Dudes! Did you know there is an entire Amish Romance genre out there waiting to be read? I did not. But my friend Jennifer Beckstrand does. And she has written a wonderful Amish Romance series, the first of which will be published in Spring 2012. I've asked her about her journey to publication, and she was kind enough to respond. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: JENNIFER BECKSTRAND!
You know how about four kids into your life you suffer from chronic insomnia because you can’t stop wondering what you forgot to do that day—like hug your child or go to the bathroom?
That is basically how I started my writing career. One night, a few months after the birth of my fourth daughter, I lingered on my pillow unable to sleep and decided to make up a story. A romantic story, because, really, it’s the only kind worth reading. My story had a sinewy hero and a very nice looking heroine and I liked it quite a bit. I started looking forward to bedtime (technically this is not true—I have always looked forward to bedtime) so I could further explore my Western romance in the still of the night.
One day, I decided to put the story on paper and fourteen years later, I had a 130,000-word Western historical romance, Rachel’s Angel, which won best novel in the League of Utah Writers Contest (2008) and first place in the Inspirational category at the Utah Romance Writers Conference (2009). A beautiful woman and her brother appear on the CW ranch with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the marks of violence on their faces. Despite his misgivings the foreman takes them in and trips off a chain of events that will change their lives forever. I love it, and hopefully, someday it will be read by the masses.
One agent wasn’t interested in my book because she said it wasn’t “steamy” enough (okay, not steamy at all). Another agent judged my manuscript in a contest, and I could tell without her having to spell it out for me that she hated my story with a white-hot passion. Oh, well. The first thing all aspiring writers must make peace with is that not everyone is going to like their work. This is a very difficult and painful realization.
Finally, Mary Sue Seymour of The Seymour Agency showed some interest. After looking at my manuscript for several months, she emailed me and asked me to call her. Note: If an agent asks you to call her, this is usually a very, very good thing. She said she thought I was a good writer but that Western romances weren’t selling well. Was I interested in writing an inspirational? She wanted me to try my hand at writing an Amish romance—a huge category in the Christian fiction market right now.
Amish? I knew nothing about Amish except they rode around in buggies and wore little white hats. “That’s what research is for,” Mary Sue said.
When an agent requests that you write something, in most cases, you do not in a million years decline the offer. I decided to go with an entirely different story than my Western, and acquired several published Amish romances to get feel for the category. Beverly Lewis is a must for any Amish romance reader. She is a wonderful writer and has an amazing grasp of the culture. I also read some Beth Wiseman, Cindy Woodsmall, and Shelly Shepard Gray. I loved Cindy Woodsmall’s “Sisters of the Quilt” series. Very sad and very romantic.
I was understandably anxious writing about an unfamiliar culture but felt confident that since I love romance and a good story, I could come up with both in this unusual setting. I sent out a call for help and my relatives showered me with suggestions and plot ideas. My older sister, Allison, who is a Phd., was and is a great help to me. She points out my lapses in logic, which, unfortunately, happen frequently.
Ideas don’t come easily to me, but I have found that if I ponder and think and contemplate and stew, my muse will wake up and a great plot or character will speak out. But I have to spend the time. This is hard since I am task oriented to the extreme. Luckily, it is not too hard to ruminate while puffing on the treadmill or running a vacuum over my carpet or taking a shower. I am notorious for long, indulgent showers. They are my guilty pleasure. I do my best thinking in there.
After reading lots of fiction and even more non-fiction, ideas germinated, characters demanded my attention, and storylines popped into my head like dandelions. Some had to be plucked, others I gleaned. Along the way, I came to a deep appreciation and affection for the Amish people and their simple, humble way of life.
Any story worth its salt is going to have conflict at its heart. I can’t remember who said that a story doesn’t begin until something bad happens. This is a challenge when writing Amish fiction because the people are so nice. A divorce in the family peppers a story with instant conflict, but the Amish do not divorce. A school bully creates tension, but Amish children are taught to treat others with charity.
For Kate’s Song I evaluated what kinds of conflicts the Amish would struggle with. Since my daughters are singers, I thought of how heart-rending it would be if they had to give up music because their faith required it. The Amish do group singing, but baptized members reject solo singing and the playing of musical instruments. As my story begins, Kate, an Amish girl, has left her community to pursue a singing career. One summer she returns home to decide how God would have her use her voice. Should she leave her community for the glamour of the opera or be baptized and silence her unique talent forever?
Six weeks after my life-altering visit with Mary Sue, I sent her three synopses along with the first fifty pages of Kate’s Song. Soon thereafter, ON MY BIRTHDAY, Mary Sue called with an offer to represent me—and a charge to “hurry and finish that book.”
I am a hopelessly poky writer. I interrupt myself and go back and reread and edit and sit for minutes at a time trying to construct the perfect sentence. And then there is my personal commitment to my family. So, the kids would leave for school and the frantic writing would begin until the bus dropped them off down the street. I have it easier than some. My youngest is now fourteen. Writing with young ones at home would be virtually impossible for me. Thus the fourteen years it took to write my first book.
Nevertheless, five months later, I finished the book, whisked it off to my agent, and signed a three-book deal with Guideposts Books within a couple of weeks for my series, Forever After in Apple Lake. My Amish romance, Kate’s Song, comes out on May 1, 2012.
The other two books in the series are completed, and I am starting on a new Amish series that I hope to have plotted by the first of the year. Time to hop in the shower!