May 4, 2012

Roller Coaster…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:00 pm


Had they not set their jaws, made sudden indecisive
movements, felt terror, joy, a numb impending ecstasy,
and waited, waited then – for what?

—Thomas Wolfe

All right. Things have been a little out of joint, lately. A little skewed. And that’s an understatement. The last eight weeks seem like a blur to me. And I’m a guy that has seen plenty of blurred times, for one reason or another, back through the years. But none has ever come down quite like this.

Since my book went haywire on Amazon in March, I haven’t written a whole lot of anything, anywhere. Except on this blog. From that first day, and the following week, I was intensely focused on the numbers, all through March. And the numbers freaked me out. You don’t get that high in the rankings. You just don’t. But there I was. And it just froze my voice, to think of how many people were buying the eBook version of Growing Up Amish.

So I did what I always do, when my world gets whacked out of joint. Retreat to the blog, and throw out a new post now and then. Telling of how it is, and where I am. I made a few references, looking back, of how maybe I’ll soon be able to get back to some serious writing. Meaning, of course, getting back to work on the sequel. But I never did that, except for some disorganized pecking now and then. I never immersed myself, never went back to relive things. Which is the only way it’s ever going to come out. By going back there in my head, and telling it like I see it when it’s all happening again. It’s not a formula. It’s not based on a “theme.” It’s a thing that roils from somewhere deep inside.

And then March ended, and Amazon removed the book from its promotional discount list. Brought in their next one hundred, for the next month. And Growing Up Amish gradually drifted on down and out of the top hundred. The top three hundred. But it hung in there, in that general area, for a week or two. And I wondered. Oh yes, I wondered a lot. How many copies had moved in March? I emailed Chip. Hey, can you find out for me? He said he would make some inquiries. It might be a while, before the numbers come in.

And then two weeks ago, on a Thursday afternoon, a message from Carol Traver. Hey, Ira. We got the March numbers. Rough numbers. But close. Here they are. In March of 2012, Growing Up Amish sold right around 44,000 copies. 44,000. And Carol went on. That brings your total sales figures to approximately 120,000 books sold. 55,000 hard copies. And 65,000 eBooks. Congratulations, Ira. You’re in rare air. That’s what she said. Rare air.

There aren’t a whole lot of books out there that sell 44,000 copies in a month, ever. At any price. Or free, even. Those are some pretty elite numbers. Not for the #1 Bestseller crowd. But for an unknown writer like me, yeah, it’s rare air. And the book’s still percolating out there, right along. You want it when you write it, that kind of recognition. That kind of success. You dream of it. But you don’t think of what it will do to you, if you get there. It’s impossible to imagine or anticipate such a place.

What it did to me was freak me out completely. Fried my brain, pretty much. I stand mute. 120,000 copies sold. And with book sharing, a lot more than that number have read it. Slice off the ten to twenty percent who hated it, the 1 Star and 2 Star reviewers, and that still leaves you with a whole lot of readers who liked it. And Carol told me later that the sixth paperback printing had just arrived at Tyndale’s warehouse. Double the usual printing, 10,000 copies this time. Wild stuff.

Right now, under the weight of 120,000 expectations, I can no more concentrate on writing a sequel than I could concentrate on the most boring Amish preacher’s endless, droning sermon. Which, as anyone who’s ever sat fidgeting in frustration under such a sermon can (but probably won’t) tell you, is just impossible.

It’s all kind of strange, really. I’ve never been in a place like this before. Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s the coveted writer’s dream. First book does well enough so you have fans clamoring for a second. I know. I’ve read that, too. And seen it now, and felt it. But until you actually live it, there’s no way to grasp what it really looks like. For some, I suppose, it’s a vision of a bright new dawn. Another chance to show the world what you got.

For others, though, it’s something else. A feeling deep inside that it’s gonna be tough, to do it all again. Real tough. And it won’t be a matter of time. It will be a thing that either will come, or it won’t. More likely than not, it will. One just doesn’t know exactly when. But most times, from what I’ve seen as a raw newcomer, it never comes quite like it did the first time. And that’s why there are so many one-hit wonders out there. In music, in writing, and probably in just about every area of artistic expression. Because it’s tough to hit another home run, or maybe even just to hit a single, in the arena where the first one came down. At this level, at least, that much is true.

The money is very nice, and I have nothing against making a lot of it. I hope to make a respectable little chunk from the book. Actually, I hope my agent makes a fortune from Growing Up Amish, because if he does, so will I. But money has little to do with why I write. Because when it comes to writing, it doesn’t matter if I get paid or not. I’d do it anyway. And in the long run, it doesn’t matter that much if the sequel doesn’t come. Oh, sure, I want it, there’s no way to tell you how much I want it, to write and have published what is in my heart. I know the story line. I know what needs to be told. There is so much to be said. And yet, if it doesn’t come, it won’t be the end of the world for me.

Because I’ll always have this forum. My blog. Something previous generations did not have, and could not have remotely imagined. A place to tell it like it is, as it’s all coming down. A place to speak to the world, completely independently. And at this moment, this blog is the only place, the only forum in the world where I can write my voice. The only one. And so I figure if I can’t tell it to be published, I’ll tell it right here for free. Just like I would have told the story of Growing Up Amish, had Carol not somehow magically appeared to claim it for Tyndale. Not in its current form, I’m not saying that. But the essence of the book would have been told, right here, spread over time. As a good bit of it was, at least the early childhood stuff.

So one way or the other, the sequel will come down. In book form, if I can eventually calm myself to get it said that way. And I know I will. But if not, if somehow I can’t, I’ll just tell it right here. In time. Fragmented, sure. It wouldn’t be as easy a read, like the professionally edited first book was. But it will be written, in all its raw reality. At some point. Somewhere. It will be.

For now, I will write where I can speak. And that’s here on the blog. Every couple of weeks or so, I’ll post about what’s going on around me, and maybe throw out a sketch now and then. We’ll see what happens. When the real stuff starts rolling in, I’m telling no one. And I mean no one. Not until a good bit of it gets written. And then we’ll go from there.

And that’s how it is. That’s where I am right now.

In the meantime, the wild and beautiful road rolls on. Last Friday, I set out in a little rented Jeep Liberty for the 12 hour trek to Vincennes, Indiana. Yes, I drove. Some of my new readers out there may not know. I never fly except in extraordinary circumstances. Like a funeral or some similar short-notice thing where I have little choice. Not because I fear flying, but to avoid the TSA goons in airports. The TSA exists primarily to intimidate and harass innocent travelers, that much is not even debatable. We all know, deep down, that the TSA serves no legitimate purpose and that it does nothing to “protect” us. And I simply refuse to allow their goons to inflict themselves into my life. I’ll drive two days instead. Two days one way, I mean. And if I can’t find the time to do that, I just don’t go.

But this trip was only one day, one way. Totally doable. The Jeep bucketed along the interstate, and right at 5:30 that evening, I pulled into Vincennes. Checked in and got the keys to VU’s Guest House, a very nicely furnished mansion on campus. No one else was staying there, so I had the place to myself. After cleaning up a bit, splashing some water over my face, I headed out to meet some old friends for dinner.

My VU professors were my friends, way back when I was a student there. All of them. And this evening, I was meeting Dr. Bernard Verkamp, my first and only philosophy teacher. Recently retired, he instantly invited me to dinner when I called him a month ago. We’ll meet, he said, with some old friends. And indeed we did.

With Dr. Verkamp, Lynn Linkon McCormick, and Kathy Yoder Miller

Lynn Linkon McCormick arrived at the nice Italian restaurant a few minutes after I did. She still looked exactly as she did back in 1989, when I first met her. Young, exuding boundless energy. She is the carreer/guidance Counselor at Vincennes, and her face was the face of VU, back when I tentatively walked through those doors for the first time. Yes, she told me then. Yes. Come on in and enroll. You tested right out the top with your GED. We want you to come. And with her encouragement and assistance, I enrolled.

After an excellent meal and great conversation, I retired to the Guest House. A little ribbon of tension pulsed deep inside me. I was excited about the next day. But also a little freaked. After the honorary doctorate was awarded, I was expected to make a short speech. Three to five minutes, they said. That’s the time you’ll have. Which was great. That much I could do. I certainly didn’t want to drone on and on for twenty minutes. I should be good. But still, it bothered me. And that night, I sat up, scratching words on a sheet of yellow writing paper. Practiced. Timed myself. I’d be fine, if only I stayed relaxed. But I had never addressed a crowd of this size before. Around eleven, I went to bed and drifted off into fitful slumber.

I’ve written before, about my first graduation from Vincennes, back in 1991. How not a single person from friends or family showed up to witness it. This time, though, I wanted at least a few. So I invited my brother Jesse and his wife Lynda. They’d be honored, they claimed. They’d drive up from South Carolina. And I invited some of the Waglers, my surrogate family in Daviess. Dean and his sister Rhoda said they would be there.

Saturday morning. The day. I got up, and puttered about. Messed with my little speech, on the yellow pad paper. Spoke it over and over. Timed myself. Just under five minutes. Should be good. I do very little public speaking, and usually improvise a bit when the time comes. I’d do that today as well.

I will say this. Vincennes University rolled out the VIP treatment for me and my guests. All the way. At 11:30, we assembled for a banquet in my honor. President Dick Helton, members of the VU Board of Trustees, and other dignitaries. And of course, my guests. They showed up, right on time. Jesse and Lynda, and Dean and Rhoda. After the meal, a quick van tour of the campus, most ably guided by Assistant Provost Lynn White. The campus has exploded since my days there twenty years ago. New buildings, new programs. Including RED, a brand new performing arts center.

And then the time was here. Time to robe and get ready for the ceremony. It’s been a long time since I’ve been around academia. Fifteen years since I graduated from Dickinson Law. I’d forgotten how it is. All the pomp, all the seriousness of it. We mingled with the faculty in a side room. I was issued my robe and cap. It wasn’t a mortarboard cap, like I’d figured. Nah, this was a little 6-pointed thing, a doctor’s cap, I guess. And they came up and congratulated me, the faculty. The Trustees. You look at them from a distance, and it’s intimidating. But up close, they were just people. People who seemed quite genuinely thrilled to have me there.

And it all came down then, some of it in slow motion and some of it at lightning speed. Lining up to march into the arena. Waiting for the 400-some graduating students to walk in and be seated. And then marching out in procession up the center aisle to the stage up front. The basketball arena was packed out. Absolutely overflowing with at least 5,000 people. And my brain kind of went into cruise mode. You’re here. You’re being honored. Enjoy this moment.

After a brief opening ceremony, President Helton addressed the students with a ten minute speech. And then it was time to present the honorary doctorate. Mr. J. R. Gaylor, a Trustee, a great bear of a man with a deep, deep voice got up and stepped to the microphone. Whatever I have accomplished in my life, it was all laid out in the most glowing descriptions imaginable. He concluded. For these accomplishments in literature, law and business, we are presenting VU’s 2012 Honorary Doctorate of Letters to Ira Wagler. Everyone clapped as I stood. President Helton approached with the hood. I stooped a bit and he slipped it over my head and adjusted it. It flowed down my back. Then I was handed a huge framed diploma. Doctor of Letters. Then “the microphone is yours,” President Helton whispered. I nodded and stepped up, clutching my little slip of yellow lined paper. My speech.

Photos by David A. Fisher, Vincennes University.

Dean, Rhoda, Ira, Jesse, Lynda

The hooding.

Framed diploma. Doctor of Letters.

The speech.

In a moment like that, you either freak out, or you don’t. Fortunately, I did not, at least I don’t think so. I looked out over the heads of the graduates and began to speak. Sure, I stammered a time or two, getting started. Who wouldn’t? But as I settled in, my voice was at least not shaking.

It was no great thing for the ages, or anything like that. It was just me talking, for about four minutes. I spoke briefly of my experience at VU and how formative and foundational it was. How frightened I was as I approached my first classroom. Thanked my professors, who had all reached out and befriended me. Spoke then, of the book, and the miracle it is. Of the wild and beautiful road I’m on, and how this moment was a stop along that road. I encouraged the graduates to follow their hearts. And then closed with a short quote from Thomas Wolfe.

So, then, to every man his chance – to every man, regardless of his birth, his shining, golden opportunity…

Thank you, Vincennes University. Thank you very much.

And then it was over. As applause rolled through the stadium, I stepped back and sagged into my seat. And realized how tense and exhausted I was, as wave after wave of relief swept through me. The ceremony moved along then, as diplomas were handed to more than four hundred graduating students who marched across the same stage I had walked twenty-one years ago, back in 1991. Who knows where they will end up? Who knows what distant goals they will achieve?

No one knows. That’s the beauty of it. The human spirit unleashed has almost unlimited potential.

And that was Vincennes University, for me, on April 28, 2012. Whatever happens in the future on this wild and beautiful road, there will never be another moment quite like this one.



  1. Fabulous, Ira; Simply Fabulous!!!

    Comment by Deborah A Cataldi Barnhardt — May 4, 2012 @ 6:07 pm

  2. This is good. Every time I read your writings I think of your Dad, what he could have been if…

    Comment by Katie Troyer — May 4, 2012 @ 6:39 pm

  3. Wow, one of these days, you are going to get used to being the accomplished person that you are, instead of thinking you are a one-hit-wonder. So what if you hit a single, a bunt, or even strike out, you’ll never know until you step in the box. So you’ve hit a home run, already. What’s wrong with a grand slam?? Don’t limit yourself. One hit wonders happen because they try and please the crowd. You could never do that!

    I get the nervous, fitful, sleep before something of this magnitude, (and it’s a terrible feeling in the gut), and speaking before a large crowd of scholars, but it will get easier; after all, people are just people, no matter how esteemed they seem to us.

    Comment by pizzalady — May 4, 2012 @ 6:42 pm

  4. Thank you for sharing, and congratulations, Dr. Wagler.

    Comment by Reuben Wagler — May 4, 2012 @ 7:54 pm

  5. Congratulations Ira! What a great honor!

    Comment by Judy — May 4, 2012 @ 8:25 pm

  6. Congratulations! What an accomplishment in all fronts-

    Comment by Marietta Couch — May 4, 2012 @ 8:49 pm

  7. So proud of you:)

    Comment by Janice — May 4, 2012 @ 9:03 pm

  8. I wish I could have been there. And I would have if we wouldn’t have had previous commitments. Congratulations! Dr. Wagler! Well done!

    Comment by John. Schmid — May 4, 2012 @ 11:11 pm

  9. Very good. On this evening, I’m proud to be your nephew :)

    Comment by John Wagler — May 5, 2012 @ 12:08 am

  10. Wow, Dr. Wagler– what an intense, exciting ride! Don’t worry about a sequel right now; just bask in this moment and fully embrace it. Give your mind and body time to rest and regroup. I am so glad to see the May blog posted– I’ve been watching for it! Again, congratulations on your accomplishments. I have a feeling this is just the beginning of what God has in store for you.

    Comment by Bev Berger — May 5, 2012 @ 11:55 am

  11. Congrats, Dr. Wagler!

    Thank you for sharing. What a nice experience. G-d smiled down on you! The book sales AND the doctorate. You have good friends up there. Remember they are with you as you write. :) Hope you enjoy continued success!!

    Comment by Elisheva — May 6, 2012 @ 12:46 am

  12. Congratulations, Ira, well done!

    Comment by Linda Nazelrod — May 6, 2012 @ 6:52 pm

  13. I recorded the ceremonies so I could watch it when I came home. What a great honor for you! I only wish we could have got together for a little while. I’m sure you were surprised to see how the campus has grown. You don’t know how you affected my life while in Vincennes. I remember you and Scott getting into some deep discussions. I also remember the stories you told us. I should have known someday you would write about them. I’m so glad I found your blog and have seen what you have done with your life. As I said before, thank you for being my friend.

    Comment by Lyndon — May 6, 2012 @ 8:51 pm

  14. Congratulations on a job well done! You deserve it! I’m so proud of you and I know many others are as well.

    Comment by Karen — May 7, 2012 @ 8:32 am

  15. Ira,

    Wow– 120,000 copies sold! Congratulations on many fronts, may the LORD continue to bless your writings.

    Eccl. 3: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:……………

    Comment by e.s.gingerich — May 7, 2012 @ 4:06 pm

  16. I made it a point to watch the graduation on TV. As I watched everyone file in, I was nervous for you. I said a silent prayer that your speech would go well and that you could fully enjoy being honored. You deserve every bit of success and recognition that comes your way. You did a great job and so many of us are very happy for you!

    Comment by Tracy — May 8, 2012 @ 10:17 am

  17. I enjoy your blogs very much. I think you should put them together in book form, month by month just as you posted them with all the original titles. I love to read them to my friends who are always curious about my “Amish” background. If I had all your blogs in book form I could take them with me wherever I go and wouldn’t have to hunt up a computer when I want to read one [or more] when I need a good story.

    Comment by Rachel Zook — May 9, 2012 @ 9:20 pm

  18. When you make this book of your blogs please include all the pictures just as they are.They make the stories come alive!Thank you for being the blessing you are.Keep up the good work.

    Comment by Rachel zook — May 13, 2012 @ 11:08 am

  19. Dr. Wagler

    That must be a great moment in your life, being addressed that way. I really enjoy reading your writings, keep on writing.

    Comment by Warren — May 13, 2012 @ 7:13 pm

  20. I love that picture of the hood being placed!

    Sorry I’ve been out of touch. Thoughts immediately jumped as you described your next book and current mood. “Keep moving forward.” That we have Passed Over and are moving toward Pentecost. Sure they are one time events. But God memorialized them and said they are a yearly cycle. Some note that these feasts followed a preexisting agricultural cycle. Of course! And who created those? It is the eyes of faith that make the difference in the common place.

    Comment by LeRoy — May 16, 2012 @ 9:23 am

  21. I just finished your book this morning. It spoke to me on many levels. So I had to see if I could find more of your story. I was happy to find a blog, which I will now follow. Congrats on the recent honor. Waiting for more…

    Comment by Karey H. — May 27, 2012 @ 11:51 am

  22. Just smiling as I read this and feeling so proud of you. Do you ever wish you would have stayed behind the plow? Probably NOT!

    The amazing part is that you appear to be the same Ira regardless of your many accomplishments. That is true humility. I am just so very happy for you, Ira.

    Love your blog.

    Comment by Francine — October 31, 2012 @ 11:26 pm

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