Ten years ago I started working on one of my favourite books. Back then my idea was to write a murder mystery set in and around my hometown of Fort Wayne and serialise it a la Kellerman or Cornwell. My protagonist was a ex-Amish woman doctor. Over the years as I evolved the story evolved too. It’s now a general novel about a woman’s life and it is without dead bodies. Well, there are some dead bodies, but they aren’t murdered.
Since I don’t read a lot of Christian fiction–or didn’t, until I got a Kindle*–I had no idea until a couple of years ago that Amish fiction was a big thing. I was chagrinned because I thought I was doing something less travelled. I actually ended up setting aside the book for awhile, as I lost all excitement in it.
But until this weekend I had not read any fiction with an Amish protagonist in 15 years. My last attempt involved a trilogy which starts out with an Amish girl and ends up with her finding out that she’s the long lost child of a movie star(?) who gave her up for adoption into an Amish family (?!). It was WEIRD. It was also the last Christian fiction I read for a decade–that’s how outlandishly soap opera terrible the whole thing was.
::engage mental editor–shorten up this long tale::
Over the weekend I was bored and wanted to read something Christmassy and I knew I had several free Christmas stories set in Amish Country.
Apparently the writers of these Christian Fiction pieces–they’re called Bonnet Romances–have decided to fetishise the Amish into these quaint, simple, earnest, one-dimensional platitude-spewing cardboard cutouts. Amish characters are apparently the version of Faeries that people who don’t believe in Fantasy novels turn to for escapeism.
Now, all of this would be fine. IF the Amish were made-up. But they’re not. They are really people who have three dimensions and more on their minds than marrying the boy down the road. I grew up around Amish folks. I’ve worked with young Amish on Rumschpringe. As a Mennonite I’ve gone to meeting with more ex-Amish than you’d believe. One Easter was spent at the house of two ex-Amish Mennonites sitting around a table with half a dozen other XA listening to stories of their lives Before and After.
In other words–I know these people. And while they are very nice people–generally–they aren’t some wishy-washy Pa Ingalls Meets St. Paul little mythical beasts.
And now I’m torn. Because part of me realises that there is most likely a place where my story would fit in the world. But at the same time I’m not really interested in the continued exploitation of what seems to be an increasingly misrepresented society of people.
*seriously. Those publishing houses excel at throwing Christian fiction at you. And since everyone keeps telling me how much better it’s gotten I occassionally try one of the free ones.