Ohio’s Amish Country is roughly two hours from the farm where I grew up. During my teen years our family took our first family outing to “The A.C.”
Since I came from a rural background, it probably wasn’t as big of a culture shock as it would’ve been for some. There was the feeling of stepping into another world, though. The way the plain folk dressed, the buggies we passed along the way, the shops full of handmade furniture and pastries—it was like riding a time machine to the days of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series.
But when I started writing Amish Vampires in Space—a genre mashup in which the only comedy is the title and premise—I knew my incidental exposure wouldn’t be enough.
Threshing Amish culture
The plot needed authentic Amish characters, and that would mean lots of research. Unfortunately, my favorite research tool, the Internet, didn’t have much to say about the Amish. The Amish don’t own computers, nor do they blog or tend their Wikipedia page.
So I muddled through using what little I could find. I knew some details might need to change before the book was released, but I felt confident about the main plot points. Enough Amish theology and customs were available to make an educated guess.
Following the first round of revisions, my publisher felt the Amish portions still “weren’t foreign enough.” He suggested we find an expert.
Enter Dutch Wolfe.1
Dutch is a bona fide Amish romance writer, with over a dozen published novels and Amish friends he can contact when necessary. He was the ideal person to help a displaced science fiction author like me. A real asset.
Dutch worked through AViS a few chapters at a time. He suggested changes here and there, but generally the plot stood as written. We both were surprised by how close I’d gotten to real-life Amish culture. Maybe those childhood trips helped? Not sure. But the only section that required more than a line or two was one concerning a shunning ceremony. I had it written as a more private affair than it typically is.
My interaction with Dutch gave me more than a better novel, though. It gave me a glimpse into something truly fantastical: The world of Amish romances.
This is where the money is!
The Amish romance genre has been lucrative for many years. According to Newsweek, the total combined books sold by the top two authors “since they began publishing Amish romance in the late 1990s, is closing in on the 30 million mark.” Those top two authors—Beverly Lewis and Wanda Brunstetter—sold more than 200,000 copies in the past 12 months alone.
My friend Dutch isn’t one of those top two authors, but his books do well for him. Writing romances is his sole occupation and provides comfortably for him and his family. When I mentioned how difficult it can be to be a speculative author, Dutch encouraged me to consider writing Amish romances.
“You already know enough to do it,” he said. “And the genre needs male writers.”
Despite its accessibility and profitability, many Amish romance writers would love to be writing something else. A few weeks into his read-through of AViS, Dutch confessed that he wanted to write speculative fiction. Part of his reason for helping me was to connect with authors in my genre. Amish fiction pays the bills, but it isn’t what he feels called to write.
The genre is the CBA 2 version of golden handcuffs. And while we’re talking about restraint …
The Amish don’t have sex!
No, not the actual Amish. They generally have large families. I’m talking about the Amish in Amish romances.
The books are sanitized reading. They rarely hint at sex, and romantic kissing is out, even between married couples. And while Amish romances are read by the Amish themselves, they don’t demand the same level of sanitized content as non-Amish readers.
In a Nov. 3, 2014 USA Today article, author Kelly Long recounts how an encounter with an Amish man changed her focus.
“I asked Dan if there was anything missing from the book or that I’d misrepresented. Dan was quiet for a long moment. Then he said, ‘Kelly, I have thirteen children. How do you think I got them?’ I laughed, but he didn’t. He said, ‘Don’t neuter my people.’”
Dutch has told me similar stories.
As a sci-fi writer, I don’t have a ton of mushy stuff in my books. My first written kiss, in A Star Curiously Singing, came at the behest of the publisher. So, imagine my surprise when Dutch called me with a bit of trepidation in his voice.
“The section around page 230? The one with Mary Salter?”
“Yeah … ?”
In AViS, Mary Salter is a young Amish woman who becomes a vampire and appropriately “vamps” for some men. The dialogue is playful, and there is no physical contact or implied nudity. It is flirtatious at best.
“That spot right there is where all the traditional Amish romance readers will stop reading,” he warned.
“But she doesn’t do anything,” I said. “She has all of her clothes on! Some of them are ripped a little, but—”
“Doesn’t matter. The implication is enough.”
“Well, that’s just crazy.”
He chuckled. “I recommend you remove it,” he said. “There’s a large market for Amish stories out there, Kerry. A large market. But that section will lose them….think about it. Seriously.”
Talk about foreign! What was a sci-fi writer to do?
Ask my publisher, of course …
- Dutch’s name is a pseudonym. Initially, we hoped to have him do a cover blurb recommending AViS. Such was not to be, but not because he didn’t like the story. Sadly, Dutch’s advisors thought being associated with my, ahem, avant-garde work might taint his reputation in his world. ↩
- Christian Booksellers Association. ↩