October 19, 2012

Tightrope…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:53 pm

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What have you given, incredible mirage of all our million
shining hopes, to those who wanted to possess you wholly…
from whom you took the strength, the passion, and the
innocence of youth?

Gigantic city, we have taken nothing – not even a handful
of your trampled dust…and left not even the print of a heel
upon your stony-hearted pavements.

—Thomas Wolfe
________________

The email was waiting for me when I got to work one morning earlier this year. It was a grand little email, I thought. Dear Ira. I’m a producer for so-and-so (big-name TV show host in NYC), and we’re doing a segment on the Amish. I found your book, then your blog. Would you be interested in talking?

There was a time when I would have practically swooned at such a message. Or maybe danced around the office a bit. High-fived someone. The big boys from New Yawk City. They want me. Oh, boy. Yes, yes, I’m all into talking. Any time you want, for as long as you want.

Such a time was in the past, though. This time, I read the email, dubious. Doubtful that anything would come of it. Well, sure, I’d be interested. So I emailed back. Sure. Here’s my number. Call me any time. Within minutes, the phone rang. The producer from the big bad city.

“Here’s how it is,” he said. A young guy, from the sound of it. He was friendly and outgoing, like they all are. “We’re interviewing some ex-Amish people, and wanted to round out the group. I found your site. Looks pretty impressive. Any way you could make it on an early train day after tomorrow, for the show?”

Sure, I can make it. I chuckled. Look. I’ve talked to producers before. You promise the world. So far, your record for actually coming through has been pretty abysmal. Sure, I’d love to come on the show. I’m here. You figure out if I’ll make it, and let me know. I’ll be there if you tell me to be.

“I’ll let you know one way or another,” he promised. I only half believed that. From past experiences, they just vanished without a trace, producers like him. But he called a couple more times that afternoon with specific questions. He was hopeful that I’d get to go. And then the next day he called again. True to his word. Told me ruefully. It hadn’t worked out. His bosses had decided against his recommendation. That’s fine, I told him. Email me your address, and I’ll send you a copy of my book anyway. He did. And I did. Who knows? Spread some seed for down the road.

One thing I’ve learned in these past two years. Especially concerning the TV film people. Whatever promises they make, whatever breathless scenarios they throw at you, don’t ever, ever expect a thing to actually come down. Never. Not until it really happens. And by “really happens,” I mean when your segment appears on the TV screen in your living room. Because most of the time, it won’t. It’s nothing personal against me, from their perspective, I’m convinced. As it’s nothing personal against them from mine, either. It’s just the nature of the business.

I’ve always said I will go anywhere, on any format, I mean, to talk about my book. Not necessarily any physical location. But on any channel. Any station. It doesn’t matter. And I’ll scheme and plot and plan and connive to get my book into the hands of influential public figures. That’s just part of getting your stuff out there. And I’ll still do it. In the past month, I’ve had friends personally hand a signed copy of the book to one of my greatest heroes ever, Lew Rockwell. And a signed copy to Willie Nelson, handed to his personal assistant. And last week I mailed a copy to Oprah’s fan club.

Way more likely than not, I’ll never hear a peep from anyone from the production of all that effort. But it’s part of the seeding, that effort. Throw your stuff out there. Like the Bible says the sower did. Some of it will fall on rocky soil, sure. Some of it will fall among thorns and choke to death. And some small remnants might just sift through somehow to some patches of fertile soil. And sprout and grow and bring forth a thousand fold. You never know. So you just keep seeding.

Back in the heady days of mid-2011, Debbie Lykins, the extremely competent independent publicist hired by Tyndale to promote my book, lined up a ton of radio interviews for me. At least thirty, maybe forty. And they all came off as scheduled. A few minutes before the appointed time, I would head upstairs to an unused office at work. Sit there, until the call came through. And they always came. Ten minutes, some of the interviews. Most were more like twenty, or half an hour. A few lasted a full hour. And I was fine with all of it. I didn’t have to study for anything. I knew my subject matter. Radio was cool, and I enjoyed it. And when they scheduled me, the radio people, they always called as promised.

Not so the film people. Sure, they called and bugged me several times. Way early this year, I got a call from a young female producer from NYC. She was working for a big-name guy who has a daily cable show. And she was right here, in Lancaster County. Scouting for some real Amish people to talk to. I felt sorry for her. She’d been thrown out here, told to come up with something. Talk about pressure. Sure, I said. I’ll do what I can. Stop by. And she drove right on over to see me. I chatted with her for a few minutes, to see what she really wanted. Her cell phone kept interrupting us. Calls from her office in the city, I figured. She wanted to talk to some real Amish people, that’s what she said. So I called in some favors, pushed my limits way out there. Bothered some friends who don’t necessarily care to be bothered. And I got her connected with a young Amish couple that very day. She thanked me profusely and rushed off. She met my friends and spoke with them. Would they consider being interviewed off-camera for the show? I never asked, but I think my friends agreed. And the young producer headed back to NYC and was never heard from again. Because the idea for the segment was scrapped. After all that running, after all that bother. That’s just the nature of the business.

But still, it’s irritating. They come in and spout some big shot TV name and expect you to fall all over yourself. Expect you to help them out. Which I’ve always done, or tried to do. The lure of mainstream exposure is just too strong to resist. However irritating.

But that young producer from NYC was far from my worst experience. A little over a year ago, Debbie got me hooked up with one of the major Christian TV production companies in the world. And these people actually planned to come out and film me. I did the interview on the phone, with the intake lady. We got along fine. And about a week later, they showed up, a producer and two cameramen. For two days, they were around. I showed them around the area, and they shot a great deal of film footage. I even coerced one of my Amish yard guys to take me on a buggy ride. One of the camera guys sat in the back and filmed. We did several hours of filming in a real Amish home. And great grand promises were made, oh yes, they were.

The segment would run on the morning show, and it would be seen by millions of viewers. Sometime in October of last year, that’s when it would air. I met the filming crew for the second day for a few hours. In my home. And then they were off, with many blessings bespoken from both sides. I eagerly anticipated the actual airing.

And October came. Then went. My segment never aired. No word, from anyone. I stressed a little. But really not that much. I figured it would come, sooner or later. But if it didn’t, it just didn’t. By late November, I nudged Debbie the publicist. Can you check it out, to see what’s going on? She sent a query. If she even got any response, it was a mumble. Or maybe a grunt.

And the segment never aired. Never. Not after a film crew was sent to interview me for two days. And all the expense involved with that. Not after all those shining glorious promises. I can honestly say this, though. Through it all, I let it rest, in my mind. Sure, I fretted a bit. All those “millions of viewers” would have purchased a good many books, I figured. But there was nothing I could do, to make it happen, to make the film air. That’s what I realized. And the whole thing just kind of slipped away in time.

Then, in late February, my Google alert snagged an interesting link on YouTube. I pulled it up and clicked to watch. Then I posted it on Facebook. It was me being interviewed by the film crew that had spent two days with me. Six plus minutes of professionally edited footage. Beautifully done. And then it just cut off, ended abruptly, right in mid sentence.

The project was never finished. No wonder it never aired. And I wondered why. Why go to all that expense and effort, then just pull out? Why not finish what you started? None of that makes a lick of sense to me, but it doesn’t have to, I guess. I chalk it down to “the nature of the business.” And try not to think of what might have been.

The footage had been released by mistake, and within a few days, it was pulled back. By that time, though, someone else had downloaded it. And when the link disappeared, that someone threw it right back out on the web.

In all my experiences with film crews, there was one that stood out, one little group that actually kept its promises. All the way. And that was Mose Gingerich and his producer, who were in the area at exactly the same time as the other film crew. Those were hectic days for me. Mose came to my workplace and we talked. That night, they came to a book talk I had scheduled with a group of campers in a local campground. His producer filmed and filmed and filmed. They didn’t make a lot of hype about anything. But when the hit show, Amish Out of Order, aired on National Geographic earlier this year, there I was. In one episode, in a very cool five-minute segment. From all the talking and filming, they could have chosen to make me look good, or make me look bad. They made me look very good indeed. So that was the one very positive experience I’ve had with the film people. Don’t know why a few more of them couldn’t have been like that. It’s the nature of the business, I suppose.

I’ve called it a wild and beautiful road, certain stretches of the past year. As it was, and continues to be, now and then. But it’s kind of like walking a tightrope, too, sometimes. As in trying to keep your balance. To not freak out at times. To stay focused on living and letting it all come down as it may. To not let all the noise get to me, to not get bogged down with what might have been. Or what might yet be. To rest, emotionally. To trust God, to know He’s there, when faith is hard and distant. To let go of things, when I need to. I sway a good bit sometimes in the winds. But so far, I’ve managed to keep walking the wire without losing my balance or my mind. I think. I try hard to be who I know I am. Sometimes it’s tough to tell just exactly who that is.

The book will have to stand on its own merits. Overcome any roadblocks on its own. Move along, regardless of what happens or doesn’t. Regardless of what promises were kept or broken. That’s what I think. That’s what I believe.

And I’ll still respond, when some young producer calls or stops by, frantic for information or connections. Sure, I’ll meet with you. Connect you. I’ll do what I can. Some day, some time, it will all come together. It will all work out, I think.

Last Saturday afternoon, I fetched my mail. Usually it’s just junk stuff. That’s what the post office delivers now, mostly. Junk. But that day, there was something more. A letter from Tyndale. A nice oblong white envelope. I walked into the house and opened it. Read the greeting. Stared at the subject matter line. And I looked to the heavens with a grateful heart.

The wind is calm, up here on the tightrope. And the wild and beautiful road rolls on.

***************************************************

I have never attended a writer’s conference. Never. Someday, I may expound a bit more on why that is. For me, it boils down to something like this: If you’re the social/networking type that enjoys that kind of thing, cool. Go have fun. But if you have to go to a writer’s conference to “learn” anything, well, I should probably just bite my tongue. But, ah, what the heck? I will say this much. Too many writers, I think, are so busy running around connecting with each other and lapping up the lectures at conferences that they forget what it is to live. And if you don’t live, you’ll have little to write that’s real. By “real,” I mean the stuff that’s in your heart to speak. The stuff you would throw out for free, even if you knew that few or none would ever read it. There’s nothing real in formulaic prose that anyone else who attended a writer’s conference might have cranked out.

Forget the formulas. Forget the “ten steps to writing a bestseller,” or whatever steps to whatever goal they’re pushing these days. And just write your heart. Trust it. Speak it honestly. In all its doubts and fears and rage and pain. And in all the good things, too, the gratitude and joy. Say it like it is, in the moment. Live. Write. Develop your distinctive voice. Don’t overstress the rules of grammar. Be who you are, with all your flaws. Let it take you where it will, your writing. All that is probably not stuff they’ll tell you at any writer’s conference. But that’s the way I see it, so I’m telling you here.

And that little lecture was triggered from trying to get to saying this. I’m a loner, mostly, but I do enjoy hanging out with other writers now and then. And when my good friend Shawn Smucker recently invited me to a local writer’s breakfast, I accepted without hesitation. So it’s all happening over at Angela’s Cafe in Gap on Saturday morning, Nov. 3, from 9:30 to 11:30. During at least part of our time together, Shawn will interview me about my journey from writing a simple weekly blog to the great shining city that is Tyndale House.

The event is open to the public. And you don’t have to be a writer to attend. The only cost will be the money you spend on coffee and food. So if you can make it, I’d love to see you there.

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(11 Comments) »

  1. It’s not the disapointments in life that destroy us, it’s the, ‘not getting back up again’ that does us in. You seem to have gone on and did a beautiful job of it.
    We all have to deal with empty promises, but only we ourselves can lessen our talents. Your story is real, television is not. You will sell as many as God intended.

    Comment by carol ellmore — October 19, 2012 @ 7:21 pm

  2. Thank you for telling us how it is when TV producers come around. I had my first experience this week and the end results is zero for we both lost interest in each other.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — October 19, 2012 @ 7:58 pm

  3. Congratulations on the continued success of your book. I’m hoping to see you being interviewed by Oprah one of these days. It was great to see you on the YouTube segment, good to hear your still Amish voice.

    I grew up around Amish who live near the small Oklahoma town of Chouteau. I really never gave them any special thought, just believed that they wanted to be left alone by outsiders.

    With the present popularity of Amish everything, I am thankful that your book is available, a true voice of one who was Amish and still respects many things Amish.

    I am almost old enough to be your mother and when I read your book I felt your mother’s pain of losing so many of her sons to the world. I respect your desire to be who you are. FREEDOM is a wonderful experience. Hold on to who you are and follow the Lord all of your days.

    Comment by Sandra Neel Hutchins — October 19, 2012 @ 8:16 pm

  4. Wow. You are a fine writer. But then so am I. You aspire the next great. I just want the notice of a publisher. Did it really just fall into your lap? I loved your book. Your style. Your honesty. And so have others. (7th printing?) I would be thrilled to be at that breakfast. (You see, I’m the networking kind. But one that writes) Knock their socks off over the coffee. And wait for the great. I believe it’s coming for you. I cannot almost hear the phone ringing. Blessings.

    Comment by Diane Bridgman — October 19, 2012 @ 9:19 pm

  5. When you were with Mose Gingerich on “Amish out of Order”, was the first time I had heard of your book, or Ira Wagler. I checked your book out of the library, and enjoyed it so much I bought the book from the Lifeway store and read it again! In other words when you appeared with M Gingerich, it was a positive experience for me. And I recommend this book to all of my friends.

    Comment by Hilda Simmons — October 19, 2012 @ 10:15 pm

  6. Oh, Ira, how wonderful! A 7th printing! Congratulations! It’s nice to be acknowledged for more than a moment.

    Reading your description of the t.v. scene/people reminded me of dogs chasing after their tails. What a way to live!

    Your ideas of writing from the depths of your soul remind me of Johnny Cash and how he refused to make his songs “neat and pretty” for the Big Boys with the bucks. No wonder so many people loved his music.

    So happy for you!

    Comment by Francine — October 19, 2012 @ 11:29 pm

  7. Mr Wagler,
    I have indeed enjoyed this blog, as I have the others.

    I look forward to reading your “words” that speak volumes to my spirit.

    Keep up the good works and I pray for God’s Blessings to be on your life.

    Congratulations on the 7th printing of your book, it was such an eye opener.

    God Bless
    Linda

    Comment by Linda Morris — October 20, 2012 @ 12:31 am

  8. Congratulations on the 7th printing. I hesitate to tell you this, since I have some idea about how you feel about the gubmint, but both my husband and I worked for the federal govt, he for nigh onto 47 years, and I for 25. The Discovery Channel once did a program on our agency. They brought their cameras right into my husband’s office, which he shared with 35 others. They weren’t allowed to film the employees, just the cubicles. My husband kept a dried-out deer skull on his desk. He hoped they wouldn’t remove it for the filming. Of course, they did. So much for showing what a real workplace looks like.

    Comment by cynthia r chase — October 20, 2012 @ 12:16 pm

  9. Congratulations on the 7th reprinting! As for TV crews – we’ve worked with a few who did just what they said they would, but also a few who were all hype and no results.

    Comment by Mark Oliver — October 20, 2012 @ 2:25 pm

  10. An interesting glimpse into what real living looks like for you, albeit a dubious advertisement for the writer’s life.

    The life you on one hand encourage, the subliminals glibly counter. :)

    Comment by Rhonda — October 20, 2012 @ 6:20 pm

  11. Ira, sounds like the seeds you keep sowing are sprouting. Keep it up! What a description of the media industry! They sound like a bunch of people running in circles.

    Mose Gingerich– is he the same Nose who was on “Amish in the City” several years back? I caught a glimpse of Mose talking on the National Geo show, and the voices of Mose were identical. Did Mose remain Amish? I read a lot of the ever-popular Amish Christian fiction so prevalent today. It sounds so idyllic. The Amish men are always depicted as gorgeous hunks, and the women very beautiful and slender. There’s always something, or someone waiting to lure them away from the Amish culture. I enjoy those books because they make me fell very peaceful as I read. My own life is very hectic. Escaping into Amish fiction is very soothing.

    Comment by Bev B. — October 28, 2012 @ 10:33 pm

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