Researching the Amish

Guest Blogger: Julie Kramer

For my latest thriller, I decided to go Amish.

At that time, I didn’t realize that Amish fiction was on an upswing. I just needed another Minnesota-based adventure for Riley Spartz, the reporter/heroine in my series set in the desperate world of  TV news. Minnesota has one of the fastest growing Old Order Amish communities. And it’s not far from the family farm where I grew up and where my ancestors farmed corn and cattle for more than 130 years.

Much of the Amish fiction in the news these days falls in the genre of inspirational or romance. Mine is more along the line of mystery and suspense. While my books don’t contain explicit sex or violence, they do have a higher body count than many Amish stories. Although in my defense, only three people die in SHUNNING SARAH.  In previous books, I’ve killed as many more characters. Fictionally, of course.

SHUNNING SARAH enabled me to combine two parts of my life in one story: flashy TV news vs. the reclusive Amish. In the world of the Amish, a TV antenna is the devil’s tail; while a TV screen is the devil’s tongue. So this guaranteed conflict, the key to any intriguing story. When a homicide victim is recognized from a forensic sketch as a local Amish woman, Sarah Yoder, her family objects to the picture being broadcast because of the biblical ban on graven images.

I hadn’t had a lot of contact with Amish since I left the farm. My novel is set in the real life community of Harmony, MN. So I ventured there for further research, touring the countryside, staying at an Amish bed and breakfast, and buying potatoes, baskets and cashew crunch from Amish families. While Amish tourism is a booming business in Ohio and Pennsylvania, it’s just getting a toe hold in Minnesota. I asked questions, but didn’t mention my interest was in the name of research. So in my book’s acknowledgments I didn’t list the name of any real Amish, because I didn’t want to cause trouble over any misunderstandings.

I most enjoy in the field research like this, but I also needed to understand the Amish faith and learned that it dates back to the sixteenth century.  While Mark Luther was leading the Protestant Reformation, another movement was underway to change the Catholic Church: the Anabaptists. They ended up being persecuted by mainstream theologians and had to practice their faith in secret. Many scholars believe the withdrawal of the Amish from society came from this oppression.

As far as reviews go, I especially appreciated ones that cited my research like this one from the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Kramer’s research into the Amish realm is impressive and integrated skillfully into the plot.”

The more research I did the more I realized the Amish – while they shun electricity and modern society for a simpler life – suffer discord within their own communities, just like the rest of us. And that became the basis of SHUNNING SARAH.

Investigative television journalist Julie Kramer turns novelist writes a series of thrillers: STALKING SUSAN, MISSING MARK, SILENCING SAM, KILLING KATE and SHUNNING SARAH – set in the desperate world of TV news. Julie won the Daphne du Maurier Award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense, RT Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best First Mystery as well as the Minnesota Book Award. Her work has also been nominated for the Anthony, Barry, Shamus, Mary Higgins Clark, and RT Best Best Amateur Sleuth Awards. She formerly ran the acclaimed I TEAM for WCCO-TV before becoming a freelance network news producer for NBC and CBS.


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