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.



  1. Wonderful! You will handle this well, don’t despair. I will light a candle for you, and say a prayer or two!

    Comment by The pizzalady — February 10, 2012 @ 6:49 pm

  2. God speed. Sign me up to buy it as soon as it comes off the press!

    Comment by Leon — February 10, 2012 @ 6:51 pm

  3. Ira, the abyss is a hard place to go, so I commend you for the attempt. Maybe it was just a familiar place? I understand the cresendo building around your first book. How do you compete with that? You don’t. You’re right- it may just come full circle. But you won’t know until you try. I have found some sequels, if properly constructed, to be kind of an answer to a lot of the questions we, the reader have while reading the first book.

    Personally, I would very much like to know about life after you left the Amish. Where there ever times that you back-tracked? Did you ever try to settle into a similar, conservative church to fill that void? I’d like to hear how your expectations compare to reality, and what you would change, if anything, given the chance, and what you wouldn’t for anything? I’d also like to hear about how you might have struggled with issues that never affected you when you were Amish, that perhaps you have had to work through once you were on your own? And lastly, what little nuances have you been unable to shake? What has stayed with you and is concrete? I hope you find direction and inspiration. I believe in you.

    Comment by Kelly Hunt — February 10, 2012 @ 7:06 pm

  4. Oh, Ira my love! You can do this and so much more…You have an abundance of knowledge and drive in that HEART of yours..Tell us all about it…I better be in this one..just kidding. I love you and will pray for you diligently to complete this…

    Comment by margie — February 10, 2012 @ 7:15 pm

  5. I don’t know Carol but I like her just the same. She sounds like a wise woman. Best wishes as you take on this new challenge. Please keep us posted every now and then… we’ll cheer you on and then all go out and buy the new title. :)
    Excited for you!

    Comment by Rhoda — February 10, 2012 @ 7:19 pm

  6. You are in my thoughts and prayers, Ira. I’m very excited for you and looking forward to reading anything you write. Thanks again for Growing Up Amish. Take care of yourself.

    Comment by Connie French — February 10, 2012 @ 8:03 pm

  7. I know where you are coming from. I spent a year sitting at the side of my younger sister while she died of cancer and she had an ongoing struggle as to whether to believe in God or not. During that time she was abandoned by everyone but her husband and me. I talked about Jesus to her a lot trying to build her faith so she wouldn’t be so bitter. She even said she wished it was me instead of her, and I said, “Me too Sue; I’d rather die in your place than watch you die.” If I had to write about this I would need to go into my very soul to drag it out, and like you, it would be painful, but if it is a story worth telling it is a story worth hearing, like yours. I am not as brave as you though, living it once was painful enough and I could not imagine how I would feel to take that journey again. You are a very brave man to relive the painful parts of your life in writing.

    Comment by Carol Ellmore — February 10, 2012 @ 8:10 pm

  8. Ira, best of luck on this new venture. I don’t have any idea of where your story will go or what it will speak about. But this I know. It seems you carry the history of those that went before you. I’d like to see some of the old stories of those that went before your time. The ones that have been passed down to you. The ones that you reflect upon as you go through your own life. Keep telling stories Ira. You’re great at it!

    Comment by Jim R. — February 10, 2012 @ 8:16 pm

  9. The best to you. It’s never easy, it seems.

    Comment by Jerry Eicher — February 10, 2012 @ 8:52 pm

  10. I don’t know what to say, except I am with you as you go on from here.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — February 10, 2012 @ 10:03 pm

  11. Bless you Ira, you can do this.

    Comment by LLJ — February 10, 2012 @ 10:26 pm

  12. Oh Ira, as you know, I am thrilled you are undertaking this endeavor.

    Visiting the dark chambers of our past can be hurtful and even somewhat debilitating, but they are also enlightening and liberating. Sometimes writing, and seeing where we came from and where we now are helps us define not only who we are, but also where we are going! I do understand the dark and murky waters, but I also know Who holds our future and walks with us!

    God Bless as you work on this. Please know there are many who are keeping you and your work in prayer. Thank the Lord for Carol…she sounds like an awesome person who can help you keep your course!

    Comment by Kae Catalano — February 10, 2012 @ 11:38 pm

  13. If Tyndale rejects it will you PLEASE smuggle me a copy???

    But they won’t.

    It will be at LEAST as fascinating as the first book, I have no doubt at all.

    Comment by Rhonda — February 11, 2012 @ 9:16 am

  14. Good for you! Write with the intention of getting the story out there and feeling what you write, not to be on the Times Bestseller List. You’ve even said yourself, being on the Bestseller List was just the cherry on top (or words to that effect). That was the result of a story told with honesty and heart. Don’t feel that every sordid detail needs to be out there – it doesn’t. Go where you can, and share the things that have made a difference or that have changed you or your thinking.

    You know it, you’ve got the best readers. Pretend you’re telling your story to those closest to you and that won’t judge you. Then when you’re finished, we can help you move on to fiction, video games, and a clothing line. ha ha

    Congrats for jumping in with both feet – Tyndale knew a good thing when they saw it.

    Comment by Bethrusso — February 11, 2012 @ 11:27 am

  15. When the time is right it will all come together! Take your time and when you “relive” your moments to write this new book remember that God is carrying you! Blessings!

    Comment by Gloria K. — February 11, 2012 @ 1:55 pm

  16. Well said, Ira. I love that image of walking away from the shining city, your first work, something you can never relive again (at least not the creation of it). But there are many other stops in your journey. I look forward to following along.

    Comment by Shawn Smucker — February 11, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

  17. Ira, So glad you’re considering another book, “Growing up Amish’ really helped me understand the journey my parents were on when I was too little to see and understand all those hurts. Today I feel such appreciation to them for the price they paid for the freedom I enjoy, and I want to pass those blessings on to our children and grandchildren.

    Comment by Dorothy Mullet — February 11, 2012 @ 6:27 pm

  18. If you need one, perhaps we can always make beach week a little earlier….
    Love you. You are and will be fabulous.

    Comment by Janice — February 11, 2012 @ 10:42 pm

  19. I will miss your blogs but can’t wait to read your new book. I too, hope you will write about your life after you left the Amish for good. There are so many changes happening at that transition time and I would love to hear your story! Good luck!

    Comment by minerva dejianne — February 11, 2012 @ 10:52 pm

  20. I too will miss your blog comments. I am putting you on my prayer list. God knows the plan he has for you. Your book and your story are important and others want to learn from you.

    Comment by Linda Ault — February 13, 2012 @ 12:57 pm

  21. I learned of “Growing Up Amish” on Amish America and again from Saloma Furlong’s blog. I’m nearing the end of the book and came to your blog to see whether there would be a sequel (as Saloma is going through now.) Until its release, I will browse through what you have here. I wish you well in your work and life and that somewhere down the road you will find a sense of peace and contentment.

    Comment by Merry — February 14, 2012 @ 6:15 pm

  22. One word at a time… you can do it.

    You writing and us reading about your journey in “Growing up Amish” was a good thing for all of us. And with your authenticity and your writing skills, I look forward to a sequel being the same way. A lot of your blood, sweat and tears will go into it… and your readers will thank you for it.

    Happy writing… because you can!

    Comment by Janet Oberholtzer — February 16, 2012 @ 8:36 am

  23. I just like you, Ira. You are authentic. It is good to know you. And the honesty in your writing is a rare thing as well. It is art; but much more than art to be able to tell your story with such insight, not detached, but even in the subjective feelings to remain … not pontificatingly “Objective” – but objectively human. You let us see ourselves as we are by being honest with who you are, what you feel, and what you have seen.

    “And He will always show the right way to those who cry out to Him with even a mustard seed of faith.” Agreed.

    Comment by LeRoy — February 17, 2012 @ 10:50 am

  24. After couple times into your blogs, [found very interesting] –this “oldster” is again drawn back for more. I just enjoy..& to a point, can relate [though have experienced a very different scenario].

    That (darkness past) abyss can be a difficult thing; but have found that going into it can also be liberating, as a previous comment mentioned. God Bless, in your endeavors.

    Comment by E.m.Weiss-Baker — February 19, 2012 @ 3:12 pm

  25. Ira you can write fit to beat the band. Your musings on here would sell well and Growing up Amish is outstanding. Looking forward to your next book. All strength to you for the writing of it.

    Comment by English Pete — February 25, 2012 @ 6:00 pm

  26. I just finished your book. To say I enjoyed it would be absurd. I was so in to it that I was anguishing over your guilt and depression. I was amazed at your tenacity. I know what it is like to be driven by fear and burdened by guilt. What amazing grace it was that saved a wretch like us. Thanks for sharing your life. LOOKING FORWARD TO ANOTHER BOOK.

    Comment by Joanne Paulos — February 27, 2012 @ 11:18 pm

  27. Ira,

    I just finished reading your book. You have touched my life on many levels. I love your style of writing. Straight from the heart. While I have not lived anything close to an Amish lifestyle, I can relate to so many of your struggles. This is one of those stories that you cannot put down til you get to the end. And then you want more. I look forward to your next book and enjoy your blog. Thank you for telling your story so well!

    Comment by Vicki — March 8, 2012 @ 9:37 pm

  28. I just finished your book , I started reading it yesterday and couldn’t put it down. It was a great read…I so enjoyed it. Now off to catch up on my work I neglected while reading your book. Good luck to you, wishing you much happiness in your future. God Bless You!

    Comment by MELANIE STINSON — March 9, 2012 @ 9:19 pm

  29. You’re standing on a beach facing an ocean of shark infested waters. People are surrounding you, encouraging you to go into the water. You’re very afraid. But you feel like so many people want you to go in in spite of the terror lurking before you. “Don’t they see the sharks?” “Should I go in?” What do you do?

    I spent years disecting my past. I had to. I wanted so badly to get married and have children, but Mr. Right always turned out to be Mr. Wrong. The pain of not getting what my heart so desired was greater than my ability to keep all the hideous monsters covered up and out of sight. At first, I blamed the Mr. Wrongs- creeps, so critical, a liar, a cheat, wants to control me, I’m never good enough. Then one day it hit me, “What is it about ME that keeps attracting these relationships?” I realized I needed professional help or my future was bleak, to say the least.

    I had already given my life to Christ about 2 years previously. I prayed for guidance and Papa delivered, eventually, in the form of a therapist who had been through hell himself and come out the other side.

    First came the cracking of the thick shell of denial. Tap, tap, tap. Then knock, knock, knock. Then bam, bam, bam. Then booom, boooom, booooommmmm! The pink, pulsing flesh exposed. The nakedness, the shame, the helplesness, the rage, the guilt, the terror. Little do you know how long this will go on for. If you knew you probably would not have come. The men and the boys part company now. You just jumped into the pit of hell.

    Sometimes you can’t see Him in the pit. Said He’d be with you. You cry for Him and He doesn’t come. Why doesn’t He come? Where is He!? A refining fire strokes your limp body, then… you see Him. He comes to you, holds you, dances with you, loves you. He stays for a while then you notice the fire is upon you again. Where is He? And on it goes.

    But, in time, the fire looses its stamina. Lack of fuel? Yes. You see a ladder in the distance for the first time leading up and out. You put your foot on the first rung, then the next. You fall back into the pit. You try again with greater success. This time you’ve only lost your footing briefly. You make your way up.

    Ira, there is a high cost for you in writing your second book. You know that already. You are a tender soul. When and if you write your 2nd book, please write it for yourself and only yourself. As a way to heal in the areas that need healing. As a way to love more deeply, to speak more gently-to yourself. Write it as a gift to that little angel boy who wore barn door pants and who loved his mama so very much. Write it to that handsome teenage boy who anguished night and day with thoughts of “out there”. Oh, how he tried to be what they wanted, to be “good” and acceptable. But it just was not to be. Write it to the man who loved a woman so deeply and who was betrayed by her so brutally. Just write it for YOU!

    Comment by Francine — November 7, 2012 @ 1:45 am

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