September 20, 2019

Broken Roads: Cover Me…

Category: News — Ira @ 4:08 pm


He saw now that you can’t go home again–not ever.
There was no road back.

—Thomas Wolfe

OK, then. The time has come, that thing I promised last time. The book cover. It’s here. I’ll get to it in good time. But first, a little tale about some things that have been going on. And where I am this week. I’m at Beach Week. I am writing by the sea. It’s hard to stay focused in such surroundings. It’s peaceful, don’t get me wrong. But it’s hard to stay focused for long when I can hear the dull roar of the ocean and see the waves when I glance up, a few hundred feet away.

And yes, I’m meandering. If I can’t write as I got a mind to when at the beach, well, I just figure I can. I’m at the beach. Why am I fussing about any of this at all? One might certainly be excused for wondering. And asking, even.

I saw it coming, my respite at the beach, way out there as the summer came and flowed on by. And I thought to myself. It’s sure been a different kind of year. A good year. Just different. We lost Dad right after Christmas, and my oldest brother Joseph left in March. Two final good-byes, right there. It wasn’t really a surprise, seeing them leave. We knew it was coming. We saw it approaching, slowly, relentlessly, and so, so final when it got here. You think you’re ready in a time like that, and you are, I guess, as ready as you can be. Still. A loss is a loss. A good-bye is a good-bye. And death brings a curtain between this life and the next. That’s how it went with Dad and Joseph. They are gone.

The thing was, after Dad’s passing, I finally got the closure to finish my book. The thread of it, I mean. It was a big deal. To me, it was. A big deal, just to be able to scratch up a real narrative. I was working on the manuscript, off and on, all this year. It was always a force in my awareness and my existence, the book was. I never got all freaked about it, but the journey was stressful enough, I will concede. You don’t realize how much stress you were under until you look back, sometimes. After it’s gone. Or at least in remission. It’s always gonna creep back into my life again, one way or the other. Right now, it’s receding. I like that.

It felt decently together, my story, after I sent in the last edit of the book. I was fairly calm. We were going to get it all worked out. The summer passed. I saw the date of Beach Week creeping up. It would be here soon. I sent a text to my friend Linford Berry. The man who owns Mountain Valley Motors. Hey, I said. I’d like you to look for a black Jeep, same as the one I got or newer. Only this time, I want four doors. More room. I just need more room. Linford allowed that he’d keep an eye out. I said, no hurry, but I hoped he’d round one up by early September. It was my turn to drive to Beach Week, this year. Me and my friend Wilma take turns. It sure would be nice not to have to bounce all the way down there in my small Jeep, I thought to myself. And sure enough, about three weeks ago, here came an email from Linford. He’d found a four door black Jeep, 2016, with just under 34000 miles on it. It seemed like a sign.

I told him I figured to take it, and we agreed on a trade-in price for the first Jeep I’d bought from him early last year. The man is fair to deal with, which is nice. And early last week, I took a day off and drove down to Harrisonburg, Virginia. Linford’s car lot is in nearby Dayton. It didn’t take us long to get the paperwork done. I wrote out a check for the difference and thanked my friend and proudly drove north with Amish Black II. The Jeep is about as loaded as a Jeep gets, I’d say. It’s even got heated leather seats. A real “Jeep man” would probably scoff. Not me. I’ll take what comforts I can along the cold and often lonely path of life. Even heated seats in a Jeep.

Then came the night before Beach Week. Time to pack up. Tomorrow morning, I thought to myself. Tomorrow morning, me and Amish Black II head for the Outer Banks. For a whole week, unless another hurricane chases us out. Looking back over all the years, I couldn’t recall a time when I was more ready for this break. The pressures of telling your story, those came pushing in hard. So much life had to be relived in the telling. Relived, refelt, and reseen. That gets tough.

I was tired. Exhausted. It never quite sank in, my state of mind as this Beach Week approached. It never quite sank in until the time got here. And then I realized. I need a break. I really do. And I was ready to vedge without guilt. I wanted to hear the roar of the sea and the crashing of the waves. I wanted to breathe the salty air. I wanted to wash my soul clean.

Meanwhile. Over on the other front, things were going on. The book cover. They came out with it a few months back. I immediately wrote back. It looks fantastic. It’s great. I’ve always thought, after the first book. That cover was one in a million. That kind of thing will likely not be seen again, at least not by me. And it was last spring, I think, when we discussed it, me and Virginia. My editor. I told her. I got one request. Maybe it’s a requirement, but we’ll call it a request for now. The title. I want the words, Broken Roads, in the title. The rest of it, the subtitle, the picture and layout for the cover, hey, I’m open to whatever. But I want those words, because my life has been one long journey of broken roads. It’s easy to see if you stop and think about it. Those words will make a fit title. I even asked you, my readers, for your suggestions. More comments came rolling in from that request than I had seen in a long time, maybe ever.

Still. It was Virginia, or someone else there at Hachette who came up with the words to finish out the title. Returning to my Amish Father. It fit, perfectly, I thought. That’s exactly what the journey has been, both literally and figuratively. A return to my father on his death bed. I had fought for his blessing for many years. Decades. Now. I simply wanted closure. The book is about all that. And all the little bunny trails that flow naturally from such a story.

So they sent the cover, months ago. I looked at it and simply marveled. Broken Roads: Returning to my Amish Father. Right there. That’s it. The cover was about as professionally designed as you could imagine. It clearly feeds off the first book. The graphics people designed it with an eye to that. Make it compatible. A pair. They did good. Real good. Better by far than I had ever dared to hope.

I wanted to post the cover way back then. I was chomping at the bit in discontent. The Hachette people instructed me to hold off. Not now. I knew, though, that the Advance Review Copies were coming out in early September. Complete with a real cover. So from that, the world would know, anyway, what the cover was. I chomped at the bit some more. Come on. Let me post it. And around two weeks ago, I finally got the go ahead. OK. Post the cover. Post this pre-order link with it. That was the holdup, I guess. The pre-order link.

So I threw it out on Facebook. Provided the link, publicly. This is small potatoes to someone more astute, I’m sure. But last time I looked, the book cover and link were approaching 200 shares. I mean, people actually took the time to do that. I was awed. This is wild. This could be a new road rising, here. Social media such as I’ve not experienced before. I don’t know. I figure there’s gonna be some adventures, dead ahead, before long. We’ll see, I guess.

And back to my down time at the beach. The week had arrived. I loaded my new black steed with whatever might remotely be needed for the next seven days, then got my coffee at Sheetz and texted Wilma. I’m on my way. Soon after seven, we had her stuff loaded and were heading south. The new Jeep drove much better, more steady than the short one had. Smoother ride, too. I’m liking my Jeep, I think. By three, we had connected with much of the crowd in a seaside pub in Duck, NC. We sat around, just making lots of noise and catching up. The house would be ready at four. Soon after 3:30, Janice got the text. We’re good to go. And on up north we drove, almost to Corolla. Then a right turn into a development, to the same big beach house we had last year.

Beach Week Group
The group this year.

It’s simply impossible to describe the feelings of sweet freedom and relief that wash over you in such a moment as that. When you’re dragging your stuff into the huge mansion, up to the second floor, then a front corner bedroom. The years have taught me to seek out the spot that will be the least affected by loud late night noises the next floor up. I usually grump off to bed before anyone else. I mean, I’m relaxed and all. Just ready for bed. So I go.

And we all just walked into the weekend, then into the next week. The days flow by in some sort of mesmerized rhythm, each day building from the day that has passed, an easy, natural flow of many beautiful things that life can be. I brought along four copies of my new book, the ARCs. I figured if you share Beach Week with me, you got an early shot at reading my new stuff. Of course, Janice and my nephew John Wagler both claimed a signed copy. And my nephew, Steven Marner. He got a signed copy, too. The other one I gave away at random.

The days flowed by. The guys got some fishing done. I mostly just lazed around, reading and pecking away at this blog a little bit every day. We sang songs around the fire ring at night. And talked. The guys all admired my Jeep, although the consensus was that it needs a four-inch lift. And larger tires. Just the next size up. You want to stand out, they told me coaxingly. You want to make a little statement. Nothing too loud. Four inches higher isn’t loud. It’s confident. Oh, good grief, I said. I just spent a nice little chunk of change, buying this thing. I can’t just throw five more grand at it, just for anyhow. I mean, I have to plan my way around such things. I’ll think about it. Maybe, if the book does well. The boys seemed satisfied with that. Well, they had little choice.

Wednesday. We got a little storm early on. Or maybe the storm was out there, away from us. We caught the winds of it. That morning, the sea was angry and loud. The waves crashed high onto the foaming shores of sand. No fishing today, we figured, right off. We considered other options. And that day, a small adventure came. I’d often heard of the wild horses somewhere on the Outer Banks. I never saw them. They seemed mythical, like the unicorn. It would be cool to go hunt some down. See firsthand.

So later that day we traveled in a small convoy over the 4-wheel-drive beach. The only way back to this area was to drive along the beach. Which means at high tide, the place is inaccessible. We roared along the soft sand in 4-wheel-drive, me in my new Jeep, loaded with riders. We let the air out of our tires, down to about 25 lbs. Driving on the beach felt a lot like driving in snow. You just kind of swooshed along in the previous tracks. I’d say a driver was maybe 90 percent in control. That’s how it felt to me, anyway. Mostly, the trip out went well.

Wild horse.

There are houses out there on that godforsaken stretch of sand. We cruised around, keeping a sharp eye out. And then the people in the lead vehicle saw them. We turned and drove slowly past, right close. I can tell you as of that day. The fabled wild horses of Corolla are for real. (I still don’t like horses much. I most likely never will.)

Thursday. The week was winding down, here at the beach. It was cold and windy and sunny. I lazed around most of the day, then opened my eating window with a snack at four o’clock. An hour earlier than I do at home, but hey, this was the beach. Live a little. Supper would be fresh seafood gumbo and jalapeno mac and cheese with scallops. It’s been nothing but a vast and plentiful feast all week. I reckon Saturday will feel like it’s about time for home.

That morning, I went on a coffee run a few miles down the road. It’s a shopping center with many stores, including a Dunkin Donuts and a grocery store. Across the lot, I saw the small bus parked there. Amish people were spilling out all around. Hmm. I thought. I haven’t seen Amish down here at OBX before. Check it out. I looked a little closer.

There were two families, looked like. Two youngish bearded men with straw hats like they wear in very plain communities. I didn’t think the women looked all that extra plain, though. A host of young children churned about, almost bursting with excitement. A young man walked from the group to the grocery store. Probably eighteenish. He puffed freely and openly on a cigarette. Which was totally fine and none of my business. But it told me he comes from a fairly plain place. An Amish teenager won’t smoke openly in front of his father unless he comes from a real plain place. Chances are his father smokes as well. That was my musing as I observed.

Anyway, the whole lot of them was down in the area, getting ready for a big day at the beach, looked like.

And now it’s Friday night. Post time. Also, the end of Beach Week, until next year. And now, as promised, the link to my new book. Get on there and pre-order. The release date is May, 2020. Help me out, here. And thanks to all in advance.

broken roads
The Book Cover. Perfection, right there. Click to enlarge, then click to enlarge again.

August 23, 2019

Dog Days of August…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:30 pm


He stood upon the ramparts of his soul, before the lost land of
himself; heard inland murmurs of lost seas, the far interior music
of the horns. The last voyage, the longest, the best.

—Thomas Wolfe

Well, it’s August. Late summer. The dog days is what we called this time of year when I was a child. That phrase can mean one of any number of things, I reckon. But to me, it always meant that it’s too hot to fish. It was never a good month, August wasn’t, for the fish to bite. The ponds languished in murky and muddy despondence. Nothing moved. You could cast out the most attractive lure, and you’d drag it right back in. Nothing bit. Except at night, sometimes. It cooled off enough at night for the fish to bite.

It’s been a different summer. Not difficult, really. Just different. Mostly because I’ve been trying to get a book written. The book. Everything in my life comes in second to that reality. The book. It’s been taking up a good bit of my energy, this year. It’s just there, constantly, hovering close and at a distance, always lurking, always present in some form. I wasn’t sure about trying to blog about it. Still. A status update is a good thing, I think. Write from where you are. That’s what I’ve always claimed to do. Preacher, preach to yourself.

It’s been a long old slog, the book has. For a while there, last year, I despaired that the story would ever come. I remember soon after the first book came out, back in 2011. The Tyndale people were all like, hey, want to try another book, while the iron’s hot? Get out the second one while people are excited about the first? I grumbled around. Good grief. I had just come through a hard door, getting my story told. Now, they wanted me to keep going through that hard door. Still. This was rare air. I’ll try, I said.

And I did. Tried in early 2012. Tried to write a sequel. It did not work. I poked around suspiciously at the 20 or so pages of forced and unnatural words that came. No. Don’t do it. Now is not the time. And I told the Tyndale people. I’m going back to write on my blog. That’s my home, where my voice was born. That’s where I always return to, where my voice is always real. When I got something worth showing you, I’ll let you know. The Tyndale people looked resigned.

And life went on. This was during my heavy drinking days. In early 2014, I had a little fallout with my main Tyndale contact. I got yanked around pretty bad, no question about it. But I was also drinking hard, so my hair-trigger reaction of raw rage was not all that rational. It was real enough, though. I was livid. I swore to never write for Tyndale again. That’s what the whiskey did to my brain.

Life was hard, right then, mostly because of my choices. I seethed and bubbled and wrote and drank and wrote. And drank. And then my heart started acting up. A-flutter. I’d had it for years. Now it came knocking, encroaching, insistent. And now, I checked in at a hospital for the first time, ever, in my life. The doctors shook their heads. Man, you have issues. You’ve got to quit drinking. I hunkered down and made whatever promises it took to get out of that place in two days.

I got back home and went back to drinking. I look on those days now and shake my head. I wrote sporadically for this blog, through that time. But no book. No sequel. It was just not a thing that spoke to me as the next year passed. 2015. Late that year, my heart went haywire again. A-fib, this time. First came the flutter, then the fibrillation. This time, I was not in a good place in any way. I sank low and almost died. Swing low, sweet chariot, I could have sang, then. Because my chariot went swinging real low. Then, somehow, I battled my way back again. Back to life, and back to the whiskey.

I’ve written all this before. Just not for a while. In late 2016, I reached out to Chip MacGregor, my agent. I think I’m ready, I told him. I didn’t know that I was ready. I just figured to see if it could be made to happen. Chip was agreeable. I cobbled together around a hundred pages of stories and sent them in. Chip took my stuff and went off to shop his wares in the market. Would there be any nibbles?

The publishing world is a strange and brutal place. It just is. It’s easy to get chewed up and spit out, and you will be for sure, remorselessly, unless your mind is relaxed. And even then, you might be. I still think it’s true that a lot of writers are so busy telling you they’re writers that they forget to write. I mean, they don’t write as well as they could. My game plan was always about as basic as you could make it. If you just walk calmly with no expectations, you’ll be fine. You’ve been here before. Act like it. But no expectations. And so, I waited nervously as Chip went off to shop my stuff around. I wrote sporadically on this blog.

This was in 2017. Two years ago. And by the year’s end, I had a contract. With Virginia, and Hachette. And yes, I did reach out to Tyndale. Can we bury the hatchet? Do you want to try again, together? It didn’t work out. And that was fine. Keep walking forward. Don’t look back. I had a contract with Hachette. A Big Five publisher. That was a big deal, and still is. Last year, I got a lot of writing done. Still. I wasn’t wrapping it up. I was stuck. I spun my wheels in frustration for a while. Then I told Chip and Virginia. My story will never get told until I go home and bury my father. It just is what it is. That possibility seemed remote last summer. Dad was old, in his nineties, but he was in stellar health. The man was going to hang on until well past a hundred years, of that there was little doubt. There was also little doubt that if that happened, the book would languish. Or I’d have to find another direction to take.

Well. Late last year, Dad took sick. And I got to his bedside the day after Christmas last year just in time to see him pass from this world to the next. The ugliness of death. That’s what it was. A day of sorrow and a day of relief. I witnessed a lot, seeing the man die. The Waglers gathered from all around. And in the time-honored traditions of our forefathers, we buried the patriarch of our clan. In the proper sequence of events, we respectfully laid him to rest. I absorbed the experience. And then I came home to finish up my book.

And the writing came. This time, it did. Virginia and I agreed on a new date, to get the manuscript in. This summer. In June. This time, my face was set. This time, it would happen. That’s what I figured. And this time, it did.

It was strange, kind of. But not really. I remember getting home from Dad’s funeral on the last day of last year. Drove all day, I did, from Aylmer to my home. That night was New Year’s Eve. I didn’t go anywhere, just stayed home. And it didn’t take me long the next day to get started. Writing. The funeral of my father. The end of the road. The words poured from me in torrents.

A few weeks later, I posted the longest blog of all my blogs, ever, anywhere. Twenty-two pages, single-spaced. And it came to me even before the blog was finished. This is the missing part for the book. This blog. I thought it over, pondered the thing in my head. There seemed only one clear path to take. Make the blog about Dad’s funeral the outline for the book. The flood and flow of the overall narrative would fit right in. That’s what I figured.

And it did. I was astonished, except I wasn’t. This was what it should have been like all along. You need a nudge, sometimes, to make the words release. I hammered away at my writing forge, fitting and shaping and molding the manuscript. I emailed Virginia once in a while. This time, the deadline would be met. I told her that. As June slid in at me, I applied the final touches. And then one day, I sent it in. This is it. The book. Virginia was silent for a few days. Then she emailed back. She liked it. She was working her way through.

I latched onto those words. She liked it. That was just huge. As big as it gets, for an author. If she liked it, the narrative would work. You just never know if your offering will be pleasing. And I waited then, for a few weeks as Virginia edited the manuscript. The first edits. She shot it all back to me in due time. I scanned a few pages quickly. Felt relieved. She had “kept my voice.” Which means, she wasn’t into making any major changes. Just peripheral stuff. Clean it up here, clarify over there. It was almost a pleasant experience, to rework my words.

I sent my book back in the second time. And just got it back again. It’s down to the nitty gritty, now, for the final draft. And just last weekend, it was discovered that my family had not read the manuscript, yet. I was instructed to take a clean hard copy and get it printed up at Staples, or some such place. Last Sunday, after church, I meandered into the Staples over along the tourist trap row along Route 30. I talked to the nice attendant there at the publishing desk. Yes. She could do it, have it done by late that afternoon. I ordered ten copies, at fifteen bucks a crack. Stopped by later that afternoon and picked them up. The next morning, I mailed a bunch of them off to my brothers and sisters. And now, I wait.

A few housekeeping notes, here. The book cover. I’ve wanted to post it ever since I got it a few months ago. So far, I haven’t been able to get permission to. Next month, I will. I promise. It’s an astounding cover that portrays the mood and tenor of the book. They got real pros, there at Hachette, I must say. Next month. Promise.

Tyndale. I’ve got to hand it to them. They trundled out the eighth, (yes, that would be the 8th), printing of Growing Up Amish this summer. The book has sold over 185,000 copies. It’s major, that the original will be in print, ready to ship, when the next book comes out. I’m hoping the gamble will pay for Tyndale. I’m hoping the two books might perhaps churn each other. If you read one and you haven’t read the other, well, it’s available on the market. Fingers crossed, here, for my old publisher. I will always be grateful for all they did to make Growing Up Amish happen.

This blog. I had a little chat with my very capable webmaster. He did a facelift. Changed the pic at the top and got rid of that enormous list of links to earlier posts that clogged up the right side. The title is a new font, and a little louder. Or “more noticeable” might be the polite term. I don’t know. I just figured it was time. I had not changed that photo at the top since, well, since my first book came out. That picture made me look way younger than I am. I thought it would be good to tighten up the site a bit. Maybe there will be a new crop of readers soon. They have a right to know how I look, all dressed in black with a bright orange tie. That’s my thinking.

And speaking of the blog, it turned out that my friend Jerry Eicher pretty much nailed it, back at Dad’s funeral. He told me to write a book from my blogs. I was dubious. Still. That’s kind of what happened with the second book. I mean, I went back, way back to the early days, when my marriage blew up. I pulled over a lot of scenarios and adapted them to the flow of the narrative. And it works, I think. There are hundreds and hundreds of blog posts. I tapped less than two dozen. Don’t know if that’s what Jerry had in mind. Bottom line is, if you’re a faithful reader of my blog, you’ll see writing that you’ve read before. It’ll be strung together and connected and maybe just a little bit altered. But you’ll recognize some of it. That’s just how it is.

And I sigh dramatically, here. Tomorrow is my birthday. I’ll be fifty-eight. That’s astounding to me. When Dad was fifty-eight, he looked gray and distinguished. He’d been around a good deal, a veteran of the shifting political minefields of the Amish world. The man navigated that world with some skill and finesse. He left his mark on it. Now. Well. I’ve been around a good deal, too, just in a different place than Dad was. I can tell you a lot about a world he never knew because he didn’t want to. It’s kind of strange, when you think about it. Anyway, fifty-eight is just a number, I reckon. I’m feeling better than I have for years. I passed on the Garage Party again, this year. No big whiskey bash at my place. Too much going on with the book and all. I told my friends. Next year. Next summer, I’ll throw the biggest garage party you ever saw. I’ll invite half the people I know. So that’s where it’s at for now.

Next week, it will be two years since I’ve tasted a drop of whiskey. I never would’ve thought it, back in those days, that such a thing could be. I won’t pretend it’s always been easy. But I think less and less about it. It’s just not in the formula of my life at this time. And this year, it seems more like the norm. Not as big a deal as the first-year anniversary was, I don’t think. It’s my lifestyle, now. I don’t need to keep yakking about it. Life is life. Dry is dry. I feel good. And that’s about all I got to say about that.