Friday, March 30, 2018

Research as inspiration for the Amish author by Jo Ann Brown

I’ve always loved research. Probably that’s one of the reasons why I started out writing historicals. I want to surround myself with piles of books and read my way through all of them to learn the details of lives in a different time or place. Out of all that reading, both the “just the facts” and the anecdotal examples, I always find inspiration.
When I was asked to write my first Amish book, I realized how much I didn’t know, even though I’d lived for years not far from several Amish communities in southeastern Pennsylvania. My acquaintance with my Amish neighbors was during conversations at farm stands while I decided on whether to buy one shoofly pie or two...or maybe another package of the delicious molasses cookies as well. I’d also attended yard sales in the spring at plain homes and had a great time talking with neighbors about the weather and raising kids.
But writing plain characters required more than what little I’d learned through those polite conversations. So I dove into research as I always do – starting with the simplest books I could find, including children’s books. I found an excellent series of books from The People’s Place dealing with topics like schools and clothing and weddings. As I learned the basics, I went on to more complex research with more in-depth books published by plain authors and by college professors.
During the months—actually years, now that I look back at it—that I was writing the Amish Hearts miniseries for Love Inspired, I continued to block out time for research reading. I subscribed to The Budget, the weekly written for and by Amish and Mennonite readers, as well as finding other plain publications like The Blackboard Bulletin (a monthly aimed at plain schoolteachers) and Family Life (a monthly for families to share and read aloud).
By the way, if you missed Debby Giusti’s excellent blog post on The Budget earlier this month, go back and read it! I also found sources (see those aforementioned yard sales) for authentic Amish clothing for men, women and children. I went to the stores where plain folks shop and compared the farms where they live to the farm where I grew up.
So much fun!
But my miniseries was drawing to a close with my January 2018 release An Amish Arrangement, and I needed to come up with an idea for a new series that excited me enough to spend a year of more writing 3-4 books. Every idea I came up with seemed to be too tried and true.
In exasperation, I turned back to my own tried and true method—I went to the shelves of my research books and took down one I hadn’t read yet. I took it with me on a cross-country flight, and somewhere over the middle of the country, I came across a small paragraph about “older girls’ groups”—social groups for unmarried young women who have aged out of the usual youth groups.
A light bulb went off in my head. Here was an idea I hadn’t seen used before in an Amish series. That’s how the Amish Spinsters Club was born. The stories about four friends who really don’t fit in with either the young unmarrieds or the newlywed/married women kick off on May 22, 2018 with The Amish Suitor.As I’m writing this, I’m working on the third book in what will be a four book miniseries, and I’m just as excited as when I found that tidbit at 40,000 feet in the sky.
Of course, now I’ve got to start thinking about the next set of stories I want to write, and you’ll know right where to find me. Next to my bookshelves with my nose in a book, seeking that bit of information that will set my imagination on fire again.


  1. I love when those moments of inspiration strike! Like you, I've found many a story idea while doing research. Congratulations on the new series. It sounds fun!

  2. Research is so much easier now than it was when I began this journey of publishing. I don't have to leave my house and head off to spend hours at the library now. I can usually find what I need to know with a few clicks of my computer mouse. Some things still require printed materials, however, and once they're in my hands, I have a difficult time letting them go. I imagine that is true of Amish literature. As for inspiration, I'm always thrilled when it finds me!

  3. The research sounds so interesting... I do research for work but it's financial analysis and research LOL not that exciting

  4. It is always interesting to hear how you the authors of the stories get there. Enjoy your Amish stories.

    1. Thanks! I love writing them, and it's nice to hear that readers enjoy them.

  5. The two-in-one that Love Inspired published, featuring your story and mine, arrived at my doorstep today. I'm excited and honored to have my story included with yours!

    Easter blessings to all on Sunday and in the days ahead.

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  7. Hi Jo Anne! The new series sounds great. Thanks so much for this post. I am working on finishing my #AmishBlitz project and I love the tip that both you and Debby gave about subscribing to Amish newspapers. I have a character reading The Budget in one scene. Why did I not think of reading it myself??? I don't live in the USA but I've enquired about international shipment. I wrote a flash fiction piece for Spark Magazine about The Oregon Trail. I don't know a great deal about Westward Expansion, so I had no idea what the story might be about, but when watching a documentary I saw a reference to later-in-life marriages between Irish Potato Famine widows and widowers. That tiny observation was all I needed to get started! :)


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