Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Research for my Writing

By Mary EllisAh, research…the mere mention of the word causes stress in students from junior high age on up through graduate school. But research for a writer of Amish fiction is something quite different. I usually can’t wait to get away from my computer, check into my favorite bed & breakfast in Amish Country, and learn more about their culture. I know I’ll find gorgeous scenery, delicious meals, and friendly people eager to help. I usually come home from weekend trips with a trunk filled with homemade peanut butter, bulk seasonings, several kinds of cheese, and jars of pickled everything-under-the-sun.
No bleary-eyed studying until dawn’s early light for this gal.
Since the main plot of The Way to a Man’s Heart involves a train car converted into a diner, I haunted rural restaurants, surreptitiously eavesdropping on waitresses over the top of my menu. I ate several times in the auction barn cafeteria, sampling daily specials and various pie recipes.
Since I mess up brownies out of a box, I hired an Amish baker to invent the recipes that appear in my story. Her farm happens to be adjacent to the B&B where I stay. My husband and I were invited for dinner and pie-tasting so that I might choose the perfect pies for my story. What tribulation to be forced to eat three different versions of Chocolate Mousse Supreme! Her family (husband and all four children present) provided an experience that money can’t buy.
Since one of my subplots involves a horse training facility, I attended several facilities and followed buyers and trainers around asking questions. It’s not my fault they assumed I was in the market to buy an expensive horse. I must say, jotting notes on a sunny morning, surrounded by magnificent four-legged beasts is far more enjoyable than surfing websites.
Not that I don’t do plenty of online research too. For my second subplot, when Emma and her (non-Amish) husband convert to New Order, I studied the differences in practices and customs on the internet. Although I occasionally ask my Amish friends about their church services, I don’t want to become pesky or too invasive.
To research Sarah’s Christmas Miracle, I visited the city where I attended college—but this time as an observer. I rode buses, trains, and subways, admired the city square and train station, hiked through neighborhoods hard hit by the foreclosure crisis, and walked the beach in winter. What fun to be a tourist in your own hometown, seeing things through fresh eyes.
Writing books is very hard work. But doing the research for my summer releases, the only thing that suffered was my waistline.
I'm giving away two free books--one of each summer release. Leave a comment to get your name in the drawing.


  1. What? I'm the first one to comment? That never happens to me!
    It's because I can't sleep and I'm waiting for my Tylenol PM to kick in.

    Though I love to study and read and look up stuff, I relish the idea of research that takes place out in the field. Especially if a nice vacation can be combined with it! And chocolate pie, too!


  2. Mmmm, this post makes me hungry. I'm thinking some chocolate pie might be in order. :)


  3. Mary- writing is hard work, but you've just proven it can be fun too. Keep up the good research!

    I agree with Karen. Chocolate pie does sound wonderful. Let's break all the rules and have one for breakfast. Cyber pie with none of the calories!


  4. I grieve for you, all that hard work, slaving away, tasting pie and enjoying diner gossip. :-)

    Just got back from my sister's where we went to the Amish Market. Makes me wish I was back up north. However, the heat wave has destroyed the perk of it being cooler.

    I have done a lot of research myself into the Amish, from the time I was in high school. I know it is very difficult to convert. Were your characters converting from non Amish to New Order or were they changing from Old Order?

    Pie, pie, pie...

    Peace, Julie


  5. Okay now THIS is the kind of research I can get into. Can I come next time?

    I know that there is an Amish community in Western NY where I am from, but where is yours btw?


    Coffee is on!

  6. Welcome to Seekerville, Mary! I love how you mix research with a fun and great eating! Pie is one of my favorite desserts, but these days it's hard to find the homemade variety. I would never have thought of hiring a baker to come up with recipes for your books. Fabulous idea!

    To go with all the pie, I brought sausage patties and scrambled eggs for breakfast. Dig in.


  7. Welcome to Seekerville, Mary! Looks like research never had it so good. I think I've gained a pound just reading about your adventures.

    So good of you to sacrifice yourself for the good of your book, LOL!

    We've got all this pie and no coffee! Kona coffee brewing in the back with organic milks and creamers in the mini fridge.

  8. Chocolate pie. YES!!!

    And Tina brought coffee. God bless you, my dear friend. Gimme.

    And Janet, look at you, Betty Crockerin' it up with breakfast. Oh mylanta, I'm so over-the-top excited....

    And Mary Ellis, first I love your name, it's total down-home adorable, and those covers are lovely.

    Pie. I love pie. And I have found sweet diners/restaurants with homemade pie that always get a shout out in my books because, yes, it's THAT important.

    This is my kind of research, too, and why no one ever balks at going road tripping with me.

    Great job, Mary!

  9. Welcome to Seekerville, Mary, and I have to admit ... your "research" could lure me into writing Amish ... uh, that and the pies. I mean really, are pies not one of God's greatest creations????

    You sure make research sound fun and very tax deductible, which is more than I can say for surfing the Web. I'm definitely going to have to give this some thought ... mmmm, maybe I can write a story about a cruise ...


  10. Thanks for sharing your writing research process with us! For as much fun as you made it sound *grin*, we all know it's still a lot of work. Thanks for the reminder that to make our characters and scenes authentic, we really do need to know what we're talking about!


  11. Mary -- I grew up in rural parts of the midwest (Missouri & Iowa) where it was common to see Amish families in the community. Sometimes they'd come to town in their wagons and sell vegetables in the neighborhoods of our little town. And I remember heading back to college on Sunday evenings, taking care to watch for buggies on the back roads. Knowing you go to such authentic, detailed--and, ahem, arduous--lengths for your research, I'll have to try out one of your books!

  12. I really enjoy your books Mary!!! Please enter me!

  13. Morning mary and welcome to Seekerville,

    I'm with you on research. That is my favorite part of writing a book. In fact, the events around me are what inspire most of my books. I love observing people, learning about new cultures, jobs, ideas.

    I was flying last week and was supposed to be critiquing a friends work. But the man next to me was so interesting. He told me all about his work and invited hubby and me to come visit in the small town where he lives. Now I have a new hero for my next wip. smile

    Have to say, though your research sounds fabulous with all the eating.

    Chocolate pie in the morning. Now that is my kind of breakfast and thanks everyone else for the goodies. I'm with Ruthy, Janet, Impressed as all get out with the lovely breakfast. You girls are marvelous.

  14. This was such a fun post to read. I visited a friend in Lancaster county a couple of summers ago and got to drive an Amish buggy! It was fun until the horse got spooked by a cyclist that zoomed past us. Even that wasn't too bad. And researching pies, how fun must that be!


  15. Good morning.
    I met Mary when I was traveling and had such a great time.

    You're coming to ACFW aren't you, Mary? Make sure and come hang around with the Seekers. That goes for everyone at ACFW.

    Your post about research is something I've been TRYING to take to heart. I do too much of my research on the internet. I've been trying to get out and actually SEE the world.

  16. Oh, and I am also a big fan of PIE.

    But isn't that sort of universal?

    I mean c'mon, when's the last time someone shuddered and said, "Pie? We're having PIE??? Ick!"

    Never gonna happen.

  17. a great posting today...thanks for the opportunity to read your novels...your 'research' is put to good use :)

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  18. I love this kind of research, and I'm with Julie...maybe I need to research for a book set on a cruise ship...:)

    Pie...yum. We have a rather large Amish community in our part of Western Kentucky, and they frequent the library where I work. In fact, my kitchen cabinets are Amish-made! We had to go out to the shop and pick up the fellow that measured, take him back, and arrange transport for the finished product - but it was well worth it! Our Amish friends may dress plainly, but I have to say, they do love their fiction - especially Love Inspired and Amish fiction! Who knew?

    I'd love to read your books!


  19. Some of us actually like reading books and searching the internet for dry facts. Hmph! (Just kidding!)

    Oh yes, that sounds like really hard work! LOL! :-) Glad you had fun with your research!

  20. True confession: I've never had chocolate pie. Never heard of it until a year or so ago. I guess I'll have to do my own research. :-)

    I make a mean peach pie, so I'll offer it up as an alternative to the chocolate pie that's making the rounds. Along with a nice dollop of vanilla ice cream but you'll have to eat it fast or the ice cream will be soup in this heat.

    Mary, I haven't read any of your books yet, but you're on my list of must buys now and I'm heading to the bookstore tomorrow. I checked out your book trailers, by the way and they certainly caught my interest.

    Oh, and I definitely appreciate the depth you go for your research even if your waistline doesn't. LOL.

  21. Hi Mary:

    In your research have you learned how the Amish view all these Amish romance books? Do you know if they read them? Have we had our first Amish author appear? Do you think a true Amish believer would ever write an Amish romance? I think it is just as interesting to know how the Amish view Amish romances as it is to know why romance fans find them so interesting.


  22. I love the idea of getting out into the "real world" to do your research. I'll have to pry myself away from my computer next time I need info :)

    christi_corbett at yahoo dot com

  23. Great post! Now I'm craving chocolate pie. :)


  24. Pie!?!

    I love pie.

    I want to make a pie right now...only that would require cleaning the kitchen first. Blech.

    I don't like pie that much.

    Mary, I loved how you paid the Amish chicka to be your recipe tester. Not becuase I like pie. But I enjoying hearing the various means authors use to add realness to their stories.

    We have friends who moved last fall to Lancaster PN. I sounded like Inspector Clouseau pronouning "hamburger, 'amboogarre" when I tried to correctly pronounce Lancaster. Drat my Oklahoma raising!

  25. As I read your post, one question kept coming to mind.

    And then Vince posted it.

    I would like to know as well. Do Amish people read Amish romances?


  26. I don't know if it's this way everywhere, but at my library where I'm Director, our Amish patrons check out anything in Christian Fiction, and they seem to love the Amish fiction and Westerns!

  27. My understanding is that Amish people are avid readers. I'd have thought they had rules about 'only the Bible' or something like that. But in truth the Amish range in level's of strictness.
    Some of them haven't really advance a bit in a hundred years. Some are almost completely modern except for their dress and not having cars.
    They have electricity--but often generated at home. They (some of them) have rules against being 'on the grid'. So no electric wires or phone wires come to their homes.
    They have cell phones.
    I was in Amish Country in Ohio in March and in a restaurant famed for it's authentic Amish cooking, I went up to pay and all these Amish girls were waiting on tables and I pulled out my credit card and thought, "Uh oh, no way can they take a credit card."

    But of course they took credit cards. After I'd given myself ten seconds to think about it...the restaurant had a huge buffett. Electric lights. Cold drinks, hot coffee. Competely modern.

    So, the more I knew about Amish folks, the more I realized I didn't know nuthin'.

    Wanda Brunstetter, an author of Amish romance for Barbour Publishing, talks about her Amish fans.

  28. Great post. The Amish are so interesting.

  29. Mary, I think I enjoy researching a little more than I enjoy writing. Just a little though.

    I've just recently discovered that I love Amish Romances. I can't get enough of them.

    Thank you for sharing your bits on research. I'm real tempted to see where the nearest Amish B&B is.

  30. I loved reading your post and loved where you said that you mess up baking out of a box so hired a Amish baker to come up with the recipes for you. How neat that is! Making me hungry!


  31. Hi everyone, and thanks so much for responding! First of all, chocolate pie for breakfast is commonplace in my house. (that is, when we're out of cold pizza...) Carbs are carbs, right?
    Secondly, the community I write about is Holmes County, Ohio, in between Cleveland and Columbus. And regarding main character converts from Old Order to New, which is not-uncommon. And her fiancee converts from non-Amish to New Order. (rare, but not unheard of)

  32. Okay, a couple more things...then, honest, I'll be quiet.
    Mary, I loved meeting you in March, and thanks for inviting me to Seekerville. What a lovely group of folks!
    Julie, I liked your idea of writing a story that takes place on a cruise...I'm thinking Murder on the Orient Express on a ship....
    And Vince, yes, Amish women do read (clean) romances. Usually they check them out at the library because they're very frugal with their spending money. The books that I "gift" my research contacts, make their way around the community and come back quite dog-eared. The exception would be the very conservative Swartzentruber Amish--they do not read fiction.
    Thanks for the great questions!

  33. Mary,
    YUM!!! Amish food is wonderful, especially their baked goods. We lived in Carlisle, PA, and the Amish ladies sold their cakes and pies and breads at the SAT Farmers' Market.

    We'd also travel to Intercourse and enjoy the beautiful scenery--the lovely farms and farm houses. I enjoyed shopping at the general store in town while the horses and buggies clip-clopped by.

    My family hails from Columbus, Ohio, and we love Plain City. A favorite Amish restaurant there serves huge portions of food that draw crowds from miles around.

    Okay, I'm gaining weight just thinking about all those delicious Amish treats.

    Thanks for being with us in Seekerville today, Mary. Your books look delightful! Looking forward to seeing you at ACFW!!!

  34. I would love to read your books, Mary. Please enter me. Thanks!!!

  35. I love reading this and wish I could stay at a B & B at Amish Country. We live near Seymour, Mo. where there is lots of Amish people. I see them and their buggies on the road all the time.
    I used to visit Arcola, Il. where there was an Amish Village for tourist so not like real Amish living.
    Enter me to win.

  36. Mary, what a delightful reminder to get out from behind our computers once in a while and experience real life!

    I'd sure love to have tagged along on your tour of horse training facilities!

    But definitely count me in on the cruise ship research!

  37. I love the Amish books please enter me

    mamat2730 at charter dot net

  38. I love all the author that appear here on seekerville.

    mamat2730 at charter dot net

  39. I guess I'd best never try to write an Amish novel, I would probably gain 50 pounds! Thanks for sharing about research. I'm a former assistant librarian, so a love of research comes naturally to me.

  40. I just bought my first Amish romance, it looks like I've found a couple more now that I want to try. Along with some chocolate pie.

  41. I love Amish Fiction - please count me in. The pies sound so good. What a tough research job!


  42. I just wanted to say that the cover art on both books is beautiful. I am always drawn to the covers.

    I enjoyed the story of how you did research for Sarah's Christmas Miracle by walking the streets of your college town. I would love to win a copy!

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W


  43. I'm late late today.

    We go to Springfield a few times a year and see buggies all along the highway.

    Our daughter and son-in-law frequent the farmer's market and love the Amish goods they buy.

  44. Yum....I sure would love to try the brownies baked by the Amish baker. I'm sure it beats Duncan Hines. :)

  45. I may be a day late, but I'm here. I'm heading out tonight for a road trip to research my wip.

    It's not every day I'm writing about an area I can drive to and spend a couple of days.


  46. This comment has been removed by the author.

  47. oh what fun research is or at least in this case. Wow, what an enjoyable time.

    I have seen a movie or two on TV about the Amish life but know little so this is interesting. I know they are good cooks. Yummy.
    Thanks for sharing.