Saturday, July 3, 2010
After living all my life (never mind how many years!) in Pennsylvania, I’ve just recently come to appreciate what we all owe to William Penn. Oh, sure, we studied him in 8th grade Pennsylvania history, but not very much has stuck since then. But as I’ve stumbled through some research on my own family genealogy, as well as researching the Plain People for the two series of books I’m writing about them, I’ve renewed my appreciation for Penn’s unique attitude, which has made us what we are. Without his “holy experiment” in encouraging immigrants of all religions to settle here and to worship as they chose, our culture would be so much poorer.
I read an estimate recently that nearly one-quarter of all Pennsylvania residents are of German descent, which seems astonishing to me. Probably most of those Germanic ancestors landed in Philadelphia in the 1700s, mine among them, and after all these years, we’re still here!
Among the groups who came seeking religious freedom, the Amish must be the most fascinating. Amish culture may have made its first impression on a general audience when Harrison Ford donned that Amish straw hat in Witness, but folks in publishing are still shaking their heads over the current wave of popularity of Amish fiction. Though searching to understand why readers across the country suddenly can’t get enough of tales of rumspringa and barn-raisings, publishers are naturally eager to provide what the reading public wants.
Several years ago, in the course of an existing inspirational romance series set in Pennsylvania, I introduced a few Amish characters. They seemed to fit the story I was telling, and they simply walked on. I wondered what my editor would say. Her response? Do more of that!
So now I have two separate series going for two different publishing houses, both with Amish settings. The Pleasant Valley series, for Berkley Books, is series of trade-size books focusing on the residents of a mythical central Pennsylvania valley, based very much on what I see when I look out my office window. Anna’s Return, Book 3, came out this month, and it seems to be doing well. Book 4, Sarah’s Gift, will be out in March. It’s completed now, and my editor and I have been back and forth via e-mail all week, trying to firm up the cover. For some reason, the art department just doesn’t seem to ‘get’ Amish, and didn’t understand why I wouldn’t want a woman wearing bright pink lip gloss on the cover!
My second series, for HQN Books, is a romantic suspense series which begins with Murder in Plain Sight, releasing in December. The two main characters are not Amish, but are involved in defending an Amish youth accused of murder. This series is set in Lancaster County, and since that’s obviously a real place, I have to be considerably more careful about my setting, though I hope readers may forgive a little artistic license in what I put where.
Writing about the Plain People has been a trip into my own family’s past for me. The Dovenbergers and the Ungers came to Pennsylvania from the same areas of Germany and Switzerland and at the same time as the Amish, and although not plain, have held onto many of the same traditions, especially when it comes to food. I’ve compiled a brochure of Pennsylvania Dutch recipes from family and friends, and I’d be happy to send a copy to anyone who cares to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy Reading and Eating,
(And give a tip of the hat to Billy Penn the next time you pass him!)