In this episode, I am so excited to have spoken to Debbi Mack. Debbi Mack is the New York Times bestselling author of IDENTITY CRISIS, the first book in the Sam McRae mystery series, featuring Maryland lawyer-sleuth Stephanie Ann “Sam” McRae. She has also written and published a young adult novel, INVISIBLE ME, a thriller called THE PLANCK FACTOR, and several short stories, including a Derringer nominee. Debbi’s currently working on a new mystery and preparing to re-launch her Sam McRae series. She has her own podcast called The Crime Cafe, where she interviews other crime, suspense, and thriller authors. Debbi has also written two feature film screenplays, including an adaptation of her first novel, an original TV pilot and a short film script. A native of Queens, NY, Debbi currently lives in Columbia, MD, with her husband and cats.
- Her diverse background which led her from law, to working with the EPA, and ultimately how it played a crucial role in her current writing works today.
- The “superiority” lawyers can feel that can hinder and alienate them from others, and how to combat this with a healthy perception of self and their career.
- She dives into the writing process; how she puts pen to paper, who she writes for, and how her writing is an expression of her self in a way. She also talks on the “creative sprint,” and how it can help spark creativity in those that don’t feel they are creative.
You can learn more about Debbie and her work at:
For more information, visit: jeenacho.com
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Intro: [00:00:02] Today’s show is sponsored by Spotlight Branding. Spotlight Branding works exclusively with solo and small law firms to brand them as trusted, credible experts and help them stand out in a crowded marketplace. Their services include web design, social media, video marketing and more.
Debbi Mack: [00:00:28] Being able to effectively balance your work with your life. And that sounds a bit trite, but your work should fold in neatly with what you want to do in your life.
Intro: [00:00:44] Welcome to The Resilient Lawyer podcast. In this podcast, we have meaningful, in-depth conversations with lawyers, entrepreneurs, and change agents. We offer tools and strategies for creating a more joyful and satisfying life. And now your host, Jeena Cho.
Jeena Cho: [00:01:08] Hello my friends, thanks for being with us today. In this episode, I am so delighted to have Debbi Mack, who is a New York Times best-selling author of “Identity Crisis.” She has also written and published a young-adult novel, “Invisible Me,” and a thriller called “The Planck Factor.” Debbi’s currently working on a new mystery and preparing to relaunch her Sam McRae series. She has her own podcast called Crime Cafe, where she interviews other crime, suspense, and thriller authors.
[00:01:38] Before we get into the interview, if you haven’t listened to the last bonus episode, please go back and check it out. I shared a short, six-minute guided meditation to help you let go of stress and anxiety. It’s a preview for my new course Mindful Pause, and all of the components of Mindful Pause is designed to be done in six minutes. For obvious reasons for the lawyers out there, and it’s really designed to fit into your very busy schedule. So head on over to jeenacho.com to learn more. And with that, here is Debbi. Debbi welcome to The Resilient Lawyer podcast, I am so happy to have you here.
Debbi Mack: [00:02:14] Well I’m thrilled to be here. Thank you so much for having me on Jeena.
Jeena Cho: [00:02:17] So let’s just start by having you give us a short 30-second introduction, I know you’ve done so much with your life. I want to dive into all of that, but just give us a little overview of who you are and what you do.
Debbi Mack: [00:02:32] Who I am and what I do. My gosh, I do so much these days that I guess I’ll just say that I am an author and a screenwriter; that seems to be the best definition for what I am and what I do. I blog. I have a podcast, and what I’m working on now is a few things actually; I’m going to relaunch my Sam McRae mystery series, which is four books actually, only two of them are out right now. One of them in print, but it’s with a small press and I have made a decision actually to go out again as an indie author with that series. It’s not that I did not like the publisher; it’s more about trying to get the product out faster. I think these days you really have to be kind of attuned to that.
[00:03:36] Unfortunately there’s kind of a pressure on authors these days to publish fast, and I don’t write particularly fast. And so I’m working on this other series that I started before I got into these discussions with the publisher. They’re a really great publisher in terms of supporting their own authors, but again I just felt like you know, this is the time for me to take all the content that I have that’s already been out there and get it out there again. So, but at the same time I’m also working on screen screenwriting; I have a feature-length screenplay that made the semifinals in the Scriptapalooza contest last year.
Jeena Cho: [00:04:26] Oh wow.
Debbi Mack: [00:04:26] Yeah that was, that felt like a real honor. I also have a TV pilot that I’m working on, and I have a short film script that I would possibly like to produce myself, with help from others who are more familiar with the techniques I guess is the right term. I mean I’m getting familiar with the industry for sure, but I have always written kind of with visuals in mind (let’s put it that way), and with adaptation to the screen in mind. But screenwriting strips it down to its very essentials..storytelling. And it’s caused me to exercise a whole nother set of skills, in terms of writing and editing. And looking at my work and saying okay, what can I cut here? What do I really need to tell this story and to tell you about these people?
Jeena Cho: [00:05:32] Yeah, and you know it’s so funny because I was kind of struck by the fact that of all the descriptors that you used to describe yourself, one of them was not an attorney. And it’s so interesting because I think so many lawyers sort of identify so much of who they are with what they do. But maybe that’s a good place to kind of start your journey and kind of unpack it a little bit. So you were an attorney?
Debbi Mack: [00:06:00] Yes, I was. I practiced law for nine years and I was with different federal agencies. I started off with the Social Security Administration, actually. I was doing appeals to federal court. I actually got to appear before the 8th Circuit on one case, and it was like my first year practicing as a lawyer and I got to go before the 8th Circuit.
[00:06:24] I was like, oh my god. And I tried not to be really nervous about it but I’ll never forget; I was there and there was this water pitcher, and I poured myself a little water and somehow or other some of it was splashing all over the table.
Jeena Cho: [00:06:41] Of course it did.
Debbi Mack: [00:06:41] I was like, okay this is not happening. I heard somebody snickering behind me and I was just like, ahem, I’m playing it cool. I’m taking a piece of pad paper and putting it down there and going, yeah yeah okay, that didn’t happen. Pay no attention to me. But it was really a unique experience. And but it kind of a grind, to do these briefs. It was during the Reagan administration. And well, what can I say? I mean Social Security during the Reagan administration. Let’s just say there were a lot of appeals.
[00:07:26] So I thought, I’ve got to do something else. I need something that I can do other than just crank out these briefs. And I went to work at a law firm. It was a local law firm in Prince George’s County, Maryland. And started off in litigation and ended up going into land use. And when I was in land use I became interested in environmental law, so I thought, you know what I really want to do? I want to become an environmental lawyer. I made a decision at that point, okay let’s focus on a specific niche, and I made it environmental Law. So I was looking and looking for a job, and happened to know somebody who knew someone else at EPA. And I got the job, but it was not as an attorney. It was as an Environmental Protection Specialist, which is basically fancy language for like, project manager or something. I was supposed to manage groups that were doing like rule-making, or thinking about rule-making. And I worked in the Office of Toxic Substances, where they effectuated the Toxic Substances Control Act. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of TOSCA.
[00:08:51] Most people have not heard of TOSCA. You see, it’s one of those little known environmental statutes that I always think kind of gets overlooked in the grand scheme of things. Along with FIFRA, The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act; that covers pesticides. And it used to be enabled by the Department of Agriculture.
[00:09:17] So they used to do the reg-making for FIFRA, but now it’s with the EPA. And so TOSCA is, well any environmental lawyer will tell you that it’s a problematic statute in many ways, and difficult to write regs for. The whole area is difficult to regulate, and there was a whole nother set of issues with FIFRA. But it fascinated me because I had studied science at one point, so I was really intrigued with working with scientists while I was at the EPA. I enjoyed doing that.
[00:09:56] But I will tell you, I live in Columbia, Maryland, and of course I was commuting into D.C. I was getting up at like 4:30 in the morning every single day, getting on a train, and it was taking me more than an hour to get to work every day. Also, EPA had some sick-building issues at that time, and I was just coming home exhausted at the end of the day; it was a long day. And as much as I enjoyed working at EPA and the people I worked with, I just said you know, I need a life; I need something other than being on this train, going to work every day. I hadn’t imagined doing this for the rest of my life. So that’s how I ended up actually opening my own office.
Jeena Cho: [00:10:51] Oh okay, yeah.
Debbi Mack: [00:10:56] From there I went toward opening my own office, I took a lot of Marilyn’s continuing legal education courses to try to prepare me for that. I had a lot of material that really helped out, in terms of forms, and I met people; I ended up meeting two women who ended up sharing office space with. So they were there as kind-of mentors in a way, because they had started their offices right out of law school.
[00:11:29] And I just thought that was the most admirable thing to be able to do, to just launch themselves out there like that. But those first couple of years that I did that were so rough financially, I was just like I can’t believe I’m doing this. I wonder if I will ever make any money doing this. And it was a general practice, I was doing basically whatever came in the door; your wills, your DWI’s, this that and the other. And at some point I somehow got in contact with, I think she was a lawyer and accountant who had decided to go into freelance writing. And that’s when I started doing work for Matthew Bender, and at the same time I’d always been interested in writing fiction, always. There was always a part of me, like when I was doing something like making copies or faxing something, or doing something very administrative, where I would say, you know while I’m standing here doing this, I could be writing my novel.
Jeena Cho: [00:12:44] Oh how interesting.
Debbi Mack: [00:12:46] I mean, I kept thinking about that. I kept thinking about the time that I wasn’t writing while I was doing other things. And it just spurred me at some point to say okay, I am going to sit down and I’m going to start writing something. And whether it’s any good or not, we’ll see. And of course, the first things I wrote were just terrible. I mean, my husband doesn’t hold back when it comes to criticism; he basically said, this is just not working, it sucks, it’s boring, it’s not going anywhere. I said I know that, I’m just not sure how to take it anywhere else. So I mean, I took a class on mystery writing and horror writing. I started reading a lot of mysteries, and what I did is I would really read critically. I would look at what people were doing in the books that made me interested, and I thought okay, this is how it works.
Jeena Cho: [00:13:56] Like I want to actually pause for a moment and just ask you, like when you wrote that first draft and it sucked and your husband told you it sucked, I feel like for so many lawyers, they would be like oh my gosh I clearly suck at this. I should just give up. Was there any part of you that thought that? Or was it just like no, this is my first draft and I’ll get better through practice. What was your mindset?
Debbi Mack: [00:14:20] My mindset was, I knew I could get better with practice. I just knew it, because I think it’s that way with everything. I mean, when I started law school I didn’t think I was going to make it as a law student. There were times when I thought I would just say, oh the hell with this I’m going to drop out because this is just so dull. briefing these cases over and over and over and over and over again. But then I thought, the subject is so interesting, every time I read a case I’m so interested in what I read. And at the same time, I also thought it was very special knowledge.
[00:15:06] Now you know, it’s funny that you mentioned that I didn’t say I was an attorney. Because at this point I’m not practicing, so technically I’m a lawyer. And it’s funny how I don’t self-identify that way, because I actually feel very much like a lawyer. I mean, I still think like a lawyer. But at the same time, it’s as if I want people to feel like I’m not just defined as a lawyer. Or I’m a lawyer who happens to write, or I’m a writer who happens to be a lawyer or something like that. Sometimes people are put off by that whole lawyer aura, if you know what I’m saying.
Jeena Cho: [00:15:52] Oh totally, right. When you were a lawyer though, did you strongly identify yourself as a lawyer? Or did you just think, I’m a person and what I do for a living is law?
Debbi Mack: [00:16:04] Well it’s funny, I did actually identify very strongly as a lawyer. And this is interesting, I mean your own self-perceptions do have to change a little bit when you get into a new field. You have to stop thinking of yourself as “better” or, I don’t know what the right word is without being a little insulting..I tended to notice with some attorneys there was this kind of air of, well I’m better than that person because I have a law degree. You have to kind of get away from that feeling, you know. It’s kind of like being in this club or organization, where you’re all members of the club and you all know the language.
[00:17:05] And I mean I like that part of it, I like the part of it where you could just talk to people and they would totally get what you were saying. In fact, I recently went to my law school reunion not knowing how it was going to be, and I had a great time. I had an absolutely great time. It was so great to talk to other lawyers.
Jeena Cho: [00:17:31] Yeah.
Debbi Mack: [00:17:32] I don’t get to have those conversations very much. And it was good to be able to tell them about what I’m doing, and they were excited by it. And I recognized people, it was just great to be there.
Jeena Cho: [00:17:47] Do you not have that sense when you’re hanging out with other writers? Is it different than hanging out with other lawyers?
Debbi Mack: [00:17:57] It’s, it’s different. Hanging out with writers, you have different commonalities; you have different subjects that you share. It’s a different club, so to speak; it’s a different group, a different universe or something. When you’re talking to other writers, we all know what a struggle it is to write and to publish and to find our readership, that sort of thing.
[00:18:30] With lawyers, there’s the struggle I guess to market without violating any professional responsibility rules, to handle cases properly, all of those things. I mean, I know all of those pressures. I know what all of those pressures are like. And I can appreciate them. So when anybody says something mean or wrong about lawyers, it’s like I want to set them right. In fact, the Sam McRae mystery series was inspired by my desire to present a lawyer in a good light, somebody who really cared about her clients, almost to her detriment. And that to me was a challenge. It was like, okay you know a lot of times in detective fiction, detectives will lie to find things out about themselves.
[00:19:44] And I thought, Sam isn’t like that. Sam is not going to misrepresent herself. She will always be very above-board and ethical. Although, she has had those moments where she’s had to kind of agonize over whether she was crossing the line. And that’s part of the inner conflict of that character in the story, you know? So yeah, I do identify as a lawyer, but I don’t do it to the exclusion of all else. It’s not like being a lawyer is the be-all and end-all for me anymore.
[00:20:21] I mean, at one time I felt a distinct kind of sense of loss about not being in the profession. Because I was no longer in the profession, I was no longer practicing. And it was like, gosh I’m not with them anymore. I’m just me. But then it was okay, you know it was like you know what you’re getting in exchange? That’s the way I had to think of it. You’re getting something in exchange for letting go of that. And it’s that letting go that really felt good.
Jeena Cho: [00:20:57] Yeah, and so much of life is like that, right? It’s a series of surrendering one thing to gain something different, or making room for something different. And it’s not really clear exactly what you’re giving it up for even.
Debbi Mack: [00:21:14] Yeah, oh I know. And believe me, I didn’t get into this with the expectation of becoming a best-selling anything. All I wanted to do was to write and make a living at it. And it’s still a continuing process.
Jeena Cho: [00:21:35] Yeah, yeah. So I’ve heard authors or writers talk about this in different ways, and I’m curious to hear what your thoughts are on it. When you write, who are you writing for? Are you writing for yourself and this is something that you do because it’s a way that you’re expressing yourself? Or are you writing it for your potential readers? Like when you’re writing, do you have an avatar of your ideal reader in mind that you’re writing for?
Debbi Mack: [00:22:10] I don’t think I’m writing for an avatar, but I do think I’m marketing to an avatar. When I write, I think it’s really more of an expression of the things that I want to say. I know that there’s an audience for this particular type of work, because I see it all the time. So, writing within a certain genre’s conventions will lead you to that audience, or at some point that audience will grow interested in your work. I chose mystery because I heard somewhere (I love mysteries, I’ve loved them all my life) that if you can write a mystery, you can write anything. That’s what I’ve heard anyway.
Jeena Cho: [00:23:05] I think it’s because you have to get everything, all those clues and everything in there and have the plot makes sense in the end; have everything tied up. And there’s a lot to that, for me it’s a lot of plotting. That’s a tough thing. But when it comes to actually writing, I think a lot of it has to be inspired by your own desire to express something. That’s what I hear from other writers too. It’s like, well you know, I grew up in Brooklyn and these are the kinds of things that I experienced. Or I grew up in such and such a place, and you can hear it in what they say.
[00:23:50] The things that they express, a lot of it is the kind of stories that you would like to see, that you wish you could see. For me it’s like, when I was a kid there weren’t very many strong female characters on TV (and I was just a compulsive TV watcher as a kid) and in the movies either. So my desire was to write strong women. And so Sam is a strong woman I think, and a lot of it is really inspired by that; the desire to see something that isn’t there.
[00:24:38] Or is there but it is my own take on it. It’s there now more because a lot of authors started doing strong women before I got involved. But now it’s my own take on that.
Jeena Cho: [00:24:52] Yeah, and to me it sounds like there’s some level of actually validating your life experience by sharing and saying, this is my story. And even though it’s in a fictional form, it’s an expression of who you are and what you want to say. And I would imagine that’s really just comforting to be able to tell your story.
Debbi Mack: [00:25:21] It is in a sense. But I like to make sure that people know that I’m not Sam, because Sam is so different from me. Sometimes I actually look to other attorneys that I knew who were strong women, and thought what would she do in this circumstance? Because I found I had to get outside myself a little bit, you know? I had to come up with a snappier, more sarcastic answer than even I would even do to somebody, or a thought. You know it’s like, I can’t just write about me, I have to write about this person Sam. She’s different, she’s stronger, she’s better. I like to think of her as a stronger, better version of myself. The person I would be if I were a stronger attorney, or a stronger person and wanted to be an attorney.
Jeena Cho: [00:26:16] So did writing that book and having to imagine a better, stronger version of you, did that change you in some way?
Debbi Mack: [00:26:31] Gosh I don’t know. I hadn’t really thought about that. I think that if anything, exploring the relationships between Sam and the various people who end up becoming recurring characters have spurred the additional ideas I’ve gotten for more books and sequels. Because I’ve always wanted to make it a series, I’ve wanted to make it the Sam McRae mystery series. And I had ideas for at least three books. And actually, the first book in the series, the one that made the New York Times bestseller list, was the second book that I wrote. The first book that I wrote, which needed a lot of work, ended up becoming the fourth book.
[00:27:25] And there is a reader of mine and a friend, who is very honest (he wouldn’t hold back if he didn’t like it), he said, I think this fourth one might be the best one in the series. And I was like, oh my god it’s come a long way from those first drafts. So you see, there’s hope.
Jeena Cho: [00:27:49] Yeah, yeah. So you wrote the first book and you showed it to your husband and he said it was terrible. How long did it take you before you felt like it was better?
Debbi Mack: [00:28:06] You know, I don’t remember exactly how long it took, but I know that it didn’t take long for me to make the decisions that needed to be made to turn it around. Let’s put it that way. You see, when I was writing it I knew in the back of my mind this is not going anywhere, but I showed it to him anyway. And he said, this is not doing it. And so it’s as if I had a sixth sense about it. It’s like, okay I know I’m not doing this right, I know I can do something to fix it. It’s just a matter of doing it, of sitting down and figuring out the problem and getting it fixed. And I think anybody who practices law, I know attorneys who practice law who write extremely well, who are doing wonderful work and are getting published. And I’ve had them on my own show, I mean think of John Grisham or Scott Turow. Look at these people, Lisa Scottoline. These are lawyers who write fiction.
Jeena Cho: [00:29:19] Yeah and I think you know, there is a certain mindset that has to shift to say I am more than just a lawyer, that I can do these things and that I can have interests outside of the office.
Debbi Mack: [00:29:33] Oh you can, yes yes yes.
Jeena Cho: [00:29:35] But you know, I don’t think it comes naturally for most lawyers. We’re kind of taught or trained to have this very singular focus. And also, it seems like the messaging is that if you divert your attention and do anything different, then that’s going to end up hindering your ability to be an excellent lawyer.
Debbi Mack: [00:29:59] I hear completely what you’re saying. And it’s funny how this starts in law school, it’s a terrible thing. But I think a lot of it is old type thinking, because when I went back to the law school, I’ve been doing moot court, I’ve been doing these mock trials actually, regional mock trials. I’ll show up and be a judge. So, it’s interesting to see the kinds of posters that I see now around the law school. I see posters for mindfulness and all this kind of stuff. I remember when I was at, my first year in law school was at GW and I couldn’t afford it. So I ended up transferring to the University of Maryland.
[00:30:49] But while I was at GW, I remember distinctly somebody coming by and talking about if you ever need stress relief, we do art therapy. And there were these two guys sitting nearby, and they were in front of me and they looked at each other and just sort of snickered. And I was like, hello! I mean, this person is trying to help you, and you’re snickering. Don’t be snickering at art therapy, dude.
[00:31:23] I think what lawyers are afraid of is that feeling of letting go, that feeling of just allowing their minds to wander a bit off of the logic path. Now, you’re not going to stop being logical simply because you do this. Seriously. Especially if you write something like crime fiction, because you have to have the story make sense. I mean, if you’re writing something along the lines of, who is that guy, Burroughs? Or some of these beat poets or whatever. Okay that’s wild stuff, okay if you do something that’s really far out, out there. Yeah, sure. I mean you get a little crazy, but that’s not going to change your ability to think. Even if you do that, it’s all about what you want to express. And a lot of times that expression can come out of the very thing that you’re doing. Let’s say your own day-to-day frustrations as a lawyer. I certainly see my own frustrations as a lawyer expressed in Sam. I mean, there were times when I would just shake my head at some of the things that I saw. Where I said, this is unjust, this is wrong. And I see lots of things in the news now where I just say, oh my god I know Sam would be appalled.
[00:33:00] I see so many ideas out there that I can’t begin to write all the stories that I could write about them. And it’s a matter of queuing them up, like planes waiting to take off, you know? They’re just there, waiting to be written about.
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Jeena Cho: [00:34:23] Yeah I love that, that you gave yourself the permission to explore and do things. I felt this way at certain points in my life, like I remember being younger and loving to draw. But then I graduated from law school and I felt like, well I don’t have the permission to do that. Like no one gave me permission so I can write fiction or draw or paint or sew, or do all of these things. And I don’t know where that idea came from, but it was just so strong inside of me.
Debbi Mack: [00:35:01] Oh my gosh, well I have a recommendation for anybody such as yourself. It’s called “the creative sprint,” and it’s something that I have taken up actually. Noah Scalin, and his last name is spelled “S-C-A-L-I-N,” Noah is the first name. And there’s a book called “Creative Sprint.”
[00:35:24] And the thing is, if you sign up for the emails, every now and then they do this thing called “creative sprint,” where if you want to participate, you make something based on a prompt that they give you every day for a month or so, and then you post it on social media somewhere.
Jeena Cho: [00:35:48] I love this.
Debbi Mack: [00:35:50] It’s great, it’s fantastic. And, so I’ve been doing it every now and then. In fact, I want to put together a video of what I did.
Jeena Cho: [00:35:59] Oh, that’d be so awesome.
Debbi Mack: [00:36:02] I’m going to have to do that, because some of the stuff I did was pretty wild. I did a video of me singing the lyrics to the Star Trek theme as William Shatner would do it. I was using a William Shatner style, you know. Have you ever heard him do “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds?”
Jeena Cho: [00:36:26] No, I’m going to have to look this up.
Debbi Mack: [00:36:28] Oh my god. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard William Shatner singing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”
Jeena Cho: [00:36:35] Okay, I’m going to look this up.
Debbi Mack: [00:36:39] Look it up on YouTube, William Shatner singing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” You will die. So I decided to do the lyrics to the Star Trek original theme as William Shatner would do it.
Jeena Cho: [00:36:54] That’s awesome.
Debbi Mack: [00:36:56] Give yourself permission to do things like that, and you’ll be on your way toward doing fun stuff.
Jeena Cho: [00:37:04] It’s okay to do it. Yeah. So I want to shift gears a little bit, so think you have sort of hit that benchmark that I think every writer aspires to, which is to hit the New York Times Best Sellers List. So I’m curious, how did that happen? And tips or suggestions do you have for other aspiring authors?
Debbi Mack: [00:37:30] Get in a time machine, go back to 2009. Self-publish your book and offer it for 99 cents on Kindle and Nook. And oh, and have five blogs while you’re at it.
Jeena Cho: [00:37:49] Wow.
Debbi Mack: [00:37:49] At the time, I had five blogs. I was reviewing books; I was doing reviews for Mystery Scene magazine. I was blogging like crazy, like I said. I was tweeting like crazy. I had these 99 cent books, and I was making more money with 99 cent books than I was making pricing them at $2.99 or higher, with the higher royalty rate, because of the sheer volume. So I thought, why would I want to raise the price and have this income drop? And then of course, when Nook came along, that was another platform. So I was on Kindle and Nook, and being on Kindle and Nook qualified me for consideration on the list. And then I made enough sales, simply by sheer volume. I think there was some kind of promotion that Nook did at one time, and I was just picked out. It was not even something I asked for, me and another author’s book were featured, and I think that must have boosted my Nook sales. And the combination of great Kindle sales and Nook sales together caused my book to peak in late March early April. So I made the list twice. And I was like, wow, oh my god.
Jeena Cho: [00:39:22] So you didn’t write the book thinking, this is going to be a New York Times Bestseller and have some grand scheme for making it there?
Debbi Mack: [00:39:28] No, I had no grand scheme whatsoever. I had no idea what I was doing half the time. I was just essentially, I was blogging about my life as a writer. In fact, my blog at that time was called “My Life on the Midlist.” “Debbi Mack, My Life on the Midlist,” something like that. It was kind of a take-off of “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List” because I always felt like I was pretty much a nobody. And I still feel like nobody, which is good. I don’t want to be a famous writer or anything, that would be like.. no, no, no.
Jeena Cho: [00:40:10] I don’t know, I feel like once you make The New York Times Bestseller’s List it’s hard to say that you’re not a famous writer.
Debbi Mack: [00:40:15] But I’m not! That’s the funny part. Unless you’re in stores, you know what I mean? Unless you’re in stores, if you’re on the New York Times List as an e-book writer, it’s very different than being on the New York Times List as a print book author. So I don’t know, I don’t think I’m famous so much as I’ve had some financial success, and I have had some marketing success. I think that’s really the thing, I’m still in the process of what I would call “putting my tribe together.” You know, my real big fans.
Jeena Cho: [00:41:01] What does that process look like to you, put your tribe together? What does that look like sort of on a day-to-day basis? And let’s say a month-to-month and year-to-year basis?
Debbi Mack: [00:41:14] I would say on the day-to-day basis, what I like to do is try to blog on my author blog at least once a week. And that doesn’t count my Crime Cafe posts, I like to have something up there that’s mine. And often it’s a book review, or I’ve started something I call “Myths About the Law.” And I try to dispel what people think about lawyers. Like for instance, I had one post that said, I had read this book by a comedy writer. I won’t say his name, but he’s a wonderful comedy writer. But he said something about the movie “Liar Liar.” And he said, “This guy can’t lie because his kid wishes for it. How’s he going to do his job, because he’s a lawyer. He has to lie, right? And I’m like, ahem no.
[00:42:17] So I said, no this is wrong. This is not what lawyers do for a living. In fact, if you watch the movie you’ll see that he learns how to become a better lawyer by not lying. That’s actually the message in the movie. And it’s also an extremely funny movie. It’s a great movie.
Jeena Cho: [00:42:37] Yeah, yeah. And I think that’s the thing that’s hard. You have to put in that persistent and consistent effort and that building or finding your tribe doesn’t happen overnight, obviously.
Debbi Mack: [00:42:54] I kind of like the idea of joint efforts, of joint marketing efforts, because the more we can help each other the better off we are. And that’s something about the legal profession that people don’t appreciate either. They don’t realize how collegial it is. I mean, there’s of course conflict between people when there is litigation or a situation where there’s something that needs to be negotiated. There can be a degree of conflict of course. But at the same time, the legal profession I have always found was very collegial.
[00:43:34] I’ve worked in remarkably collegial circumstances, I guess. I’ve been very fortunate to work with people who work together well and share advice, that kind of thing. I know that there are probably law firms and things out there, places where people aren’t like that. But I would say if that’s the kind of place where you’re working, maybe it’s not the best place to be if it’s causing you stress. Because you should be able to be happy with what you’re doing with your life, not doing something that stresses you out.
Jeena Cho: [00:44:17] Yeah. And also it seems like there are attorneys who just don’t see an alternative. They are at a law firm, they’re making a great salary. They have a mortgage or they have kids in college and this just feels like, yeah yeah. And I think it’s kind of hard to make space for a different possibility. And that’s just a possibility that you are not aware of in this moment. But it doesn’t mean that those possibilities don’t exist.
Debbi Mack: [00:44:50] I think that’s absolutely true. And I think if you want something badly enough, you can make it happen. It’s just a matter of learning how to make it happen, and preparing for that. And I feel like right now I’m at the point in my life where I’m still learning all the different ways that I can make the things that I want to make happen.
Jeena Cho: [00:45:17] Yeah, although it’s really weird for me to hear you say that, because when I look at you and all that you’ve accomplished. I feel like, wow, she checked off all the boxes and she’s there. Wherever that there might be, but yeah.
Debbi Mack: [00:45:37] That’s the thing, even the successful authors who are kind of famous, you’ll always hear them say you’re never quite there. Writing is a profession where you’re always an apprentice. It’s not just the writing process itself, there’s also the unfortunately or fortunately, I don’t know, it’s easy to get yourself out there in the sense of, we have the Internet. We have blogs, we have social media. But knowing which thing to use and how to use it, these are all tools. Social media is a tool, you have to think of it that way. And how do you use it most wisely to get the most out of it, that’s the trick. And like I say, I’m honestly still in the process of learning these things.
[00:46:29] I’m always in the process of trying to hone my skills at various different levels. I am teaching courses on Yudami now, and I’m actually uploading some of those courses to Teachable, if people do online courses and they’re writing oriented. I’m thinking about adding some more courses on other life topics, because I have a condition called dystonia. It developed secondary to a stroke I had several years ago. I mean this was in the early 00’s. It’s more of an annoying condition than anything, it is constant and there’s no cure for it. But the thing of it is, in or to deal with it you have to do things like exercise and make time for yourself.
[00:47:30] And so I’m thinking, there’s a whole community of people out there who have chronic illnesses of various types. And I think there’s a lot of advice I could give people on how to how to deal with that. Because I have had to deal with it out of necessity if I wanted to keep writing. I think if anything, this has really helped me to empathize more with people, and even just sympathize with them because some of them have the same problem I do. All I can say is, it’s amazing what you can do even when you have a problem like this one. So I hope in that sense, I can serve as some sort of inspiration not only to lawyers, but to people who are struggling with chronic conditions.
Jeena Cho: [00:48:22] Yeah, and it almost sounds like you’ve sort of had to learn to treat yourself more kindly and say you know what, I’m tired, I need rest. And not feel like you should feel guilty for taking a nap because you’re really tired.
Debbi Mack: [00:48:41] Exactly, right. It’s kind of like learning to, there’s a kind of a Buddhist concept to this sort of forgiving yourself and accepting, kind of all goes together.
Jeena Cho: [00:48:55] Yeah. And it sounds like it’s a little bit of room just for you to digest and see what comes of it.
Debbi Mack: [00:49:04] Exactly right.
Jeena Cho: [00:49:06] Yeah. Debbi, it’s just been so wonderful talking to you. One final question before I let you go. So the name of this podcast is called The Resilient Lawyer. What does it mean to be a resilient lawyer to you?
Debbi Mack: [00:49:25] Being able to effectively balance your work with your life. And that sounds a bit trite, but when I say that I mean your work should fold in neatly with what you want to do in your life. The kind of work you do, is in a sense a byproduct of yourself. It’s like, you do the things that you do because you care about them. And if you don’t care about what it is you’re doing, you should be doing something else. Don’t be afraid to make a change.
[00:50:13] The way I see it, if you’re going down the wrong road, you need to turn around at some point. And continuing down the wrong road will not take you to where you want to go. So it just doesn’t make sense. It makes more sense to think about what you can do to change your situation to make it better and more in touch with your inner needs, your desires.
Jeena Cho: [00:50:46] And I think it takes courage to make space for that voice that’s longing to be expressed in the world.
Debbi Mack: [00:50:56] Well thank you.
Jeena Cho: [00:51:00] Debbi, for the listeners out there that want to learn more about you or your work, what are some places where they can find out?
Debbi Mack: [00:51:09] Well you can find me at my website, which is debbimack.com. And you can find a link there for The Crime Cafe podcast, it’s right there on my website. You can also find my Twitter link, my Facebook link, and my Google Plus link. I’m pretty sure they’re all on there.
[00:51:38] I’m also on YouTube. I do a lot of book reviews on YouTube I’ve become something of a “booktuber.” I’ll put in a plug for two writers whose books I just finished reading, who I absolutely love. Robert Crais and Terry Pratchett.
Jeena Cho: [00:52:03] Alright, so I will put all of those in the show notes. Debbi, thank you so much for joining me today. I certainly enjoyed our conversation.
Debbi Mack: [00:52:12] It was a pleasure. I’m very happy that you invited me on. Thank you so much.
Closing: [00:52:23] Thanks for joining us on The Resilient Lawyer podcast. If you’ve enjoyed the show, please tell a friend. It’s really the best way to grow the show. To leave us a review on iTunes, search for The Resilient Lawyer and give us your honest feedback. It goes a long way to help with our visibility when you do that, so we really appreciate it. As always, we’d love to hear from you. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks and we look forward to seeing you next week.