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.



  1. You write just like you talk my friend. I feel as though you are sitting across the table at lunch with Tom and me, and that is a wonderful thing!

    Comment by Jerilyn Gainsford Henderson — August 23, 2019 @ 7:03 pm

  2. Happy Birthday and Congratulations. Can’t wait to read the new book. Like the new picture at the top. You look like a very distinguished author!

    Comment by Rosanna F. — August 23, 2019 @ 7:18 pm

  3. There are some requirements to waiting for your book to be published, and all writers go through it. They are patience for the long processes you need to go through, faith that it will all come to fruition, humility when you must accept your work being scrutinized and courage to see it through to the end.

    Comment by carol ellmore — August 23, 2019 @ 7:41 pm

  4. Good luck with the book Ira. I have enjoyed reading your blogs and look forward to reading them “strung together and connected.”

    Comment by Marion Riley — August 23, 2019 @ 7:44 pm

  5. Happy Birthday Ira! I am looking forward to reading your book since I’ve been reading your blog for years, I was introduced to it after I read (and loved) Growing up Amish. Your unique style of writing makes it feel like a letter from a friend when the link shows up in my mailbox. Your honesty is admirable and as an introvert, I consider it brave! You are one year after me in the the Birthday department, 58 is not so bad, have a great one!

    Comment by Susan C — August 23, 2019 @ 9:42 pm

  6. Once again, thank you for your candidness and transparency. Happiest of birthdays to you and Happy 2 yr. Anniversary!

    Comment by J. Renga — August 23, 2019 @ 10:50 pm

  7. I hope you laugh.

    Comment by J. Renga — August 23, 2019 @ 11:04 pm

  8. Continually wishing you well!

    Comment by Sho — August 24, 2019 @ 3:56 am

  9. Dry is dry. August is dry. Maybe parched. But when you’re parched, you feel the sun and its strength. I’d rather live life parched then wet and in a bog with mosquitos and such. I once had a property with old oaks and it always had mosquitos that ate you alive… I even wore a helmet to get the mail sometimes. Enjoy this season of your life, Ira!!! I love the sunshine, and i’m glad that this time of abstinence is working in your favor as you check in with us. Don’t see the orange tie yet in your picture but it’s coming too, just like all seasonal changes. God is good all the time…

    Comment by Pam Moore — August 24, 2019 @ 7:48 am

  10. Writing works like that for me too–it comes when it comes.

    I hope you have a richly blessed birthday, Ira! :-)

    Comment by Christine in Maine — August 24, 2019 @ 11:12 am

  11. Have a wonderful birthday, Ira. I, too, just like all your other fans, enjoyed “Growing up Amish” and will re-read it in anticipation of your new book. I like your style of writing and the flow of it. I also like the story as part of it takes place in an area of Indiana where my great-grandfather owned more than one farm. I would awake hearing the clip-clop of the horses hooves against the pavement as the buggies went by. My grandparents are buried in Topeka, Indiana, not far from Shipshewana. God Bless.

    Comment by Jennifer Lee — August 24, 2019 @ 12:01 pm

  12. Seen some deep dark places because of that bottle. Hope your birthday was AMAZING! Always believed in you!!! Soooo excited for your new book!

    Comment by A Reader In Chicago — September 3, 2019 @ 10:32 am

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