October 29, 2010

Growing Up Amish…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:49 pm


He heard again, as he had heard throughout his childhood,
the pounding wheel…the whistle-wail, and he remembered
how these sounds…had always evoked for him…their glorious
promises of new lands, morning, and a shining city…

…The magnetic pull of home, why he had thought so much
about it and remembered it with such blazing accuracy…

—Thomas Wolfe

It seemed so intimidating, back then, six months ago. So, well, daunting. But they smiled, the Tyndale people. Reassuringly. Of course it could be done. Especially after we got together for a day, and picture-boarded the story. All I had to do then was connect the dots. Fill in the blanks.

But that’s not how I write, I wanted to tell them. It’s an organic thing, to me. The process. I never quite know how the story will end, what details will emerge.

Trust us, they said.

And so I did. Had little choice, really. They were giving me an opportunity so rare, it was almost incomprehensible. A major publishing company, and they wanted my story. A lot of people dream of and strive for that all their lives, and never get the chance.

And so I began, six months ago. Working on my book. Since that time, it has been the primary focus of my life. Always there, every waking moment. Day after day, and week after week. Always there, lurking in my mind, with me as I faced each day.

Normally, I think, a manuscript is written from start to finish. Then submitted for editing. It freaked me out a good bit, to think of that. What if it wasn’t what they wanted, after all that effort?

Once again, the nice Tyndale people smiled kindly. They’d seen it all before, I’m sure. Newbie writers freaking out. We would work it out, they said. Just write a few chapters every month, and send those in. That way, we can give you feedback as you write.

So that’s what we did. All summer. Every month, another batch. I kept plugging away. Sent in forty to sixty pages a month, right along. Earlier today, I emailed the sixth and final section. Except for editing and rewriting, which will be an intense process, it’s done. The first draft of the book is written. A huge milestone in my life. Just huge.

This weekend, for the first time in six months, I plan to relax. Vedge, as in couch potato, watching football. No agenda, nothing. And most of all, for a few days, at least, there will be no writing on my mind.

It’s been an intense road. Both the writing, and the extended journey back through the years. Back to places I had not been for decades. Places buried in my mind. And buried for a reason.

The memories came roaring back, from all those miles and years. I pried them open, swept aside the cobwebs, and ventured in. Flinched, sometimes, at what I found. Turned my face away. There are some places in the past you just don’t go, not willingly. But I did. Forced myself. Looked around, and wrote. Some of the scenes were among the most brutally tough things I’ve ever tried to write. Stuff you’ve never seen on my blog.

What in the world could I have been thinking, way back, when it all came down? The pride and folly of youth. So raw, so selfish, so thoughtless. That was part of it. And yet, pulsing through it all, the hungry relentless yearning of the human spirit to live free, to touch and see and know. And taste. That was part of it, too.

The summer flew by. I kept plugging on. Through it all, I tried to keep a normal schedule. Or as normal as possible. Still working full time at my real job. Working out at the gym. Stirring up occasional fights, uh, discussions, on Facebook. Still watching baseball, Nascar, then football. Still writing a bit on the blog, now and then. Each month, I focused only on the writing due that month. Didn’t allow myself to think much, even, that it was for a book. Just get it written. You can absorb it all soon enough, what it is and what it really means.

And then, last month, an email from Carol Traver, the senior nonfiction editor at Tyndale. The lady who, at her sole discretion, decided to take the risk, to present to the Tyndale Board the proposal for my book. Now, she had designed a cover for the book, and wanted to run it by me. Make sure I approved. I opened the file. Scrolled down. And there it was. It took my breath away.

That’s not me, walking away, although it could be me. The cover is beautiful, and stunningly symbolic. The Tyndale people are true professionals, all of them. At that moment, it really hit me for the first time. This was the culmination of all my efforts, all those hours of sweat and labor through six long and intense months. All that time, spent writing this past summer, would eventually result in this. A real book, that you can pick up and hold in your hands. And read. A real book, in real bookstores.

I recoiled a bit at the title. At least, at first. But Carol explained. They wanted some- thing simple, something easily passed on by word of mouth. I would, of course, be welcome to suggest other titles. They will consider all offers.

So here’s a contest for my readers. If you can think of a better title, email me. Or just post it here on the blog. If Tyndale accepts your suggestion, I’ll give you fifty bucks in cash, and a signed copy of the book. Remember, simplicity, simplicity, simplicity. And, of course, the word “Amish” included somehow.

They plan to release the book next summer sometime. As of now, no specific date has been set. I’ll keep you posted.

Summer reading, for 2011. Spread the word.

October 1, 2010

Beach Week…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:58 pm


The world, as a rule, does not live on beaches and in country clubs.

—F. Scott Fitzgerald

I don’t particularly care for the beach. Any beach. I can count on one hand the number of hours I’ve spent in my lifetime lounging on a towel, gazing at the ocean waves. I mean, it’s certainly breathtaking in power and majesty, and all that. But after a few minutes, ten at most, what more is there to see?

So I was dubious a few months ago, when my niece Janice called and invited me to join her and a few friends for a full week at the Outer Banks. They’d rented a big house. They would buy all their food and cook for themselves. For seven days. Beach Week, they called it.

“Ah, I don’t know,” I hedged. “I’m working on writing, and September’s batch will be due about the time you get back. So I’ll be pretty intense right about that time, working on it.”

She was undeterred. “Come on,” she said. “You can bring your laptop and write there. We have only one rule. No drama, from anyone. You can do what you want, when you want. Stay up as late as you want, and sleep in as long as you want. You can spend all your time writing if you want. We won’t bother you. We have only one formal meal a day. Dinner at night. You can join us for that. We’ll feed you.”

And I got to thinking. I have never done anything like that. Hanging out at the beach. Not for a full week. It would be nice, to get away. Concentrate on getting some writing done on my MacBook. And I thought some more. Meanwhile, Janice emailed me pictures of the house they had reserved. Three stories, with decks all around. Eight bedrooms. Seven bathrooms. Full kitchen, game room. Swimming pool and hot tub. There wasn’t a whole lot it didn’t have, from what I could see.

And I thought about it some more. Then I emailed Janice. Count me in.

YAY, she replied. And other than thinking about it occasionally, I pushed thoughts of the trip from my mind. It would come when it came.

And it did. They had rented the house from Saturday, Sept. 18 until Saturday, Sept. 25. The week approached. I caught up on all my projects at work. Prepared all the paperwork for my deliveries. Scheduled what I could, for my drivers.

I packed Big Blue on Friday morning, then headed to the office for a half day’s work. I left early that afternoon, heading south through Dover and Salisbury, MD. Beautiful fall day, clear skies. It’s always a great feeling of freedom and anticipation, setting out on a jaunt like that. It was a meandering journey. Traffic lights almost all along, except for a brief stretch of Rt. 13.

I approached the southern tip of MD, new territory for me. Then the bridge tunnel. I never even knew such a thing existed. I paid the $12 toll and drove out. Twenty-six miles of four lane bridge, stretching across the bay. Twice, the road tunneled right down into the ocean. It was the wildest thing. And right back up again. I marveled at the engineering feat. And the resources in brains and raw materials it took, to build something like that.

And then on into Virginia Beach, where I booked a room at the Hilton. Hung out and relaxed, ready for my final foray the next morning, on down to the Outer Banks.

I headed out in good time. Entirely new territory. I’d never been through the area before. Outer Banks. I’d always heard the word spoken reverently. Never paid much attention. The beach was there, and the ocean. Never tempted me one bit.

Of the group, I arrived in the area first. In Waves, NC, a little burg about halfway out the little finger of land that is the Outer Banks. Janice called; she and her friends Brian and Melanie were a half hour behind me. I stopped at a pub and waited for them.

They arrived. Introductions were made. I’d met Melanie before, but not her husband Brian. Seemed like a nice guy. Our house wasn’t quite ready for us, so we ate. Then drove down to the rental office. Melanie and Brian walked in and emerged with the house keys. Whew. Only a block away. We followed them to the site.

A bulky three story light blue beach house. Our home for the next full week. A huge place. We whooped with excitement and dashed in to explore. We quickly selected our individual bedrooms. Then unloaded our vehicles in the hot sun. The girls had already purchased enough food for an army. Everything you could imagine. Snacks, cheeses of every sort and flavor. Lunch meat, sausages, steaks. Chips. Juices of every flavor. I would definitely gain some weight around this place. We spent the next hour unpacking and setting up house. Everyone but me had done all this before. I marveled at the efficiency. Everything in its place, for an extended stay.

Later, we took a quick walk to the ocean, a quarter mile away. The waves were high and angry, from Hurricane Igor half a world away. That was the first of my three brief excursions to the seashore. None of which lasted more than half an hour.

My nephew Steven Marner and his girlfriend Evonda arrived a bit later. And then Fred made it down late that evening, around 10 or so. And that was everyone. It was one of the most relaxing feelings imaginable, the beginning of seven consecutive days, with no agenda.

No agenda for anyone, that is, except me. I’d brought my MacBook. And a wireless keyboard a friend lent me for the week. I had outlined the month’s batch for my book, and done some writing. But I’d have to hit it steadily throughout the week, or it wouldn’t be ready. I set up my station at one end of the vast dining room table, plugged in my MacBook, and that’s where it stayed all week.

Life was pretty much as Janice had promised. Laid back. Most of the others hung out by the pool, swam in the ocean, and took short jaunts to town. I joined the activities when I felt like it.

We ate when we wanted, pretty much what we wanted. Cold cuts, snacks. Janice found a little fudge shop and faithfully provided us with fresh fudge every day. We had one formal meal a day, each evening. Tacos one night. Steak the next. Fish. Scrumptious feasts, each and every one. As I’d feared, I gained at least five pounds. As the patriarch of the group, I was called on each night to pray the blessing before the meal. Which was a bit startling. Not the prayers, but the fact that I was the oldest by quite a few years. But it was cool.

We watched college football Saturday, and pro football all afternoon and evening on Sunday. Roared loudly for our teams. And on Saturday night, the boys unlimbered the poker chips. I’d been around the game many times, but had never learned to play. This time, they insisted. Whatever time I needed, they would teach me. We started out with Texas Hold’em. I stumbled my way through a number of hands. Counseled with Steven, who patiently instructed me on my options. And by the second hour or so, I got the basic hang of it.

And it was fun. A lot of fun. I see now why the poker craze has swept the country. It was plain old harmless fun. We played probably four good games throughout the week. I’m ready now for the next time someone invites me to sit in. Sure. Sure I will.

And Monday came. That morning, armed with my coffee and orange juice, I parked at my computer and stayed there, off and on, for most of the day. A most relaxing setting. Even when the others were bustling around, playing games or just hanging, I sat at the computer, half joining the conversation around me, half focused on my screen. Editing this, making changes there, adding a paragraph there.

The weather was perfect. Sunny. Windy. Warm. And the days flowed by. After Tuesday, the week was pretty much over. At least, that’s how it seemed. Each day morphed into the next. Each day, we’d think: We’re one day closer to the end. And time just whooshed by. It was amazing and a little sad.

I kept a tight schedule, writing. On Wednesday, I pretty much just hung out for the day with the others. But on all other days, I spent a good three to five hours at my computer.

There were a few traditions, apparently, from previous excursions. Badminton. Cornhole, or Bags. I hadn’t played badminton in probably thirty years. It was quite wild. We teamed up. A strong wind was blowing. From one side of the court, you could tap the birdie and it flew a great distance. From the other side, you had to smash it, and it barely made it over the net. Janice and I teamed up. We won a few matches, but not the championship.

On Wednesday night, Janice announced we were singing hymns. Also a tradition. Fred unlimbered his guitar and strummed. Janice had forgotten her old hymn book, so she googled the songs. The wonders of modern technology. And we stood there behind her and Melanie, seated on the couch, and sang hymns from her laptop. Many old classics. Fill up my cup. Nothing but the blood. And about a dozen more. I’m not a singer, and it’s been a long time since I enjoyed singing as much as I did that night.

The week’s end approached and people drifted away. Brian left on Thursday morning, for work. Evonda left Friday. And we all packed up by 10 AM on Saturday. Said our good byes and left. It was time to head back home.

We’ll all be back again, I think.


Melanie, Janice, Fred

Poker seminar. From L, Brian, Melanie, Steven, Ira

Steven and Evonda

Food, food, food. This is why I gained five pounds.