Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why is an Amish Pen Pal so appealing and sought after? How can I get one?

It’s the number one question readers ask: “Can you get me an Amish pen pal?” 

I think it’s nostalgia, many missing the days of a letter you can touch, smell, feel. A letter that someone took the time (which is a precious) to sit down and write, maybe on fancy stationery. And what if it’s a love letter? My Aunt Annie got letters regularly from her fiancĂ© during World War II. What about letters written home from summer camp or college? Are they all endangered?

As the Amish take us back to a simpler time, when running to the mailbox was a treat to see if some surprise is in store, I’ve been trying to slow down and write letters.  I have to say, my once A+ Peterson Method of Handwriting (what I was taught in elementary school) is most likely a C- now but I’m aiming to improve. Why? Well, I find it really relaxing. Many studies in mental health show that too much high tech and not enough high touch is robbing us of peace.

So if handwriting is something that connects us to others and helps us process our emotions, as some claim, I’ve started to do this on a small scale, sending small notes of encouragement. When I say small, I mean small stationery. Maybe something you can write a few paragraphs on. This doesn’t make me feel like I’ll get writer’s cramp or that I’m not saying enough. I also have a female Amish pen pal and then letters are written to Amish friends who may only live half an hour away. (With no phones, you have to write)
I will answer the question on how to get an Amish pen pal though. It’s my “cut and paste” answer that I give when asked.

Visit an Amish settlement and make an initial contact by asking for a recipe. Amish women love to share their recipes! This is a good way to make an Amish friend, and then perhaps, you can write to each other. To find the nearest Amish settlement near you, visit www.amishamerica.com . At the top right corner is a tab called “Amish State Guide”. Click on your state and see the nearest settlement.

I have new novella (small novel of 120 pages) that just came out today called Amish Pen Pals: Rachael’s Confession. Rachael can’t tell anyone in her Troutville, PA settlement about her past sin, but she gets help from her pen pal she writes to in Smicksburg. I like to portray the Amish realistically, and many Amish have several pen pals they confide in. My Amish pen pal complains about her 13 kids and other personal things, subjects she might not talk about to another Amish woman. (They’re real people and not as stoic and set in their ways as portrayed in some books.) AND, my pen pal she gives out recipes. Oh, how the Amish love to cook and bake! So, in the novella I have recipes, too.

This series of books will give readers a sense of having an Amish pen pal, and what advice they may give about a certain women’s issues. But the books won’t take the place of a real pen pal. If you can’t find an Amish pen pal, why not have a pen pal who isn’t Amish? How about an elderly person who’s a shut-in? They have a life-time of knowledge to pass on and you’d be good company. It’s just a thought. An Amish pen pal would be great, but getting that letter in the mail that smells like paper and ink, something you can touch, that took time to write, I think is what folks are looking for.

An Amish man shoveling snow to make a clear path to the mailbox.
I wonder how many handwritten letters they were anticipating? ( Pic took in Smicksburg, PA) 

My new book series written with Christian counselor, Dr. Maryann Roberts, to tackle tough women's issues.
(Men can read it too as Samuel, a main character, has a pen pal, too.) 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Are the Amish a cult? Do they beat their children until they join their cult?

If you’re reading this you’re probably thinking I’m one of those people who know something very titillating about the Amish, something that will tickle the ears of a world that loves drama.

Actually, I’m celebrating my two year mark of being an author of Amish fiction, of faction, as I like to call it. Facts mixed in with fiction so readers can get a true-to-life read. Why write about the Amish? Well, like James Fenimore Cooper, who lived among the Native American in Upstate NY and got disgusted about how they stereotyped that he wrote The Last of the Mohicans to give an accurate account to his children; I too, got fed up about how the Amish are portrayed in books, so I started did the same thing.  

My journey living among the Amish started when I was in my late 20’s, living in rural Upstate New York. A neighbor came by to ask me if I wanted to join her in her “ministry” to the Amish. She said she took crates of oranges to the settlements so they wouldn't get scurvy.  “They don’t know anything about nutrition and don’t eat fruit and lack Vitamin C.” Well, I wanted to help these poor uneducated backward folks. So I agreed to go with her, but she forgot to buy oranges, and said we’d just visit families to see if they were okay. Well, we did, and I came home with a recipe for granola, rich in dried fruits that are loaded with Vitamin C. I was so taken with these kind people, maybe because my expectations were so low. This woman, who had a ministry to the Amish, never went back with me. She thought I got my brains sucked out, being lured in by “those people who don’t bathe”. Hmm. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder, because I was hooked!  (And, yes, the Amish bathe!)

It was the 1980’s, and the Amish weren't glamorized like they are today. I became friends with many Amish families in the Cherry Creek area ten years before Beverly Lewis helped to accurately portray their culture in her book, The Shunning. For 10 years I saw so much prejudice against the Amish it sickened me. Here’s a list of what people thought in the 80’s about the Amish:
  • Amish can’t read and are uneducated 
  •  Amish children are beaten with horsewhips to join church
  • Amish don’t brush their teeth or bathe or use deodorant
  • Amish poach deer and other wildlife and don’t get hunting permits
  • Amish don’t pay taxes
  • Amish  women are abused, having to stay home and raise their children.
  • Amish don't talk to "outsiders" (non-Amish)

This list could be a mile long. When such comments were made, I asked, “Have you ever met an Amish person?” Many said, “No way. They’re a cult.” Oh, I would get so angry, knowing otherwise, and I defended them, which only fed into people’s imagination that I too was backwards like them because I home-schooled AND was a stay-at-home mom, always barefoot and pregnant. (Well, the Amish don’t wear shoes in summer, but I did….how that ties in, I’m still wondering ;)

Well, fast-forward 20-some years. Now the Amish are glamorized in many romance novels or demonized in “reality” shows.  I confess, I can be preachy, standing up on my soapbox, and so three years ago, I felt like Fennimore Cooper, wanting to preserve Amish stories for my children. I didn't want my kids to forget about our Amish friends, Harry and Katie, and how the community cared for this Amish family who was hit hard by tragedy. I wanted them to not forget the reasons I had courage to home-school and be a stay-at home mom was inspired by the Amish culture that put family first. I want my grown kids to pass on to their children that the Amish are not a cult, but a different culture.

Culture is defined as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group” (Merriam-Webster) I get a different cultural experience when chatting with the Amish, much like my Italian cousins who live in rural Italy, or  when talking to Haitians on a mission trip. They have a different culture, and I glean so much from listening to them, it shifts my thinking, and I like that.

So, the Amish are not a cult, but a different culture, one that I love. My first book relates the theme: “Two cultures knit together by one faith” (Yes, the Amish are Christians) I didn't know I’d end up writing 5 novels books and two novellas over the past two years,( a pace I set for myself, having so many stories in my head) so if Knit Together: An Amish Knitting Novel was my only book, I wanted to cram in as much of what I knew to be true about the Amish culture. There isn't one thing in that book that isn't researched and approved by local Amish, as their endorsement means more to me than being a New York Times bestselling author. 

I see no end to writing Amish faction, because their too fascinating to me to keep quiet about and they won’t defend themselves, being pacifists…so someone who’s outspoken has to do it ;) And they’re so dear a people, I want them portrayed right. I want to show they are a different culture, not cult.
My husband, Tim, had a surprise book signing party when my book, Knit Together, came out in paperback
My agent, Joyce Hart, who never pushes me to write a "silly" Amish romance novel.
She wants them portrayed accurately, too. (She also represents Suzanne Woods Fisher) 
My awesome nephew Ian, who is looking for his name in the book.  
My first book, Knit Together: Amish Knitting Novel, published 2 years ago by Helping Hands Press.