Whenever I do a talk, whether at a bookstore, a library, or some other event, one of the first questions I always get is: “why the Amish?”
You’d think by now I’d get tired of the question, but I don’t.
I grew up reading (and re-reading) the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read them so many times, in fact, I actually wore a hole in more than a few pages. There was something about that time frame that resonated with me and I wanted to be Laura Ingalls.
Fast forward to a few years ago, when the notion of combining my love of mysteries with a group of people still living very much like the Ingalls did in the 1800’s first hit… Could I really do it? Could I really set a modern day mystery against a modern day backdrop that isn’t modern at all? I wasn’t sure, but I knew I had to try. I also knew that I wanted to do it right. I wanted to engage people in the mystery at the heart of each book, but I also wanted to educate them about the Amish by tugging at their heart strings.
To do that, I had to create a cast of characters (both Amish and English) that could give my readers a window into this little known way of life. While the majority of those characters are Amish, I chose to go with an English woman as my protagonist. Through Claire, my readers learn about the Amish and their way of life. Through Claire and her interactions with her Amish neighbors, my readers experience the many differences (and similarities) between our worlds.
It works, and it works well.
But where Claire comes in handy most, is for me. You see, while I can’t say Claire is anything like me, I can say I identify with her desire to learn about the Amish way of life. These people I’ve been drawn to write about, have captured my heart just like they have Claire’s. Now, even when I’m between deadlines and not working on an Amish mystery at all, I find myself getting antsy for another visit to Lancaster.
I love learning new things about the Amish, and finding ways for Claire to learn the same things. And it’s in doing that, that I create my stories.
The next book in the series, A Churn for the Worse (Amish Mysteries #5) is a perfect example of this. Last fall, I headed down to Lancaster County to soak up all things Amish. I visited both an Amish-run dairy farm and an Amish-owned miniature pony farm, I sat in an Amish home and talked with three generations of one family, and I went for my first buggy ride. It was on that buggy ride that I learned the majority of horses tasked with pulling Amish buggies are retired Standardbred racehorses (aka trotters). I asked a few questions, soaked up the answers, and (tada!) the wheels started turning. And, by the end of the trip, I was off to the races (no pun intended) on the new book.
I love writing. Always have. But I’m happiest when I’m writing about the Amish. I like teaching people about them and I like what they teach me—about life, about family, and about myself.
Laura Bradford is the national bestselling author of the Amish Mysteries and the Southern Sewing Circle Mysteries (written as Elizabeth Lynn Casey) with Penguin Random House. A third cozy mystery series will be added to the mix in 2016. Laura is a former Agatha Award nominee, and the recipient of an RT Reviewer’s Choice Award in romance. A Churn for The Worse (the 5th book in her Amish Mysteries series) is now available for pre-order in advance of its March release. For more information on Laura and her books, visit her website: www.laurabradford.com