Author BJ Hoff – Why Write Amish Fiction?

A question that seems to pop up often in my email has to do with why, after so many years of publishing general historical fiction, have I recently been writing “Amish fiction.”

This may seem like an easy question to answer. Actually, it isn’t–but let me just make three points that might explain it best:

1. First, I’m still writing historical fiction set in Appalachia, but more recently with mostly–but not all–Amish characters, so a series of Amish fiction isn’t actually that much of a change for me. Also, whereas most Amish fiction published in the past few years has featured contemporary settings, I’m still writing in an 1800s setting, as I almost always do. The current series (The Riverhaven Years) is located in the hills of southern Ohio, close to the Ohio River, and as I mentioned, is peopled mostly by Amish characters, although the “anchor” character of the series–“Captain” Jeremiah Gant–is an Irish immigrant, and Asa, his helper-friend, is a freed slave.

In the series planned to follow The Riverhaven Years, the setting will also be historical, and will again feature a mix of some Amish and some non-Amish characters.

2. I’ve no doubt but what one of the reasons I’m writing Amish fiction is the same as one of the reasons you’re reading Amish fiction. I discovered that I, also, really enjoy reading about the Amish: their culture, their faith, their customs (and their food)! I believe there’s been a genuine longing by many of us over the past few years to return to a simpler lifestyle: a more basic, “uncluttered,” way of living. Even if we can only read about it, there’s a real comfort and contentment–and, yes, a fascination–about times and places less harried and unhurried, about faith that’s active and alive, a faith that is lived as a vital part of everyday life, not super-structured, complicated, and relegated only to Sunday worship.

Not until I had actually develdoped nearly half of the first book in The Riverhaven Years did I discover an element I hadn’t considered before I began writing about Amish characters. The very fact that the people are Plain in the way they live–in the way they dress simply and with no adornment, to the way they marry, raise their children, do their work, and conduct their daily lives–artificiality is stripped away and character is allowed to come shining through. That makes writing about them both a challenge and a joy. It makes weaving variety into the story details perhaps a little more challenging, but at the same time it makes character development and scene building more intriguing. And when you’re writing about people you like, it heightens the joy of the craft.

I remember telling my husband a few years ago, long before I had any real thought of developing an Amish story, that if I were going to write about any people besides the Irish, it would most likely be the Amish. We live close to more than one Amish settlement, and of course in Ohio we’re within easy traveling distance of several Amish communities, so research can be both fun and convenient. But more than anything else, the Amish people and their lifestyle have long interested me, and I’ve developed much respect and liking for those Amish folks I’ve talked with. I believe the primary reason I enjoy writing about the Amish people so much is because I enjoy them so much.

3. One of the elements of writing historical fiction that has always greatly appealed to me is the research. What to some is “work,” is to me a source of pleasure. In fact, I have to restrain myself from putting too much of my research in the story itself. I always need to remember that my readers don’t necessarily want all the details that interest me! So after years and years of researching “my own people” (the Irish), I’ve thoroughly enjoyed digging into another, different “community” and learning about its people. And with every new discovery, my interest in learning more continues to grow.

You can probably tell I’m having a great time writing Amish fiction. I can only hope you’ll continue to have a great time reading it!


To sign up for BJ’s newsletter, go to:

Last 5 posts by

Leave a Reply