After the Party: The Unexpected Twists and Delights of Researching a Novel

 NCWA welcomes Kate Lloyd!

I recall the thrill of the plot for my first Amish novel unfolding, its title, Leaving Lancaster, presenting itself like a banner slapping in the summer breeze! My characters came alive in a blissful flurry. Hurray! I sold my proposal, a synopsis and three chapters, to David C. Cook! Time to party!

Then a wave of panic swept through my chest as I realized how little I knew about the Amish. I’d read Amish fiction, but I could hear my professorial-father’s stern words in my ear: “Don’t assume other authors have done their homework.”

Questions and doubts inundated my mind. What if I characterized the Amish incorrectly? Could I honor them, yet remain true to my Christian beliefs?

I’d give it my best, I decided, and opened my laptop for a look-see on Google.

The information I found about the Amish was sketchy. What became clear was: They are private and prefer to live along side us Englishers (anyone not Amish) but not engage in our hectic whiz-bang world. They tolerate us, but our modern conveniences are viewed as bad influences to their tight family units. Old Order Amish follow the teachings of the Bible vigorously, and also an unwritten set of rules called the Ortnung that varies from church district to district.

I take pleasure in writing fiction and don’t balk at doing research, because the fiction writer has to have his or her facts correct or the reader will doubt the whole premise of the book. But how could I delve into a community that didn’t want me to know about it?

I purchased books and found, to my relief, I’d stumbled upon the world’s authority on the Amish. I contacted Donald B. Kraybill, Ph.D. and his research assistant, Steve Scott (see this link), who became a mentor and friend. Both men generously helped me, and I went to bed reading their books every night.

Yet how could I understand the Amish without coming to know them? I couldn’t call or email people who didn’t use the Internet or own phones in their homes. I’d have to go there, I decided, and my husband wanted to come too. I prayed I’d meet individuals who’d read my manuscript for veracity. My husband and I cruised up and down every country road, with care to stay clear of the horse and buggies. We were captivated with the countryside, the expansive farms, and bounteous fields! Through God’s guidance and my persistence, I met people I now consider friends, who agreed to read my manuscript.

As I wrote and rewrote, I continued to do research on every facet of the Amish, including their unique language. Talk about research: at the last minute I called the author of the most accurate Pennsylvania Dutch dictionary to verify the spelling and use of certain words. I doubt my research on the Amish will ever end!

Leaving Lancaster released March 1, 2012, so I guess the party isn’t over. It’s just begun!

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Kate Lloyd has been a member of NCWA since 2004. She is an author and a passionate observer of human relationships. A native of Baltimore, Kate spends time with family and friends in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the inspiration for her newly released fiction novel Leaving Lancaster, David C Cook. She is a member of the Lancaster County Mennonite Historical Society. Kate and her husband live in the Pacific Northwest, the setting for Kate’s first novel, A Portrait of Marguerite. Kate studied painting and sculpture in college. She’s worked a variety of jobs, including car salesman and restaurateur. Find out more about Kate Lloyd on her website or on her Facebook page.

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8 thoughts on “After the Party: The Unexpected Twists and Delights of Researching a Novel

  1. Congratulations, Kate, on your achievement! You are an inspiration. You’ve mastered a new vocabulary, met new people and have translated what you’ve learned into the language of story. You go, girl!

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  2. An amazing story. I felt like I was in Lancaster County. I learned so much about the Amish, but you wove in your research and it felt a natural part of the plot. Great characters and an amazing ending.

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  3. Thank you, Dennis! The beat goes on; I’m about to sit down with a book on Amish farms. You should see my stacks of books about the Amish! And I’m a confirmed fiction lover.

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  4. Pingback: 2012 Sigma Tau Delta induction « Write on the World

  5. Indeed it was, Janalyn, and continues. A couple hours ago, a neighbor (a professor from U of W) who’s read half of Leaving Lancaster questioned me about the Amish and their stance on education, among other topics. An interesting discussion!

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