How to Sell 25,000 (More) Copies of Your Book
I love Substack, I do. It keeps getting nimbler, coming up with ways to get content to listeners and readers and being generous and transparent about it. For instance! This email just went out to I imagine every one of the more than 500,000 Substack creators: “How Melinda Wenner Moyer’s Substack helped sell 25,000 copies of her book.” I’d never heard of MWM but I am sure happy for her! And it gave me an idea…
On the same day that I started my next book (yup), I am sending you the first chapter of my last, To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder. If you like it, then I, too, am on my way to selling 25,0
00 more copies! And tell your friends xx
At 1:17 a.m. on May 23, 2009, Pati Gallagher and her husband, Dan, were having a last after-dinner drink on the patio of their waterside condo in Portland, Oregon. Their chairs were angled toward the Willamette River, not fifty feet away, when they heard something hit the water. The couple did not become alarmed. Lots of things fell from the Sellwood Bridge: shopping carts, bottles tossed by hooting teenagers.
Then they heard a child yell, “Help me!”
There was no moonlight that night and few lights onshore. The couple scrambled to the river’s edge but could see nothing.
“Where are you?” Dan shouted.
Pati called 911. She told the operator someone had fallen from the bridge and was in the water yelling for help. It had been more than two minutes.
“Can you hear that?” Pati said, and she held the phone toward the river.
The voice floated north with the current, past a recreation area, past an old amusement park. It was a clear night, and had someone in the water been looking towards the river’s east bank, they would have seen the outline of a Ferris wheel and a thrill ride called the Scream-N-Eagle.
The screams continued. “Help me! Help me!”
David Haag, who lived in a floating home along the river, heard the cries for help. At 1:30, he and his companion, Cheryl Robb, motored their boat onto the Willamette to find whoever was screaming. It was twenty-five minutes before they saw the partially submerged form of a young girl. Haag jumped in the water and grabbed her. He was swimming her back to the boat when Robb called out, “My god, there’s another one!”
Haag went after the other child, a boy. The girl, who had been in the fifty-six-degree water for more than thirty minutes, was sobbing. The boy was not. He had been facedown in the water and was not breathing when Haag got him into the boat. He The boy was still not breathing by the time Haag motored the boat to a yacht club on the river’s eastern shore.
It was now 2:10 a.m. Officers were waiting. Sergeant Pete Simpson administered CPR to the boy, who was blue and cold. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The girl was rushed to the hospital. Police initiated a homicide investigation.
Authorities first had to ask, who were these children? Did they fall off a boat? Were they kidnapped? Were there others in the river still? The water beneath Portland’s southernmost bridge was now cut by rescue boats, lit by searchlights, beaten by helicopters, the river’s banks trampled by police and residents who could not or did not want to go back to sleep.
Two miles upriver in Milwaukie, twelve-year-old Gavin Stott could not sleep. He had decided to stay home when his mother went to pick up his two younger half-siblings. At midnight, and again at twelve-thirty, he woke his grandparents, asking why his mom was not back. Kathy and Mike Stott called their daughter Amanda. She did not answer their calls. Shortly after one o’clock, they called Amanda’s younger sister Chantel Gardner and asked if she had seen Amanda. Chantel had eaten dinner with her the night before at a Mongolian barbecue restaurant but had not heard from her since. Amanda had told Chantel she would be taking the children to the downtown waterfront to see the fireworks. It was a Friday night, the start of the Memorial Day weekend, and, as well as the opening celebration of Portland’s annual Rose Festival. Knowing that Amanda had previously driven drunk with her kids in the car, Chantel and her husband got out of bed and drove around looking for her.
At 1:33, Kathy Stott called Amanda’s estranged husband, Jason Smith, asking if he had spoken with Amanda. Jason had not, not since he left their two children with her at around eight o’clock the previous evening. Because Jason’s license was suspended, his mother, Christine Duncan, had driven them the hundred miles from Eugene, where he and the children were staying in one of Duncan’s rental apartments. Amanda met them at the house on Southwest Cayuse Court in Tualatin, where she and the children had lived with Jason before he moved out the previous June. Though she was staying with her parents, the Tualatin house was where Amanda preferred to meet the children for their visitations every other weekend.
Amanda had in fact phoned Jason at 1:22 a.m. He had not picked up her call. But after speaking with Kathy Stott, he tried calling Amanda back. For more than an hour, she did not answer.
At 2:49 a.m., Amanda answered.
“Help me,” she said.
“Are the kids okay?” Jason asked. “Where are the kids?”
“Why have you done this to me?” she said. “Why have you taken my joy away?”
Jason again asked where the children were. Amanda would not say.
Christine Duncan called 911 and filed a missing person’s report, stating she believed her son’s children were in immediate danger.
At 3:25 a.m., Jason spoke with the police. He told them that he did not know where his children were, that they had been with their mother, that he had checked the Cayuse Court house and found it empty.
Around 7:00 a.m., Chantel heard a news report: two children were found in the river. She called her mother, who said Amanda and the children had not come home. Kathy Stott again phoned Jason. Jason again phoned, who again called the police. He told them the kids in the river might be his. He and his mother headed to the Portland Police Bureau. As they were speaking with detectives, they received confirmation that the children found in the river were Jason’s. His daughter, Trinity Christine Kimberly Smith, age seven, was in at the hospital, in serious condition. His son, Eldon Jay Rebhan Smith, had drowned. He was four years old.
At 10:25 a.m., Portland police officers approached a battered blue 1991 Audi parked on the ninth floor of a downtown Portland parking garage. The car matched the description of the one they were looking for. A woman’s hand, holding a cigarette, rested on the open driver’s side window. Officer Wade Greaves climbed a retaining wall to get a better look. The woman spotted him and opened her car door. She bolted. Officer Greaves ran after her. The woman made it to the garage’s outer wall, climbed through the opening, and dropped. Greaves grabbed her. He and another officer hauled Amanda Jo Stott-Smith back up and placed her under arrest.
News of the incident dominated the front page of the Sunday Oregonian, though only the barest details were available. The children had been in the water more than thirty minutes. Because of their ages, they were not initially named. Onlookers shared disbelief and grief. A woman who lived along the river recalled a man who jumped from the Sellwood Bridge to evade police. But children thrown into the river, “just makes my heart sick,” she said. “And it’s so close to home.”
The article included Amanda’s mug shot. Her forehead was creased with tension, but except for her dark hair in the disarray, she looked . . . How did she look? Dazed? Spent? In surrender?
I could not tell, standing at my kitchen counter, holding the morning’s first cup of coffee. What did I expect a mother who had just dropped her children off a bridge to look like? “Wrecked” was the best answer I could come up with.
I went online. While there was some compassion in the comments that accompanied the news stories, prayers for the children and pleas to understand mental illness, Amanda was largely vilified. People suggested that she be hanged from the Sellwood Bridge and lowered slowly so as not to break the neck right away, that “child killer” be tattooed on her forehead before releasing her to the general population. The reactions were frustrated, angry, a group censure so we might agree to move on, if to where was not specified.
I looked at the photo again. Amanda was attractive; she looked her age, thirty-one, nearly the age I was when my daughter turned four, the age Amanda had determined for her son to die. What had brought her to the bridge, to a place where she thought the right decision was to murder her children?
On Tuesday, May 26, Amanda Stott-Smith was arraigned at Justice Center in downtown Portland. Two cameramen were the only people in the gallery when I arrived. We wondered whether Amanda would appear facing forward or looking down. We talked about other parents who had murdered their children in Oregon: Christian Longo, who strangled his wife and baby, then threw his two other children off a bridge; Diane Downs, who shot her three children inside of her car.
By 2:10, the room was filled with twenty-two people on four rows of benches. I did not know whom the spectators were here for but thought maybe the young man in the back row, the one snuffling loudly and pressed between what appeared to be his mother and sister, might be related to Amanda. If he was, I wanted to speak with him.
As the female clerks and court reporters talked and laughed and booted up computers that made the Windows chime, I looked back at the young man. I gave him a small, respectful smile. He gave me one back.
At 2:27, Judge Julia Philbrook entered. We all rose. The district attorney told her she would see three defendants in addition to Stott-Smith. They called the young man in the back row. My snuffling boy got up and stood before the judge. He was accused of third-degree assault. He pled not guilty. He was ordered to come back on June 3, and then he left, his tear-tracked mother looking back at me before joining her son in walking out.
The judge was informed that Stott-Smith was not yet ready to appear. Instead, a young man was called next; he wore prison blues and was tall and lanky with rocker-boy hair. He was accused of possessing heroin. The judge asked if he understood this.
“‘K,” he said.
He was told he could go to the STOP program. He did not appear to be listening. He asked his attorney, “Will I be released today?” She said he would be.
“Cool,” he said.
Next up was another young man, charged with second-degree assault. The judge asked whether he could afford a lawyer.
“It depends on how much it costs,” he said.
“Do you have a bank account?” asked the judge.
“And how much is in it?”
“Well, it’s overdrawn,” he said. The judge assigned him a lawyer.
All three were dispensed within eight minutes.
Two guards led Amanda in. She wore a padded pine-green vest, the prison-issued “turtle shell” given to those on suicide watch. She looked Native American, maybe; her skin was a creamy coffee color, her cheekbones high and wide. Her thick dark hair was loose and not untidy. She was not, as the TV cameraman had guessed, looking at the floor. She kept her face up and stared straight ahead, but her eyes landed nowhere in the room.
The judge read the charges: one count of aggravated murder, one of attempted aggravated murder. The “aggravated” designation carried heavier penalties and, in this instance, indicated that the crimes were committed intentionally. If Amanda’s case went to trial, she would face the death penalty.
Amanda’s attorney mentioned he was here as a courtesy to the family. It was unclear what this meant. I could not stop staring at Amanda, whose gaze remained unfixed. She looked as though standing were an effort, as though a weight on her shoulders was dragging her forward and down. The judge asked, “Do you understand the nature of the charges against you?”
Amanda did not answer. The judge asked again, “Do you understand the charges against you?”
This time, Amanda looked toward the judge. She appeared to move her lips. Everyone in the courtroom was waiting to hear what she said.
What came out was, “Muh.”
At this, a syllable later interpreted in editorials, by police and politicians, as “No one will ever understand how this happened” and “No one could ever have seen this coming,” Judge Philbrook issued her orders: Amanda Stott-Smith would remain in custody until she reappeared on June 3.
A guard took Amanda’s elbow to escort her from the room. Amanda did not appear to understand the gesture. Another guard turned her, and she moved out the door as if moving through deep water.
To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder is available on Amazon