Last time I talked about how my research into the Amish led to my friendship with Dutch Wolfe, a bona fide Amish romance writer. I touched on the lucrativeness of his genre and its aversion to sex, both overt and implied. In part 2, I examine the reception to Amish Vampires in Space and speculate about the current state of Amish fiction.
Thankfully, my publisher didn’t care about sex.
Ahem … I mean, he didn’t see the Mary Salter vamping scene—the one that could turn off the typical Amish romance reader—as a problem.
Those readers weren’t really our market, after all. Amish Vampires in Space was a science fiction story with Amish characters. Not the reverse. I pressed on.
But who holds the reins?
The purity requirement in Amish romances is primarily driven by readers, not publishers. Who are those readers? Generally, they are the same women of childbearing age who frequent Christian bookstores. Their influence is also why science fiction and fantasy is difficult to find in those same stores. And since Amish romance operates as such a cash cow for the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA), it is fiercely guarded.
This is something I didn’t fully grasp until I experienced it firsthand. I believed AViS was an interesting mental exercise. I allowed me to explore meaningful themes while trying to make the implausible, plausible. It was speculative fiction! That’s what I do!
The announcement of AViS didn’t just raise eyebrows, though, it raised hackles. Some couldn’t see past the title and cover. Anyone who put “Amish” and “vampires” in the same book must be evil and dark, right? And “what fellowship does light have with darkness”? 1 One of my speculative author friends had someone become angry at her just because we shared the same publishing house.
In the minds of the enraged, I was either outright evil, or picking on a people group. Consequently, they justified their ire as “defending the Amish.” One Amish romance writer repeatedly mocked the concept on social media, then attacked me personally. She said I shouldn’t have written about the culture unless I had Amish background like she did. I was exploiting the Amish!
When I mentioned this encounter to Dutch, he said that everyone who writes about the Amish exploits them to a degree. They’re all using another culture for personal gain.
Raising their barn
Beyond the taboo on sexuality, the typical buggy-and-bonnet romance paints a picture of Amish life that is simply untrue. Their “Amish” are near-mythical beings, living in harmony with God, earth, and man. They are the epitome of Christian behavior, in the same way the glammed-up models on the covers suggest physical perfection. 2
As a writer, I can’t help but wonder if that portrayal is healthy.
With my earlier DarkTrench trilogy I speculated about a world under sharia law. The premise grew from the fact that there are some in the world who would like to see that very thing happen. Whether my particular vision of the future could realistically happen or not isn’t important. The place of speculative fiction is to take an idea and extrapolate, to breathe it into life within the pages of the novel. To see what that version of the future might look like. One of the criticisms leveled against that series, however, was that I painted the culture as too bleak. That the denizens of this future sharia world were all bad or evil.
In the case of Amish fiction, though, we have the opposite scenario. We have a real culture being portrayed in a fantastical, near-utopian way. It seems to me (donning my speculative hat again) that there could be at least two unanticipated and unhealthy consequences of such a thing.
One is that the unreal portrayal could create a standard that no real human, Amish or not, could ever obtain. How does the typical reader of Amish fiction judge her/his spouse when compared to Jebediah the chaste and holy?
The other, possibly more worrisome, result is that the culture could be seen as so pristine that real problems that happen within the real Amish community could be overlooked or dismissed.
Are these speculations real concerns? And if they are, should Amish romance really be such a large part of the Christian market? I don’t know, but I think it is something that bears discussion.
Back to the sci-fi
With AViS and my recently released sequel Amish Zombies from Space, my intent was never to exploit or offend. I simply wanted to tell stories. And with Dutch’s guidance, I endeavored to write Amish characters as real people, not as caricatures of spiritual perfection. They are just as flawed and conflicted as their non-Amish counterparts.
I hope I’ve done them justice.
And I really hope Dutch gets to write his own speculative novel someday.
- 2 Cor. 6:14. The text is actually warning Christians against being personally “unequally yoked” with non-Christians. It is not talking about the combination of “light” and “dark” ideas or characters in a narrative work. -Editor ↩
- My friend Dutch is one of the notable exceptions here. The Amish in his novels are as nuanced and real as he can make them. ↩