By Suzanne Woods Fisher
“Your big opportunity may be right where you are now.” Amish proverb
I’ve often heard that there is no better childhood than an Amish one. Mary Ann Kinsinger had such a childhood. She was raised in a happy Old Order Amish home in western Pennsylvania. A born storyteller, Mary Ann started a blog, A Joyful Chaos, as a way to capture the joy of her childhood.
I started following the blog and began to exchange e-mails with Mary Ann. I learned that leaving the Amish was a rather recent event in her family’s life. She and her husband had come to a point in their faith where they believed they needed to raise their children in a church that shared their views. It was a difficult decision, and not without its consequences. It created a rift between Mary Ann and her parents, a painful separation on both sides.
A Joyful Chaos quickly gained a following among those who are interested in knowing more about the Amish. Here was a blog of a woman who had left the Amish, but without bitterness or rancor. Just the opposite. Mary Ann’s blog captures what readers are looking for in Amish fiction books: charming family memories, a caring community, a collection of fun, quirky characters, all cast in a rural setting. And yet it’s real! All true.
One day, I e-mailed to ask if she was thinking of writing a book. “No,” she wrote back, “but I might be interested in collaborating someday.”
Fast forward a year or two. My friendship with Mary Ann continued to grow. So did her blog’s presence: A Joyful Chaos was receiving over 30,000 hits a month. It caught a mention in The New York Times. Mary Ann started a Facebook page. Remember, this was a woman who had stopped her formal schooling at eighth grade! But her education never stopped.
The time seemed right. We submitted a three-book fiction proposal for children, ages 8-12, inspired by Mary Ann’s childhood to my publisher, Revell. First book: we meet five-year-old “Lily” and her family as they build a farm. Second book: Lily begins school in a new community. An aggravating boy, Aaron Yoder, sits next to her and enjoys teasing her. She loathes him. Third book: Lily and Aaron court and marry.
Revell came back with a “Yes!” and a few tweaks: “We want four books based on Lily’s childhood. And hold off on the courting story for now.” One more thing, they said, we want the books ASAP. So Mary Ann and I got to work.
The Lily books are more than just another good children’s series-they’re a little slice of America, a peek into the world of a happy Amish family, fun and foibles. I have a sneaking hunch that children of all ages, 5-95, will quickly grow attached to Lily. But do you know what has surprised me the most about writing these books? Lily’s parents, Rachel and Daniel Lapp. Based on Mary Ann’s own parents, this young couple is the quintessence of wisdom and maturity. In Book 1, you’ll read a nail biting story when a difficult neighbor insists the property lines are incorrect and aims a shotgun at Lily’s father. Papa responds by…oh…I won’t spoil it. I’ll let you find out for yourself.
Life with Lily, book 1 in ‘The Adventures of Lily Lapp‘ series, releases on October 1st.
We’ll feature some mouthwatering recipes on tomorrow’s blog.
Suzanne Woods Fisher is a writer of bestselling fiction and non-fiction books about the Old Order Amish. Her interest in the Plain People began with her grandfather, W. D. Benedict, who was raised Plain. Suzanne is the host of Amish Wisdom, a weekly radio program on toginet.com, and writes a bi-monthly column for Christian Post, called “Plain Talk about the Amish.”