What the Amish Taught Me About Writing Erotic Romance Novels

Yes, really!

Well, not literally. This isn’t a blog post about where you can find and take your authentic rustic barn-held writing class, taught by a no-nonsense young man called Johanne Yoder with a stiff historical beard and a chicken under his other arm. He wears his suspenders unironically, and his linen pants high. Even his English sounds thick and German, but it’s sexy as hell. You get to write on a slate with chalk, and sit on a hay-stack. His siblings all died of meningitis. He believes in non-violence. Yasssss.

Admittedly, I think that might be one of the ultimate hipster fantasies, I must commercialize it immediately. I certainly want to go. Johanne sounds hot, even if he won’t put out until marriage.

The Amish peoples would probably give fairly poor creative writing advice: they’re too busy living polite, humble, and hardworking lives. But there are a lot of lessons to be learned looking at the Amish genre in ‘erotic’ romance. So in a way, they can sure teach you about romanticism, erotic conservatism, cultural appropriation, writing about people you know nothing about, and historical-beard fetishism.

Try Writing What You Don’t Know

If my research into writing romance novels that ‘sell’ has taught me anything, its exploitation. Find something people want, something people will read, and write to it (that’s right, you bought Twilight in 2005, the reborn era of the vampire novel is partly your fault. We all read it and the crap that came after).

A famous bit of advice is to “write what you know”, which I hate. Of course, if we only ever wrote what we knew, there would just be a lot of dull treatises about the art of Netflix binging, and how we like our coffee. To write what you know really means to bring something special from unique life experiences to emotion. I didn’t really understand Yeats until I fell in love with someone who didn’t love me back, but I managed to come back from the ledge of life-ruining obsession. Then again, I haven’t won a Nobel Prize. Bring your heartbreaks, and your passions. If you don’t have a heartbreak yet, shut your computer, and go get one. Now.

But the authors who write romance novels about the Amish (or ‘bonnet rippers’) generally aren’t Amish themselves (1). They’re usually Christians, who idolize and romanticise the possibilities of a small, traditional, homosexual-free community. It’s the stuff of dreams. You can absolutely write what you don’t know, and unless your reader knows much about the Amish lifestyle (doubtful) you’ll probably still make money by roughly appropriating past and present cultural peoples to write about. Write about the Amish, or colonialists, or Queen Victoria, or Karl Marx’s erotic fantasies. He has no class, you have no class.

I’ve never had sex with a vampire in 20th century Slovenia, but my imagination and Google search are my greatest superpowers.

Although as a world-class nit-picker (my honours thesis was about plot-holes and fictional world-immersion), I shudder every time someone writes something historically and lazily incorrect. I once read a free romance novel on iBooks wherein a character used the term ‘genocide’ in the summer of 1941. I tried to imagine the hot, young French farmer had met Raphael Lemkin, but unfortunately, my history-oriented brain meant I couldn’t masturbate to it. I shut my iPad case, and sent a furious little rant to a fellow history student about how truly hard is it to Google before you write about something you obviously have never studied?

A quick Google and the author would have found out Raphael Lemkin didn’t coin or write about the term genocide until at least 1943, probably wasn’t ever in France before emigrating to the U.S.A. in 1941, and it certainly wasn’t coined by a hunky, blond French farmer. I don’t care how hunky he is. Your work doesn’t need to be the most authentic – no one really wants to read about how poor personal hygiene was in 1743, I just want to read about Jamie Fraser taking off his kilt – but don’t be lazy!

Work hard for realism if it’s what you want. Write your dry novel about Amish farming, going to church, and sensible conflict resolution. Hot. I’d read it.

So try writing what you don’t know, bring your heartbreaks, be creative, but please, please, please, Google first.

Being Conservative Can Be Sexy

I will confess: I have never written a smut-free story. I wouldn’t know how frankly. But there’s something notable about the fact that the Amish romance genre almost entirely avoids sex scenes, and yet enjoys popularity; albeit its love is with an over-40 Christian female audience. Some people really do want to read about simple, sweet, innocent romance in arguably its most traditional, uncorrupted, radical Christian form. Nobody is gay, everyone reproduces, and there’s no rude bits. It’s kind of nice, actually. Grandma doesn’t have to wear a bracelet that reads ‘wipe the porn from my Kindle when I die’ anymore.

But there’s something sexy about traditional values, and hardworking virgins who go on to pop out twenty beautiful babies. Or I find it sexy, largely because I have a raging historical beard fetish, and I like the idea of not having to work a full-time job, because I married a virile and capable man. It’s not for everyone. That’s okay. But it sells. Overwhelmingly heterosexual women buy and consume erotic romance novels: who else do you think bought so many copies of Fifty Shades of Grey?

So for one, traditional values are appealing to some. But if you’re like me and you can’t bear to not have thrusting in your Amish paradise, you can apply your conservatism conservatively. Tell a little or a lot in a scene. Or just corrupt traditional characters. Which I’ll probably go do after I edit and post this. Johanne needs to be liberated one 1920s style suspender strap at a time.

Either way it’s power to you! You can be graphic, or not.

Someone will always want to read a nice little traditional romance, it’s why my Dad still reads old Georgette Heyer novels. But there’s still a great market for doing-it.

Beards Please

They’re big right now, I hope they only get bigger and stay! Beards are hot, and hairy. They’re rugged and manly in an era where men now wear pink. It’s not a particular worry of mine, I hate the demarcation of strict gender roles and toxic masculinity in real life. But in erotic romance, the beard is the purest expression of evolutionary manliness: he’s got a big bushy Ned Kelly beard, therefore plenty of testosterone and he’s probably fertile.

Yes please.

Let’s have a million babies with tiny beards.

In Conclusion, I’ve Lost Track of the Point. Let’s Get Back To It.

You can write what you don’t know and still be part of a best-selling genre because Amish people don’t read books on Kindle. They won’t critique your mistakes. Historians will.

Do your research.

Get your heart broken. There are too many writers who are just writers. Get some life experience. Save a horse, ride a cowboy etc etc.

Take the erotic out and you can still write innocent romances. Or not. Put it in. And out. And in.

Beards are key.

*Originally posted at bethcoxlove.tumblr.com on October 21st 2015

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