This piece was first printed in Christian Fiction Online Magazine in August 2012.
Going Against the Trend
I’m not Amish.
Or a wanna-be Amish.
I’m not even an ex-Amish.
I went to a Mennonite college for four years, but I’m not Mennonite. I grew up in Japan, but I’m not Japanese. I’ve lived twenty-four years in Durham, North Carolina, eat grits and make my own sweet tea, but I’m not a real southerner.
I’m an outsider. I know what it’s like to look into cultures and subcultures from the outside.
When I thought of the Amish I was reminded of delicacies like shoo-fly pie and apple butter. I was mesmerized by the lovely handmade quilts displayed in souvenir shops. Horse-drawn buggies drew me into a land that time seemed to have forgotten. Even so, the whole culture held an eerie feel to me each time I visited Lancaster County with my college friends.
What were these people hiding?
I gave the Amish a rest for some time until one night, my husband turned on the TV. The documentary that he flipped to brought me face-to-face with Mose Gingerich, an ex-Amish man. Mose wasn’t just any ex-Amish, he was assisting other Amish who had left their farmland communities. I grabbed my pen and paper off my bedside table (every author keeps at least a few pads and pens by her bed for when she’s woken with those awesome plots, right?). I took notes. By the time the program ended, I had a story idea. This would not be a bonnet tale sprinkled with German dialect; this would be a story of leaving the Amish. My character, Gideon Miller, would help dissatisfied Amish youth relocate to the mountains of North Carolina (all my previous novels take place in North Carolina; I can’t help it, I’m endeared to this location).
As I plodded along at my computer, I wrote of abuse and struggles my Gideon dealt with growing up in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. I knew I was going against the trend. Certainly, others—even authors in my own writing groups—would scold me for not depicting this peace-loving religion as gentle as the rolling hills of Lancaster County. I might be shunned from publication ever again.
I was willing to take the risk. Another side—a realistic side—needed to be told. I wanted to present a new angle to those hundreds of popular tales of bonnets and black hats. And part of me was angry that while claiming to believe the Bible, Amish told their children that leaving their hats and suspenders meant riding the buggy into the depths of Hell. (I get angry when the Gospel is falsely represented.)
My agent embraced my story. As he sent it to various publishers, he conveyed that a few felt it was a bit risky since it was not the norm for an Amish tale. But all I needed was one publisher to want it. And, one day last fall, Moody Publishers/River North did.
Perhaps you’re like me, wanting to write something different from the “norm”. Perhaps God has placed a story on your heart that you are compelled to create. You try to steer from it, and yet, it keeps tugging at your pen. Your story will not let you go.
Go for it! If we can’t write what we are passionate about, why write at all? Tell a good story, polish it to the best of your ability, and see where it lands. God is in the different, just as He is in the ordinary. As you seek Him and ask Him to guide you, He just might lead you to go against the trend.
Get your copy of Still Life in Shadows now.
~ Alice J. Wisler grew up in Japan as a missionary kid, graduated from a Mennonite college, traveled extensively, worked in a refugee camp in the Philippines, and finally settled in North Carolina. She’s the author of Rain Song (Christy Finalist 2009), How Sweet It Is (Christy Finalist 2010), Hatteras Girl, A Wedding Invitation and now, Still Life in Shadows. Ever since the death of her son Daniel, she’s taught Writing the Heartache workshops and speaks at conferences on the value of writing through grief and loss. Visit her website and join her on her author page on Facebook where she’ll be giving away prizes.