Carrie Bradshaw -- in a Bonnet?

amish

The Amish lead a private, rural lifestyle that hasn't changed for hundreds of years. It's a far cry from the glittery, gossipy, sexually carefree world of "Sex in the City" and its lead character, Carrie Bradshaw.

But the Amish now have their own Bradshaw, of sorts: Cindy Woodsmall, one of several best-selling authors who specialize in Amish-themed romance novels.

"People are seeing this quaint, peaceful-looking, picturesque view of [the Amish] and they want to know the real life," Woodsmall said.

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After a debut novel, "When the Heart Cries," Woodsmall chalked up two New York Times best-sellers: "When the Morning Comes" and "When the Soul Mends." The trilogy, known as "Sisters of the Quilt," tells the story of a conservative Amish woman as she comes of age, experiences tragedy and struggles with the demands of her world -- and her love for a young man from outside.

Woodsmall has a second Amish-based series in the works, set to launch in August with the publication of "The Hope of Refuge."

She is not alone as a writer of Amish romances. Indeed, the genre has its own nickname, "bonnet books," inspired by the traditional headdress of observant Amish women.

But Woodsmall, who is not Amish herself, dislikes the label.

"[A prayer cap] means a lot to them," she said. "It means probably more to them than our wedding bands."

Amish Romances Draw Curious Readers

Woodsmall was inspired to write about the Amish after growing up with a best friend who was an Amish Mennonite. During the years, she has earned the community's trust.

"I have some really good [conservative] Amish friends who read the manuscripts before they go to print," she said. "So they really help with the authenticity of it."

The books satisfy a curiosity readers have about a community that generally shuns the modern world.

Movies like "Witness," starring Kelly McGillis as an Amish woman, have provided glimpses into the world. And, in 2006, the country's attention was focused on the Amish way of life when five young Amish girls were shot to death in a one-room schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. The male perpetrator was an outsider but was known to the community.

Unsurprisingly, the killings were tremendously difficult for the community to cope with. But it was the Amish capacity for forgiveness that surprised the outside world.

"Every person was willing to forgive the shooter from the very first day," Woodsmall said. "Their feeling is that God's power to redeem their tomorrow is greater than anything they could get by holding on to unforgiveness today."

Amish Romances Shed Light on Closed Life

In Woodsmall's books, the Amish are sinners and saints, good guys and bad guys, just like in the outside world. The Amish insisted on being portrayed with that honesty before they agreed to help her with her books.

And while she has many Amish readers, most are "Englishers" -- non-Amish. At a recent book signing at The Amish Farm and House in Lancaster, Pa., attendees included Tracey Berthiaume, who had driven more than four hours to meet Woodsmall.

"To me, it's just an interesting way of life," Berthiaume said, explaining her passion for the books. "Not something I could ever do, but an interesting way of life."

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