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Thursday, March 8, 2012

True to Life: A Guest Post by Naomi C King

Today, romance author Naomi King is visiting us to talk about how accurate, or true to life, are Amish romances. Amish romances are a sub-genre that have become very popular in the past few years. As with any story inspired by real world people, events, things, etc. some people question the accuracy and authenticity of those stories. Naomi will address that in her post.

A little bit about Naomi, from her website:
I’ve called Missouri home for most of my life, and most folks don’t realize that several Old Older Amish and Mennonite communities make their home here, as well. The rolling pastureland, woods, and small towns along county highways make a wonderful setting for Plain populations—and for stories about them, too! While Jamesport, Missouri is the largest Old Order Amish settlement west of the Mississippi River, other communities have also found the affordable farm land ideal for raising crops, livestock, and running the small family-owned businesses that support their families.

Like my heroine, Miriam Lantz, of my new Seasons of the Heart series, I love to feed people—to share my hearth and home. I bake bread and goodies and I love to try new recipes. I put up jars and jars of green beans, tomatoes, beets and other veggies every summer. All my adult life, I’ve been a deacon, a dedicated church musician and choir member, and we hosted a potluck group in our home for more than twenty years.
Like Abby Lambright, heroine of my new Home at Cedar Creek series, I consider it a personal mission to be a listener and a peacemaker—to heal broken hearts and wounded souls. Faith and family, farming and frugality matter to me: like Abby, I sew and enjoy fabric arts—I made my wedding dress and the one Mom wore, too, when I married into an Iowa farm family more than thirty-five years ago! When I’m not writing, I crochet and sew, and I love to travel.
I recently moved to Minnesota when my husband got a wonderful new job, so now he and I and our border collie, Ramona, are exploring our new state and making new friends.
I’d love to hear from you! Email me from here on my new site, or write to me at Charlotte Hubbard/Naomi King, P.O. Box 18731, West St. Paul MN 55118. I hope you enjoy reading my new Amish books as much as I love writing them!


True to Life 

Are Amish novels true to life? Short answer: yes—and no.

            If it’s an escape into a simpler time you’re looking for . . . an idyllic, pastoral world where families gather around the table to eat wonderful home-cooked meals in tidy farmhouses, and their conversations aren’t interrupted by cell phones and text messages, that’s an accurate portrayal of everyday life for Amish folks. 

            They don’t wear watches. They travel only as fast and as far as their horses can pull their carriages. The rhythm of their days and lives is more in sync with the world as God created it—and for those of us who are addicted to Facebook and shopping online with our iPads, this lifestyle sounds rather gratifying and serene as we sit with our electronic devices feeling vaguely . . . isolated. Considering how many kids most Amish families include, and how older parents often live in the same house with a married son and his kids, isolation is not a problem for them! Cell phones and hand-held games don’t allow the kids to splinter off into their own little worlds, so they actually hold conversations with the people around them.

            But does a reader get the real skinny on the Plain life when she reads an Amish novel? The whole truth? Nope. By nature and faith, Old Order Amish don’t reveal or share details of such rituals as wedding ceremonies or the falling of the lot (their method of letting God decide who will become a preacher or a bishop, the leaders of their community) to outsiders because these events are sacred—not to be defiled by those who haven’t committed themselves to the church. So, while many best-selling authors write of Amish weddings and Sunday services—even those authors who live near Amish communities, or who have relatives who’ve left the Plain faith—some of the details are made up. Or written around.

            But then, isn’t that the very nature of a novel? Fiction is all about entertainment and escape, and it allows for a certain amount of wiggle room and drama: the whole point of a novel is to make your reader say “I couldn’t put it down.” A good novelist knows better than to belabor the stench of an Amish hog lot when you’re downwind on a hot summer day, or to dwell on the high incidence of genetic disorders and infant mortality among the Amish, who intermarry more than the English (non-Amish) population. 

            So the wedding scene in ABBY FINDS HER CALLING, for example, presents details of the ceremony I could glean from research and talking to my source fellow in Jamestown, Missouri—the largest Old Order community west of the Mississippi River—but the fact that my Amish books are set in Missouri also means that some of my details about clothing, weddings, and community life may differ from what Beverly Lewis or Marta Perry present in their Lancaster County-set tales. Missouri Amish, for instance, marry at any time of the year rather than waiting until the traditional month of November, when the harvest work is done, as most Amish in the Eastern states do.

            And, when folks have read the premise of ABBY, I’ve heard a whisper or two about “oh, a nice Amish girl wouldn’t get pregnant before she was married.” Well, Amish kids have the same raging hormones the rest of us did at that age. And a lot of readers belong to a generation when premarital sex and pregnancy was not talked about—when girls “disappeared” to a distant aunt’s during their pregnancy, and came home empty-armed to try to catch a husband while keeping their sin a secret. So a lot of Amish stories that deal with this issue follow the same pattern because that’s how most Amish communities still deal with this predicament.

            ABBY FINDS HER CALLING, however, takes a different path: love and forgiveness override Old Order rules as the Lambright family decides to support young Suzanna’s decision to keep her baby, despite the shame her behavior has brought upon them . . . despite her betrayal of James, her would-be groom, who lives across the road and must deal with his feelings as the father of his fiancĂ©e’s child finally comes forward.

            Another interesting issue also affects how true-to-life an Amish story will be: editorial preference. Because I’m currently writing two different Amish series for two different publishers under two names, I’ve discovered that my two editors have different ideas about what is Amish and what is not! Or, put differently, each editor has her own vision for which details feel right (homemade bread exclusively, dark colors only for clothing, for instance) and which realities burst that idyllic bubble she wants to live in as she immerses herself in my books. These ladies have asked such questions as “Would an Amish room be painted yellow?” or “You mean they really would use Velveeta—or Cool Whip—in this recipe?”

            So part of my job as a writer involves ferreting out answers to those questions and working the relevant details into my stories in a convincing way. I subscribe to The Budget, the national weekly Plain newspaper. I research online and by asking questions of authors I consider better experts on some Amish topics. I have quite a collection of factual books about these fascinating folks, as well. I’m also blessed to have that fellow in Jamesport, Missouri who’s a mere email away when I have questions. I do my best to present true-to-life characters in situations Plain people would find themselves in.

            But I’m not Amish, so my Amish fiction is flawed. (I suppose this parallel holds true for those who write vampire novels . . . or serial killer thrillers, or pirate stories . . .) So my mission is to write engaging, compelling stories about the characters I’ve created in Cedar Creek and Willow Ridge, Missouri. And if I give my readers moments of delight and awe, while immersing them in a world where faith and family mean everything, and where God is in control so all is right with the world—even when that world seems to tilt askew on its axis during times of crisis—then I’ve done my job. If, for a few wondrous hours, my readers can forget their hectic schedules and heartaches and some unpleasant realities they wish they didn’t have to deal with, I have indeed lifted them up. And if they’re clamoring for the next book in my series (ROSEMARY OPENS HER HEART, 10/12) they’re happy—and so am I!


By: Naomi C King 
ASIN: B006G3CB52
Length: 305 pages, 555 KB
Release Date:MARCH 6, 2012
Buying Links: Amazon     Barnes & Noble     The Book Depository
My Review of Abby Finds Her Calling 

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