Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Researching in Amish Country by Vannetta Chapman

Author Vannetta Chapman has written a number of novels featuring Amish characters. Today, she's going to share some lessons she's learned while researching her books. -- Sandy

Vannetta: I will have two books releasing in March – Murder Simply Brewed and An Amish Garden. Both are set in northern Indiana. Murder Simply Brewed begins a series that will take place in Middlebury. An Amish Garden returns to the town of my first Amish series, Shipshewana. These will be books number 9 and 10 for me, the first having released in 2010. I thought that today I’d share with you what I’ve learned during that time regarding research—both virtual and in person.

  1. It is worth it to spend your advance, or a good portion of your advance, on in-person research. Although you can learn a lot about a place on-line, it’s not the same as drinking coffee at the local cafĂ©, meeting with the local librarian, and generally puttering around town. I’ve been to the northern Indiana area four times since 2010. Every trip has been worth the expense.
  2. Take lots and lots and lots of pictures when you go. Since we’re in the day of electronic photography, there is absolutely no reason to hold back. I take pictures of things I’m only mildly interested in. That’s okay. Let your interests guide you. For example, while in Middlebury, we learned of a local Amish farmer who was raising camels in order to sell their milk. We walked down to his place and took a few pictures. Two years later, the idea of camels and the Amish has become a nice subplot in my series.
  3. Ask questions and collect contact information. I have visited Amish in their home, in their stores, and even in their schools. While it’s not proper to take close-up pictures in those places, I’ve learned a lot from the time I spent there. I learned details that are important to my story. I always retain contact information so I can send a book, a thank you card, or future questions.
  4. Spend more time rather than less. If you can afford 5 nights by staying at a less expensive hotel, then do! What’s important is that you get the feel, and often the history, of the town.
  5. Use on-line research judiciously. I visit a place before I start a series if at all possible. In March I’ll begin a series set in Oklahoma, but I won’t be able to visit there until June. That’s okay. I’ll go ahead and write the story and add details after my visit. In the meantime, I’ll use on-line research, but I’ll do so carefully. I only  have 6 months to write a book, actually 4-5 when you leave time for sending to pre-readers and editing. So I limit my on-line research. If I have a question, I pop on-line, find the answer, and then get off. No straying down bunny trails.

Research is an important part of every writer’s work. It adds flavor and authenticity to our writing. Here’s hoping that your research will bring you the answers you need to write the next bestselling novel.

Where has your research taken you? Do you have anything to add to Vannetta's list?


Vannetta Chapman writes inspirational fiction full of grace. Her novel, Falling to Pieces, was a 2012 ACFW Carol Award winner for best mystery. She writes Amish mysteries for Zondervan, Amish romances for Harvest House and Amish novellas for Abingdon and Zondervan. All of her books have been Christian Book Distributor bestsellers. Chapman lives in the Texas hill
country with her husband.
You'll find Vannetta at


  1. If you have any questions about research, please share them with us. And thank you for stopping by!

  2. I have a question, Vannetta. For me, one of the hardest parts of research is talking to people in person, admitting why I want the information (especially since I'm unpubbed in novels) and knowing which questions to ask.

    How did you approach your Amish contacts and gain entry to their home? Were they hesitant to give you information about their lives? I've always wondered this about writing Amish stories. I think it also applies to writing about any people group, such as Native Americans, etc.

  3. Especially with the Amish, I don't lead with "Hi, I'm an author." First I get to know the person, express general interest, and thank them for their time. Of course, if they ask, I readily tell them I'm researching for a book. Most of the time, they're mildly amused about that. If they don't ask, I work it into the conversation later. I want them to know that first and foremost I'm interested in them as a person,

  4. Hi Vannetta, I love this post. I became interested in the Amish years ago upon reading an article in National Geographic! Visiting Intercourse PA not long ago really strengthened that interest. I am definitely intrigued with your books. As for me, I don't know if I will ever just GO to a place I want to use for a setting. I use places I've already been like Nebraska and Colorado. (I write Westerns). A recent tour of the breathtaking Canadian Rockies means, of course, some future cowboy and outlaw stories of mine will be set in Alberta. I have done some research by phone, but I so like your idea of face-to-face.

    I really enjoyed this post! Thanks, Vannetta.

    1. Hi Tanya. Ohhh … I love the Canadian Rockies. What a great setting for a story! You know, the first book I published (A Simple Amish Christmas) I did not visit the setting. The book was needed in 3 months, and I didn't have time to go up there. I was still teaching full time! So I used on-line research and the book was well received. I think part of the reason I always go now is simply making those contacts . . . people in the area who are happy to promote your books. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Vannetta, nice to see a fellow FHL member. You made my day. I can't wait to read Murder Simply Brewed!

    In this day of online everything I appreciate you talking about the importance of visiting a location in person when possible.

    Where are you visiting in Oklahoma?

  6. Hi Teri (waving wildly). We'll be in Tulsa the first weekend of June for the quilt show (where I'll be selling and signing books). From there we'll go to Chouteau. :)


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