Thursday, September 1, 2011

Writing Amish

Each year I am privileged to travel to LaGrange County, Indiana, to tell stories as "Jack's Mama" at David Rogers Days, held the fourth weekend of August. DRD is one of Indiana's hidden jewels, as festivals go. Set in the log cabin village of David Rogers Park, it is in the heart of Indiana's northern Amish country. The event celebrates this state's pioneer heritage, as well as the life and philanthropy of the man for whom it is named. The rolling hills, large black walnut trees, wildflower meadows, and verdant farmland provide a beautiful setting. Guests pay a modest gate fee to enjoy traditional acoustic music, a sleight-of-hand artist (who also swallows fire and serves as ringmaster for a flea circus), a Punch and Judy show, strolling entertainers, a large interactive children's area, early American dance instruction, and various pioneer reenactors demonstrating such things as spinning, weaving, smithing, and bowl-making. Most of all, I love the audiences, many of whom are Old Order Amish.
       This year's festival was different for me because I've read several works of "kapp fiction." While it's not my genre to write, I enjoy reading them. I'm most familiar with the works of Beverly Lewis, Wanda Brunstetter, and Cindy Woodsmall. I've heard that kapp fiction is popular among the Amish, especially if the local Bishop permits them. But how accurately do they portray Amish life, I've wondered, since the best fiction is firmly rooted in truth.
       One of the Saturday vendors at DRD was a gracious Amish woman named Kathryn. She was selling some of the foods eaten following the church service on Preaching Sundays: homemade dill pickles, the best I've ever tasted; fried pies, Amish peanut butter, snickerdoodles, huge gingersnaps, sour cream sugar cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, and cheese wedges. After discussing food and swapping recipes, we got on the subject of Amish fiction.
       "Do you read them?" I asked.
       "Jah. Wanda Brunstetter. Beverly Lewis. I read them when I get time." Of course, having read the books, I knew exactly what she meant, since they rise early and work long.
       "How accurate are they to your lives?"
       "A few are very accurate. Those ladies, for example. But many are not."
       I told her I check out the credentials of the writer and look at the acknowledgements page. Does the author thank members of the Amish community who proofed the manuscript for accuracy? Obviously they can't if they didn't invite some knowledgeable reader to critique the work.
      "Sometimes," Kathryn said, "writers will include things that either are not a part of the Amish way of life or are peculiar to a particular community." She indicated that she shuns the work of writers who are careless with the facts.
      I appreciate when authors are clear about the setting of time, place, and, in the case of kapp fiction, specific community. As with any kind of writing, it behooves us to do the research.

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