Is Amish fiction here to stay? Projections for 2016

ValerieAndThrillofChasteBookWhen my book about Amish fiction, Thrill of the Chaste, came out in the beginning of 2013, lots of people asked me, “Is Amish fiction here to stay?” Those in-the-know added, “Or will it go the way of Christian chick lit?” That is: to the grave? (In 2005, an article in the New York Post suggested that Christian chick lit was “one of the biggest growth industries in American publishing.” Within a year the subgenre had “lost all momentum,” according to literary agent Steve Laube.)

Here at the tail end of 2015, few people are asking this question. We don’t have to. Like the Amish themselves, whose numbers are rising thanks to large families and retention of their youth, Amish fiction remains a growing industry. Amish-fiction authors can barely keep up with the voracious reading appetites of their fans. A few years ago, the Book Industry Study Group, which offers subject categories for publishers and booksellers, had no separate code for Amish novels. In a real rite of passage, Amish fiction now has keys to its own wheels: FICTION / Amish & Mennonite.

Readers are expecting more from Amish fiction than they used to, maybe even more than they did twelve months ago. Gone is any illusion that an Amish-fiction author can take a few trips to Lancaster County or Shipshewana and then write an Amish novel.

Readers want Amish novels that are accurate and that they can trust for authentic portrayals. A friend of mine slams down any Amish novel that contains even a smidgen of information she knows to be false.

But perhaps the biggest area of growth in Amish fiction is not even Amish fiction. It’s Amish non-fiction. Even as the research bar for novelists gets higher, many readers are turning to Amish books written by Amish authors to get a real insider’s perspective on the culture and faith. The Plainspoken series from Herald Press, the Mennonite publisher where I work, offers readers first-person books by Amish and other plain CalledToBeAmish_frontcoverAnabaptist writers about their daily lives. For example, Marlene Miller’s Called to Be Amish, which narrates the rare journey of one woman from English to Amish, “gives details about Amish life that you may not find in any other book on the market,” says Anne Beiler, of Auntie Anne’s Inc. The newest installment of the Plainspoken series by young Amish mother Marianne Jantzi, Simple Pleasures, releases in March. Jantzi writes about homemaking, gardening, working in their family shoe store, and living out her faith in her Amish community in Canada. SimplePleasures

Other publishers are bringing out Amish non-fiction as well. From Sherry Gore’s The Plain Choice to Lena Yoder’s My Life as An Amish Wife, the field has burgeoned during 2015. And in a related book, Terri Roberts, the mother of the Nickel Mines Amish schoolhouse shooter, tells her agonizing story in Forgiven.

So whether they picked up Amish fiction or Amish non-fiction, readers in 2015 kept coming back for more. Editors and researchers like me have our theories about why Amish literature is proving to be so enduring, and I outline several of those in Thrill of the Chaste. But readers like you are in the best position to say why you pick up one type of book and not another.

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How do you think Amish fiction has changed in recent years, and why do you think it’s got such staying power?

Check out any of our Plainspoken series or books specifically about Amish, Mennonite, or Hutterite life, here.

Valerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books and author of Thrill of the Chaste. This post appeared originally in the Amish Wisdom newsletter which you can sign up for here.

Ah summer … ah books

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By Melissa Miller, secretary of MennoMedia board

Musician Frank Zappa lamented, “So many books, so little time!” For some of us, summer slows down enough that we can indulge in our love of reading, nearly to our heart’s content. I am one of the fortunate few who finds enough time for books during the warm months of the year, and even more fortunately, a professional obligation to read.

Herald Press often fills the bill. This summer that has included the lighter, yet still meaningful fare from the Plainspoken series, Called to be Amish: From Head Majorette to the Old Order (by Marlene C. Miller) & Chasing the Amish Dream: My Life as a Young Amish Bachelor (by Loren Beachy)

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I’ve enjoyed these up close reflections from writers who speak out of their personal experiences. I’ve had little contact with Amish over the years, except through visits with my in-laws in the Amish-saturated Kishacoquillas Valley of Pennsylvania (where there are actually four separate tribes of Amish among the 13,000 inhabitants).

For denser material, and to aid in sermon preparation, I am working my through the Believers’ Church Biblical Commentary on John by Willard Swartley. I am grateful for the work that Swartley and other scholars do on our behalf, bringing the riches of their research and knowledge to us that we may deepen our understanding and appreciation for the treasures of the Bible.

BCBC JohnJohn has been one of those books I have puzzled over with its complex, intertwined themes. As one professor said, “John is like a bowl of spaghetti. You try to pick out one noodle (one theme) in a passage, and the whole mess comes out with it.” Swartley’s diligent, loving exegesis enables me to identify the different themes in “the pasta bowl”. It also leads me to appreciate the biblical author’s extraordinary skill and passionate call to faith in Jesus.

Last fall, when I jumped into teaching Sunday School with our church’s young children, I was delighted with the still-new Shine curriculum. In the busy-ness of life, I had just a few moments to skim the teacher’s manual, Shine Together: The Essential Guide for Leaders and Teachers.

ShineTogetherWhat I encountered there warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes, like these words from the introduction, “Let children’s imagination, sense of mystery, creativity, and boldness inspire Christ’s church today…Children’s spiritual wisdom can be found in the midst of exuberant play, settling arguments, work, mealtimes, and conversation. The child’s spiritual learning environment is everywhere, anytime. Where the child is, God is already there.” (p 9)

With the slower pace of summer, I look forward to savoring the manual’s nuggets mined from the writers’ deep faith and insight.

May your summer include gems such as these. And thanks to MennoMedia for continuing to provide them!

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To purchase any of the above books or other resources, check the store. (Although currently closed through June 30 for inventory. Sorry. But sign up here to receive timely email news and specials from MennoMedia and Herald Press)

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What is on your reading list for this summer? Anything from Herald Press or MennoMedia? We’d love to hear and may feature your comments in a follow up post or on Facebook. 

MelissaMillerPorchSwingCroppedMelissa Miller fulfills some of her love of summer reading while seated on a swing (ted by her husband from Pennsylvania oak) at her Winnipeg, Manitoba home. She is a Canadian member, and secretary of, the MennoMedia board.

How many people join the Amish as outsiders?

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Herald Press has released a new book in its Plainspoken series by an Old Order Amish woman, Marlene C. Miller. It has a somewhat startling title, Called to Be Amish: My Journey from Head Majorette to the Old Order.

Marlene’s story goes the opposite route than that followed by many Amish—those who leave. She is one of fewer than one hundred outsiders who have joined the Old Order Amish—and stayed.

Since 1950, Marlene has had a unique life journey. She grew up in a non-Christian household with a somewhat troubled family and began dating Johnny Miller. Johnny was Amish but had not yet joined the church. Johnny and Marlene got married, had children, and lived a non-Amish life for several years.

Then everything changed. Standing at the kitchen sink, Marlene accepted Christ into her heart. Here’s what happened next, as told in her book Called to Be Amish: My Journey from Head Majorette to the Old Order:

I ran out of the trailer to the cheese factory to tell Johnny what had happened. Although my feet were pumping hard, I felt so light that it seemed like I was floating across the little bridge Johnny had made for us to cross the creek. I flew into the cheese house and searched around until I found Johnny in the warm cellar, where the big wheels of cheese were processing.

 

The words tumbled out of my mouth: “God has forgiven me.” “I’m going to heaven.” “I was standing at the kitchen sink and . . .” Johnny just stood there looking at me, stunned. He could hardly believe me.

 

Here I was bubbling over with happiness, peace, and joy, and it was unbelievable to him. Then I told him the words that would change our lives: “I think I want to be Amish.”

 

That was even more unbelievable to him. I was actually jumping up and down for joy I was so happy. I asked, “When can we go to your family home?”

 

Johnny was speechless. He just looked at me, trying to process what I was saying and doing. Finally he answered in his steady way, “Well, we’ll wait a couple of days and see if you still feel the same.”

 

We waited for those few days, and I knew I was different and Johnny knew it too. First, we noticed I wasn’t swearing anymore. My jealousy and anger had disappeared, too.

 

What a miracle a prayer can bring! My whole life was changed in an instant. Johnny never asked me to be Amish, but the conviction came to me with my conversion to Christ.

 

I’m not saying that when a person is converted to Christ he or she has to become Amish. Not at all. But for me, it was the natural choice. It gave me peace and contentment to adopt this lifestyle and to love my husband enough to make him happy, which made me happy in the Lord.

 

Over the years, as I have read the Bible and learned from others, I have grown in my Christian faith. As we know, we are supposed to grow in the faith. That is exactly what the Lord has done for Johnny and me all through these years.

 

Out of all the people we knew in our little community there, we told only two people we were going to turn Amish in the future. We didn’t want everyone to know, because we thought they would not understand why we didn’t just do it right away. But I knew, and Johnny did too, that this was going to be a life-changing move for us. I felt I had to learn to sew better and understand more of the Amish ways.

It’s easy to turn from Amish to English, as far as how to live. One thing that’s easy is that you can buy all your clothes instead of making them. It’s easier to jump into a vehicle and drive than to learn to harness a horse and get it into a buggy.

But to go from English to Amish? Now that’s a different story. . . .

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Marlene C. Miller is pictured here as a senior in high school, not long before she became Amish.

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Here are photos of her as a cheerleader and band majorette.

Find out how Marlene fared as she adjusted to Amish life in her new book, Called to Be Amish: My Journey from Head Majorette to the Old Order. She shares about her struggles, joys, and how she came close to walking away from it all.

Turning Amish proved to be anything but plain and simple. Nearly fifty years later, Marlene is still living out God’s call for her as an Old Order Amish woman.

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Called to Be Amish is on a Mother’s Day discount for only $9.74 until May 9, 2015.

Do you know someone with a similar story? Questions or comments?

Read the complete news story about the book, here.

For more information on differences between Amish and Mennonite, check the Third Way website.