June 24, 2011

Inside the Shining City…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:30 pm


Always I grasped, with tenacious grip, at the anticipation
of something rare, something great and grand and fine.
Something beyond.

I grasped for tomorrow, with its visions of splendor and a
shining city…..a brighter future of happiness and contentment
that always seemed to be just beyond the tip of my out-
stretched hand.

I would find it tomorrow. Always tomorrow.

—Ira Wagler: Growing Up Amish

Well, I’m almost there. Almost. One more week. Seven days until I walk through that final gateway into a world I have always longed for, but never known.

It seems like words will fail me. Almost, I stand mute. But, nah, I can’t. The day words fail me will be the day I die, most likely. But still, it’s that huge, this moment. I could just leave this blog post blank. Like a moment of silence, or something.

It’s been a long tough slog, as those of you know who have been with me for any length of time. I feel like a weary warrior. Not wounded, not anymore. I’m not saying there aren’t a bunch of scars. Of course there are, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Scars are signs of survival. From wounds that have healed.

I’m just drained from all the battles along this last stretch of road. The dragons did not flee as I approached them, the dragons of fear and doubt. There were a lot of them, especially during the early stages of writing the book. Each one in turn had to be confronted and faced down. They will rise again in the future. They always do. But for this phase of the journey, at least, they are defeated.

And now this phase of the journey ends. Another phase officially begins next Friday, July 1st.

The book is a beautiful thing. Kind of velvety, to hold and feel. The cover grabs you. The picture is pure genius. And what it contains inside, well, it’s the best writing I’ve ever done. Ever.

I owe it all to the folks at Tyndale. And here, I thank those folks at Tyndale. At least those with whom I worked.

Carol Traver, of course, needs no introduction on this blog. The senior nonfiction acquisition editor at Tyndale, she’s the one who made the decision to take my raw stuff, my “jumbled mass of words,” and run with it. There is no way for me to express adequate graditude and appreciation to her for making that decision, for taking that risk, for giving me a real shot at my dream.

Carol and her supervisor, Lisa Jackson, were the ones who took that mass of words and sliced and diced and fused them. From 115,000 words down to 72,000. (I knew I’d submitted way too many words. Better that way, I figured, than having the Tyndale people hollering at me for more.) They cut right at 40% of my original draft. And yet, even as they did so, they made the story fit and flow. I marveled at the result.

Susan Taylor was my editor. The person who worked closely with me. She took the first fused version and edited it, and then sent those edits to me with queries. Questions. Suggestions. And scenes that needed further elaboration. I couldn’t have been paired with a more qualified, no, gifted, editor. From the start, Susan was pretty much tuned in to my voice. And by the end, she was totally tuned in.

It was an outstanding experience, start to finish. Even though I fussed and grumbled a bit, here and there, during the editing process. I threw a few minor temper tantrums, even. (Who’s butchering my stuff? That colon doesn’t belong there. You’re messing with my voice. Gaaah!) Through it all, Susan remained calm and professional. And by the time we worked our way through the galley in a two-plus hour marathon phone conference, Susan had my full trust. She cheerfully accepted and inserted my final edits. Mostly tiny changes to better reflect my voice. And a few tweaks she suggested, from an editorial perspective. I was almost exhausted by the time we finished. But it was all good.

And then suddenly, abruptly, it was over. What was done was done. And out of my control. Since then, it’s been quite surreal, the daily grind of time.

The Tyndale marketing department is just flat out amazing. I can’t be thankful enough that my book was published by a powerhouse company where they know what they’re doing, period. We’ve had a conference call or two. The marketing people tell me they are “very pleased” with the sales so far. However, they rather obstinately refuse to define what they mean by “very pleased.” I guess they have to wait until the book actually reaches the end reader. Sure, the dealers are loading up. But if the public passes, all those orders will be returned. Boxes and boxes and cartons of books. What a nightmare that would be. I’d be persona non grata overnight. So they are cautious about real numbers, the marketing people, and understandably so.

Right now, the marketing department has scheduled a radio interview on WORD-FM 101.5 in Pittsburgh. From 4:15 to 4:30 PM on July 5th.

I am also scheduled as the only guest on my friend and bestselling author Suzanne Woods Fisher’s internet talk show, Amish Wisdom, on Thursday, June 30 at 5 PM eastern time. I’ve been on Suzanne’s show a time or two before, and it’s always a lot of fun. If you can’t listen live, check it out later. Suzanne always posts a link to her latest show within a few hours, so you can listen at your leisure.

So far, I’ve got a few dates set for book signings. I will be at the following sites on the following dates:

First, the local events. Tyndale will run THREE quarter-page ads in the local papers during the week leading up to the day.


11:00 AM – 12 NOON
Berean Christian Store
898 Plaza Boulevard
Lancaster, PA 17601-2756
(717) 397-3517

2:00 PM – 3 PM
Costco (Members Only)
1875 Hempstead Road
Lancaster, PA 17601-5671
(717) 396-8460

So if you are in the area, stop by and buy my book. I won’t charge you extra to sign it.

Then, on the following Saturday, I will be in Holmes County, Ohio, thanks to my good friend John Schmid, who lined this up for me:


The Gospel Book Store at German Village in Berlin, Ohio.

2 PM – 4 PM
I’ll be at the Holmes County Flea Market on Rt. 39 on the east edge of Berlin. John Schmid will sing, and I’ll sign books. It most definitely should be a loud, large time. So if you’re in that area that day, stop by.

Finally, on Friday afternoon and on Saturday morning, August 5th and 6th, I will have two book signing sessions in my ancestral area of Daviess County, Indiana. Not sure of all the details there, yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

The few book signings I’ve ever witnessed didn’t look all that exciting. A little table with a lonely, forlorn author sitting there. Generally being ignored. Smiling hopefully at anyone who passes within twenty feet. Don’t let that happen to me. It’ll scar me worse for life.

Back in late January, when I posted those first two chapters, I made my first ever request of you, my readers. I asked you to go online and pre-order my book. A great many of you did, and I thank you. Well, now I’m making one more request. After this, I promise to quit nagging you.

If you read the book and like it, please tell your world. Tell your friends. If you’re on Facebook, link the cover pic and post it with your honest recommendation. Ask your friends to do the same. With social media today, there’s no reason the message can’t get out there, to a host of potential readers who are now far beyond the reach of my voice.

If you read the book and don’t like it, keep that obviously flawed literary opinion to yourself. Don’t say nothin’ to nobody. Just kidding. I hope you will like it. Inevitably, though, some of you won’t. I’ve seen some grumbling on the private blog reviews about how the book is this or that, how it didn’t meet certain expectations. And that’s fair enough. Not everyone will like the book, or enjoy it. And if you’re one of those, well, then so be it. Do what you have to.

And so I am where I am. Less than a week away from the release of my book. The journey has been long. Arduous. Fraught with all kinds of unknowns. And yet, I’ve pushed forward into magical realms that were inconceivable even a few short years ago.

I stand here, in the courtyard of that shining city of my dreams. The outer gates opened to me some time back, and I entered. I absorbed, breathed deep the rarefied air, and drank of a view that very few ever get to see. And now I approach what seems like the final golden door, the symbol of one of the deepest longings of my heart.

But even at this threshold, I pause to reflect. The golden door will open, and I will enter. But I won’t abide for long in this place. Another tomorrow comes, and soon I will be off to the next destination. And then the one after that. I will go where my Commander sends me. And do what He requires of me. Not always in good cheer, I’m sure. I’ll grumble a bit, and fuss, here and there, as I tend to do. (Aw, come on, Lord. You really want me to go there, down that steep and rocky trail? I could get hurt. Why can’t I just stay here, on this smooth, safe highway?)

But one thing I know, one thing I have learned on the long and often troubled journey from my roots to where I am today. A road that many have traveled. But, of those, very few have told the tale of how it was, not outside the boundaries of their social circles. But I’m getting sidetracked here, on a little bunny trail. The thing I have learned is this: My Commander will always have my back. And He’ll always provide the necessary logistical support from those around me, to get me to where I need to go.

There will be hard battles ahead, sure there will be. And more treacherous, difficult roads. The dragons of fear and doubt will lurk, as they always do, patiently waiting for the tiniest opening to swoop in and attack. That’s just part of life as it has been, and life as it will be. But tomorrow’s combat can wait until tomorrow. Sufficient unto the day is what that day may bring.

On this day, at this place, in this brief and blazing moment of gratitude and triumph, as a weary, battle-hardened warrior approaching at last the inner sanctum of my shining city, I turn my face to the heavens and simply exult.

(Photo by Mary June Miller)

June 3, 2011

Holiday Ramblings…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:00 pm


Going to the mountains is going home.

— George Leigh Mallory

For the past two years, at about this time, we’ve packed a large motor home with enough food to last for weeks and headed out. Destination: the hallowed trackside ground inside the oval at the Pocono 500. It was always an adventure; getting in, setting up, and then just living it up in redneck city for a few surreal days. We’ve met some quite colorful characters, and seen many strange and wonderful things. And, yes, some weird things too.

This year, though, we didn’t make it. Not that it wouldn’t have been exciting and fun. But after attending the race for a couple of consecutive years, well, the fire seemed to have died. We didn’t really talk about it back then, my friends and me. But a few months ago, I mentioned to Paul that I likely wouldn’t be able to make it this year, what with my book coming out and all. He nodded and said that the others in the group had discussed it, and decided they would not go this year.

Hmmm. Discussed it, had they? Somehow they had failed to include me in that little conference. Guess that shows where I rate on the totem pole, but then, I’m not the one who owns the motor home. But, hey it all worked out. Looks like we all reached the same conclusion at roughly the same time, just from different points. And so this year, no redneck Nascar trip.

Since we first attended that Nascar race back in 2009, we’ve taken to hanging out as a group, now and then. At the home of one of us or another. And a few months ago, another couple showed up one night. Michael and Lori. They fit right in to the flow of things. And I got to know them fairly well.

Turns out Michael and Lori own a cabin in the hills of West Virginia. Close to the southwest corner, a good six hours’ drive. And this year, they invited us all down for the Memorial Day weekend. Come on, they said. We have plenty of room, and Ira can sleep on the couch.

It seemed like a good thing. Except, man, it was far down there. As gas prices rose, I fretted about running Big Blue all that distance. Not really so much about the miles. Just the cost of driving them. But I decided to go. Goodness knows I’ve been a bit stressed out lately. A road trip to a remote mountain cabin would be relaxing.

Everyone arrived by Friday evening, except me. On the way down, I stopped for the night at the house of my good friend, Dominic Haskin, who lives in Martinsburg, WV. Dominic and his father run Timberline Pole Buildings, and buy their materials from Graber. So I figured I’d stop and hang out for the night. Check to see if there were any supply issues.

I arrived around 3 PM, and found Dominic outside whacking weeds, and cleaning up the place. Getting ready for a Memorial Day party. We hung out by his pool. The boys from his crews stopped by for a few beers, and to talk about our building products. They vented about a few minor glitches in our system. I listened sympathetically and promised to take care of things. We didn’t go out on the town or anything, just hung out. Dominic grilled up some fantastic steaks, the first of many scrumptious meals I’d eat that weekend. We sat out by the pool and just chilled for a few hours. By midnight, we were nodding off. I slept in the spare bedroom downstairs. A cute little fluffy white cat kept stalking me, right down the stairs. The cat lurked about outside the bedroom door, staring at me with grim cold eyes. Kind of gave me the shivers. Clearly, I was an unwelcome intruder.

The next morning around 10, Big Blue and I headed west and south. Through the mountains of Cumberland, MD, then on to Morgantown. Then south and west. Around 2:30 or so, I was approaching my destination. I called Michael on his cell; they were all in town, eating lunch at some little hole in the wall restaurant. I joined them, and after lunch we strolled through an impromptu flea market set up in the local courthouse lawn. Americana at its finest, with flags waving everywhere, and cheap merchandise galore.

After stocking up on supplies at a nearby WalMart, we headed out to the cabin. Off the highway a mile or so, then a half mile back into the mountain on a narrow gravel road. Beautiful setting. A classic little board and batten cabin, with a roomy open porch on front, built by Michael and his father many years ago. I lugged in my bags and joined the others, loafing about outside on the porch.

Paul had brought and prepared his signature ribs, but there was no cooker around. So he and Michael fashioned one out of an old 45-gallon drum. It was all a long and leisurely affair, with much unsolicited advice flowing in from all sides. Eventually they got a fire going in the redneck contraption. The ribs were set on a makeshift wire grill inside the barrel. And so began a long stretch of feeding and starving the fire at tense sporadic intervals to adjust the heat inside the barrel. More streams of unsolicited advice flowed freely. Paul took it all in stride, dishing out as much as he got. The whole scene was pure hillbilly production.

Paul adjusting the air flow on his barrel cooker.

Some four hours later, Paul proclaimed the ribs done. And they were. We cut them up, served with beans baked over the open fire. And fresh Ceasar salad. A delicious feast. The ribs were hot and spicy, dry-rubbed in various spices and cayenne pepper. Whew. But tasty? You bet they were. Afterward, we all sat around an open campfire, chatting and sipping drinks, then moved to the porch for a few rounds of Hi-Lo. Around 10 or so, everyone drifted off to bed. I sat out on the porch alone for awhile, absorbing the West Virginia mountain night. Then I wandered inside, made a nest on the floor with couch cushions and settled in for a few hours of fitful slumber.

Sunday morning we slept in. Then got up to a huge breakfast of eggs, Applewood smoked bacon, hash browns, toast and coffee. Just what I needed – to gain more weight. But, hey, one doesn’t get to hang out in a mountain cabin with good friends very often. So do as the mountain folk do. Eat. After breakfast, Paul and I headed to town to get a Sunday paper. And the lazy day drifted on.

Three four-wheelers had been hauled down on Michael’s trailer. There was talk of going on a trail ride, and I agreed to go, assuming that I’d ride with someone. But when the time came, Paul decided he would stay at the cabin. He insisted that I take his four-wheeler and join the others.

Which was very generous of him. Except for one very important thing. I’d never driven a four-wheeler before. Never even so much as rode on one. So I balked. Those hills out there went straight up and straight down. It looked dangerous. But the others insisted. So, after a two minute tutorial on such basics as throttle, brakes, and how you must always lean forward going uphill, I mounted the wicked little machine and gunned the engine. There was no helmet. So I wore a bill cap, and goggles for eye protection.

The other two four-wheelers were loaded double. Michael and Lori led. Then Don and Angie. And then me. I should have had the presence of mind to cross myself. I mean, what can it hurt? I’ve done that for years every time I get on a plane. But it never occurred to me that now might also be a good time to do so.

The others roared off through the yard and straight up the steep trail. I watched them disappear up the hill into the trees. Then I gunned my engine, turned the throttle and took off after them. Immediate steep hill. And I mean steep. I leaned forward; the four-wheeler clawed its way up. And we crested the first hill. It was fun, except I was too tense to really enjoy it. The throttle seemed a bit erratic; one moment I was leaning backward from the speed and the next second I was practically flying over the handle bars as the machine seemed to cut and buck like a bull. But gradually I relaxed as the controls became more familiar. Up and down, up and down, the other two four-wheelers always disappearing over the next hill or around the next bend.

We rode for probably half an hour. Stopping now and then to take in the breathtaking scenery. I’m sure the others exercised great patience at my inexperience. And it was fun, all of it, except for one straight-down descent. I hung on as the four-wheeler bobbed and weaved dangerously, pretty much out of my control, then leveled at the bottom. Only then was I told that on such steep hills, I should use only the front brakes. Whew.

It all ended well. We got back to the cabin, safe and sound. After dismounting, I refused to ride again that day. I’d pushed my luck far enough, I figured.

That night, we ate by the fire, and hung out late by the fire. No cards. Just good friends hanging out, comfortable with each other, talking and watching the sky for falling stars. It was all quite relaxing. Magical, really.

And that was West Virginia.

As most of my readers know, I was raised on a farm. Around horses, cows, hogs and chickens. And as a young man, I detested farming with a passion. And since my flight from from the land many years ago, I’ve never really missed it much.

Except in some ways, I have. For a decade or more, I’ve dreamed of owning a few acres in the country. A tidy little place, in my mind, with a few sheep and goats grazing peacefully in lush pastures. And maybe a few miniature cattle. But no horses.

Maybe one day I might realize that little dream. Or maybe not. In the meantime, I recently took a rather startling step. Playing a role as a detached gentleman farmer. A few weeks ago, I bought a young Boer nanny goat. Yep, that’s right. A goat.

And no, the goat is not tethered on my lot in New Holland, grazing on my lawn. Here’s how it all came down.

A few weeks back, my Amish co-worker, Eli Esh, mentioned to me that he and his brothers were looking to buy some goats to graze on a few acres their father owned.

“Goats?” I asked, incredulously.

“Yep, goats,” he said. Then, sensing my interest, he asked if I wanted to buy one or two and graze them for free in the pasture. I immediately perked up and allowed that I might indeed consider such an offer.

And so, after Eli and his brother located and purchased four little weanling nannies, I bought one from them. A black goat, with a white blotch on its forehead. And we’re looking to get a few more. The plan is to graze them on the pasture, get them bred, and raise little goatlings for slaughter. I’m just a silent partner. No work involved for me, I was assured over and over again. We’re looking for a few more. Right now, the boys have a lead on some yearlings, ready for breeding. I’m fixing to buy at least one more, maybe two.

As with most “gentleman farming” ventures, I’m sure this entire episode will morph into a mini black hole, gobbling small chunks of money here and there and here and there for stuff that must of course be done to keep our investment, well, at least alive. Worming. Feed and hay in winter. And so forth, on and on. It’ll never stop. But hey, it’s a small sliver of one of my small dreams. Who knows what it might portend? And it will be fun. Plus it should, based on my record, provide me with at least a few prime opportunities to grumble a bit. And that’s something I enjoy doing once in awhile, given the right fodder.

One more blog after this, and then my book comes out. I feel like a little kid, counting down the glacially slow-moving nights until the dawn arrives when some great, grand, rare event unfolds. Sleep two more times, then I’ll get to go to town. Or something like that. In any case, I’ll post my final pre-book-release blog on Friday, June 24th. And then, well, I reckon I’m going on a little journey.