Today I’m proud to introduce a friend of mine, Ira Wagler. When I moved home to Lancaster, PA, almost two years ago, I started bumping into various writers in the community – Ira was one of them. Let me tell you: Ira is an enigma. A respectful maverick. A jolly philosopher. An Anabaptist Libertarian (okay, that’s not entirely true, at least not the Anabaptist part). I have enjoyed our lunches at the DutchWay Value Mart immensely.
Please consider ordering Ira’s beautifully written new book, Growing Up Amish (link provided at the bottom of the page). You won’t regret it.
When did you start blogging? Tell us about the moment Chip MacGregor contacted you and expressed his interest in having you write a book.
I posted my first blog in April, 2007. I wasn’t sure of how it would develop, but Friday evening turned out to be my time to post a new blog. For about 2-1/2 years, I kept that schedule every week, come whatever. I’m not posting every week anymore, but any new posts always appear on a Friday evening.
The blog attracted a fairly large, very devoted following. And during the third year, a reader with connections started the chain of events that led my agent, Chip MacGregor, to contact me. Which is pretty wild, let me tell you. To be contacted by an agent interested in your work. I was in Kentucky, at a family reunion. I saw Chip’s email on my iPhone, emailed back, and the next day he called while I was in a WalMart parking lot. We chatted for 20 minutes or so. And by the time I returned home, his contract was waiting in my email inbox.
He did his job. Got me through the door. Without him, I would not have a book being published by Tyndale. Period.
What was the process like, turning blog posts into sections of a book? Did you notice a change in your narrative voice? What was the most difficult aspect?
It was a little rough. I wrote some new stuff, to fill in the blank spots. Then tied it together. A few of the blog stories are present mostly in the first half of the book. The last half is almost entirely new writing. I kept my voice throughout. But my Tyndale editors did a tremendous job, weaving the threads together. I dumped a huge mass of words on them and they cut it, then fused the remaining parts into what the book is today. I can’t be grateful enough, that I was teamed up with such outstanding professionals.
All of our stories intersect with other people’s stories, which can make memoirs difficult to write. How has the response been from the main characters in your book? Have you heard from any of them and, if so, how do they feel about the story?
Funny thing was, I never planned to write a memoir. My agent pitched a collection of sketches on the blog. But Carol Traver, senior nonfiction acquisition editor at Tyndale, insisted that the book would have to run in a continuous narrative. In other words, a memoir. I was absolutely terrified, but, being in a very weak bargaining position, I smiled and promised to produce whatever she wanted. And she was so right. The book as written is vastly more powerful than it ever could have been as a collection of loosely connected sketches.
I’ve heard from some of the characters, mostly my siblings. I’m amazed at how supportive they are. There is a bit of friction from one or two sources, and there may be more as the book gets read out there.
I have to ask you about Sarah. Her part in your story was heart-breaking and difficult to read about – was it hard for you to revisit that time in your life? How is Sarah doing today?
Parts of the book were absolutely brutal to relive and write, and hers was one such. I simply “went under” and traveled back in my mind to those days and those events. Sarah is one of very few characters whose name has been changed, along with her entire identity. For her privacy and protection. Even so, in a way, it’s not fair for me to write that story of innocence lost and possibly evoke in her much of the emotional trauma that she may have laid to rest long ago. She will read the book. But it’s my story too, and the book would have been incomplete without that part.
She is married today to an Amish preacher, and the mother of eight children.
Any thoughts to a sequel or ideas for another book?
I hope to write more and be published again, of course. Whatever happens, I will always write on my blog at www.irawagler.com.
But right now, my first book, Growing Up Amish, has just been released. When and if I write another book will depend on the sales of the first, I suppose. I haven’t made any noises to anyone, including my agent, about another book. What will come will come, all in its time.