This past week, I’ve been traveling on my 2017 Autumn Book Tour. As many of you may know, I write in several different genres, but my main genre is Amish fiction. You know, the romances set in Amish country: Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania.
In college, I studied anthropology. I love cultures. It amazes me how this world can be so diverse and with people living in so many different ways. With my Mennonite heritage and my love of plain living, it’s not hard to imagine why I fell in love with the Amish.
But here’s another secret: I love writing. Good writing. Whether it’s mine or someone else’s, I appreciate strong literature.
The Amish fiction genre is not known for having such literary-minded authors.
A few years back, I grew a little disgruntled with how the Amish were being portrayed and by the quality of writing from some “newer” authors who, frankly, know very little about the Amish and certainly cannot write well. That was when I came up with the idea to adapt Jane Austen’s books into the Amish setting. Not only would this challenge me as an author, it would challenge my readers and expose them to themes that went beyond the normal simplicity found in many “bonnet” books.
Jane Austen’s novels adapt wonderfully well to the Amish setting. The Victorian period was governed by societal rules, both spoken and unspoken. Men and women had certain roles and, for the most part, people did not question them. The same can be said about the Amish.
When my publisher released my first book in the Amish Classics series, First Impressions, I was thrilled that it made the ECPA best sellers list. The same happened for my second adaptation, The Matchmaker. But I noticed that most of the readers were not my normal readers of Amish fiction. For a long time, I couldn’t figure out why tens of thousands of copies of my regular Amish novels sold in just a few days while it took months to reach half of that volume with my Jane Austen adaptations.
Finally, after conducting some research, I realized that some people are intimidated by the idea of reading Jane Austen, even adaptations. The idea shocked me. Jane Austen? Intimidating? As a lover of both culture and literature, Jane Austen is the perfect author. Her stories are so full of romance and societal psychology! Her characters remind me of people I know in my own world. She wrote stories that transcend time and location. I was disappointed that I hadn’t created more of a stir among my regular readers in relation to Jane Austen.
And then, last week, I went to a book discussion at the Duncan Falls/ Philo Branch Library in Ohio. I was rather pleased with the turnout and, even more impressive, the level of enthusiasm from the participants. We talked about the Amish and Amish fiction, two topics near and dear to my heart. But then one woman asked a question that nearly floored me.
“Could you tell me more about your adaptations of Jane Austen into the Amish communities?”
For a moment, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. In almost four years, this woman was the first person who actually inquired about that connection. She could hardly wait to devour The Matchmaker, my adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. And she wanted to get her hands on a copy of First Impressions, my adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, for an upcoming trip. The other ladies seemed interested, too, although one admitted that she hadn’t read Jane Austen yet.
It was a wonderful moment, that pinpoint in time when I finally met someone who understood exactly why I adapted Jane Austen into the Amish setting. She appreciated how I wanted to face the challenge of transcribing Jane Austen’s tales into a completely different world and time period, not just to see if it would work but how it would work. And she was excited to read the results.
Some readers of the JAFF genre might read Jane Austen and the different adaptations because we are in love with the character or maybe it’s the era that intrigues us or, or possibly, it’s the way so many authors continue the stories, creating different variations of Jane Austen’s classics. As an author, the only thing better than writing a story is actually discussing the psychology behind the writing of the story.
And I cannot thank the ladies of Duncan Falls/ Philo Branch Library enough for, finally, giving me that opportunity.