Some of you may have noticed that I’ve shifted my novels to one of two places: a fictitious place or Shipshewana. When I first began writing my Amish of Lancaster series– (Fields of Corn, Hills of Wheat, Pastures of Faith, Valley of Hope)–and even my Plain Fame series, I was a die-hard Lancaster fan. All of my novels took place in or around Leola and Lititz.
Several years ago, a reader named Marlette, invited me to Shipshewana. I accepted and off I went to the wonderful state of Indiana. The rest is history.
Marlette and her family adopted me and, in many ways, I adopted them back. They showed me around, introduced me to different Amish families, and even let me stay at their house. It didn’t take long for me to realize what a hidden treasure is tucked into the backroads of Shipshewana and surrounding towns.
For the past thirty+ years, I’ve been traveling and staying among the Amish. I even rented a room in an Amish home for several years as well as lived over a mule shed on an Amish farm. I’ve been to Amish communities in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, Missouri, Tennessee, Belize, and probably a few others that I’m forgetting. Without a doubt, the Amish communities I visited in Indiana are my favorite. Maybe it’s because there isn’t a lot of tourism (not like Holmes and Lancaster counties) or maybe it’s because it’s not built up so much. Regardless, I really love that area. The Amish people are much more integrated with the Englische community. And the Englische community is much more accepting of the Amish.
In Lancaster county, I’ve seen cars run Amish buggies off the road, throw cigarettes and bottles at Amish people on bicycles, and other unthinkable (and unchristian) things. In Ohio, I found the Amish to be much more standoffish around strangers. In Belize, they are actually Mennonites but, culturally, are more aligned with our Amish culture and, to be honest, they were just rude. They speak Spanish and, not realizing that I, too, speak Spanish, said really judgmental things about me before I responded in their native language. Mind you, I always approach their communities with respect and explain my own background (vs. just popping in and behaving as if I’m at a “zoo” with the Amish on display for my entertainment—something I’ve seen more than enough among tour groups, by the way).
Anyway, in Indiana, the Amish are just regular people and appear to be treated that way by the people within and around their community. That means that they can be themselves without having to be as wary of strangers.
After my first visit with Marlette, I began placing more of my stories in that area. However, if my characters do not live in Shipshewana proper—a larger town that already IS a tourist attraction–I make up town names so that I can protect the lessor known communities in the surrounding area. It was a promise that I made to a bishop who interviewed me after worship one day and declared he would give me his approval to write books about the Amish in his community as long as I never mentioned the community name. It makes sense. If tourists knew the actual location of the communities of which I write, they might flock there and spoil the quaint atmosphere that attracted me in the first place!
This will be the first year I haven’t been to Shipshewana and with my Indiana family. It makes me sad that I won’t see them this year, but I love revisiting them in my novels. And, if you haven’t already been to the area, I highly recommend a visit to the town. There are so many neat places to visit and areas to explore. You might even recognize some of them from my latest book series, An Amish Cookie Club and An Amish Cookie Club Christmas!
Sarah Price is the author of the Plain Fame series and the Amish of Ephrata series, among other books. She comes from a long line of devout Mennonites, and her writing reflects accurate and authentic stories based upon her own experiences with several Amish communities. Visit her at sarahpriceauthor.com and on Facebook.