Despite the economic downturn that is hurting the publishing industry, novels classified as Amish fiction—family sagas and romances set in Old Order communities—are doing very well. Publishers and authors, gathered at the annual Christian Retail show in Denver last week, discussed the variations and successes in the Amish lit genre.
These types of novels are primarily aimed at Evangelical women who are interested in stories about simpler times, closed communities, and the strength of the traditional Amish faith. In contrast to other genres of Christian publishing, which have seen their sales lag, Amish fiction has experienced growing successes. One literary agent at the conference indicated that one path to success for a novel is to put a bonnet on it.
Beverly Lewis started the trend with her 1997 novel The Shunning, based loosely on her grandmother’s rebellion against her old order Mennonite childhood. It has sold over a million copies. It and its imitators tap into a fascination with the way the Amish reject modern technology and base their moral values on literalist interpretations of the Bible. The fact that the Lancaster County Amish community immediately forgave the murderer of five children in the Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, schoolhouse shooting of October 2006 continues to fascinate Christian women.
Wanda Brunstetter, a prominent author of Amish romances, commented during a book-signing event at the show in Denver that “people are learning from the Amish novels how they can simplify and set their priorities straight.”
Another author, Mindy Starns Clark, who writes gothic mysteries that are free of premarital sex and foul language, set her latest work in Lancaster County Amish country. Shadows of Lancaster County has a buggy on the cover, but Ms. Clark said that it also includes some genetic engineering. “It’s definitely not your grandmother’s Amish novel,” she observed.
Christian fiction in general is apparently showing more sophistication recently. Spiritual seekers do not need to follow conventional paths to salvation, and some of the newer works are venturing into unusual plots. Eric Wilson has developed a trilogy of novels called Jerusalem’s Undead, stories about characters who rise from the grave after being touched by the blood of Judas.
Another Christian publisher is pushing the envelope even further. Thirsty, by Tracey Bateman, will explore the demons that everyone must overcome in a story about vampires. While dripping fangs were edited out, the issue about whether a creature that is both dead and alive can be saved presents problems. “I think we can redeem a vampire,” Bateman said, though she wouldn’t reveal the rest of the plot.