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Richard Powell is moved to tears by the events of CALLAHAN'S CON.

Dear Spider,

It's late on a rainy Alabama Thanksgiving Day, and, while browsing your website, I thougth it appropriate to give you some thanks.

Thanks for your books. They've been making me laugh and think since I was in high school (a shorter-than-it-seems 20-something years now). Thank you for being polite and amusing at ChattaCon 1989, where I got to meet you, get my books autographed, and shush rude teenagers while trying to listen to you sing during the intermission of the costume contest.

Thank you for teaching me important things about life. The simple philosophy of "Pain shared is lessened, joy shared is increased" has helped me value my few true friendships and make the most of the joy offered by a sometimes painful life. The alcohol-fueled sharing of pain from the murder of my high school girlfriend led to my dating and eventually marrying a girl she had introduced me to a SF club meeting when I was 14. We've been married over 15 years and have 3 beautiful kids.

Our oldest son, David, has autism. Not the non-verbal, beating-your-head-against-the-wall version, not the Dustin-Hoffman-as-Rain-Man-idiot-savant version, but a fairly high-functioning, verbal version (Aspbergers Syndrome is the label) that gives you a kid whose varying degrees of ability can break your heart. Ask him who was the 19th president, he'll give you his name, years in office, wife's name, and major events in his term. He can identify damn near any insect, dinosaur, shark, or biblical character you mention (as well as every single detail of every "Thomas the Tank Engine" story), but he can't tie his shoes.

David started having violent episodes last year. One afternoon in the grocery store, being told he couldn't have a candy bar sent him into an tantrum that required his being restrained by 4 grown men (He was 11 at the time and weighed about 85 pounds). Another episode at a Disney On Ice performance required 6 people to carry him, thrashing and screaming, up the aisle and out of the civic center. We finally committed him to the pediatric psychiatry unit at a local hospital, where, with one-on-one supervision, he managed to strip the molding off a 6-foot stretch of the hallway and dismantle the security door to his room with just his fingernails.

We've found an incredibly good residential school for him in Columbia, Tennessee, called the Kings Daughters School. They've been handling developmentally disabled kids since 1947, and doing it damned well. They have a program with Wal-Mart where their kids can come work for Wal-Mart with a job coach (paid for by Wal-Mart), learn the job thoroughly, then be transferred to their hometown Wal-Mart when they leave the school. In comparison, most of the schools in Alabama strongly resemble soviet prison camps. David has a far better social life than I do, and has a cute little blond girlfriend who also has autism.

As I've learned more about autism, I've found more and more of the symptoms in myself (which explains a lot about high school). What I thought was just Attention Deficit Disorder seems to have been a very mild case of Aspbergers Syndrome. I'm not the most empathetic guy in the world (but slowly improving) and I have great difficulty expressing emotions about things close to me. I can cry at the Oscars, Schindlers List, Camelot, and Field of Dreams, but I can't manage to conjure up a tear over the tragedy of my son's disability.

You got me past that block. Reading Callahan's Con, I came to the part when you let us know that Doc Webster was dying. I was in the breakroom at work (The Goddam US Postal Service, which is a tragedy in itself) when I read those pages. I had to get up and go into the restroom and hide in a stall to cry (No, there's nobody there close enough to me to share this sort of pain with). I spent 20 minutes bawling my eyes out. It started out for Doc, but it moved on to David, and the problems in my marriage, and the 17 years I've wasted working for the Post Office, and I cried harder than I've cried since I was a child.

I walked out of that restroom feeling about 20 pounds lighter. Doc Webster's diagnosis was the catalyst for an emotional release that years of therapy hasn't managed to knock loose. I'm not well, but I think I might be a bit better. Thank You.

I look forward to hearing your CD. Congrats on getting it out. Keep going, I'm sure you've got more in you. And, please, keep coming with the books. What you write really does make a difference in the world, and in the lives of individuals. Be proud.

With Deepest Respect, Gratitude, and Love,
Richard Powell

Dear Richard,

I'll be honest, I get a fair number of amazing letters. But yours was something else. Jeanne and I happened to read it together, sitting side by side at the keyboard, and it knocked us both out. I'm extremely gratified to hear I helped you lance a boil with that book. I was afraid the Doc's passing was going to get me lynched. For what it's worth, I wept like a baby myself as I wrote that part.

Kings Daughters looks really nice. I just Googled it up. Seventy kids, 10 teachers, sounds good. My own Tennessee experience is almost entirely limited to Summertown, but Maury County looks like a real nice place. I have a young relative with a touch of Aspberger's, so I'd heard of it. As Lord Buckley once said, "That Lawd sho got a crazy sense o' humor. Tell me he got me covered--the cat got me soo-rounded!" David sounds like an extraordinary person. That dismantling the security door part is impressive.

Have you tried alt.callahans? An interesting bunch. A lot of support there.

All Jeanne and I know about marriage after thirty odd years is kindness. Make the other's happiness essential to your own, and it all seems to get simple. We secretly plot ways to get each other high--and don't keep score. We're just getting good at it.

By the way, for what it's worth, those years wasted in the PO did help keep people like me alive. To this day, digital revolution notwithstanding, I must submit my copy by sending carbon-stained tree-pulp slices by post, and receive the rare cheque in the same way. I personally know of at least half a dozen sf writers in that part of the world who are probably kinda glad you wasted your time.

I can't tell you how glad I am to hear that my work made a difference to you. You have made me feel proud. I'll keep 'em coming as long as I can.