CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- They say, "Do what you love and the money will follow."
Karen Teel isn't looking to get wealthy. The retired Kanawha County schoolteacher doesn't care if the money comes or it doesn't, but what she's done is all about the love of her late son, Samuel Harshbarger.
Karen's first children's book, "Robot Rhymes," was recently published by Headline Books in Terra Alta.
The book is based around the sketches and rhymes of her late son, Sam. Many people in Charleston and Morgantown remember Sam as the popular hillbilly hip-hop rapper Meuwl.
In November 2009, the 29-year-old died of a drug overdose.
"There's a stigma to that," Karen said. "It's like when someone dies of cancer. Someone always asks if they smoked, and if they did, well, they deserved it, right?"
Four years later, Karen still tears up when she talks about her son's death. She shakes a little and apologizes. She not sure she'll ever get over it, but she wants her son's legacy to be more than another cautionary tale with a tragic ending.
"Robot Rhymes" is her way of working past the grief and pulling from the whimsical, positive, larger-than-life character that was her son.
"He was always very creative," Karen said. "He was very funny, a very loving person. He was a taker, but he was always very giving."
"It's a beautiful day on robot ranch ..."
Sam grew up in South Charleston, the middle child of three. Karen said he was a writer and artist almost from the time he was old enough to put pick up a pen or pencil. He wrote little stories in elementary school and drew cartoons.
The rhymes came when he was in junior high, and Karen said he filled notebooks and scribbled on whatever stray paper he could get his hands on.
"After he died, we found so much material," she said.
Sam discovered hip-hop music in high school, which eventually became a good lyrical fit to the rhymes he wrote. The music grew into a passion and followed him when he went to school at the University of Pittsburgh.
"He had a full ride," Karen said, proudly. "He was just so bright."
Everything was fine at first. He had a couple of good years, but by 2001, Sam was losing interest in school. He was performing some in local clubs, but had also begun dabbling in hard drugs and graffiti.
In his third year at Pitt, he dropped out of school and returned home.
Karen said Sam knocked around at one job or another for a while without really finding anything permanent. He started rapping locally as Meuwl, but he also got into trouble for the graffiti, which was extensive.
"I had to go to court with him just once, and it was over the graffiti," she said. "I told him never again."
Sam's graffiti has largely disappeared since, though it still crops up here and there. Karen said she couldn't help but smile when she saw her son's graffiti tag, "Psst," on a passing coal car not long ago.
"There's still a little bit of him out there," she said.
With encouragement, Sam decided to go back to school.