Okay, what you need to understand is that my journey as a writer with dystonia started here. This is where I finally admitted to the Internet how much I was suffering. Yet, I still made a joke out of it. Ha ha ha …
Now … I’ll quote from the guest post where I made that admission:
When Vincent invited me to write a post for his blog, it was during a discussion on LinkedIn. (Remember LinkedIn? Some of us still hang out there.) We were talking about the usual subjects – marketing ebooks, promoting our work online, that sort of thing.
I think Vincent mentioned something about readers expecting us to publish a book every six months or so. I couldn’t resist saying something at that point. You see, I have a problem. I try not to make a big deal about it, but I don’t keep it a secret, either.
I had a stroke in November 1994, due to a post-operative blood clot going through a hole between the atria in my heart (i.e., due to a complete fluke set of circumstances). About five or six months after that, and despite what seemed to be a complete recovery from the stroke, I developed the third most common movement disorder (after Parkinson’s and tremors) called dystonia. As it happens, dystonia has no cure.
This disorder causes constant clenching and contortion of my left hand and foot. (The side affected by the stroke – coincidence? Don’t think so.) And when I say constant, I mean 24/7, day in and day out. Every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every … oh, you get the idea.
And as for treatments, well … the story is not so good. There are some, but they don’t really work completely. They are, at best, hit or miss. The best neurologists do things and say, “Let’s see what happens.” (In other words, “We don’t WTF we’re doing, but this is our best guess.”)
And alternative medicine. Yeah, been there, done that, spent the money. Currently trying acupuncture. Seems to be doing something. Slowly. Very slowly. Patience, grasshopper.
And pain. Like you wouldn’t believe sometimes. Picture your hand being slowly twisted in a medieval torture device that never, ever stops. Lovely, isn’t it?
Okay. Now, back to what we were talking about. Publishing a story every six months? No, I don’t think so. Sorry.
And then … Vincent said something even funnier! He mentioned that we were vying for position as #1 in some Amazon category! Well …
I won’t lie. Being #1 is awesome and all, but it’s not why I wake up in the morning and write.
And for me, success is measured in way more than mere numbers.
For me, success is being able to force myself out of bed and convince myself to keep going, despite everything.
And I write because I enjoy telling stories, and I want to tell the best stories I possibly can. No matter how long that takes.
Success is also being able to make a living as a writer, despite all the work that entails. This would not only include all the concentration and creative effort that goes into writing the work, but the physical act of using my hands to type the words. Not to mention all the marketing and promotion.
As for speech recognition software, well … have you ever used it? I have. Two words: it sucks.
Writing this post itself takes not only energy, but decision making. I don’t wish to present myself as an object of pity. However, I am interested in raising public awareness of dystonia. So I find myself striking a fine balance between talking about the matter and not talking about it too much.
Success is summoning up the blind faith to keep going in the face of what, at times, has seemed to be insurmountable odds and endless obstacles.
Frankly, achieving bestseller status is (pardon the cliché) just icing on the cake.
Okay … not only that, but if you read this post, you’ll see that I’m not supposed to use speech recognition. In fact, it’s better for me if I don’t!
That said, anything you can do to support this campaign for literacy would be greatly appreciated. All the proceeds will go the Red Cross, okay? None to me, and the contributions are tax deductible. However, the deadline is creeping up like a cheap pair of drawers! Dec. 21. Please,
pretty please, help make my goal! I’m not going to get hand outs from my mother-in-law or Mr. Smiley or anyone on this. Believe me! This is for charity and literacy, okay?
Also, great news! The goal amount of the Sam McRae Mystery Series campaign has been raised to $5,500, and the deadline extended to Jan. 31, 2013. I’ve stretched the goal amount now that I’ve hit my initial mark and I’d like to keep this going, so I can give out more books and make my series a success through small donations.
Therefore, I’m concentrating on promoting this at the first 3 levels of support.
Any help you can provide in terms of spreading the word, etc., would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!!
Now … just so you know, I’ve been busy. Here’s a shitty draft of the thank you letter to the awesome contributor who gave at the $100 level.
Thank you so much for your $100 contribution to The Sam McRae Mystery Series Indiegogo campaign. Financial support from contributors like you is essential for my series to continue to be published and remain financially viable. Without extra generous contributors, who are willing to gamble on an unknown writer, I’d have a much more difficult time operating as a truly independent, self-published author.
Currently, I’m in the process of reissuing my first novel under my own imprint, Renegade Press. Your name will be included in the Special Acknowledgments section, and you’ll get a signed copy of the book once it’s published. Furthermore, I’m writing the fourth novel in the series. When it’s released, you’ll be acknowledged as an early supporter because of your contribution. You’ll also get both a digital and signed print copy of the book.
Thanks again so much for your support.
Also, I have been working on my fourth novel. Here’s the shitty first draft, so far:
I once spent the night with six prostitutes.
It’s not what you’re thinking. In fact, I’m probably not who you’re thinking either. I’m Stephanie Ann McRae, better known to most people as Sam, the nickname I created from my initials. As you may have gathered, I’m a woman. I’m also a lawyer, in my late 30s and single, but not inclined to use the services of the world’s oldest profession.
The prostitutes and I spent our night in mutual discomfort in a holding cell in Landover, Maryland. It was my first, and hopefully last, time in jail.
If I learned one thing from the experience, it’s that I wouldn’t last a minute in prison. I also learned that I can’t pee when other people are watching.
Once I was in lockup, I spent a good deal of time pacing along the bars. Then I tried leaning against the bars. They started wearing grooves in my arms, so I switched to a wall that might have been beige somewhere under the grime and obscene graffiti. How did the graffiti get there? Smuggled crayons? I mulled this over a bit, then went back to pacing. I avoided eye contact with my fellow inmates, having no desire to strike up a conversation. I think the feeling was mutual.
After a few hours of this, I tried to get what little sleep would come sitting on the cold concrete floor, knees up and huddled, keeping a shirtsleeve between myself and the filthy wall. I managed a half-doze, but kept getting snapped back awake by one of the prostitutes, who had a cough of tuberculin vigor, and a retching drug addict who’d joined the party late, but gotten a head start on celebrating.
Walt finally managed to spring me around 4:30 a.m. Even Walt Shapiro, one of the county’s finest criminal defense attorneys, must have had his work cut out for him that night.
You see, several hours before, I’d shot someone.
Ten days earlier
I could think of better things to do on a sunny morning in early May than to sit at a shabby desk in my small, sublet office waiting for the phone to ring and going over my severely diminishing law office’s financials. But the latter made the former necessary. So I opened the window to allow myself a taste of the mild spring, which would soon enough transform into a sullen, hot Maryland summer.
Law can be a seasonal business. Thanksgiving and Christmas are often a bust—people too entrenched in the holidays to bother with legal matters—but afterwards, look out. There’s usually a run on divorces wrought by dysfunctional family “cheer” and both criminal and personal injury cases resulting from too much festive drinking. For whatever reason, I’d been experiencing an extended drought in business since the end of last October. Where are all the drunk drivers and assault perpetrators, I grumbled to myself. Or, much as I hated handling divorce and custody cases, I’d settle for a miserable spouse or two. Or someone hopelessly mangled in a car wreck. I grimaced at my thoughts. Only a lawyer would suffer such longings. But I was struggling to cover my overhead, plus unanticipated repairs to my car. My billables were a joke, but I wasn’t laughing.
I looked out the window onto Laurel, Maryland’s historic Main Street, all beautifully restored with brick and flowering trees lining the street. This part of town was the heart of old Laurel, what remained of a time that had long given way to suburban sprawl and houses of ticky-tacky, as the song goes. I could stand here looking out the window all day thinking about that or I could sit at my desk and think about that. But I couldn’t go out and chase ambulances or hand out business cards at funerals. I could advertise on the Internet. I could tell people all about myself and what I do. But I couldn’t force them to hire me.
So I did what I could to pay the bills. I sat at my desk, kept my books, ran an honest business and waited for the phone to ring. I turned from the window, went back to my desk and landed in my chair. Thud. Then the phone rang.
When the phone rang, I nearly answered, “Sam McRae, will represent you for food.”
I settled on my usual greeting instead. “Law offices.” Like I have more than one. One that I sublet, no less. Funny.
“Sam? Sam McRae, is that you?”
The voice rang a faint bell, but I couldn’t place it with a name. Was it a former client? “Yes,” I answered. Hopefully, not a former client with a complaint.
“Oh, my gosh, Sam. It’s been forever, but this is Linda Parker. Remember me?”
“Linda Parker? Holy shit, lady.”
She laughed, and I joined her.
I’d met Linda while doing my undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland. We’d kept in touch for a few years afterward, but our contacts attenuated to yearly Christmas cards after a while. Then, at some point, the Christmas cards stopped.
“Nice to know you haven’t changed,” she said.
“Some things never change.”
“Yeah, well.” She paused. “Some things do and some don’t.”
Why did I not like the sound of that?
“So, it’s been ages, Linda. We should get together sometime and catch up. But was there a reason you called me at my office?” Because I’m such a busy, busy big-time lawyer now.
“Actually, I hoped you could help me with a legal matter.”
My turn to pause. I wanted to say, “Well, sure, Linda! But I don’t do divorce work for friends. And I don’t work for free for anyone. However, because you’re an old friend, I’ll take a check up front, okay?”
“Sam? Are you there?”
“Yes, Linda. Uh … what kind of legal matter?”
“I’d like to take some time to explain it, maybe over lunch or dinner? I’ll pay, of course.”
Must be a mighty interesting case. I decided to hear Linda out. Besides it had been ages since we’d seen each other, and who was I to object to a free meal?
“Well, there’s room on my calendar tomorrow to meet for lunch, if you’d like.” Yes, I think I can manage to squeeze you in, old friend.
“Great! Why don’t we meet at the 94th Aero Squadron in College Park. Eleven-thirty, say? Can’t wait to see you.”
We hung up, and I thought, I can’t wait to see you, too. I thought briefly of an old line another lawyer used to say: “Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly.” I felt chilly, despite the day’s warmth, then the chill passed.
At eleven-thirty on the dot, I walked into the restaurant, housed in a pseudo-French farmhouse circa WWI, and was escorted to a table next to a big picture window, where the waiter removed the napkin from my goblet with a flourish and poured my water with equal fanfare. Linda was nowhere in sight. The place had a low wooden ceiling with thick parallel beams and a brick fireplace in the corner.
I vaguely recalled seeing a show on the History Channel about bombs buried under real farmhouses in Europe during World War I, as a defense against the Germans. The British were taking steps to tunnel down and recover them. However, some of them were going off accidentally. Possibly due to lightning strikes.
I sat in my solid wooden chair and admired the detailed recreation of history, including the brass pots and pans hanging near the fireplace and the mantel clock. A bookshelf lined one wall. A clarinet noodled a swing tune solo in the background. Each table was adorned with a pristine white tablecloth, draped over a red one, and full place settings arranged around a candle flickering in a cut glass holder, in hopeful preparation for someone to sit there. No threat of the Kaiser, no bombs submerged below the painstakingly decorated eatery. None that we knew of.
I shifted in my seat. For some reason, my jaw felt rigid, so I tried smiling. I figured sitting by myself smiling made me look goofy, so I stopped. My mouth was dry, so I sipped my water. One sip of water didn’t quench my thirst, so I took another. My mouth still felt dry. Why was I so nervous?
I looked around at all the neatly-set tables again, waiting for customers. So far, the only takers were myself, one quiet couple, and a group of four men and two women, all in suits, talking about sales figures and laughing too loudly at each other’s jokes. I turned away to gaze out the window, guzzled water, and watched a Cessna make a lazy circle over the landing field.
Finally, Linda came in about thirteen minutes (which felt like an hour) later, moving through the room with the fluid grace of a gazelle and the self-assurance of a woman on a mission. A smile broadened across her pale, freckled face, and her wavy, red hair flowed back as if blown by a secret wind. The air seemed to freshen in her presence, as if she’d brought some of the outdoors in with her. I got up and we hugged.
“Sam,” she said. “It’s been too long.”
“Feels like a million years,” I said, overlooking her tardiness and lack of explanation. “You were with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service the last time we spoke.”
“Can you believe I’m still there? I’m probably a lifer, even though every year, they make me to do more with less budget. But how many jobs are out there for biologists?” She jerked a shoulder up in a “who knows?” gesture. “Bureaucracy and paperwork just seem to worsen over time, too. But, if you can ignore the bullshit, it’s decent work.”
“I know what you mean.” My problem was I couldn’t abide the bullshit of office politics and bureaucracy. That’s why I’d left the Prince George’s County Public Defender’s Office years ago to start my own practice.
As we took our seats, she said, “I’m really sorry I’m late, but I got waylaid at the office.”
I waved my hand. “Don’t worry about it. It’s so great to see you again. You’re well worth the wait.”
Her and the free lunch.
We scanned menus the waiter had left with me. Linda chose the Cobb Salad. I decided to go all out with filet minon, since Linda was paying. This meal could be both lunch and dinner.
After the waiter took our orders, Linda turned to me and said, “How’s business?”
“Fine.” Never let them see you sweat. Even if they’re old friends you haven’t spoken to in forever. Not if they’re going to be your client, maybe.
Linda raised her eyebrows. “Okay.”
I sighed. “I’ll be honest. Things are a bit slow right now, but they’ll pick up I’m sure. They always do.” That’s me. Little Miss Sunshine.
Linda leaned toward me and touched my arm. “I wish we had more time to catch up, but I can tell you about my case and you can see what you think, okay?”
I sat up straighter. “I’m all ears.”
Linda leaned back in her chair and folded her hands on the table. “Two years ago, I started a local activist group where I live. It’s named Citizens Advocating Sensible Development, but everyone calls it CASD.” She pronounced the acronym as if it were spelled “cazd”.
“We’re trying to preserve a large tract of undeveloped land in southern Prince George’s County, where I live,” she continued. “The group plans to appeal a zoning decision that would pave the way for a big new development—five hundred-plus acres of former farmland has been rezoned to let a developer fill it with houses, offices and stores.”
“Interesting,” I told her, “But I’m not a zoning expert.”
“But, it’s really not that hard. It’s all politics, really. Couldn’t you please do it just this once?”
Okay, meeting an old friend you haven’t seen forever is awesome. Doing an old friend a favor is awesome. Mixing business and pleasure, sometimes not so cool. And this contact from my long-lost friend had tripped my bullshit meter now, big time.
“Have you thought of approaching any local firms?” I asked, casually. “Many of them will take a case like this pro bono for the publicity.”
She shook her head. “We tried three or four firms. We’ve offered to pay. No one wants to fight Graybeck.”
“Is that who we’re talking about?” No wonder no one would take the case. They were probably all fighting for his business. I felt torn between fears that I’d be in over my head trying to fight Graybeck and a weird thrill at the prospect of doing it anyway.
“I guess you’ve read the articles about this.” Linda twiddled her thumbs, a tiny vertical line forming on her brow. “The fact that Graybeck is a minority-owned business and the push for upscale development in a mostly-black county doesn’t help us. The press is playing the race angle like the environmentalists are a cross between Greenpeace and the Klan. Sometimes I wonder why we can’t just all get along.”
I’d often had that same thought, knowing that if it came to fruition, I’d be out of a job. Our food arrived, and she fell silent, pushing her salad around on her plate a bit. I sawed off a healthy bite of my filet minon, bit it off my fork and chewed. Perfect. I was still thinking of all the reasons to turn this down, when she said, “We’re willing to pay you eight grand up front, if you do this.”
I swallowed my bite half-chewed and felt it inching down my esophagus, like a mouse through a snake. I grabbed my water and gulped half the glass. When I set the glass down, I could swear the meat was still stuck way down in the bottom of my esophagus. Well, at least, no one had needed to perform the Heimlich Maneuver on me.
I raised my napkin to my lips. “That’s more than generous,” I managed to say.
“We were willing to pay that to the firms, so it’s yours, if you want it.”
My mouth went slack. “How … who … where did you get this money?”
“The group got together and collected it.”
I peered at her. “Really?” I pictured a bunch of hippies, handing out flowers for donations.
“Our members have resources and friends with money.”
Ah. That helps.
I was ready to offer another polite demurrer. Then, I remembered Jamila Williams. She worked as a real estate attorney for one the biggest firms in Prince George’s County. She was definitely politically connected. I could consult with her on this. Jamila and I were tight. We were there for each other when the going got tough.
“Well,” I said. “I feel funny about taking a zoning case. But, for you, I’ll consider it, okay?”
I still had misgivings, but with eight thousand reasons to take the case and a stack of unpaid bills, I couldn’t say no.
After we dispensed with that, Linda seemed to relax.
“Thank you, Sam,” she said. “You have no idea how much this means to me.”
Let’s not get carried away. I said I’d consider it.
“Linda, please don’t take this the wrong way,” I said. “But I need a day or so to think about this and make sure I have the resources to do a good job for you. Do you understand?”
She reached out and touched my arm again. “Of course. You have to do what’s right for you.” Linda leaned back and smiled. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
I thought about that. Was that really true? “Oh, I don’t know.”
“Well, I can tell. You’re as stubborn as ever, and probably a hundred times better than most of the high-priced lawyers in this county.”
“Well,” I said. “Being stubborn doesn’t mean jack shit when it comes to being a good lawyer.”
She laughed. “See? That’s why you’re the best. You’re honest. Thank you for that. I hope you will consider my offer. Please.”
After we finished eating, Linda said she needed to go back to the office right away. She flagged the waiter over, pulled her wallet from her shoulder bag, and retrieved an Amex credit card. A silver Amex credit card, to be exact. The waiter hustled over through the nearly empty room and presented the bill in its folder, like an engraved invitation. Linda gave it a cursory glance, nodded, then stuck the credit card in the slot and handed it back. The waiter hurried off
“Here’s my card, Sam,” Linda said, pulling a shiny, gold-colored metal cardholder from her shoulder bag. She popped it open with her thumb and retrieved a card from the stash within. “I’ll write my home and cell number on here, too.”
While she scribbled that down, I fished around for a business card and a pen, finding both. I paused, then wrote down my cell phone, which I normally don’t give out to clients. Linda was turning out to be the exception that would prove the rule that no good deed goes unpunished.
I left the fake World I French restaurant, hopped in my old purple Mustang convertible, and rejoined the ugly reality of 21st century College Park and good old Route One. I could’ve taken the Baltimore-Washington Parkway instead of Route One, but frankly I was screwed either way. Traffic in this area is a bitch, no matter what road you take. Since they began making improvements on the Parkway, the traffic has become even screwier, no matter what time you’re on it.
The trip back to my palatial sublet office took me well north of the University of Maryland campus proper, right into the thick of Berwyn or Beltsville. Older suburbs of brick ranchers. The kind of houses they don’t build anymore, because people are looking to buy bigger houses that are made more cheaply. Lovely.
It’s a shitty first draft, written with a hand that looks like this …
… but, hey, I’m just getting started. I even had time for a 20 minute nap, between the crying, laughing and howling. LOL!
BTW, here’s why you have to pick your fights. Because you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Check the comments. Ha!
Here are some links and videos of possible interest:
Stephen Fry talks about depression.
13 minutes of long-winded talk, followed by a short disclaimer.
Fuck perfection! Don’t even try. It will kill you!
Would you laugh if I
said wrote that my funny sister calls it the Clackamas Clown Center? Too soon? Hmm …!
Any thoughts from the troll? I know you’re watching.
Remember … the Dude abides.
And you’ve never actually met me, so remember …
You’ll find that under shit I’ve pinned.
Along with this …
What better way to end this than with this awesome quote from Nik Nak’s Old Peculiar:
“Everyone has their nemesis. For me it was clearly Kasparov. I don’t think I want to make excuses for that.”
Viswanathan Anand, born 11th December, 1969
It’s taken me a
few epiphanies while, but I’ve finally realized that my constant nemesis is death.
So, here’s an awesome tune. El dia que me quieras. Really!
UPDATE: While I was in my magic idea chamber, right before dinner, I realized I’d copied Stephen Leather when I tweeted this post on Twitter and he’d probably wonder why. And since he wasn’t mentioned in the post and we haven’t met, I just want to make it
agonizingly clear that Stephen is SO not the troll, okay?
And, of course, it’s not The Bloggess. Because to quote myself:
It’s just that Stephen helped me see the irony, too. Ha ha ha …
I’m really sorry I didn’t get to meet Stephen at Harrogate. It was a missed opportunity.
This could have been me standing next to Stephen Leather.
BTW, I am a fucking moron. My stroke was in 2004, not 1994.
UPDATE 2: Not to
rub it in belabor the point, but Barnes & Noble is giving away a book, when you buy a Nook until Dec. 25.
Thank you, Media Bistro, for that information.
Mr. Smiley, on the other hand, is
giving dividing some spare change a small fraction of his billions among a shitload of lazy greedy almost perfectly healthy authors. Unless they’re having secret problems, too. Well, boo hoo. Join the club. Ha ha ha …