“People especially now want to get away…they want something that will draw them away from the complicated life, and the uncertainty.”
Elizabeth Byler Younts is an author of Amish-themed fiction who spent part of her childhood in an Amish family. She digs into the question of why readers love Amish fiction in a podcast from the Anselm Society. Elizabeth has some good insights and I enjoyed hearing her somewhat different perspective on the topic.
She also describes her parents leaving the Amish, her relations with her Amish extended family today, the contrast between the two sides of her family, and why she is not the typical Amish fiction writer – or reader.
The banter goes for a few minutes as with most podcasts, with Elizabeth introduced around the 3:25 mark, though the actual interview doesn’t really start until around 8:00.
That’s where Elizabeth starts to tell her story, beginning with her background being born into an Amish family living in Michigan, and a bit about her parents, who had roots in Delaware, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and who lived for a time in Canada. Elizabeth’s parents “felt the calling” to leave the Amish right around the time Elizabeth was entering kindergarten, drawn by the message of a non-Amish preacher.
Elizabeth’s parents were shunned. But she describes a happy outcome, and the blessing of her parents building a better relationship with their own parents as a result. She and her siblings maintain a “great relationship” with her large Amish extended family. She adds that she and her sister were always known as “the Amish kids” in her school, even though they weren’t Amish anymore. “We knew we were different” she says.
Image: Lee Annette
She talks about her initial niche of Amish historical fiction from about 23:45, and about how a lot of readers “prefer a sweeter read”, and that “I’m not that kind of writer,” as she pens stories with more “grit.”
Elizabeth explains that “sweeter romantic reads” are the “mega-sales” because “people want to escape into something different”. Elizabeth says she is not the target reader.
On the Amish female protagonist, she says personalities of Amish women are going to be different – “they’re as varied humans as any of us”. You get both sides of the coin.
“Never once have I heard them spouting Scripture,” she explains, though she repeatedly notes that both Amish churches and people can be different. “I’m gonna write from what I remember,” she says. “They are extremely human, they don’t want to be put on a pedestal.” She talks about the flaw in expectations that Amish aren’t supposed to get angry, for example.
- Elizabeth says that predictability is a huge draw of Amish fiction. Readers “can pick up an Amish book and they are certain to get a happy ending, they’re certain to get something that’s still wholesome.” She speculates there might be an addictive nature to books and an endorphin rush that reading gives.
- As for the idealized version of the Amish: “I think readers want that, because of escapism,” though she doesn’t fault that. “Writers have to deliver a fantasy to their readers” she explains “and that’s okay.” In essence, readers don’t need or want to hear every mundane detail of real everyday life, however “authentic” that might make a story.
- Her Amish cousins read her historical fiction and liked it. But she doesn’t always know how her Amish family or other Amish readers will take her books as “I’m not going to put every single Amish person in a happy light.”
- The genre is still going strong: “We thought there was a downward trend 7 or 8 years ago,” she explains. There have been dips, but that trend didn’t come to pass.
Bonus: Elizabeth discusses Pennsylvania Dutch and shares some fun phrases: