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Interview with Jan Drexler


Writing Amish fiction isn’t just about a good story for Jan Drexler. It’s also a look into her family history. Drexler’s ancestors were Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania in the mid-1700s. Though she now makes her home in the Great Plains, her “Plain” ancestry continues to influence her life and stories.

You have written Amish and western fiction. What appeals to you about those genres?

Writing Amish fiction is a journey of exploration for me as I try to understand my ancestors and the choices they made. On the other hand, when I am writing western fiction I get to delve into the history and people of my adopted state, South Dakota.

It’s hard to say which genre I prefer. I love writing historical romance and both of these genres allow me to do that. Seeing the changes that took place between the 1840s, when my Amish series takes place, and the 1870s setting of my western is fascinating. We who live in the 21st century have become used to huge technological advances taking place in a short period of time, but those who lived in the 19th century also saw great changes, though at a slower pace.

What is one piece of “Plain wisdom” that sticks with you?

The concept of humility. To be truly humble is to displace oneself by enthroning God. He is all and we are nothing, except that through true humility we may draw close to Him. It is in death to self that humility is perfected.

What do your readers love about the Plain community?

One of the things my readers love most is the closeness of family. From the beginning of the Amish church, family togetherness has been emphasized. That is why the families choose to farm as their main way of life. On a farm, the family works together and all members are necessary. With our modern, fractured lives, we look at that closeness with a sense of envy.

Where are your stories set? Have you visited those locations?

My Amish stories are set in northern Indiana’s Amish Country. My first two books, published by Love Inspired, take place in LaGrange and Elkhart Counties in the 1930s. Not only did my husband and I live in that area with our children for seven years, but my dad’s family has lived there since the 1850s. My roots are deep there!

The trilogy from Revell, “Journey to Pleasant Prairie,” starts out in Lancaster County, Pa., in 1842 and follows the characters as they travel west to the new Amish settlement in northern Indiana. While researching those books, I followed that same route with my dad as a traveling companion. He knows the family stories and we matched his knowledge with my research. It was quite a trip.

My western, A Home for His Family, published by Love Inspired, takes place in Deadwood, Dakota Territory. Deadwood just happens to be right up the road from where we live in South Dakota, and I took several research trips there. There is nothing like walking the streets of Deadwood, visiting Mt. Moriah Cemetery, and climbing to the top of White Rocks to enjoy the view.

Quilting is a big part of the Plain community and also something you list among your interests. What draws you to the craft and how does quilting connect with your stories?

My Love Inspired Amish stories include a lot of quilting. When I was in high-school, my grandmother taught me how to quilt the way her mother had taught her. Quilt blocks were made from fabric leftover from sewing or taken from clothes that had worn out. Piecing was done on her treadle sewing machine, using traditional patterns. The quilting was done by hand, and that is still the way I prefer to do it.

To my great sorrow, once I had children, other things pushed quilting to the background. Then when my quilting frame was destroyed during a move, I was lost. Someday, though, I hope to get back to quilting. My dream is to have a quiet room with a quilt set in the frame so I can spend a few moments putting in some stitches at the end of the writing day.

You grew up hearing stories of your family's Plain background. As a child, did that spark your imagination or was it not until you were older?

When I was a child I thought everyone had grandparents and great-grandparents who lived the way mine did. My great-grandparents were Plain, although they were Church of the Brethren rather than Amish. My grandmother was a widow from before I was born and kept a large garden, canning her vegetables, and lived very simply in her small town.

By the time I was in college I started to realize my unique heritage. The year after I graduated I traveled to Europe and visited the small town of Sumiswald in Switzerland. My ancestors had been driven out of that beautiful Emmental region because of their faith. That experience piqued my curiosity. But it wasn’t until I started thinking about writing the stories that I began to understand how blessed I am.

My family stories are the starting points for my novels. For instance, my ancestors emigrated from the early Amish settlements in Pennsylvania to western Pennsylvania, then to Ohio, and finally to Indiana. It took them several generations to make that move. My characters do it in a few months. My characters are composites of what my ancestors might have been like and make decisions my ancestors might have made.

What books are you reading now?

I love to read (what writer doesn’t?) and always have several books going at once. So right now I’m in the process of reading the Bible, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Love’s Unfading Light by Naomi Rawlings, The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, and Mennonites, Amish, and the American Civil War, by James Lehman and Steven Nolt.

When you hit a creative slump, what inspires you?

Research. I love doing research. When I hit a slump I go back to my research books. I often come across an idea or a tidbit that starts the creative juices flowing again.

I’m so thankful God has called me to this task. I pray my stories will touch someone’s life and make a difference.


Lisa Bartelt is a child of the flatlands fulfilling her dream of living near mountains in Pennsylvania. She loves reading, writing and listening to stories—true ones, made-up ones and the ones in between—preferably with a cup of coffee in hand. Wife, mom of two, writer, ordinary girl, Lisa blogs about books, faith, family and the unexpected turns of life at

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