HITTING SHELVES #34: Will & I by Clay Byars

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Will & I comes out today!

It’s a memoir by Clay Byars, who endured a near-fatal car crash and a massive stroke at age eighteen. Doctors said he would be paralyzed for life from the eyes down. As Clay struggles to recover—to literally regain his voice—his twin brother, Will, gets married and raises a family, while his former love interest moves on. Will & I is a fearsomely honest memoir about frustration, resilience, and the construction of personal dignity.

We asked the author one question.

How are you celebrating the publication of Will & I?

To celebrate the release of my memoir, I had nothing special planned. But thanks to Fiction Advocate I now have options.

I could go to the beach (the Alabama coast) with my twin brother and his family, but they and his wife’s extended family—her two sisters who each have two kids, and her parents—are all going and staying in a house together for a week. So, I think I’m going to decline that option.

Clay Byars
Clay Byars

Since the release date is on a Tuesday, I’ll probably just go to my voice lesson as planned that morning. These lessons, which I discuss in the book, began in 2007 on the advice of a speech pathologist. They are actually singing lessons, with an opera singer, but I do it to improve my speech. I won’t go into all that’s wrong with my speech—the book does that—but these lessons have been a weekly part of my life for a little over nine years. I had a brain-stem stroke when I was twenty—I’m now 43—and despite a diagnosis of permanent paralysis from my eyes down, I can now move and speak fairly well. But my speech was one of the things affected. The lessons usually last about an hour, and the teacher and I will probably drink a beer afterward to celebrate, although I’m usually not symbolic like that at all. Nor is he. He may even have someone scheduled for right after me anyway. I’ve been reading the book aloud in our lessons, and we still have four chapters to go.

Then I’ll meet up with my oldest friend in the world, besides my brother, Chip Brantley, who I’ve known since we were toddlers and who is also a published author (his wife Elizabeth Hughey is a published poet). We’ll have lunch or coffee, depending on his schedule. I don’t think he’s teaching this summer. At some point that afternoon, I’ll go to the local gym to stretch and work out, which I have to be diligent about if I want to stay upright. As my existence is still organized taking care of my dogs, I’m sure I’ll think about them at some point as well. They were both strays who showed up out of the woods, separately, but both collarless in 1997, when I lived in a lake cabin. One, who was mainly a Chow, died a few years ago in 2013, and the other, who looked like a fox, died in her sleep exactly one month after FSG bought the book—18 and ½ years after she showed up.

That night I will go out eat with the girl, or woman now, who was with me when I had my stroke. She was 16 at the time, and we’re good friends still who see each regularly, so I’m not seeking to make this extraordinary. We haven’t decided what we’ll do afterward, but she feels like we need to somehow mark the occasion. I’m fine with just going to sleep and getting back to work the next day.

Get the book here.

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