Kate Burkholder and Setting a Thriller Series in Amish Country
By Linda CastilloJune 1, 2018
I began my career writing romantic suspense novels, which I very much enjoyed and still read to this day. It was an interesting and sometimes arduous journey. During that time, I was in the unusual position of writing for not one but two major publishing houses simultaneously. Writing three books a year made for a pretty crazy work schedule, but I was a relatively new author, and I loved what I was doing. The procedure was: I would finish a manuscript, then turn it in to my editor, who would read it and, most often, make editorial suggestions. I had terrific relationships with both of my editors, and their insights always made the books better.
After a few years (and a number of successful novels), I began to see a pattern in the type of feedback I was getting from both of my editors. It went something like this: “Linda, these are romance novels, and you need to concentrate on the relationship between the hero and heroine.” My editors were basically telling me to stop killing people and concentrate on the softer aspect of the story. That was the point when I realized I was writing the wrong genre. Yes, I adored writing romantic suspense, but much of that love was for the suspense elements of the book, not the romantic part. I felt as if I had a BIG thriller trapped inside me, and I’d realized the time had come to unleash it.
The idea of writing a thriller had always appealed to me. I was challenged to take my writing to another level and explore something new. I began writing Sworn to Silence and put my newly discovered creative freedom to work. For weeks, I diligently plotted. I crafted the kinds of characters I’d been pining to create for years. I conceived a high-concept plot. And I loved every minute of it. I was driven. I wanted to write a breakout book. But while I am a creative soul, by that point in my career, I’d been around the block enough times to know this project was going to have to be something special. Really special. As an experienced writer with more than a dozen novels under my belt, I knew there was something missing—but what?
A happenstance trip to Ohio with my sister brought all of it into sharp focus. My brother-in-law grew up in a 200-year-old farmhouse in the heart of Amish country. We visited family who still live in the old house. We toured the historic bank barn at the rear of the property—an architectural work of art. The day we left, it was ten degrees outside, and several inches of snow covered the ground. We were in the front yard saying our goodbyes when I heard the clip-clop of shod horse hooves. I turned and saw an Amish buggy coming down the road. The man wore a black coat, a flat-brimmed hat, and he sported a full beard. The sight of that horse and buggy and the Amish driver did a number on my imagination. And in that instant, I realized what was missing from that mystery novel I’d poured my heart into for the last few months. I knew I was going to set my story in Amish Country.
I couldn’t think of a more fascinating setting, especially for a thriller. I was aware of inspirational romances and a few cozy mysteries that were set among the Amish. But as far as I knew, no one had set a thriller in that locale. No one had created a protagonist who had once been Amish, certainly not a female chief of police. I wanted to explore the culture. I wanted to write a character who could immerse us in that world—a woman torn between two cultures that sometimes clash. I wanted to tell her story. I asked myself: What would happen if I introduced something terrible into this bucolic little town? One of many things that drew me to a thriller set in Amish country was the juxtaposition of wholesome versus evil.
Writing Sworn to Silence tested me as a writer in every way. It forced me, as a storyteller, to dig into areas I didn’t want to dig into, to explore topics that had previously been off-limits. The story covers myriad moral issues that are not cut and dried. The lines between right and wrong and good and evil are blurred. It was a book that put my mind to work, and there were scenes that stumped me for days. Any writer will tell you those moments of uncertainty are excruciating. It was worth every drop of sweat. That first novel, and the entirety of the Kate Burkholder series, is the most satisfying and exciting undertaking of my career. I hope to continue writing it and plan to do so as long as people are reading and loving the books.