Monday, October 21, 2013

Wanna Know How To Save A Whale?

Stories From The Road
October 21, 2013

How do you save a whale? Well, the answer's complicated.

I was in Richmond, Virginia October 17th as a Special Guest for the YALSA supported Teen '13. Getting there was a "lions, tigers and bears, oh my" kinda moment. Just do the substitution of car crashes, construction and D.C. gridlock. I arrived, late, but made it. Did my three minutes of who I am, what I do and why you all are cool for listening to my three minutes.

Here are some cool authors I met.
Later that night, I ate cold fried chicken with author Meg Medina (Latina Rockstar if you're sassy) at her cozy tree house of a home. Meg had offered me a spare bedroom for this Fat Angie At-Risk Summer book tour stop.

I like spare bedrooms.

Meg sat down at the breakfast bar and in all that is wonderful and direct about Meg said, "So tell me everything. How did you grow into this amazing person you are right now? You know, how did you choose this given where you started?"

Mid-chew I blurted out the immediate Amanda Cunningham story (see Meg's blog here), but it just felt off as an answer. I mean, yes, Amanda's death had a lot to do with me sitting down and cranking out Prizefighter en Mi Casa. But the who I am now. The person who came from a hard home and could've chose to quit but didn't. Instead I travel America and am coined as Wexican (whitest Mexican American), rockstar and hero by the kids I meet which has a lot to do with Fat Angie.

 And Fat Angie has a lot to do with Linda.

Linda humors me on Cinco de Mayo, 2006
I met Linda in July 2005. We both were on scholarship for the Highlights Chautaqua Writing Retreat. Prizefighter won the Delacorte Dell Yearling Award in November 2004, but I was super green to the roll with authors thing. After a fancy welcome dinner, I headed to my less than two star accommodations. Walking minus an umbrella in the pouring rain, I met Linda. Also minus an umbrella. 

Lacking a witty intro, I said, "So are you someone famous I should know?"

She said, "I don't think so. Are you?"

"I don't think so, but I think I just made an ass out of myself back there."

"How come?" she asked.

"Because I sat with a bunch of famous people who I just thought were people, but I think you're supposed to treat'em different."

She held out her hand, "I'm Linda."


And so it was. Linda and Eunice. The two odd balls of the retreat.

Linda became more than my best friend. She became my family. We talked daily, and I shared everything with her. When I still resided in good 'ole Madison, WI and had to have surgery, she over nighted gormet frozen meals (minus GURD inducing red sauce) because I was alone.

She tolerated the rough years of my grieving Amanda. Let's be clear. I was a mess. She guided me to other artist in the Cincinnati, Ohio area when I moved there. She read my writing and was an excellent editor for all things that are e.E. annoying. She got me, and in time, I got the her. She was in it for the long haul. To be honest, I didn't really think I deserved long haul.

Linda worked professionally as a graphic designer and copy editor. Here are a few movie posters she did as favors for me.

film directed by Sara St. Martin-Lynne

film directed by e.E.

What her heart was invested in was writing for young people. I have never seen someone so determined to create for kids (See her blog). When Maggie's Monkeys sold to Candlewick Press, I bought her a pink monkey at an airport. She proudly used it in her school visits and book appearances.

When I had surgery in Cincinnati in 2008 and was under for six hours, she was the first person in my room. When I thought I couldn't stay on the planet, she mirrored back my better truth. That's a gift in this world. No doubt, sincerely.
My birthday rolled around (December 1st if you're sassy). I was in a creative slump. I wanted to ditch Fat Angie because my agent red inked the life out of it. Not really, but I was being a brat about it.

I drop in at Linda's house, and she pulls out a large white shirt box from beneath her desk. I open the box, pull back the tissue paper and there it was. The hoodie of all hoddies. It was a navy blue beauty with a bulging bicep hornet staring back at me. It was the official logo from the Fat Angie draft.

"You know I love hoodies," I said. "That's just plain dirty."

She smiled and said, "Now finish the book. It's gonna change lives."

"I duhno. You know? Andrea doesn't get it."

"Finish it. It matters. And it is good or she wouldn't have bled all over it."

I flipped the hoodie over, and Linda had left nothing to chance. On the back was the number forty-seven. For Fat Angie fans, you'll know why having her sister's basketball jersey number on the hoodie was an icing on the cake kinda moment.

"If I ever sell it, I'm gonna dedicate it to you," I said. "You know that right?"

"I don't need that."

Hoodie seen with Fat Angie Book Tour At-Risk Summer

I finished a necessary revision of the book, and sent it to my then agent who is now managing editor and publisher at Egmont USA Andrea Cascardi. In late January 2011, Linda discovered she had Cancer.

First thought? I can't do this again. I can't lose another best friend.

Of course, I'd make it about what I was losing. What about Linda? Possibly not seeing her daughter graduate high school. Leave her partner of twenty-plus years who had faced a near death Cancer experience a few months prior. Never see another Christmas or New Years? Never and more never and more -- stop!

I had to stop. Stop what I had made about me and what she might lose.

What you need to know is that I'm not good at the death gig. For a long time, I wasn't good at the showing up gig either. But you see, Linda's different. She's a stand-up gal if I've ever known one. She had so much room for my absolute weirdness. She had kindness. 

Bottom line: I knew I couldn't skip out.

For once, I had to show up for Linda. I had to be there. And I didn't do it perfect, but I did it. I was there when it counted. I had the hard conversations. I wanted to understand not only what it meant to be dying but what it meant to live.

Linda was the strongest, bravest and most stubborn person I have ever met. She held into the last days even when hospice came. She was going to beat her Cancer. Her mind riddled with tumors. Her body frail and thin. She was still Linda. But less than eight months after the diagnosis, Linda died.

She died on October 21, 2011.
It was approximately 6:00 pm.
I was in her bedroom with her partner Howard and daughter Abbie when she exhaled.

I promised that I wouldn't leave her ... that I would stay to the very end. She didn't think I would, but I did. I did because Linda had taught me how to show up.

I did dedicate Fat Angie to Linda.
I have had the hoodie on the Fat Angie book tour.
I share her life, sarcastic humor and kindness with others daily.

Today is October 21, 2011. For the astrology peeps, it is Mercury Retrograde. For others, it is the day Facebook fried out for a few hours. For a good friend in Texas, it is her birthday. For me, it is the day I remember the life of Linda Sanders-Wells. A woman who believed that one book could change lives. And from the trenches of this book tour, I can tell you she was right.

So you wanna know how to save a whale. The answer's complicated. It really has nothing to do with this blog, and it kinda does. I trust you'll figure it out. Just know ...

There was a woman. Her name was Linda Sanders. 
She changed my life.

I love you, Linda. Shine on!

photo by C.G. Watson


  1. You have such an amazing heart. And I think part of why it's so amazing is that all these incredible people have come into your life and left these beautiful imprints and that's something that can never be taken away, no matter the circumstances. And yes, two beautiful souls have blinked out of your life for now, but you've absorbed their light, Amanda's and Linda's, and now you're in a place where you get to shine that light on others who need it. What a way to share the gift that was left to you.

  2. Thank you for this powerful story, which shows what it means to have and be a friend. As you continue your work, you are also carrying Linda's forward in the way you remember her and the way she influenced you.

  3. you have captured her beauty so perfectly &
    brought me to tears... missing her kind, gently words of wisdom -JR Wells

  4. Thank you for sharing this -so powerful and heart-felt.