Writing Historical Stories

(Note: This article first appeared on Romance at Random.)

Writing books with historical settings is not for wimps – especially research wimps. Add an entirely unfamiliar culture, like the Amish, and the task could become downright intimidating. But when your publisher gently suggests that such a book might be a good idea…well, you roll up your sleeves and dive in.

That’s how the Amish of Apple Grove series came about. Amish fiction has enjoyed wild popularity in recent years, but I had no interest in writing the genre for a couple of reasons. First, I’m certainly not an expert. And second, there’s a lot of really good Amish fiction written by writers who are experts. What would I have to contribute to the genre?

Then came the call from my agent. The publisher had contacted her with a suggestion for Lori Copeland and me: what about an Amish book with a historical setting? Now that was intriguing. I’d spent some time thinking about the popularity of Amish fiction, and had decided that readers are fascinated by a technology-free, slow-paced lifestyle existing in the midst of our busy society. But back in the 1880’s nobody had televisions or cars. Everybody wore long dresses. So what made the Amish stand out? Lori and I agreed that was a challenge we’d like to tackle.

I lucked out in having the awesome Lori Copeland as a writing partner. Lori has published dozens of historical novels, so she already knew about the time period. My job would be to research the Amish. Actually, I had an ace up my sleeve. My brother-in-law was raised Amish, and he still lives in Holmes County, Ohio, the largest Amish settlement in the world. A family reunion seemed to be in order. I went to Ohio and spent a lovely week touring the area, talking to Amish people, learning Amish history, tasting Amish cheese (oh, I love cheese!), and filling my computer with tons of notes. During that first trip I developed a huge amount of respect for the simple lifestyle and beliefs of the Amish. By the time I was ready to start writing, I felt…if not expert, at least knowledgeable enough to write the book with a reasonable amount of accuracy.

That first book, The Heart’s Frontier, was so much fun that Lori and I were eager to write a second. A Plain and Simple Heart, book 2 in the Amish of Apple Grove, is the rip-roaring tale of seventeen-year-old Rebecca Switzer, who decides to use her rumspringa to strike out on her own across Kansas in search for the cowboy she fell in love with years before. When she meets up with a group of temperance demonstrators, she is swept into the fervor of their cause and runs afoul of the handsome sheriff. From there matters get quickly, and hilariously, out of hand.