February 10, 2012

Farewell, the Shining City

Category: News — Ira @ 6:18 pm


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….That’s
just part of life as it has been, and life as it will be.

—Ira Wagler: Inside the Shining City

I had it coming, I suppose. When I wrote of my eagerness for whatever might come, in the year-end blog. Maybe I was feeling bold. Or maybe bored. I should have known, though. Be careful what you wish for, because it just might sneak up and slap you right up ‘side the head.

I’ve heard from a lot of readers. When are you writing the sequel to your book? But last year was so intense, so busy, that I didn’t think about it much. What would come would come. Then in early November, an email from my agent, Chip MacGregor. A few bits of news about this and that. At the very end, a short paragraph. We need to be talking soon about where you might want to go next with your writing. Tyndale is making some noises about another book.

And there it was. Another book. I sure hadn’t been out there pushing for one. Too much going on, and I didn’t really feel quite ready yet. Maybe I was just scared, I don’t know. But I answered Chip. Let’s talk about it after the holidays.

It seemed like going on from the end of the first book was the natural thing, after I thought about it. But I didn’t want to throw something out there just because the market’s hot right now. If I can’t write it and feel it, the narrative won’t work, because the reader won’t feel it either. And besides, the second book about as often as not just flat out flops. The first book is the one you HAVE to write, the second one not so much, I think that’s how it goes a lot of times. So there’s no guarantee of anything. Especially for a relatively unknown writer. Somewhat known now, but not that well, not compared to many others. The literary landscape out there is strewn with the wreckage of many a failed second effort from authors far better known than I could ever hope to be.

And I tried to imagine what it would be, to write a sequel. I’ve always shied away from some pieces of the past, from the time right after I left the Amish. There are hard places back there. And deep. A lot of other great writing fodder too, don’t get me wrong. The journey of a raw ex-Amish youth feeling his way into a whole new world. After breaking from his roots for good. Breaking into the English world. And loss, too, there was that. The thread of loss that almost universally affects those who break from the Amish culture. Loss of relationships, of family, of ancient cultural ties. Loss of my father’s blessing. And more. There’s lots of good material there, if I can get it told right. But always, from here, the hard things seemed more frightening to confront. To relive.

Because they are. A few weeks back, I wrote a few pages to show the Tyndale people what was in my heart. And it came down as I knew it would. The words roiled out of me in black torrents of the deepest melancholy I have faced in years. Maybe ever. I went down under. Way down under. I wrote it like it came. And then I sent it off.

After absorbing my writing for a week or so (and recoiling, I’m sure), Carol Traver called me one evening after work, at the office. After everyone else had left at my end. My insides were a tough knot of turmoil. And she firmly talked me back from the abyss. Don’t go back there, that deep. It’s too dark to see; you can’t even speak your message. What is your message? Let’s see if you can say it better. Those weren’t her specific words to me, necessarily. But that’s what I heard her saying.

We talked for quite a while about a lot of things, always circling back to my writing. And gradually, the tension drained from me, the turmoil dissipated. Right there, as we were talking. And I worked my way back. The fog in my head began to clear. In the next day or two, it lifted.

Carol is right. I can say it better. Write it better.

I’d failed the first test, though. When I had the chance to show her what I had in just a few pages. Flipped right off the deep end, I did. Maybe it was just as well to get that out of the way, right up front. But now, she needed something more. Some real writing, some real chapters, that I would submit in the manuscript. We talked about it, and it felt OK. Four chapters. Almost random, not quite. Some sort of opening. And a couple of places that are important to me. And what I see as the message of the book. I grumbled a bit. Come on, Carol. Do I really have to? Now? Immerse myself into those years from long ago? But I knew that what she was asking for made sense. I might as well write out some real stuff so Tyndale can see if what I have is what they want. And to figure out for myself if I can even get it told.

Growing Up Amish was my shining city on a hill. My impossible goal, my dream, my vision. And it was more than I could have imagined. The way it all came together, the way it all worked out. It was a triumphant and joyful thing. Pretty much miraculous. That accomplishment can never be taken from me.

And now I walk from the gates of that shining city. I will never return to this place. Once you set out on another journey, it’s impossible to return. It’s like going home again. You can’t, because everything has changed. Succeed or fail, you can’t go back to the way it was.

After the first leg of this journey, maybe a month, probably more like two, I’ll stop and rest a bit. And I’ll be back here, to tell you of how it was. And where the next destination might be. I’ll tell you when I know, one way or the other. If the sequel doesn’t work out with Tyndale, some other door will open. It might well be a door right back to this blog, a full circle back to the place where it all began. I don’t know, and don’t need to know until I get there.

Saying it as I saw it, from where my heart was when I wrote it, that’s all I’ve ever tried to do. In a New York Times bestseller, and right here on this blog. The platform makes no difference. Pretty much every post on this blog could just as well have been written in some form in a journal, had I ever taken the time and trouble to keep one. And in those hidden, unread pages, my voice would have been the same.

I’ve traveled long enough and far enough to learn to walk by faith as much possible, given my restless spirit and driven nature. Faith sometimes small as a mustard seed, seems like. But there. And when the noise gets too loud around me, that’s when I return and hold on to the simple core truth that the Lord is good. He always was. He always will be. And He will always show the right way to those who cry out to Him with even a mustard seed of faith.

I am ready for one more trek, one more slog into some rough terrain. I’m calm but alert, and yeah, a little tense and nervous too, as I approach a new door of entry from a new direction, on a path not seen before. And prepare to walk through that door and face and relive a whole lot of memories from way back. Memories of loss and turmoil, more than a few memories of more than a little loss. And memories, too, of life and joy and the anchor of quiet faith. Of moving forward into a new world of possibilities and opportunities such as I had never known. A world I embraced with hungry longing and desire.

It’s all there, if I can pull it together and fit it together in a way that works. And write it from my heart. A heart that was forgiven long ago. I think I can do it. I believe I can write it better now than it could have been written two weeks ago, or at any time in the past. I believe that. But I won’t know for sure until I go there.

And so I leave you for awhile.