Wanda E. Brunstetter’s The Amish Cooking Class – The Seekers and Bringing Characters Together for Drama
Hey, everyone. It’s time to be a little bit jealous of Wanda E. Brunstetter. But not too jealous; that would be a sin. Ms. Brunstetter has published a lot of books and has a devoted audience for her Amish inspirational romances. I know many people aren’t literary omnivores, but I love reading all kinds of books, even though I’m not exactly in the stereotypical demographic for these kinds of novels. Still, Ms. Brunstetter has a lot to teach us. More importantly, she writes fun books and fulfills every promise she makes with her books.
The novel is centered upon the farm of Lyle and Heidi Troyer. They are a proud Amish couple–but not too proud; that would be a sin–who have a beautiful place in Ohio. Lyle is an auctioneer and Heidi decides to make a little money and to share her gift with others by teaching a weekly cooking class.
I guess I’ll introduce the first lesson here…Ms. Brunstetter very wisely came up with a conceit that allows her to put a bunch of drama-prone characters together. Think about it. While Heidi Troyer is a very calm and dignified woman who has most everything figured out, she surrounds herself with people who have far more problems than she does. Ron is a Vietnam War vet who ends up camped on the Troyer property when his RV breaks down. Kendra is pregnant and her family has turned her away, not that doing so will stop the baby from arriving. Eli lost his wife and is looking for companionship. See? All of these people have discernible problems and needs. Guess what? Ms. Brunstetter allows the characters to grow and change based upon their interactions and their own internal struggles. (And maybe Heidi has her own problem that needs to be solved…)
We certainly can’t fashion every single one of our stories in this way, but creating a nexus of conflict and drama is a time-tested tactic for teasing trouble out of our characters. Here are some examples:
- Cheers, the bar from Cheers, is populated by a number of well-drawn characters who unite in one place. Each of them have their own problems and needs and the writers wring drama (and comedy) out of having all of these characters in the same place.
- Rick’s Café Américain from Casablanca is a meeting spot that facilitates conflict. Everyone goes there. The Nazis, the French, ridiculously beautiful refugees played by Ingrid Bergman…everyone. Placing everyone in the same nightclub allows the drama to blossom. (If you haven’t seen Casablanca, please do so. It’s for the best.)
- Eerie, Indiana is the new home of Marshall Teller, a town where all kinds of creepy and cool things happen. The gents who created the TV show, José Rivera and Karl Schaefer, created a place where weird and wonderful things can happen. The show could have (and should have) run forever.
Heidi’s Amish cooking class offers Ms. Brunstetter near-inexhaustible opportunities to cycle interesting characters in and out of the orbit of the Troyer kitchen. This seems to be the plan, as The Seekers is Book One of a series…
This is an Amish inspirational romance-type book, so you know there won’t be any of the flashy kinds of conflict on offer. The international spy rings, serial killers and terrorist attacks will appear in other kinds of books. Still, Ms. Brunstetter allows her characters to be unpleasant, particularly in the context of the genre and story. Ron, the Vietnam vet, repeatedly lies to the Troyers and takes advantage of their hospitality. He even steals from his hosts. Kendra made “one little mistake” and got pregnant out of wedlock. Ms. Brunstetter does not examine these themes in the same manner as writers in other genres might do, but she is still allowing her characters to misbehave and to do things that the Christian characters shouldn’t do. The principle applies to characters in all genres. On occasion, I read YA books in which the teenagers are impossibly polite and respectful of the opposite sex. Not only does this kind of attitude pose problems creating drama, but it’s also not realistic.
Those who write Amish books have a problem that is easily transferable to all other authors who include other languages in their work. The Amish are generally fluent in Pennsylvania Dutch and the language is a very important part of their culture. (As it is for every culture.) Ms. Brunstetter has an obligation to include the language in her dialogue–the characters would use these words!–but she must also ensure that the audience knows what she’s talking about. Let’s take a look at an example of how the author handles this problem:
See what she does? She italicizes the word the reader probably won’t know and then defines it in the following line of dialogue. We were already told that Lyle is married to Heidi, so we know fraa = wife. Kichlin = cookies. There are other ways to handle the problem, but this is one.
I’ve read a few of Ms. Brunstetter’s books, and The Seekers is as fun as the others. The world that the author creates, this Amish version of Ohio, is everything that her readers want it to be. It’s simple. Plain. People still have conflicts, but they resolve them calmly. (And with the help of God, as her target readers expect.)
The great strength of this book (and of so many others in the genre) is that the authors make promises to the reader and keep them. Ms. Brunstetter promises the reader in this case, that they will learn about Amish food, they will see characters solve their problems together and with the help of their religion and that the book will be a calm and unobjectionable read that has a discernible conclusion that wraps everything up. (Aside, of course, from the story strands that will likely be taken up in subsequent books.)
I don’t know how many Great Writers Steal writers have given the Amish inspirational genre a chance, but they should. A writer must have a balanced reading diet.