All things proceeding from the earth to seasons, all things
that lapse and change and come again upon the earth —
these things will always be the same…
An ordinary morning at the office a few weeks back. I was working at my desk when my cell phone rang. I glanced at the number. Unfamiliar, but local. I answered. Ira here.
The caller stated his name, and briefly, his reason for calling. He had just picked up a copy of my book yesterday. A mutual friend had recommended it. Last night he had sat up way late. Read all the way to the end. He just now called to tell me.
And with barely a pause, he launched. Unleashed a torrent of words. His story. From way back. He had left the Amish decades ago. Been excommunicated. All his life, he carried the frustrations of that choice. The deep wounds of being cut off from his family. Of the bitterness he battled again and again, all through the long years. He nearly wept as he thanked me over and over. Thanks for telling your story. It was time someone did. And still the words spilled from him as he talked, on and on.
I listened. Silently, sympathetically. Not that I could have gotten much in edgewise, anyway. The guy had obviously been deeply touched. And he was calling to tell me. Finally, someone he knew would understand. After five minutes or so, I gently interrupted him. I’m at work. I really appreciate your call. I really do. But I have to get back to work. Stop by sometime, and we’ll go have lunch. We’ll talk. Sure, he said. He thanked me and hung up.
At the book signing in Bloomfield last month, a stubble-faced guy walked in a few minutes early. I’d never seen him before, don’t know where he came from. He wasn’t one of my old West Grove buddies or anything. He stood in line, then approached me with his book and spoke his name. He had already read it, several times, he said. I thanked him and signed his copy. But he had come to tell me something more.
“This is an important book,” he declared solemnly. “It will be read for a long, long time. It’s an important book.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I’m very grateful that I had the chance to tell my story. And that my book was published by a major company like Tyndale.”
He seemed to think I hadn’t heard him. So he repeated. “It’s an important book. It will be read for a very long time.” The crowd behind pressed in on him then, so I didn’t have much of a chance to discuss why he thought my book was important. I thanked him again, and he moved on and out.
But I thought about his words later. A lot. Is Growing Up Amish an important book? Maybe. Maybe not. Readers will decide that. The market. And time, I suppose. It’s certainly not why I wrote it, to be important. Start out with a goal like that, and it’s a sure-fire way to never reach it. I write to write, to tell my story. Others can decide whether the book is worth reading, and whether it reaches the status of being “important.”
And those were two of the more memorable reactions to the book. I’ve seen and heard just about everything between. Along with some pretty strident criticism, too. Everyone has an opinion, one way or another. And I’m fine with that.
It’s been a good year. And I mean good. A year of harvest. When so many things fell into place. When so much came to pass, the stuff dreams are made of. When dreams come true, though, it’s not necessarily a relaxing time.
I’ve experienced just about every type of stress there is. Intense freaky stress. And the more reserved, silent stress, the type that really wears you down. I’ve gained twenty pounds, simply from not taking care of myself. A New Year’s resolution might be in order. Get back in shape.
I’ve recorded a lot of book-related experiences on this blog, as they happened. So I won’t go through all that again. Right now, I feel grateful and deeply thankful for all my blessings. I have to pinch myself sometimes, just to make sure I’m awake, that it’s all real. The Lord’s promises have never failed, but still, until you walk through that long, dark place where you desperately need them to be true, you don’t know what it is to really see those promises unfold. At least, that’s how it was for me.
Some numbers on the book. People are always asking. How many have sold? Are you quitting your “real” job? Are you rich? No. And no. I happen to like my “real” job a lot. The book has certainly achieved for me some degree of fame. But the fortune one instinctively associates with a bestseller in one’s mind, well, I’m still waiting on that. Sure, I’ll make a few bucks. And that’s great. I’ve already had replacement windows installed in my house, upstairs and down. And rebuilt my very tiny bathroom. All with the money from the book. It was way past time for both those little projects. And, of course, the evil, greedy tax man lurks out there, waiting to grab his share. So there won’t be any fortune, not unless the book sells a LOT more copies than it has to date.
As of now, there have been five printings. A total of around 50,000 hard copies. And around 15,000 eBook units have sold. Of the hard copies, around 10,000 remain out there in the market place, and Tyndale has about 5,000 stored in their warehouse. So a total of around 50,000 units, hard copy and eBook, have actually sold.
That’s more copies sold than most books ever dream of seeing. A respectable number. Very respectable, for a first-time unknown author. But it’s not huge. Plenty of other books out there have made a far larger splash, sold tens and hundreds of times more copies. My book has been a medium success, I’d say. Kind of like my blog. It gets a medium flow of traffic.
Probably another 10,000 copies would have sold, were the Amish and Mennonites not so maddeningly frugal. “Oh yes,” they write me cheerfully. Or even tell me to my face. “I bought a copy of your book and loved it so much that I’m passing it around to all my extended family.”
Which means anywhere from 10 to 50 people will read that one copy. That’s very nice, of course. The more people that read the book, the better. But it would be far nicer if some people in those extended families bought their own copies as well. Nothing anyone’s gonna do about it, though. That book-sharing habit is so ingrained into Amish and Mennonite culture that it’s useless to even grumble about it. All I can do is smile and nod.
I don’t know if the numbers out there represent the harvest of sales that have peaked and now will slow down. Or if the numbers represent the seed to be harvested. I hope it’s the seed, of course. That the book will keep selling and spreading. Wherever it goes, whatever happens, I’ve had my real shot at the real deal. And I’ve done OK. It’s just that, well, from an author’s perspective, it’s never enough. You always want more.
Whatever the case, I have to remain who I am. Can’t let it go to my head, that my book was moderately successful. My writing voice, silent for so long that I despaired of ever finding it, is one of my most treasured possessions. I don’t ever want to lose it. Which will happen, if I try to be something other than what I am.
The book has made its waves inside the Amish culture. It will continue to do so, I think, this coming year. It will be interesting to see what kind of structured response might emerge from those communities that are hostile to the book. I think that response might be forthcoming in 2012. Or maybe not.
Bloomfield, of course, has its problems with my work. And Aylmer, too, I’m sure. The official response has been muted. At some point, someone is going to say something. If not publicly, then privately. I’ll hear about it.
And in northern Indiana, too, I hear the book is not being well received among the Amish. Including my old friends, the people I knew there. I haven’t heard any specifics, just that they have recoiled from the book and are pretty hostile toward me. I’m not sure how many Amish people there have actually read it. Probably a few scanned it, and spread the word that the story is scandalous. I regret those reactions. I really do. I had hoped for at least an honest response. Tell me where I’m wrong. Show me what I wrote that wasn’t true.
And strangely, some few intellectuals (Certainly not all, or even many. Could be a tiny handful.), from certain slivers of the more progressive, mostly western Beachy-Amish and Mennonites, have been quite resistant to the book. In subtle ways, sometimes. And sometimes openly.
I’m not sure why. I guess they figured they were the gatekeepers. The ones who speak authoritatively about plain cultures, including the Amish. Their views are delicately nuanced, of course. And they recoil in horror at the raw, unvarnished details of my story. Their distaste shivers from their words and actions. They are stunned, pretty much in denial that a hick who graduated from Bob Jones University could get his story out there like that. Through Tyndale House yet, one of the largest and most respected Christian publishers in the world.
To them, to those stunned intellectuals, I say, relax. I’m as amazed as you are that my book got published.
That point of amazement, though, is pretty much all we have in common. You would have wished my book to be stillborn. To die before it could live. I wanted my book to hit the stratosphere. Which it hasn’t. So we both have to give a little, seems like, from what we would have wanted. One more thing, though. Stop reading my book through the skewed lenses of what you consider “literary criticism.” Which usually degenerates into just plain old criticism. I simply wrote my story. How it all came down. Sometimes, a story is just a story. And sometimes, a story honestly told reflects a lot of deeper things in life.
But apart from all the noise, I want to speak to you, my readers. The ones who have faithfully traveled with me, this past year. And before. You are the ones who made it happen. The ones who bought my book, and told your friends about it. You are quite a force, and I salute you all. Thank you so much for making this one of the best years of my life. Thank you. So much. I’m humbled and grateful.
The next year, 2012, will be a year of great challenges. And, always, opportunities as well. The future seems frightening, in so many ways. The world reels, from all the unrest and upheaval unleashed by the oppressive policies of increasingly tyrannical governments. The savage fruits of brutal and corrupt political power. Everywhere, we see and smell the fear. The uncertainty.
How it all will play out, no one knows. I’m not looking for anything pretty. In fact, I’m very pessimistic in the short term. Our 2012 presidential election will be the most vicious, scorched-earth political contest in our country’s history. There will be a lot of blood and fire and death across the world in the next twelve months. More so than usual, I think. It’s just shaping up that way. Some of that unrest, that blood and fire, will crash uncomfortably close to our communities, and our homes. I’m convinced it will.
And as those times, those events, invade our consciousness and encroach upon our lives, we will have to decide who we really are. All of us. Where we stand, and how we will choose to live. Where we place our trust. Both in each other, and in God. And as it all unfolds, we will be called to make our choices, to use or not to use the talents that we were given.
Whatever happens, I will write. Not because of any particular message. And not because I have anything particularly important to say. But just to speak. Of what I see from where I am. If no one hears what I’m saying, then it is what it is. I’ll write anyway. It doesn’t matter if no one’s listening. What matters is that I will have expressed myself.
A new year dawns. The old is gone. Never will there be another quite like it. It was a year of good things, a year heavy with the harvest of great blessings.
I look for great blessings in the coming year, too. Whatever happens, 2012 will bring new goals, new destinations. I’m tired, who isn’t? But eager. Eager to leave behind the safe walls of this shining city. Eager to strike out across the vast unknown one more time. I’m ready to battle the old dragons again. They’re still lurking out there. I’ll face and confront them. As I did before. Whack them back. And keep pushing on.
There will be times when I won’t quite know what’s going on. At least, if the past is prologue, that’s how it will be. But that’s where faith kicks in. Whatever the obstacles, they can be overcome. Will be overcome. In time, one at a time.
The new year, the future beckons. I’m thankful to be who I am, where I am. I walk forward with confidence. Calmness. And a little fear, along with a whole lot of other emotions. But mostly, I walk with a grateful heart.
Happy New Year to all my readers.Share