October 7, 2011

Feedback, Fans, and Flamers

Category: News — Ira @ 5:54 pm

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It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.

—W.C. Fields
_____________

Well, it’s been a wild ride, these last three months. Seems like a lifetime ago, when I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of that magical date. July 1st. The official release for my book. Time, however seemingly frozen, does creep on. As it did. Day after agonizing day passed in slow motion. Until the day arrived.

And strangely, my pre-release inner turmoil escalated. The book was my impossible vision, my dream, my baby. Packaged and presented to the world. What would the world think?

From my gut instincts, and from my blog fan base, I figured the book would be well received, at least in a tiny sliver of the market. But still, the tension increased. Exactly as the Tyndale people had warned me. It’s the same for every author, even the wildly successful ones, they claimed. So just expect it. I tried to. But it was impossible to fully grasp the true meaning of their words until I experienced what it was they were talking about.

A few days before the official release, the emails started trickling in. I’ll never forget the first one. From a lady, over in the next county. Fairly local. She had picked up a copy at BJ’s Wholesale Warehouse. They had stocked the book a week early. And she had seen it there, picked it up, and read it. She was excited and highly complimentary. Seemed mildly astounded, even. The book spoke to her, she claimed.

And that was the first taste, the first feedback from an actual reader, at least one who had purchased the book. The reviews had been percolating out there on the internet for months. The great reviews. The merely good. And the ugly. But those were reviewers who had obtained an advance copy, some of whom seemed a little taken with themselves. They certainly weren’t real purchasers who had invested their own money.

Since that time, I have received hundreds of messages from readers. The vast, vast majority via email. That’s how people communicate now. And I don’t wonder at all why the Post Office is in deep doo-doo. They don’t deliver much any more. Ten, fifteen years ago, all those email messages would have been sent by mail. And I’d have tons of letters to answer.

I’d say 98% of the letters/messages are very positive. I’ve heard from many who have emerged from their own restrictive backgrounds. Catholics. Baptists. Jews. And many other denominations. I even got an email from a reader in Japan some time back. Somehow the story struck a chord with so many. The universal themes, the journey, the lostness, the searching. And the finding.

I have received a few letters, though. As in handwritten on a sheet of paper. Or typed. My work address is posted on this site. And some few who are not wired still crank out the old lines on paper. Send them in the mail. The emails are easy to answer, and I try to return a brief note to everyone who contacts me. Well, almost everyone. Spread the word. That’s what I tell them. After thanking them for reading the book, of course.

The real letters, though, well, that takes more effort. And so far, I’ve written back to only one such letter writer. Because she wrote one of the very best responses so far. A nice lady, from Massachusetts. Quite riled up, she was, and determined to set me straight. Instead of describing what she wrote, I took a picture of her letter with my iPhone.

After reading that, my head most definitely felt “booped.” And my rear end, well, it felt kicked as well. She nailed me. Did she ever nail me. And she was right on. Sarah did owe me one. Maybe she still does. The letter gave me some glimpse of how deeply some readers get involved emotionally. I am very honored to have such readers.

And Jean, if you read this, you got it done for Sarah. You really did.

Not all the messages are complimentary, of course. Or even cordial. Because, as always, there are the flamers (defined in Dictionary.com as Computer Slang; to send an angry, critical, or disparaging electronic message).

No one likes criticism, however valid. And yeah, I grew up hearing that old cliché. You learn more from criticism than from praise. Maybe so. But I sure ain’t never felt that.

It’s a trite truism, that one learns more from critics. Might be true. But I’d sure love to smash back at them in kind. Measure for measure, blow for blow. Sadly, though, I can’t. I’m the target. Anyone can take a swipe. Responding would only encourage more of the same. Arguing with critics just turns into one giant tar baby. Whack, whack back, and on and on. So I generally bite my tongue and brood instead.

And boy, are they ever out there, the flamers, furtively lurking in the safety of the vast impersonal world of the internet. Not in large numbers. But there. What motivates these people I won’t care to guess. But there they lurk and shiver in the shadows, their faces never clearly visible. Anonymity begets boldness. And boldness begets the occasional blast of mindless vitriol.

Which is fine, because that’s their right. But it’s not fun, if you are the recipient.

A few posted reviews on the book. And no, I won’t provide any links. But from their harsh cacophonous screeching, one might conclude the book might as well be burned. Destroyed. Certainly not read, by any sensible person.

And a few send emails. I usually read them, then hit delete. Cast them into the ether of outer digital darkness. A few weeks back, one such email arrived. Seemed innocent enough from the heading. I opened it. There was no greeting, no pleasantries. Just the terse lines. And no signature.

I’ve just finished your book ‘Growing Up Amish’. I can’t believe that
your writing of your self pity and self importance got published. I read
nowhere in the book where you cared for anyone other than yourself.
I read where you used everyone you could for self gain. If you really
think there is some ‘Jesus Message’ relayed in your book, your
badly mistaken!

I can understand why Sam lost hope in you.

I’ll call the guy Bob. Flamer Bob. I won’t use his real name, so he can’t preen and bask in some perverse self-aggrandizing glory. After recoiling a bit, I did what I always do with all such vitriol. Deleted it. Dumped it out. But a day or two later, I got to thinking. What if I engaged, just to see what gives? I planned to write a blog down the road about responses to the book. Why not post Flamer Bob’s letter, and a bit of correspondence? So I dug into the deleted bin and retrieved his letter. Wrote a brief response and sent it off to Bob.

Dear (Flamer Bob):

I usually don’t respond to messages like yours, because they are tar-babies. No one wins. And no one will win here either, probably.

Usually, when I come across a book that I dislike as intensely as you apparently dislike mine, I don’t finish it. I just toss it aside as rubbish. And I most certainly don’t bother to take valuable time out of my day to contact the author. But apparently it was worth your time, both to actually read the book, and then make the effort to contact me.

So I’m just curious. What exactly did you intend to accomplish by sending me your message?

Sincerely,
Ira Wagler

Flamer Bob lay low for a day or so. Then he answered. Probably delighted that I had engaged, he actually observed some basic rules of politeness. Even signed off with his name. Might have been his real name, might not. All his correspondence is posted exactly as he wrote it. As is my own.

Dear Ira,
First, I don’t know what you mean by ‘win’ ! I am not out to ‘win’ anything !
What is it that you want to win ?
Second, I guess that I grew fond of your character (you) in the book and
continued to hope for a better outcome. Now I wondering when you will
write the second in the series titled, ‘Still Growing Up’.
And, quote ‘What exactly did you intend to accomplish by sending me your message?’.
Answer: a response.
Ira. After reading your book I can honestly say that I didn’t intend on accomplishing anything.

Thanks for responding
Sincerely,
(Flamer Bob)

And this was my final response. A bit terse, perhaps. But still, more polite than he deserved.

You, sir, are a Flamer. Google the term if you don’t know what that is.

I don’t have time for Flamers, but took the time with you, because I wanted an example of such correspondence to use later in my writings. Yours will do nicely, I think.

Have a great day. And by the way, I have blocked you from my email inbox.

Ira Wagler

And that was it, with Flamer Bob. I don’t know how he reacted, because he had no way to let me know.

I wonder who they really are, these people like Flamer Bob. In their everyday lives. And whether their flamer personas are a fraud. They might be the pleasantest people around, face to face. Neighborly. Helpful. Cheerful. Kind. And it’s only their alter egos that I see out there on the web.

But I doubt it.
**********************************

Last weekend I made the long trek to Shipshewana, IN, for a book signing on Saturday afternoon at the Davis Mercantile building. Shipshewana has exploded in the twenty-five years of my absence from the area. I remembered little of the countryside or the town. My hosts, Levi and Joanna King, were simply lavish in their hospitality. I met a lot of people during the 3-hour signing. Including some friends from way back I had not seen in decades. Even my wandering minstrel friend, John Schmid, showed up. He was in town for two nights of concerts.

Tomorrow (Oct. 8th) I will be at the Freiman Stoltzfus Gallery in downtown Lancaster from 11 AM until 1 PM, for a signing. An accomplished artist, Freiman is an old friend, and he has graciously offered his gallery for a signing. If you are in the area, stop by. And as always at any of my signings, bring your copy with you, or buy one there, or both.

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(15 Comments) »

  1. Mr Wagler.
    I do agree with the 75 year old lady.
    You needed your butt kicked.
    Ahem…mine has been kicked a time or two.
    And yes, I earned it.
    I highly suspect many, if not most women would agree with the lady.
    Paul Yutzy

    Comment by Paul Yutzy — October 7, 2011 @ 6:10 pm

  2. Ira, I just want you to know that I couldn’t put your book down. I started reading it late at night, and didn’t want to put it down…however, I feel asleep, and as soon as I woke up again, finished the book. I was glad to learn that I had misconceptions about the Amish. I know that has to be an exhausting lifestyle. Do you plan on writing another book?

    Scott, my son, and I met you in Shipshewana. I will keep that signed copy of your book, and will buy some for gifts.

    I hope you write another book! Also, I am very thankful that you have a good relationship with your parents and siblings.

    Blessings to You!
    Sincerely,
    Alleen Mapes

    Comment by Alleen — October 7, 2011 @ 6:43 pm

  3. I just love the exchange of emails you had with Flamer Bob.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — October 7, 2011 @ 8:44 pm

  4. I think when one writes about their very own personal life, one will be more app to get “picked” on then if one chose to write about a fictitious
    character….those are my thots.

    Comment by Angie — October 7, 2011 @ 10:29 pm

  5. Well my iphone and computer lingo have gotten mixed up in my spelling :D
    I meant to say are more apt to get “picked” on.
    Ira, we need to have another card game, been saving up quarters and they are burning a hole in my pocket!
    Get on with all your book signing stuff and then lets have a party!

    Comment by Angie — October 7, 2011 @ 10:37 pm

  6. I think I’ve met Flamer Bob. Or his twin. Or doppelganger.

    Comment by Dee Yoder — October 7, 2011 @ 10:40 pm

  7. Never in my life have I written to an author! Bought your book, enjoyed it, and have loaned it out (probably shouldn’t tell you that)! Identified with so much of it…..

    Laughed out loud at your 75 year old friend’s spunk…

    Comment by Cheryl K — October 8, 2011 @ 6:30 pm

  8. Ira, I was in Shipshewana and had you sign the book for me, and my friend Lisa. We started reading as soon as that evening. We were staying at a local B&B and realized that another couple also purchased your book. I know that one of them started reading before we did and she was so eager to tell us about it so far. We have since finished reading it – and I have told so many people about it. I did as you said to do, “Tell your World about me” so I did! Thanks for sharing all of the sensitive and heartwarming parts of your life. I will keep on telling my world about you!

    Comment by Veronica Maki — October 10, 2011 @ 7:03 am

  9. I sure wish you had a book signing close enough to meet you! (I’m 100 miles north of Des Moines). I can’t give an opinion on the book yet as it’s still on my Amazon wishlist, but I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy it when I get it. Of course, I’ll let you know my opinion then. ;) Thanks for being willing to write about your life.

    Comment by Deb — October 10, 2011 @ 8:54 pm

  10. Randomly, I saw your book on our library shelves, and picked it up for some “light” reading. I couldn’t put it down, reading the entire novel in a day.

    I grew up in northern OH, with Amish both further north and to the south, and Mennonites close by, including framing my decseased grandfather’s farm. Now, living in MA for some 30 odd years, I rarely encounter either of these. My original ancestors settled in Lehigh County, PA, from northern Switzerland, and probably had some similar beginnnings.

    I have been thinking more and more about the Amish as I study anthropogenic global warming, peak oil, resource destruction, and our false notion that our economy can continue to grow on a planet with finite resources. I keep wondering if the Amish have been right all along, clinging to more sustainable farming methods.

    However, the Amish doctrine of continued reproduction is not sustainable on a finite planet. Once we learned to control infections, via antibiotics, we enabled most children to reach adulthood, and I think that it behooves us to control our population. You mentioned home healing, but I assume antiobiotics were used when necessary. What about childhood vacciinations? I was surprised that your mom gave birth in a hospital

    And as a random aside, I was appalled to note, when visiting a store in Holmes County,OH, that the cloth for sewing Amish clothing is at least half polyester now. That makes the long dresses so much hotter!(Also with our warming planet, the dresses must be more uncomfortable!)

    Finally, I wish that your epilogue had a brief update on your brother Titus (I’m a PT, so this particularly pained me!) and Sarah (as I’m a hopeless romantic!)

    Thanks for the book!

    Comment by Susan Shamel — October 11, 2011 @ 3:37 pm

  11. I think that was Flamer Bob’s version of “I know who you are, but what am I?” That letter from the lady really is funny and I just love how everyone is interested in Sarah. Didn’t most people have a “Sarah” in their life at some point – the one that almost was? OK, except vice versa for the women – you know what I mean. I’m sure Sarah’s done just fine – I think the bad thing to do would’ve been to stay with her when you weren’t sure what you really wanted or needed. I know it was really really sad at the time but most of us have been on both ends of that and lived to tell about it. It was a great and very relatable part of the story I thought. There’s my two cents worth for the night – LOVED this post!

    Comment by BethRusso — October 13, 2011 @ 10:11 pm

  12. Just finished your book and I loved it. I had many misconceptions about the Amish, and now I feel like I know something honest about them, good and bad.

    I know everyone else asks about Sarah, but the people I wonder about most are Titus, how he has lived in Amish life paralyzed, whether he has remained married. I’ll look through your archives and see if you mention him. I also am curious about Nathan. How many of your siblings eventually left?

    Comment by Wendy — October 27, 2011 @ 4:14 am

  13. I just finished your book and enjoyed reading it. I became fond of the Amish while visiting Lancaster County. Because I do Yoga and have studied Buddhism I can identify with Being rather than Doing and some seem to have that nailed..they are able to ‘be’ while ‘doing’. Anyway, I saw the struggles you had and I agree, a lot of folks got hurt Iyou aren’t responsible for others’ reactions). I had hoped you would have been more open. I found myself wishing “oh please, just TALK to your mom ..or your dad…so sad and such a waste of good opportunity, I thought. Anyway to my question…in the course of reading this book, I found myself becoming really fond of your family. How are they today? Are the parents still living? Titus?
    I don’t read blogs as a rule so I am not up to date.
    Did you ever find a mate?
    I wish you well.

    Comment by elizabeth ocskay — October 28, 2011 @ 6:33 pm

  14. Glad you got to Ship! We were in MN with my little sister by then, so it’s a good thing we got to an earlier signing.

    Comment by ann — October 30, 2011 @ 11:50 pm

  15. Oh, Ira. Why do people bash you about “Sarah?” “All’s fair in love and war.” Gosh almighty, who amongst us hasn’t been wounded in matters of the heart. You did the right thing by ending it and how were you to know things would end up as they did?

    You have a tendency to blame yourself a lot for the pain women in your life have experienced. Started with your mom, then Sarah, then Ellen. Ira, in every situation you did what was right! I could get detailed with this, but I don’t know if that’s what you want. I’m just tired of people saying you were bad or wrong. Even when it’s done in a light hearted way, it runs so deep that when you hear it you believe it. That sliver of shame awakens and the little boy in your mind still believes it. I say NO!

    Comment by Francine — November 30, 2012 @ 1:41 am

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