader that these people are actually speaking and thinking in Pennsylvania Dutch.
Jennifer (J.E.B.) Spredemann was talking about how she wanted to do a box set, so eventually, those two and Rachel J. Good got together and found eleven more authors who wanted to do it.
Now I read Jennifer's story, Peanut Butter Christmas, and seriously. Amish, Santa Claus, Miracles, and faith struggles... what more could you want from a Christmas story. How about absolutely adorable twin boys who don't quite get how this Santa thing works. I also told my own Santa story from my childhood. Eeep!
The authors are as follows and I'm listing a few of each authors' books that I thought you might want to take note of:
The regular retail price is 9.99, so you really want to grab it fast. Seriously, Jennifer's story is worth the dollar price tag several times over all by itself, so grab it while you can.
Find the full show notes at Chautona.com