Author On the Bookcase: Shelley Shepard Gray
"Why I Write Amish Fiction"
Until we moved to southern Ohio almost twelve years ago, I had never seen a buggy. Actually, I had never thought much about the Amish. All that changed when my husband and I went on a Sunday drive just a few months after we moved here.
Just an hour from my house is a small Amish community in Adams County. Right on Highway 32 is Keims Market, an Amish Country Store which has become one of my favorite places to visit. There, you can sit on the front porch, eat cinnamon rolls, buy furniture and baskets, and instantly feel your body relax. It’s a wonderful place.
Nestled in the midst of this area is an English (not Amish) owned inn. I’ve stayed there a few times when my girlfriends and I have writing retreats. Though it looks nothing like the inn in my Sisters of the Heart series, it is what I based the Brenneman Bed and Breakfast Inn on. The people there are friendly and heart-warming…just as how I wanted to depict the Brennemans in my books.
When I was anxious to break into the inspirational market, my agent suggested I try writing an Amish novel. After all, I had already told her how much I enjoyed the community near me. When I began this journey, it felt ‘right’. I’ve always yearned to incorporate my faith into my novels, but I hoped to do it in a way that wasn’t too preachy. Writing about the Amish- where much of what they do is because of their faith-seemed like a good fit.
When I told some friends I was researching the Amish, a man who serves on a church committee with me introduced me to his wife. She grew up Mennonite in a town called Sugarcreek. She, in turn, eventually introduced me to one of her best friends, an Old Order Amish woman named Clara.
When I first met Clara, I was really nervous. Though I had visited Amish stores and areas, I had never sat down for lunch and asked specific questions about their lives. I imagine she was pretty curious about me, too! But soon, Clara and I found we had much in common. We both love books and puzzles. We also both enjoy baking and traveling…and find ourselves sharing stories about our kids and husbands-just like many wives and mothers do.
Since that first visit, I’ve visited Sugarcreek many, many times. Clara’s introduced me to more people, and I feel so lucky to have their friendship.
As I’ve written my novels, I’ve tried hard to depict the relationships that are common to the Amish I know. They have many friends, both Amish and English. Few of the Amish I know farm in Sugarcreek. Instead, they work at the brick factory, or one of the other businesses in the area.
I’ve found that their community is as diverse as any other community I’ve known. No one is perfect, and no one tries to be. Most of the Amish I’ve talked to are just going about their day to day lives and raise their children the best they can. Just like all the folks in my neighborhood.
I try to write the best novels I can about heart-warming people in exciting situations who just happen to be Amish. Because this is my goal, I find that there are many new stories just waiting to be told! I feel truly blessed and thankful for the opportunity to write about the Amish and am humbled by the many fans and readers who love to read them.
Shelley Shepard Gray is the New York Times bestselling author of the Sisters of the Heart, Seasons of Sugarcreek, and Families of Honor series. Before becoming a writer, she was a teacher in both Texas and Colorado. When not writing, Shelley can usually be found with her family. Her two teenagers keep her busy and happy. They all also love to travel.