Author Cindy Woodmall is a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author. In this Kindle post, Cindy shares what makes writing authentically about the Amish so unique. Her upcoming release, "For Every Season," the thrid book in the Amish Vines and Orchards series, is currently available on pre-order.
Writing novels about the Old Order Amish is a wonderful
challenge with a number of unique aspects. As strange as it may sound, when I
pack my bags for a research trip in an Amish home, I’m really packing away one
culture to join another.
Despite the apparent outward differences of the Amish, such
as living without electricity, traveling by a horse-drawn buggy, and wearing
Plain clothes, their true uniqueness isn’t about the obvious. What truly sets
them apart is a private mindset and priorities that, until the last decade or
so, were hidden behind the “Amish-curtain.” Those deeply embedded ways are
foreign to us, and yet if we could rewind back a century, we’d find that the Amish
beliefs—their God-view, world-view, and self-view—would
be similar to that of our great-grandparents.
As a writer I find it fascinating to
create stories based on the real lives of young and vibrant Amish who
have a heart and perspective more in line with early twentieth- or late
nineteenth-century society than today’s. How would your great grandmother
react if she suddenly had the power to use a cell phone or write paperless,
inkless letters and send them via e-mail? What would she do about the many
opportunities available to young women, and how would she respond if she faced
the complexities of the modern-day marriage?
Writing and researching Amish fiction
is a refreshing way to explore who we are as humans and how having one
foundational principle can alter our lives and the lives of every individual for
generations to come. What is that one foundational principle? For the Amish, it
is the Ordnung, meaning “order” in
German. It is comprised of the rules the Amish live by, but each district’s bishop
has the power to adjust those rules as needed, being more or less strict, and often,
this depends on what he personally believes is right.
The Ordnung is the power behind maintaining
the Amish culture. It not only provides the rules one must adhere by, but it is
the guiding force behind the Plain philosophy that individualism is a threat to
the individual and to Amish life. The foundation of living Amish is doing what’s
best for the community as a whole, never for the desires or dreams of an
individual. Yet, the Amish are skilled at finding the answers to their desires
and dreams inside that lifestyle, and although they may struggle to find it,
most ultimately find peace with their decision to stay.
During one of my visits, I noticed that
a group of men were replacing the windowsills throughout a home and talking of
going to another home to do the same. When I asked about it, I was told the
bishop had decided that all the windowsills in each home within his districts
needed to be an exact width, so the men were complying. Such changes could be
frustrating and restrictive, but the Amish choose to use these kinds of things
as a time to fellowship, unite in positive aspect, and understand that
conforming helps in the battle against jealousy.
I’ve been leaving my Georgia home on an annual basis for the
last ten years to stay with Old Order Amish friends, and during each visit I learn
of another undiscovered aspect of their culture. But the word culture can’t
possibly embody enough richness of what it means for an entire community and every
member of a family to choose to follow the Old Ways. It takes a novel to paint
the beauty and hardship of this way of life. What happens if one young person doesn’t wish
to live inside that culture? What happens if one young person does stay for all
the wrong reasons? What happens if…?
Before I was contracted to write, my Amish friends said they
wanted to help me understand their ways. They volunteered to read my
manuscripts before they went to print and correct anything I had wrong, but
they’d only do so on one condition: that I show the troubles and challenges
within their community. They are truly a very humble people, and most do not
want outsiders thinking they are more spiritual or saintly than they truly
This promise to my Amish friends and the multitude of “What
if” questions spur me to create stories that explore these people, continuing
to draw me back into Amish homes and spending time among a group united in
their singular commitment to family, community, and God.
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