David McElwee was born and raised in Northwest Pennsylvania. He earned a BS from the University of Pittsburgh and an MS in clinical psychology from the University of La Verne. During his career, he has worked to build bridges past barriers in supporting people living with developmental disabilities. My Afterlife is his first novel.
The above bio is taken from the ‘About the Author’ section in the back of my book. With apologies, I failed to mention my most important academic achievement: High school graduate from Smethport Area High. Failure to disclose this was a short-sighted attempt to create mystery as to ‘where he’s from?’ Perhaps I should have chosen a different photo which accompanies the book bio to really drive home the intrigue, IDK.
So now you know, I’m from Smethport. The home of the Hubbers. Those of us from there have been asked the question you may be thinking right now, “What’s a Hubber?” So, in the name of school spirit we the local inform the curious, “Smethport was designated the county seat as it’s centrally located in McKean County, thus the hub. Hence, we are Hubbers and get this our mascot is a wagon wheel. Yes, you read that right, a wagon wheel.”
I did a web search recently in hopes of identifying others sharing this nickname only to discover lots of lions, tigers and bears oh my… but no Hubbers! A noteworthy and unique point of interest you must agree. Sorry, but in the name of full disclosure I didn’t search the number of towns with wagon wheels as their mascot! Much like Unicorns and Leprechauns, Hubbers can be difficult to spot but when you do tell them their origin story first and they’ll feel wheel good!
I must confess writing ‘My Afterlife’ forced me to realize I aspire to be a certified Delusionotist. Thus, my current academic pursuit. Polly Pry, my inspiration, is credited with coining the term in an 1877 article published in the New York World newspaper describing delusionotist as, “having the ability to create an alternative reality by mixing truth with misrepresentation in such a way the story sounds plausible.” Polly called this effect delusionosis and warned the public, “Those with this ability have the choice to use it for fun or foul, so beware!”
Polly’s fascination with delusionotists began during the wild west era after attending a county fair in her home state of Colorado. She recalls, “I experienced a loud clang in my brain upon hearing the grandiose promises of the snake oil salesman extolling the virtues and curative powers of their newest elixir. Their pontifications and proclamations are camouflaged with fancy words and phrases flowing rogue. Compelling unsuspecting fair goers to believe that drinking their elixir cures whatever ails. So, I decided to investigate.”
By this point in time Polly was a renowned journalist and now awakened skeptic. So, she set forth to debunk the curative powers of these elixirs as false advertisement. But more importantly, to inform the public that delusionists are everywhere. So beware if in the presence of one with mal intent.
Polly concluded her research after a year traveling to county fairs across America studying the claims of those peddling bold promises. During her examination Polly reviewed available morgue records confirming the elixir did not cure old age nor the myriad of other ailments purported to do so. However, she found no evidence of complaint from those experiencing the pleasurable effects of drinking the concoction!
Despite this conflict Polly Pry continued to publish articles denouncing the influence of these ‘delusionizing fabricationist’ as she called them. Her efforts lead to the extinction of many in the early 1900’s when an outraged public learned that 70% of their elixir contained mystery ingredients other than alcohol, morphine, and cocaine!
Polly was ambivalent as to the impact of her landmark publications which ultimately contributed to the creation of the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act. After all no product should contain 70% of unknown substances! Ultimately, she was disappointed in that the public missed her primary message stating later in life, “Delusionotist are a tricky bunch, capable of popping up across all walks of life, please be wary.” When queried as to what one should do if sensing the onset of delusionosis Polly Pry stated pragmatically, “Snap your fingers first!”
Sorry, you got me. I was embellishing some of that stuff above to fulfill a requirement in becoming a certified Delusionotist. The assignment was to submit a written piece to exceed the following standard: ‘a trainee must combine fact with fiction and fabricate a story leaving the reader to wonder, “What was fact and what was fabrication?” I have yet to receive feedback from the certification committee regarding the Polly Pry piece but will let you know when I do.
If sniffing trickery your suspicion may have led you to consult Webster’s dictionary or more likely type letters into a device. Only to discover delusionotist, delusionosis, delusionizing, and fabricationist are not found upon a page or display. These un-words were chosen as they seemed legitimate in the context of certain truths about Polly Pry’s real life.
Maybe I went a little far with the Delusionotist concept in describing my writing process and simply could have said, “My Afterlife” is a work of fiction set in a small town and the familiarity of Smethport allowed me to ‘see’ the story as I know where the sidewalks heave. The characters presented are fictional and any similarities to people past, present, or future are easiest explained as coincidental. Many locations, time references and events throughout the story are real but may have been subjected to fabrication to fortify the storytelling.
Which leads us to ‘Fact or Fabrication’. A version of ‘ask the author’ in which the reader submits a curious observation, poses a question, confirms a fact, or identifies when a fact was fabricated. I suggest you don’t have to be from Smethport to ponder a point. So, to encourage participation by those unfortunate to have never walked down main street a personal example is provided to get your thinkin’ twitchin’!
In ‘My Afterlife’ a young boy named Skeeter McGee finds a chunk of glass in the crawl space beneath his house while helping his father. The glass would later be transformed into a beautiful yellow crystal ball. The fact is I found a green chunk of glass beneath the house helping my father many years ago. The fabrication is the transformation of the glass into a yellow crystal ball and its subsequent importance to the story.
The picture above is that glass chunk I still retain. Please join the merriment. Submit your comments using the contact button on my website to play “Facts or Fabrication!” But I jump ahead.
After completing my undergraduate degree in 1985, I followed traditional expectations and got a job. In my case it was working as the overnight staff in a facility for eight individuals with developmental disabilities. I did more cleaning the first four months at the job then direct support but was intrigued.
After a year I left the job when my brother asked, I join him in Alaska for a canoe trip. No convincing was required. So, as I’m fond of saying, “I went on a 10-day canoe trip that lasted nearly eleven years.”
And it is during the ‘canoe trip years’ I fell in with a group of committed professionals motivated to improve the lives of people with developmental disabilities. I was intimidated by the groups impressive credentials thus mostly listened but in time began to understand the complexities of the field and liked it. I enjoyed research, developing training programs, and espousing clinical sensibility. But most importantly, never lost connection with those supported, as that’s where the best learning occurs. It seems a niche had found me, thus my accidental career.
A few years later I was honored when asked to present and conduct a series of workshops with Dr. Todd Risley. During which we addressed deinstitutionalization, wrap around services, training, and the development of competent community settings for people with developmental disabilities. This experience opened a door to which I was compelled to step through.
Thus, in 1996 I relocated to the east coast joining an organization in which the mission was to set up community programs for people with developmental disabilities living in large institutions. I am proud to say we assisted with hundreds of transitions in the subsequent years. Cheers to the team.
And as they say, ‘all good things come to an end’ whereupon I left the field in 2020, satisfied. During my career I have been fortunate to have had excellent mentors and exceptional colleagues, thanks. However, I would be remiss if failing to mention the most important lesson is from those living with developmental disabilities who ask a simple request, “Treat me like a real person!” Salute!
Now I’m here. I always thought it would be cool to write a book and when a twenty-year- old idea centered on reunifying a pair of drumsticks, a set of skeleton keys, and scapular patches separated following the death of the gift giver came calling, I answered. So, with time available, encouragement from family, and plenty of post it notes ‘My Afterlife’ is.
Thanks for the indulgence,
David McElwee, Delusionotist in training
Oh yea, shout out to my wife Debra for the cover design of 'My Afterlife'.
Big thanks to Dom and Pam DiCosimo, The website team!
And much love to my family and friends who’ve endured my shenanigans!