When I saw the name of the award my first thought was, ‘an award for being disabled?’ but based on the nominees it’s clearly an award for people who strive to transcend their disabilities and give meaning to the pain. It’s an honor to get this award. Thank you, Melinda.
The rules are to display the award badge, answer the questions, choose your own nominees, and develop your own set of questions. Melinda’s questions are so practical I’m going with hers.
What was the first sign of your illness?
My first symptoms appeared when I was a child and found the name ‘Antonio’ scrawled in my schoolbooks. I was confused about my age, name and gender, which set me apart from the other children.
What is your worst symptom and how do you cope with it?
The symptoms of depression and dissociation affect memory and concentration, which makes it difficult read and write.
I often go back to a published post to discover typos and glaring gaps in logic. I cope by writing shorter pieces and relying more on photography and abstract designs for creative expression.
I’ve also stopped judging myself when I find mistakes in the work I post, although it’s frustrating to discover a flaw I would definitely have noticed a decade ago.
As for reading, I do a lot of reading I can’t remember.
This is even true of my work.
I often think I’m reading another bloggers post for the first time and discover that I’ve already liked and re-blogged it.
It’s confusing and frustrating.
What one thing about you has changed because of your struggles?
I miss reading and writing longer, more complex, stories, but I’m learning to be patient with myself, and to set more realistic timelines for achieving goals.
I am more compassionate toward other people.
What words of advice or encouragement would you give to someone else suffering?
I’m changing the last word from ‘suffering’ to ‘disabled’, because suffering does not have to define life with a chronic illness.
My advice is set goals and let go of the way you defined success when you were healthy. Give yourself plenty of time to complete those goals.
Never compare your achievements to the achievements of people who aren’t ill.
Learn new skills and practice them.
I knew absolutely nothing about photography when I became permanently disabled. I still know nothing about photography. but I’m better at it.
Name one good thing that has come out of having a chronic illness.
Now that I have the right diagnosis and treatment, I have a better understanding of the forces that shaped me as a child, and a better understanding of why I made certain self destructive decisions as a younger man. I’m forgiving because of it.
What one thing do you disagree with that is widely accepted as true about your condition?
I obviously disagree with the idea that Dissociative Identify Disorder doesn’t exist. If I go to a shrink and tell her I think I have other personalities and the craziness of it is wrecking my life, I expect her to believe I believe they exist and to treat me accordingly.
I wish the United States had mental health system that wanted to treat the brain’s mind.
If you could change only one aspect of your illness, what would it be?
Some days I get sick of feeling like I’m running in place. I want the illness to go away.
Name the one thing that works best for you for symptom relief.
I get relief from photography or throwing myself into a project. I also try to eat properly, exercise, and get a solid night’s sleep.
Based on your experience, what is one thing that you would tell someone newly diagnosed with chronic illness?
Learn as much as you can about your illness and become your own advocate.Why did you start blogging?
I started blogging to advocate for better medical treatment for people with mental illnesses.
The blog began to shift focus in 2016 and is now more focused on art and politics., but I haven’t forgotten my roots.
Most of the disability bloggers I know have gotten this award from Melinda.
From John’s profile page: John writes thriller fiction novels and short stories. His story Cold Night Out won an honorable mention in Writers Digest Popular Fiction contest this year. He also won first place in the Kurt Vonnegut Kilgore Trout novel contest, celebrating Kurt Vonnegut as an author. His short story Never Give Inn was selected to be published in the Miracle E-zine fifth issue published in April of 2014.
John lives on Mustang Island in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of south Texas with his wife Molly and their spoiled rescue pets.”
Why did you take up writing?
Since I was a kid, I always enjoyed doing homework assignments that involved a story. “What I did on my summer vacation “ type assignments were my cup of tea. I was the kid who always volunteered to write the script for the class play or Thanksgiving pageant. When in High school I worked on the school newspaper and the yearbook. I always enjoyed being closely associated with the written word. In college, I took some creative courses, and for whatever reason, I drifted into organized commerce and was held prisoner until I escaped in 2012. It was then I decided to go back to my original love and take up writing. I have been writing ever since.
What kind of writing did you read as a child?
I read most everything. I like the picture books but then got into novels when I was in the fourth grade. I remember doing a report on a book titled “The Raft.” It was about some airmen who were forced to live in a tiny life raft during World War II. I got the report back, and the teacher made a note that the book was way too adult for my age. She also suggested I didn’t understand some of the words used. We had a conference, and I walked out with an A and a note for my mother. As long as I can remember I read books about bigger than life situations with bigger than life heroes. The Red Badge of Courage was one of the first
What kind of work did you do before writing?
Before I started writing I lead three work lives. The first was the head of a fortune 500 company where I had worked my way from sales representative to President. The second work life was as a marketing consultant. The final was as a director of contracting working for a huge telecommunications company.
You mention Kurt Vonnegut in your profile statement. Is he one of your influences?
He more than any writer had a profound impact on my decision to write. His stories were, by and large, pulled from daily life with significant historical significance as a backdrop. They were well written and carried an element of humor that made them seem so easy to pen. Of course, once starting I discovered Kurt was a genius in using a few words to say the most profound things.
How does your personal history influence your writing?
I have drawn from the experiences I had as a child and an adult. I think the influence on my writing centers on using characters in my books as ways to explore some of the feelings these experiences caused me to have. I remember some fun times and some tragic, but in each, there is energy that can be tapped to tell a story. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to lead the kind of life that provided enough life moments to be utilized in such a positive way.
What drew you to writing thrillers?
I have always enjoyed reading mysteries and Thrillers. It has been fascinating to discover along the way a thriller differs from a mystery. A mystery has an occurrence like a dead body. The story then goes on to offer clues and in the end to find out who killed whom. A thriller, on the other hand, has the murder take place right before the reader’s eyes and by a perpetrator who is readily identified. The idea of the thriller is to see if the guilty party is brought to justice. If found that it is more fun to go ahead and build a story around the guilty party than to try and to find out who did the deed.
When did you start your blog?
I started blogging in April of 2012. I had just retired from organized commerce and was ready to take on writing as a full-time occupation. I thought it would be a good thing to help build a voice for my writing efforts. Secondarily I thought it would be good practice. 6. How did you come up with the idea of using dialogue to bring the reader into the story?
Dialog has always been the weakest part of my writing. Before I published my first book, I wrote short stories and comments always came back about the dialog. Most of the criticism was in two areas.
1. The conversations seemed stilted since I used a few contractions.
2. My tags were atrocious.
To work out of these two problems I decided to construct stories with only dialog and without tags. The key here was to give the reader a story with just conversation and to identify each speaker by the content of the words and not “He/she said” or any other tag.
I have been doing these stories for about four years, and I think I might be getting close to working out the weakness
How do you come up with story ideas?
I am a raving pantster. I usually have no idea what I’m going to write when I first sit down to do a story or book. When I do prompts I typically have a visual to get me started, but a novel requires some thinking about the story and where the story is going to go. I spend about three or so weeks working on the last three lines of a book. Once these are done, I know how the story is going to end and then can go back to the beginning and start working. The last three lines don’t usually survive, but the idea is there.
What excites you most about blogging?
I get a charge out of folks commenting on what I have done. My blog is not one of those writer “how to” type of blogs. I post, and my objective is to keep the post under 500 words and to elicit a smile from everyone who takes the time to visit. I have three stories a week. Two of them are prompt driven, and the third is a serial that I make up. The other four days are devoted to happy things around the neighborhood, a Top Ten list of things not to do, a pictorial of my dog’s adventures, and musing about life. The biggest criticism I received about my content was I don’t write about writing. It is a valid criticism. I write about life.
What makes your day a good and happy one?
An excellent and happy day to me is one filled with the following.
1. A thousand words on my WIP.
2. Visits to my blog by the regulars
3. A romp with my dogs.
4. Dinner with my wife.
What advice do you have for new writers and bloggers?
It was once said that you have not mastered the writing craft until you write one million words. New writers and bloggers ought to think about that and feel good about trying their best to become a master. Notice I didn’t say trying their best to become published or to have their first thousand followers. I honestly believe that too many new writers and bloggers do not exercise enough patience to become a master at what they do. To illustrate what I’m thinking here think of learning to skydive. Sure you want to jump out of a plane more sooner than later, but imagine if the instructor handed you a parachute and told you to jump. None of us would do that I’m sure. When we start writing it is as if we are hell-bent for publication or to find a short cut to more followers. Take the time to build quality and publication and followers will come. Trust me.
Describe yourself in 3 words.
Obsessed, dedicated, loyal
Please share an excerpt from your newest or most recent novel.
This is an excerpt from Circumstances of Childhood.
So, with nothing better to do, I figure I’ll stop at Jerry’s place and grab a couple a drinks and a burger. Usually, I don’t go there on Saturday night since there’s a crapload of amateurs taking up what would be considered prime space. I figure since this is a Friday, and close to Saturday, it may be packed but not as crazy as Saturday. It’s the kind of place where everyone minds their business. Today’s events will, probably, not register with the people in the bar. They’re there for a good time and will likely not notice me. Even so, I go through the door, stop, and have a look around, trying not to make eye contact. I hope that the ball cap and large coat will keep me from getting noticed. The bar holds a weekday crowd, all right, hanging on each other like they never had a date before. I tighten my eyelids against the smoke and make out four guys near the pool table and what looks like a couple of girls fetching drinks. I search for a seat beyond the table in the back, but it seems like they’re all taken.
A guy bumps into me as I stand here. I say excuse me, and he looks me in the face. “Hey, don’t I know you?” he says.
“I don’t think so.” I make to turn away.
“Yeah, you’re the sports hero who lost all his money. I saw you on TV.”
“Naw, people always say stuff like that. I’m not him, buddy; trust me.”
He gives me a puzzled look but doesn’t want to push it in case he has it wrong. I turn away and continue to look for a seat.
Straight ahead lies the bar, and it has a place right in the middle. I move in the direction of the empty place and look over to the other side of the room. The tables look full of happy drunks. Buckets of empties line the bar top, and the barmaid’s trying to sell more. She doesn’t have much luck since most of these people just spent their last five bucks on this outing. Upon making it to the stool, I hoist myself up and lean on the bar.
“Hey, Greg,” Jerry says. “Whadda you have?”
“Evening, Jerry. I’ll have a gin on the rocks with a water back.”
I like Jerry’s no-nonsense way of handling things. He doesn’t like small talk and gets right to business. My eyes smart from the smoke, and I wonder how Jerry gets away with letting people kill themselves when, clearly, it’s not supposed to be allowed in this kind of establishment.
“Here you go. Want me to run a tab?”
“Yeah, I would appreciate that. I intend to have another drink and then a burger.”
The guy who thinks he knows me grabs my shoulder from behind. I almost fall off the stool.
“You’re Greg Petros, the big fund manager. I knew I saw you on TV. You took a beautiful career in football and ran it into the ground.”
Jerry leans over the bar and lays his hand on the guy’s shoulder. “Move on, my friend. You made a mistake. This guy is nobody. Go sit down and let me buy you a drink.”
“You sure? You called him Greg.”
“Yeah, I’m sure. Go get a table, and I’ll send someone over.”
The guy looks at me one more time but does as Jerry suggests. He believes Jerry’s wrong, but the idea of a free drink lets him get away without losing face.
“Thanks. I didn’t mean for you to have to jump in.”
“No problem. Gimme the high sign when you’re ready for another drink.”
“Will do. Thanks.”
“For you buddy, anything.”
I should mention that Jerry and I go back aways. When I fell on hard times, he became the only one that seemed to give a shit. I take a sip of my drink and wait for the burn in my throat, which signals the good stuff. Here it comes. I take a swig of the water and almost believe life is good. The gin needs to get to the brain before making any honest judgment.
While I wait for the warmth to go from my stomach to my head, I check out the folk seated on either side of me. They both have their backs turned to me and sit engrossed in some discussion with their neighbor. I figure it’s just as well since I don’t want to go through that old “don’t I know you?” bullshit again. Also, I don’t figure on staying the night, so no use in getting into any long discussions about life.
I look down at my drink and wonder what will happen tomorrow. My daughter Constance wants to come and visit. She lives in New York, and before all hell broke loose, we didn’t see each other often. I missed her so much, and it seemed as if I had to beg her even to talk on the phone. Now, it’s like she wants to be here every weekend. It’s only an hour’s flight by the shuttle or three by train, so she can come when she wants. I just can’t figure out why she got so clingy. I have my troubles, but it doesn’t have anything to do with her. No use in asking her husband either. Though a nice enough guy, I always wonder if he has someplace important to go when I visit. He never sits still and stays busy on the phone or at the computer. He makes a good living, but it seems a person could take an hour to sit and talk. I’d looked forward to some kind of relationship when he and Constance got married. It’ll never happen with him.
When I take another pull at my drink, I notice the burn feels less. It happens every time. First sip initiation, I call it. It’s like the first puff of a cigarette, hits hard then, after, nothing. I decide to let Constance pretty much have the agenda tomorrow. She and I have not had a chance to talk about anything deep for a while. It could just be that she blames me for her mother running off with that guy with the house on the Hudson. He has a title, and the old gal couldn’t resist, but I think the daughter always felt I should have done something. Her mother’s sleeping with another guy and what the hell can I do about that?
I’ll just go with the flow. If she wants to go out, we will. If she wants to stay in, we can do that too. I better think about getting some food in the house. Of course, we can always order take out. I need to move on to my drink and let this go. Tomorrow will be what it is. I remember the day she was born. I looked down at her in my arms and promised I would do anything for her. I love her more than life itself, and I hope we can somehow get to the root of whatever’s wrong. She sounded strange on the phone this morning, and I feel helpless to do anything about it. I hope she opens up when she gets here.
For some reason, I feel tired. Perhaps I’ll go ahead and finish my drink. Maybe I’ll just go home and forget the burger. First, though, I’ll just shut my eyes for a minute. My hands feel good when I put my head down.
“Hey, Greg,” Jerry says. I barely hear him. “What’s the matter? You taking a nap? Greg?” I can feel him shake me, but I have no interest in waking up. His voice gets further away, and I think he says, “Oh, my God, Sophie, call 911, quick.” Now the room goes silent.