January 20, 2017

“Selling” Jesus…

Category: News — admin @ 5:30 pm


Talkin’ to a preacher, said God was on his side.
Talkin’ to a pusher, they both were selling highs.
Well, I gotta tell the story, boys,
I don’t know the reason why.

—Waylon, lyrics

It’s funny, how things work sometimes. The other day was just an ordinary January day, there at the office. If there is such a thing as an ordinary day in January. It’s a depressing month, all around. (Well, not as dark as March is. But dark enough.) That day, it was late morning. The door opened, the doorbell jangled. I looked up from my desk, and automatically got up to take care of the customer.

He walked toward me, smiling. Then he spoke my name. “Ira.” He was all loud and jovial. I looked at him, tried to place him. His face was familiar. A youngish guy. Then I recognized him and spoke his name back, not quite as loud. He walked up to the counter, and we shook hands. It’s been a while, I said. “Yes, it has,” he answered. “I’m here to pick up some of that wood siding you sell.” Good, I said. I got plenty in stock. He was a local guy, from over close to Philly. I’d sold to him off and on, many times over the years. He’s young, driven, hard-working, and very successful with his own business. And he’s usually all business. On this day, though, he was a little more relaxed than usual.

This time, he asked me, right off. “How’s that book of yours doing out there?” I grinned, surprised. Not sure how he heard about the book. Maybe I’d told him before. Or maybe he just saw the poster on my computer screen. I grinned again. I might as well brag a little. Oh, it did pretty well, I told him. Seventh printing. Close to 200,000 copies sold. It made my publisher a lot of money. He looked impressed. That’s the kind of language he understands and respects. Making a lot of money. I never mentioned the book was a NY Times bestseller. That kind of thing wasn’t going to impress him like making a lot of money did.

The small talk was over, then. We stood at the counter, and he got to telling me about a garage he wants to build at his home. He figured I could provide the materials, and maybe even build it for him. And I don’t know exactly why I did what I did, then. As we were talking, I turned to my desk and picked up a copy of my book from the box, there. Back at the counter, I set the book off to one side, out of the way. I never said a word about it. Just set it there. In the back of my mind, I figured. If I can get a word in edgewise, I’ll see if I can sell him my book.

He was all business. And we talked for fifteen minutes about the garage he wanted. I showed him pictures of what we had done and what we could do. The book sat there, looking forlorn. I never mentioned it, never even glanced at it. We wrapped things up, then. I wrote up the invoice for his siding, and he wrote me a check. I handed him the paperwork and told him where to go to load. I thanked him for the business. And that was that, I figured.

But no. As he was turning to leave, he stopped and motioned. “How much for the book?” he asked. I didn’t act surprised. Fifteen bucks, signed, I said. He laughed. “How about if it’s not signed?” he asked. And I laughed, too. Still fifteen bucks, I said. He got out his wallet and handed me the cash. I signed the book and handed it to him. He thanked me.

And I thought to myself as he turned and walked out. The book just sold itself, right there. I didn’t do anything. Sometimes you sell by not selling.

I’ve thought a lot about the little scene that came down at the counter that day. I think it was just instinctive on my part, to let things go and let everything play out naturally without a lot of fuss. Had the guy not glanced at the book again, I would never have thought twice about it. I never pushed it on him, and so he took it upon himself. It was all pretty amazing, when you think about it.

I’ve never considered myself that much of a salesman. But looking back, I saw it from my earliest days and my earliest memories, what a good salesman is. My father was a natural born salesman. The man lived and breathed sales pretty much every day of his life, at least the part of his life that I saw and remember.

I’ve mentioned it before. Dad loved the art of the deal. Growing up, I saw it all around me every day. Dad plunged about madly, here and there, pursuing his far-flung ideas to wherever they would lead. The thing is, it never fazed him when he failed. Over the years, he wore a lot of different sales hats, with some varied success. And when one little business idea faltered or sputtered to a halt, he was soon busily engaged in launching the next big thing. As long as he was selling, his world was about where he figured it should be. That, and when he was writing, of course. But that’s a form of selling, too, getting people to read what you wrote.

In Dad’s vast and varied career, he sold just about anything you can imagine, from purebred Landrace hogs to grape seedlings to metal roofing and siding. And he had a lot of other little side businesses scattered about, here and there, all throughout my childhood years.

Dad sold fruit. Well, mostly he sold black sweet cherries and peaches in season. And he raised acres of strawberries and sold them, too, in season. The strawberries, we peddled door to door, in Aylmer and Tillsonburg. The cherries and peaches, well, he brokered those. Was simply the middleman who moved and shook things, and made them work. It’s all part of Dad’s legend, how he got into the cherry business. Early on, after moving to Aylmer, he was traveling to the east one day, over close to Niagara Falls. He saw the rich fertile ground, he saw the mile after mile of vast orchards with bowing trees. And randomly, he stopped in to talk to one of those orchard owners. That man’s name was Alfred C. High. And Dad and Mr. High struck up a deal that day. Mr. High would bring Dad a flatbed truck load of cherries, all packed in four-quart wooden baskets. And Dad would sell them to the people in the community. I think they started small, that first year.

Dad soon had the community saturated with fresh, delicious sweet cherries. He needed a bigger market. And that’s when he went to the Aylmer Sales Barn and set up a stand. When Alfred C. High came around with his little flatbed truck, we unloaded all the baskets the Amish people around us had ordered. Then it was off to the Sales Barn vendor’s lot. By mid-afternoon, usually, Dad’s table was loaded and ready for business. And he developed quite a reputation as a seller of quality fruit. At the stand, he didn’t just sit around. Not Dad. He got all active. “Fresh, delicious cherries,” he hollered to anyone who would listen. He poured a basket of cherries over into an empty basket, to show that the cherries were good, all the way down to the bottom. And he usually sold out well before dark, when the market shut down.

I can’t remember that he ever sold peaches at the Sales Barn. For those, he simply took orders from people in the community. And Alfred C. High brought the amounts Dad ordered. Those black sweet cherries and those peaches were the most luscious fruits that I have ever tasted. Maybe it’s a childhood thing, the vividness of those early memories. But I think all my siblings would agree with me. Alfred C. High raised the most delicious, mouth-watering cherries and peaches we ever ate.

The strawberries were another story. At dawn, we were out in the strawberry patch, on our knees in a vast sea of dew-soaked plants, picking box after box of the ripe red berries. And we had a different way of selling. We peddled those strawberries door to door, mostly in Aylmer. I peddled my first fruit when I was probably ten years old. I look back on it all now, and just marvel at how audacious it all was. We walked through the back streets of town, lugging a crate of strawberries. I can still feel how to was to walk cold to a door and knock or ring the doorbell. You wait, then, for some kind of noise from within. If all is silent, you knock or ring again. Back in those days, the early 1970s, more women stayed at home, I think. Someone was apt to be home, about any hour of the day. And when the housewife came to the door, you asked her as politely as any little Amish boy could. Would you like to buy some strawberries today?

I can’t remember many people being rude, although I’m sure some were. We were focused on getting that buggy load of berries sold, so we could go downtown. After a hard afternoon of selling, we would walk into Clarke’s Restaurant, there on main street. A cheeseburger and French fries, those were the reward. I remember that Clarke’s had a juke box, with a song selector at every table, a little glass cabinet. In that place, that’s where I first heard Sammy Davis, Jr.’s classic. The Candy Man Can. The place was a mecca to us, so cutting edge and worldly.

Dad sold nursery stock. Again, how that ever came to be is lost to me now. I never heard how he got the idea. He loved shrubs and bushes, loved to plant a nice blue spruce here and there around the yard. And somehow, he got the idea that he could sell shrubs and trees. So he sent off for thousands and thousands of infant seedlings of every describable type, breed, and nature. Blue spruces. Evergreen shrubs. Oak and maple saplings. We planted the seedlings on the sandy hill east of the pond. It was the only sandy spot on the whole farm. And it was the perfect spot to sprout Dad’s inventory of nursery stock.

And for the nursery stock, Dad had to bring the customers out to our farm. Along the gravel road, seven miles east of Aylmer. And somehow, the man did it. He placed a small ad in the weekly Aylmer Express. I don’t know, he might have advertised in the daily St. Thomas Times-Journal, too. And in the summer, especially on a Saturday, the people came. Car after car cruised slowly down from the west, and pulled into our drive. Sometimes there were four or five cars stacked up. The place got full. Usually it was a husband and wife. Sometimes the wife was alone. And they all came to buy the bushes and shrubs Dad had for sale.

We were just kids, my brothers and me. I was ten, probably. We kept a few bushes and shrubs in the shop, there, in the yard. But often, the customer wanted something fresher. And we would grab a shovel and escort the customer right out to the sandy hill east of the pond. And there we would dig up the shrub the customer chose. Those were busy days.

I remember a couple of things about it all. Me and my brothers, Stephen and Titus, took in a lot of cash from those sales. We often walked around with a pocket full of assorted cash bills, including twenties. Our system of writing up sales was extremely lackadaisical. We handed over a lot of cash to Dad, when he came home for lunch from his office at Pathway. And always, a little bit of that cash stuck to our fingers. A five here, a ten there, a twenty there. We didn’t really consider it stealing, but I guess it was. We were just storing up funds we needed to buy hockey sticks and comic books and other goodies. Titus even saved up enough to buy a shotgun. An Ithaca twelve-gauge that kicked the empty shells straight down, not out to the side like all other brands of pump guns. I feel no guilt from here, looking back at that syphoned cash. Maybe we shouldn’t have done it. But that’s what boys are gonna do, right across the board, normally, if they get a chance. It just was what it was.

The second thing I remember is a small thing, but it stayed with me all my life. I was just a kid, a raggedy, snot-nosed, barefoot, dirty kid. But that was the time of my life I learned to hold the car door open for a lady. I’d sell a few shrubs to a man and his wife. We’d load them in the trunk of the car, and the man would pay me. And as they walked forward to get in the car, I darted forward, too, on the lady’s side. Opened the door. And every single lady I ever opened the door for acted all surprised and delighted. Always, they smiled at me, real smiles. And always, they said, in a pleased voice. “Why, thank you.” (On the other side of the car, the husband sat, looking glum that a little Amish kid had outclassed him.) You’re welcome, I mumbled, rubbing my shirt sleeve across my nose. It was all quite wild and wonderful.

Back to the opening scene on this blog. I come from a place where selling was what we did from our earliest memories. So maybe I kept silent instinctively, because of how I had seen my father sell all those years ago. I can’t say for sure. In sales, there is a time for silence, and there is a time to speak. I do know I have never come close to matching Dad’s selling skills.

And perhaps his most lasting sale of all came from the true calling of his heart. His writing. When he founded and launched Family Life, he put all his many sales skills to work, honed to their finest edge. He produced a quality inaugural issue of the magazine. He mailed it out to thousands and thousands of people, for free. And he included his sales pitch, in that first offer. This is our vision, here at Pathway. This is an example of what we can produce here. Please subscribe if you want to read more such material in the future. It was my father’s greatest sales triumph. And he will leave behind the work of his hands when he passes on. No one can ever take that accomplishment from him.

And sliding off on one more little bunny trail, here. The last one, I promise. It made me think of one other thing, that little incident with my customer friend. He asked about the book. I told him. We chatted about it. Then he got down to the business he had come for. And I just quietly set the book off to one side, there. Didn’t call any attention to it. Not one word. There it was. If he wanted it, he could ask. He knew it was there for the taking.

And I thought about it. Isn’t that how we should treat the gospel? You walk through life as a Christian. You don’t have to wear it on your sleeve, the fact that you are a child of God. You don’t have to tell the people you meet in the wilderness. If you meet them where they are, if you reflect the true love of Christ, they’ll see and know that on their own.

I come from a quiet people who are not expressive at all about their lifestyle or their faith. I was taught from my youth. Live your faith. Don’t worry so much about speaking it. It’s OK to speak it, if someone asks. But don’t go around harassing people, don’t go around preaching. Anyone can claim anything.

I want to be careful here. The vineyards of the Lord are vast and varied. As are the numbers and types of laborers in those vineyards. I’m not knocking the wild-eyed preacher on the street corner. I’m not talking down on people who knock on doors to spread the good news. I’m just saying. That’s not who I am. And no, I don’t feel even slightly guilty about any of that. I just walk. I figure that’s what I’m called to do.

And yeah, I’ll tell you, here. I’m a Christian. No, I don’t make a big fuss about it. I might tell you in person, if I figure it’ll make any difference. I might not, too. But if you ask, I’ll never, never be shy about it. I’ll never flinch. Yes. Jesus is real to me. Yes, life is still hard, as often as not. Yes, I am flawed, just like anyone else. Yes, I get pissed and sometimes lose my temper. Yes, I’m human. I always will be. And my heart will always be as depraved as the heart of the vilest sinner out there you can imagine. It’s only God’s grace that makes any difference. And you can have that grace, too.

These things I’ll tell you, if you want to know. If you don’t want to know, I’ll just keep walking. My words won’t make any difference, anyway. I won’t try to “sell” Jesus by telling you life gets easier if you speak the “sinner’s prayer” and believe. It doesn’t. It gets harder. It gets messier. Still. Either the gospel will reach you, or it won’t.

There is no “bargain basement” pricing, either. Because it’s all free, that grace is. It always was, and it always will be. You can drink deep from that fountain whenever you choose to believe. And then you can walk in calmness and in peace through any hard and messy place that life slings at you. Take it from a guy who’s seen lots and lots of hard and messy places. A guy who’s still walking.

And that right there is about the only “selling” of Jesus you’ll ever hear from me.

December 30, 2016

The Bishop and the Coach Gun…

Category: News — admin @ 5:23 pm


As the present now
Will later be past.
The order is rapidly fading
And the first one now will later be last.
Cause the times, they are a-changing.

—Bob Dylan, lyrics

I don’t know why or how these things happen to me. I mean, it’s not like I’m out looking for anything unusual. And this week, it’s the end of the year. So I had planned to meander around a bit on this post, reflecting on the past twelve months. And I still will. But when life comes at you in ways you weren’t looking for, you write about life first, I reckon. So here goes.

It’s been kind of slow at work, the last few weeks. Pretty much like it always is, over the holidays like that. Still, we keep regular hours, as much as we can. And this week, we were open Tuesday through Friday, like most of the businesses around us.

Wednesday. Late morning. An Amish guy walked into the door, and up to my counter. A local small time contractor. Probably a few years older than me, maybe sixty. I don’t know. A nice guy. I’d seen him a few times before. He was always cheerful and friendly. I greeted him, and he told me what he needed. A bag of screws, to attach metal siding. No problem, I said. I asked for his business name, and he told me. I wrote up the invoice.

I’ve mentioned it before, a few times on my blog. I have a little poster taped to the back of my computer screen. The screen sits on the counter, at about eye level. The poster faces out, toward anyone standing across the counter from me. Most people never notice the poster. I’d say 80% or so. They never see and never ask. A few people notice, but don’t ask. And then there’s a very select few people who notice the poster, then ask about it. This Amish contractor on the Wednesday after Christmas was one of the very few select people who both saw and asked.

I saw him glance at the poster, then jolt a bit, startled. He peered sharply, right up close. We had been chatting along, quite amiably. He looked at me, then asked. “Is this you?” It is, I said. “Did you write this book?” I did, I said.

He chuckled, then spoke to me in his native tongue. “I guess you can speak Deutsch.” Yah, I said. Ich konn gute Deutsch. Not quite the same PA Dutch as yours. You people talk real funny, from where I come from. He threw back his head and laughed hard, then wagged his finger at me. “Now, now,” he admonished. “Now, now. Let’s be careful, here.”

I moved in for the sale, then. I have the book, right here, I said. I’ll sell you a copy. I’ll even sign it. You really should buy it. You’ll find it very interesting. I think you’ll enjoy it. Only fifteen bucks.

He chuckled again, and ignored my pitch. “I need some information on a sliding door,” he said. “One of my customers needs one. I need to see what you have, and how your system works.”

Not a problem at all, I told him. I walked out to where he was and led him over to the model display. And for the next ten minutes, we discussed sliding door hardware, and how to put it all together. He seemed satisfied, and told me he would come and buy the stuff when the time came. I handed him his loading slip for the screws he had bought and told him to take it out to the warehouse people. They would get him what he needed. And we came just that close to winding down. But no. He wasn’t quite ready to go out to the warehouse, not just yet.

“Do you have a copy of that book around?” He asked, all conversational. Of course, I said. I fell over myself to get a copy of the book from the box by my desk. I asked for his name and his wife’s name, and signed the book to them both. He handed me my fifteen bucks. I handed him the book.

Let me know what you think of it, I said. And he hedged a little. He sure didn’t seem to be in any hurry to get anywhere. “Well, I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of time to read.” And then he slid it right on in, the thing he had found hard to tell me.

“When I do have time to read in the evenings, I usually try to read my Bible,” he said. Well, that seemed a little odd. An Amish man telling me he reads his Bible of an evening, when he has time. But he went on. “I need to read up for my sermons.”

It struck me, then. The man was telling me he was a preacher. He wouldn’t come right out and just say that. “I’m an Amish preacher.” But he was telling me, in his own way, in his own code. Duh. How dense am I, here? Still, I just couldn’t help but speak the obvious. Are you a preacher? I asked.

“I am,” he said. “Well, actually, I was ordained a bishop a little over a year ago.” Again, I couldn’t help myself. I gaped openly at him. Here I had been applying my hardcore sales pressure, to sell my book to an Amish bishop. I don’t get fazed by a lot, that way. But even to me, that seemed a little audacious. But I didn’t know what I was doing when I did it. I would have been way more reserved, had I known who he was. Ah, well. It all was what it was, I guess.

I looked at him. He was smiling, just like he had smiled before he told me. And it flashed through me, the realization. He was still the same guy he was before. I leaned against the counter, comfortable now. And ready to chat. Instinctively, I knew this was a rare moment, what was happening. A rare moment in my life. This was not a place I knew, growing up. It just wouldn’t have happened. Dad would never have stood there, chuckling and visiting with a guy who wrote a NY Times bestseller about how he grew up Amish. None of Dad’s peers would have, either. It was just too hard a place, where they were coming from. All these thoughts flashed through my subconscious mind as I stood there and settled in to talk to a Lancaster County Amish bishop about my book. And about his people. And mine.

And he told me a little bit about who he was. His father was killed in an accident when the bishop was a boy. Somehow, the details of how it all happened were important for him to tell me. He told how it was, to grow up without a father.

I asked him all kinds of questions. And he spoke freely about what he thinks of the Amish culture, and the dangers facing it. Will it survive? I asked. He agreed with me that the outside pressures are now bigger than any the Amish have ever faced before. And he agreed with one of my pet theories. The iPhone is affecting Amish culture like few things ever have before. And he told me when I asked. He didn’t really have much of an opinion about how and where it all will end up. He just didn’t know.

It was time to wind down, then, after another twenty minutes or so. I would really be interested in hearing what you think about my book, if you get it read, I told him. “We’ll see,” he said. “We’ll see if I get it read.”

We smiled at each other and shook hands. He turned, then, and walked out, clutching his book. And I stood there and marveled that such a thing as this had happened. Right when I wasn’t even remotely looking for it.

And I thought to myself, as he walked out the door. I’ll bet Lancaster County is one of the very few places in the world where you’ll find an Amish Bishop as open as this guy was.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The man crouched there in the bushes, off to the side of the road. Well, I guess you could call it a road, back in the day. It was a rough path, really, marked by the tracks of the wagons that passed over it. And the stagecoaches. And on this day, late in the afternoon, there was a coach coming along that road. The man in the bushes cupped his hand to his ear. And he heard it. The jangling of the horses, and the rattle of the coach wheels.

They’d get to where he was in another minute, there by a sharp turn in the road. Where the coach would have to slow way down. The man waited, hidden, tense. He pulled his bandanna up to cover the lower half of his face. Then he pulled his six gun from its holster by his side. The jangling and the clatter of wheels grew louder. And then the coach came swaying around the sharp bend, real slow, like it had to.

The bandit stepped from the bushes, right about then. In his right hand, he held his pistol. He waved his left hand high. Stop. The coach was loaded and sagging, he could see. The driver sat high on the seat up front, to the left. And for the first time since the bandit had done business this way, he saw there was another man seated beside the driver. Way up high, to the right of the coach.

The horses weren’t going fast, around that curve. And the driver tugged hard at the reins, when he saw the waving man ahead of him. “Whoa,” he shouted. “Easy now.” The coach slowed, then stopped. The steaming horses stood there, quivering and sweating. The bandit smiled a secret smile. Now, to reap the harvest of loot from the passengers. Maybe there would even be a pay chest. He would take what wasn’t his, just because he could. He stepped forward, and spoke to the driver and the man beside him. “Hands up!” The driver complied. The man beside him did not.

Things happened real fast, then. The bandit swiveled his pistol, to threaten the man beside the driver. But that man turned to him, and pointed something at the bandit. And he never heard the roar of the coach gun, because the buckshot reached his chest before the sound of the shotgun reached his ears. He collapsed there on that dirt road like an empty sack. He would never rob another stage coach again.

The driver slapped the reins and shouted at the horses. Get out of here. Might be other bad guys, hiding in the bushes. The horses strained into the harness, and the coach rocked as it picked up speed. The passengers peered curiously at the motionless heap on the ground. Someone’s plans had sure gone wrong, looked like.

The man sitting beside the driver looked back as the coach pulled away. They would tell the sheriff in the next town what had happened. He’d send a posse out, to fetch the dead man. The journey would continue, regardless of what happened. That’s what the man beside the driver thought to himself as he reloaded his smoking gun. It was a brutal thing, killing a man. Even a man who was threatening to kill you. But the journey would move on. The stagecoach rocked and swayed as the horses broke into a run.

Well. It’s been a crazy kind of year. Not a walk to the gates of death, like last year was. Not that you’d notice, not that anyone knew, anyway. But still. It was a shotgun kind of year. There were all kinds of bandits skulking about. Ready and waiting to step out from the underbrush and rob me of whatever they could rob me from. I got a few choice things to call them. Thugs. Goons. Monsters of the mind.

The year was what it was, I guess. Looking back, there was some crap going on. But lots of good stuff, too.

Last year this time, I was in a shaky place, physically and emotionally. I’d just got home from the hospital. The Doctor Gods were screaming at me. You are an old, old man, when it comes to your heart. It will never be what it was. Never, it will never reach 100% strength again. And I did what I always do, when that kind of noise gets overwhelming. Just walk. Do what you’re told to do. Be quiet. But walk, walk, walk. Oh. And prove them wrong.

And so I walked. And I walked the line. Oh, yes. Yes, I did. No salt or low salt on my food. Not a drop of alcohol, not for months and months. Then came March, and the heart ablation. Where they went right up my vein and snipped and seared the muscles that weren’t behaving. I remember the “wilderness” I entered when they put me under. And the hard bright yellow skies of that world. I remember coming back up out of that world, back into this one, and how I felt no fear. And how the doctors told me, the next morning. My heart was back to one hundred percent strength. It had happened, the thing that they had told me never would.

I remember absorbing the news. And I remember the deep, deep gratitude that washed through me in waves. Thank you, Lord. You know where I’ve been. You know what I have seen and felt. And You know what my future will be. I don’t, but I’m good with that. I’m very happy, just walking. Just show me the road you want me on.

And no, I still don’t have my motorcycle. There were all kinds of issues, just getting my license. I had about reached the point where I figured the Lord was telling me to let go of that little dream. Then, right when all seemed lost, right after I had flunked the skills test on my first try, right then the doors finally opened. A very kind instructor held a special makeup class for all who had flunked the test the first time. Me and five other forlorn people met him on the course early the next Sunday morning. It was October, and it was cold. For the next four hours, we practiced intensely, doing only the five exercises we needed to pass. And by the time we were done, the man was going to pass us all, unless we dropped our bikes. None of us did. And he did. Pass us all, I mean. I walked out of there proudly, with my stamped permit.

Like I said, I still haven’t bought a bike. Now it’s winter, and I can’t ride anyway. I figure to pick up a small one, maybe a 500, any brand, and ride the back roads around here until I get comfortable and familiar. Then work my way up to a bigger size, then maybe a Harley. We’ll see. I’m looking a little rough, with my beard and long hair. Still not long enough for a pony tail, though. It’s hard, to grow a real pony tail when you got curly hair. I run my fingers through it, now and then, to draw out the length. Down to my shoulder blades. But it just curls back up. It would make a pigtail pony tail. Who wants such a thing? I want to look rough and mean. And speaking of looking rough, I haven’t seen any small children shrinking in fear behind their mothers when I come clanking around. By springtime, maybe, I’ll look fierce enough for that. We’ll see.

A brief update on the writing, and how it’s going. I’ve been working on the opening fifty pages, very sporadically. That’s what Chip, my agent, wants. Fifty pages or so, to shop around. It’s been a bit of a challenge, ever since I got started. I would plunge in, crank out a thousand words, then walk away and not look at anything for a week. Or two weeks. Or heck. A month. And as I produced and procrastinated, I got to thinking, too.

It took me back, the writing. Took me back to the time and place of when I was working on my first book. I thought of the people who were around me then. I have pretty much lost touch with every single one of them, except Chip. I need some help, here, I thought to myself. This draft is pretty rough.

I have been Facebook friends with Susan Taylor, the lady who actually edited my book. Susan got my “voice” from the first instant. I give her a lot of credit that the book is what it is. She’s a true professional, and we always got along beautifully. She was always so bubbly and idealistic. “You’re part of the Tyndale family, now,” she gushed. “Welcome.” And I always grumped at her. Oh, stop it. I’m a country hick. You Chicago people are way too hifalutin’ for me. We both laughed, then. That’s how it went with us.

I knew she had retired from Tyndale. One day, I messaged her. Susan. Ira here. I’m working on my next book. I need your help, to get it right. A few days later, Susan called me at work. She sounded as bubbly and idealistic as ever. She lives in Ohio now, and she does freelance editing. I want you to edit my next book here, I told her. She would be delighted, she told me. But to freelance edit for Tyndale, you have to live in the same state they’re in, for tax reasons. She now lived in Ohio, not Illinois.

I don’t know that Tyndale will get this next book, I told Susan. Chip is going to shop it around, to anyone who wants to see it. I got no contacts at Tyndale anymore, anyway. I think the contacts I had moved on. But if they do get it, they’ll just have to change that little policy. Because you will be the editor of whatever I write. That’s going to be one of my conditions. And it’s non-negotiable. “I’m ready,” Susan told me.

I got the fifty pages written. It’s rough. I sat there and fretted and poked around listlessly at the screen. Then I called Susan again. Would you take a quick look at what I have, before I send it off? I’ll pay you whatever you charge for freelance work. I got some good stuff, here, but the scenes are not connected like they should be. Susan was delighted to oblige. So earlier this week, I sent her what I had. And now, I wait for her feedback. Then, it’s rewriting, then hopefully getting my stuff to Chip. Then, we’ll see what happens. It’ll either fly, or it won’t. I feel relatively ambivalent about it all.

I don’t know. It just seems strange, to be working on another book. Somehow, it doesn’t seem as urgent, this time. Last time, I kind of waltzed through the publishing world, unscathed. I don’t look for that again. It’s a brutal, brutal jungle out there. There are very few people in that world that I trust. I bite my tongue now. I will always be grateful for the guidance that was there for my first journey through that jungle. But I will never be a babe in the woods again.

And Christmas snuck right up on us, and now it’s gone. And this year, I did things a little different, too. This year, the new me bought myself a few gifts. Which is odd. I usually pretty much ignore Christmas.

I’ve always wanted a coach gun. It’s been on my bucket wish list for decades. One of those shotguns you see in westerns. Double barreled, with stubby 20 inch barrels and open hammers and double triggers. The real, raw thing.

Well. I got a little Christmas bonus this year, so I ordered one. A twelve-gauge coach gun with stubby barrels and open hammers and double triggers. A cheap knockoff from China. Still. A coach gun. And still. Great for home protection.

A few days before Christmas, here comes the call. My gun was in. The next day, over lunch, I drove to The Village Arms in Gap. Nice little gun shop. The nice man went into the back room and returned with a short box. It looked heavy. He sliced the tape that bound the box, and slid it open. And there it was. My coach gun.

After the background check, I paid the man and rushed back to the office. There, I assembled my new treasure. The gun was short, like I had envisioned. But it was way heavier than I ever figured it would be. That was OK. Heavy is good. Helps keep the recoil down.

–Photo by Lewis Zook (a very brave man)

On Christmas Day, after a great feast at my brother Steve’s house, a few of us walked down the hill through the woods to the field below. I was carrying my gun. And there, we test fired it. The recoil wasn’t bad. I had figured it would kick like a mule. It didn’t. Heaven help any road bandit who tries to hold up my stagecoach, I thought to myself. Or any thug who tries to rob my house at night.

And now, I look forward to what the New Year might bring. I got my coach gun. By summer, maybe I’ll have my Harley. And by next year this time, who knows? Maybe I’ll be riding shotgun with the Pagans.

Happy New Year to all my readers.