by Mary Ellis
I’m occasionally asked by readers how I spend my vacations. Touring Europe with a rail-pass? Spending a month meditating in the mountains of Tibet to prime the creative well? Or perhaps relaxing on a secluded beach somewhere tropical, unspoiled and complete with spa facilities? Actually, many writers I know use vacations to research their next book or series of books. Since I write Amish romances I usually go to Holmes, Wayne or Tuscarawas Counties-Ohio’s Amish Country. There is nothing like in-person interviews, photographs of the local flora and fauna, and firsthand details of everything your fictional characters would experience. Smell the air (sometimes pleasant, sometimes not), taste regional cuisine and see what flowers actually bloom in local gardens.
Although I live within an hour of a large Amish population, a writer needs to visit the specific area since there are many regional differences. I’m working on a new series which highlights the Amish who’ve moved from over-populated Ohio and Pennsylvania into new areas of the country. I’ve spent three vacations in remote, rural areas without cell phone service or a single fast food restaurant. In fact during my recent trip to Kentucky, my GPS kept getting confused and shutting off. Good thing I brought along my trusty atlas. For A Little Bit of Charm I traipsed over back roads in search of horses and buggies and for those who prefer a slower pace of life. Since there were no hotels or motels in this area, luckily I was able to stay at my friend’s home and commute the ninety minutes in one direction. My friend sent her three grand-daughters to keep me company. The girls received a priceless education in the Plain culture that surpassed any found in textbooks. And having them along opened many doors and lowered people’s defenses. Who could resist charming little girls?
During the previous summer, I researched the Amish of Missouri in preparation to write the second book of the series, Love Comes to Paradise. I found these Amish to be the most private of any I’ve met thus far. But one lovely woman who ran an in-home bakery provided plenty of information and a few amusing tales. All I needed to do was buy all her cookies and pies to get her talking. I went back to my bed-and-breakfast in Columbia loaded with yummy sweets and plenty of research. I hope you’ll look for book two of the New Beginnings series, Love Comes to Paradise, just released, and A Little Bit of Charm coming this summer.
Mary Ellis grew up near the Amish and fell in love with them. She has now written nine bestselling novels set in their communities. When not writing, she enjoys gardening, bicycling, and swimming. Before “retiring” to write full-time, Mary taught school and worked as a sales rep for Hershey Chocolate. Living in Harmony, book one of her current series won the Lime Award for Excellence in Amish Fiction. Her debut Christian book, A Widow’s Hope, was a finalist for the 2010 ACFW Carol Awards.