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Karen Harper | Why the Amish?

August 20, 2011

Karen HarperFALL FROM PRIDEI’ve written four previous romantic suspense novels set among the Amish, and FALL FROM PRIDE begins a new trilogy.  Why do I like to use the Amish for my novels?  And what makes Amish books popular today?

Let me try to answer that second question first and hope some of you “fabulous Fresh Fiction aficionados” are willing to weigh in on this.

I think Amish novels are popular today partly because of good old curiosity.  We want to know how these “separate” people cope with the modern world when they chose not to be completely part of it.  It is said the Amish live “on” America, not “in” it.  Of course, for us modern readers, there is always the lure of nostalgia when we see the Amish way of life:  buggies, pioneer-style dress and hair; huge farms with horses pulling plows.  But I think there is a deeper reason modern, high-tech Americans are intrigued by the Plain People.

The more high-stress and impersonal our lives become, the better the Amish look.  Their days are not run by the internet—not even phones, though some of them use cell phones for business.  No lines snake into their homes to tie them to outside forces, including electricity.  Gas lantern and generators will do, danki. In our world of high divorce rates and kids rebelling from their parents, their way of life looks so solid.  The Amish marry for life; they manage to keep most of their children at home or nearby.  Their senior generation stays at home or in a small house next door—no retirement villages.  And their church communities are generous and loving.

As for why I love to write about the Amish in my romantic suspense novels, I live about two hours from the heart of Amish country and for years have made both day trips and longer visits to the largest settlement of the Plain People in America.  (No, it’s not the Lancaster County area of Pennsylvania anymore, but Holmes County, Ohio.)  I have long been fascinated by this lovely rural area with its rolling hills, buggies, big farms, small towns—but especially by the Amish people.  As an author always looking for unusual cultures and exciting characters to include in my stories, my Amish romantic suspense novels are a labor of love.

I once had a TV interviewer ask me why I set contemporary novels among a group of people who seemed to live in the past:  no phones or electricity in their homes; mistrust of law enforcement and lawyers; a tight social group; and shunning laws against those who stray.  Exactly! I said.  When a crime impacts the lives of the Amish, they don’t just call the cops.  An Amish hero or heroine must face great danger in an isolated setting to solve the crime on their own.  And woe betide them if an Amish person falls in love with an outsider (which, I admit I use in every book.)  So what is better than forbidden love and an Amish amateur sleuth having to solve a crime with the help of that forbidden love?

I’ve also been asked, since the Amish keep quite separate from modern society (although they do want us “English” or “moderns” to eat at their excellent, home cookin’ restaurants and buy their beautiful furniture and quilts!) how can I do the research for these novels?  My answer—very calmly and carefully.  When I visit Amish country, I dress conservatively and always respect their ways—no photos, for example.  I have hung out at a quilt shop where Amish ladies are working, I’ve asked barn builders questions, I’ve corresponded with the Amish, and I’ve visited Amish homes.  (Snail mail of course—no internet.)

One thing I have learned from being ‘close up and personal’ with these fascinating, admirable people is that, although they school their children only through the 8th grade, they are amazingly self-educated in many areas, though they are never “prideful” enough to say so.  I’ve met Amish who could teach college level courses in ornithology, herbs, even German history.

The Amish have a saying, “It’s not all cakes and pies,” which means they do face challenges and troubles.  That too gives me material for a suspense novel:  hate crimes against the Amish; genetic challenges; even barn arsons—the crime that Sarah Kauffman, an Amish barn painter, and Nate MacKenzie, an “outsider” arson investigator solve together, while falling in love in FALL FROM PRIDE.

I’ve had great adventures among the Amish, and I’d love to hear yours.  Do you have the Amish living near you?

I wish each of you happy, scary, romantic reading with my new Amish series which begins with FALL FROM PRIDE.   Please check out my website for more about the Amish.

Best Wishes Always,

Karen Harper

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