The release of The Saddle Maker’s Son, the final installment of the Amish of Bee County series, has me feeling a little blue. I think this happens to many authors. We spend so much time with our characters in their homes that we get attached. Yes, I’m writing a couple of novellas set in Bee County, but that is pretty much it for South Texas. I’ve moved on to a new series set in Missouri that is exciting and I’m thrilled.
But that doesn’t preclude me from looking back at what started it all. Especially when The Beekeeper’s Son, the first book in the series, is a finalist in the 2016 American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Carol Contest in the romance category. The Beekeeper’s Son started it all. A few years back I was brainstorming a new series to pitch to my publishing house and I thought I might write a series set in South Texas in the state’s only Amish community.
Then I visited the place, about two hours from San Antonio. I drove away that hot, dusty summer day thinking, no way. People wouldn’t understand. I didn’t understand. I was surprised and nonplussed at how the place looked. The houses were rusty with falling-off siding and overgrown yards. The Combination Store was dusty and attached to a corral full of junk. A broken-down, decrepit buggy sat in front of it. Everything looked unkempt to me.
And that’s how it started. I had a two-hour drive home so I had plenty of time to think about it. What would it cost them to clean up the place a bit? Then it hit me. I judged them by the world’s standards for beauty. These folks don’t care about outward appearances. What they really care about is their relationship with God and avoiding the ways of the world.
They live in a place where farming is difficult, if not impossible. It’s hot, dry, and unforgiving. With no air conditioning, no electricity, no phones, and no cars. And they like it. They embrace it. The story has it that Mr. Truman Borntrager, the family patriarch, was on his way to Mexico to sell goods from his district in Tennessee when he passed through Bee County. He liked it, said it had less humidity. He bought up some land and moved his family there. Most of the families living in the small community now are Borntragers or are somehow related to them. Just as I describe in the book, one of their main sources of income is raising bees and selling the honey. They also make and repair buggies and occasionally train horses for their English neighbors. They also raise produce to sell to the local grocery chain. You can buy baked goods at the Combination Store on Friday mornings. They have an annual fund-raiser auction in November that provides lots of bargains as well as an opportunity to hobnob with the local community.
All in all, they’re hardworking folks who also bird watch, visit the San Antonio zoo, and entertain visitors from other Amish communities on occasion.
By the time I arrived home from that first visit, I felt so convicted. I had judged them and found them wanting. That’s where The Beekeeper’s Son began. Deborah Lantz and her family move to Bee County from a district that is more typically what we are used to reading about in Amish fiction or as tourists. Clean, neat, homes with flower gardens and lush, greenery. She’s as disheartened by what she sees in Bee County as I was. Then she meets Phineas, with his scarred face and even more scarred heart.
The Beekeeper’s Son is an exploration of how the world perceives beauty as opposed to how God, who made each one of us in his image, perceives it.
I’ll miss Bee County but I’m so grateful for the time I spent there. I hope you are too. As always, I love hearing from readers. Leave a comment with your thoughts on the subject.