Press Notes: Ohio University Press Partners with Penguin Group on Amish Mystery Series

November 01, 2010

Early in 2010, Ohio University Press was approached by the trade publisher Plume, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), for the right to reissue in paperback the first six Amish mysteries written by P. L. Gaus. The series—which originated in 1999—has received critical acclaim from the New York Times Book Review, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and major Ohio media outlets. Gaus lives in Wooster, Ohio, and has become a frequent speaker at regional bookstores, libraries, and community events due to the popularity the series has developed over the years.

The first of the Plume paperbacks was published this fall, an occasion that prompted Ohio University Press publicist Jeff Kallet to ask Gaus some questions about the Amish mystery series.

Tell me how and when you got the idea to write Amish mysteries.

When I was a college professor, I regularly taught a seminar on lesser known American cultures, such as those of the Navajo and Amish. I used Tony Hillerman’s mystery novels to supplement information about Navajo culture, and I got to know him in the process of teaching from his novels. At his suggestion, I considered writing mysteries about the Amish people in Holmes County, Ohio, since I already knew so much about them from my teaching.

Portrait of P. L. Gaus in front of a Amish horse and buggy'

How did you learn about Ohio University Press? What led you to approach them as a possible publisher?

I sent my first manuscript to Gillian Berchowitz in 1998, explaining that I was interested in writing stories about the Amish people in Holmes County, Ohio, and about life in small Ohio towns. She liked the concept, and soon thereafter, David Sanders (the director at the time) offered me a publishing contract. I thought to approach Ohio University Press because it seemed to me from their catalog that they would understand the concept of a series of books essentially about an important Ohio culture.

What was it like working on that first book, Blood of the Prodigal, and then seeing it through the editorial, production, and marketing stages?

This was all a great adventure for me, and I still remember each stage along the way— submitting the manuscript, signing the contract, sending in the finished draft, seeing the editing, approving galleys, and finding the first copies of the book in the mail. It was all very exciting, and I doubt I’ll ever forget any of it.

Has much changed since that first book in the way you approach your stories or in the way the book moves through the publishing and marketing process?

The process is still the same, and the series has grown to six published books, with the seventh book in editing right now. The themes of the books are also still the same. I write, in each story, about an important religious principle that guides Amish life. Each story has a scriptural theme.

What have been some highlights for you as a writer during the writing of the six existing books and the forthcoming seventh?

The biggest highlight has been seeing each book in finished form, but I have also enjoyed the many talks I have given at bookstores and libraries. Autographing books for fans is wonderful, and attending meetings such as Book Expo America has been fun, too. But it is also a joy to write these stories. It is a challenge, to be sure, but the creative process that bring a book along is one of the most engaging things I know.

Your seventh Amish mystery is Harmless as Doves, scheduled for a spring 2011 publication date. This investigation takes your characters from northern Ohio to sunny Florida, where there is an established Amish community near Sarasota. How did you learn about this Amish retreat and what got you thinking to include it in a story? (And what is typical Amish beach attire?)

Most people in Holmes County know about the buses that run, sometimes five or six a week, all through winter, catering to Amish folk who want to go down to Pinecraft (a suburb of Sarasota) for the warm weather. There is a large Amish retirement community there, and I went down one winter to check it out. That’s how I got the idea to set half of the seventh story there with the Amish of Florida. They wear standard Amish attire, even on the beaches.

As part of the fall-winter 2010 release of the Penguin/Plume paperback editions, you have recently attended Bouchercon in San Francisco (a major mystery convention) and have several scheduled appearances at mystery bookstores in Seattle, California, and Arizona. How does it feel to be part of a major publishing operation?

Cover of 'Harmless as Doves'

The Penguin experience has been wonderful. They have sent me to most of the key mystery book shops on the west coast, and I have met quite a few people. Last night, I spoke at Poisoned Pen, a store in Scottsdale that has been supporting my books since the very first publication of Blood of the Prodigal. I’ll tell you, there is quite a major difference between a large press like Penguin and OU Press, which has, really, a different kind of mission. I think the mysteries are right where they need to be, but it is OU Press that got them up and running so well. Credit is due to Press, and I am grateful. Still, this tour is unlike anything we could have considered before. When I got to Bouchercon, so many people already knew about my novels, and they were impressed that Penguin has picked them up. We made quite a buzz out there in San Francisco, and the bookstores I have visited are pleased to have the stories seeing new life in Plume's efforts. So often, I get the comment that it was always a respectable series of books, but that with increased exposure from Penguin, they will be even better.

Jeff Kallet