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I've been working on the asylum book today. Perhaps it's not an original idea; there are several books and movies, after all, with an insane asylum or mental institution theme. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" comes instantly to mind when I think of insane asylums. However, this is different because the stories are based on the experiences of a friend who worked in one of these facilities. We do our mentally ill citizens a great disservice by shutting down facilities that provided them with care. Now, they are incarcerated in prisons where they are less able to get the mental health care and services they need. Granted, these stories I'm telling are from a time when mental health was in its infancy and lobotomies were a common cure for a minor ailment. However, the stories are funny and heartwarming. Well, most of them. All the scary ones are of my own creation out of the dark places in my mind. Hey, if I'm writing it, it's got to be scary. And since it's only based on true events, all of the names, places, and incidents are fictionalized. If you're interested, here is the first chapter:
The Thirty Jesuses (and Other Bedlam Stories)
Every year around Christmas time, the Jesuses would begin to
arrive. On Ward E-what we called the Asshole to Hell-at New Mexico State
Mental Institution, we'd have about thirty Jesuses by Christmas Eve. I worked
there at NMSMI for 27 years as a registered nurse and let me tell you I saw and
heard some crazy shit. That's not a word I use lightly.
I was the batty nurse, the patients would call
me Crazy Colleen. I always told my staff that the only thing separating them
from the patients were their key rings. I was the only nurse who lasted any
length of time on E Ward; most of them were afraid of the patients they were
charged to care for. I found a sort of beauty in their madnesses, the way they
lived in their own worlds and made it work or not work, according to their own
designs. Don't get me wrong. They suffered, oh how they suffered. Every one of
them was locked away in prisons of the own minds, their rebellions as pathetic
as they were lovely in their grand illusions, tragic and flawed. I did what I
could to make their lives easier.
The District is what we called the higher ups
in hospital administration. At that time, for example, young women could be
lobotomized for sneaking out at night, if their parents wished it so, and the
District would authorize the surgery. They'd have the poor unfortunate wretch
transferred, scared and shaking, to one of the other wards. A doctor would show
up with his ice picks and mallets, and a few moments later, Ward E would have a
new patient. We were not huge fans of the district on Ward E, let me tell you.
The District would hand down notice, often merely hours in advance, that they
would be touring the facility with some bleeding heart types. These were the
cash cows, the ones whose rich donations salved their consciences for several
months before guilt crept back in. They would tour the facility, clucking their
tongues, thinking how fortunate they were that such craziness had not touched
their lives, yet quick to come up with stories of a mad aunt or uncle way back
in the genealogy. To make the patients feel that they had something in common,
I was often in trouble with the swells, because
I treated the patients as if they were humans rather than animals, people who
needed help rather than inmates. The District didn't dare get rid of me though;
E Ward was where they sent the worst of the worst and I was the only one who
could handle them and the staff. Plus, I was stubborn, you see. I liked to
stick it out.
Disruptions, like the bleeding heart tours,
often upset some of the patients and they'd have to be buckled down to beds in
the restraint rooms. The District people and their lackeys would despair the
poor things, lashed down and foaming with their madnesses, and beseech me to
let them free. My response that their presence was to inform them that they
were the reason these people were locked down in the first place was
met with stony silences and the cold shoulder. I didn't care. I didn't want
these people here upsetting my patients and I made no bones about it.
So, back to the Jesuses. As soon as December
began, and the snow flakes would swirl on the wind to be swept away by the cold
winter desert, I would begin to prepare for the arrival of numerous
messiahs.They would emerge from
sandstorms with the lower half of their faces covered, long wild hair and
beards matted with debris. They would come stamping and rubbing their arms,
cluttering up my receiving area and tracking mud and god knows what else in
with them. Without fail, they would each claim, in some form or another that
they were Jesus, son of God, and they required asylum from the Philistines who
persecuted them. Some of them were very good, quoting Bible verses that
supposedly hadn't been written in Jesus' time yet but well versed in the good
The day after Christmas, I would gather these
Jesuses together in the common room and line them up along the back wall. Then
I would drag a couple of my more damaged patients into the room, and demand a
healing. The reactions to my prayer were invariably humorous.
one particularly scruffy specimen intoned in a voice that was surprisingly deep
and resonant. Other Jesuses followed suit, invoking the Holy Spirit and the
Father and the Son-forgetting for the moment that they were supposed to be the
Several Jesuses just grinned sheepishly at me,
and slunk away to gather their things. We called these the modern day hoboes.
These guys would travel the country, bouncing from institution to institution
with a well-worn patter of crazy to see them through. In the winter months,
they headed for warm climates like Texas and the South. In summer months, they
sought balmy weather like Wyoming and Montana, where the food was good and the
people were sparse. But for some reason, rain, sun, snow, or shine, a large
population of hobo Jesuses would come to me, knowing I wouldn't kick them out
in the cold. They could count on three hots and a cot, and company during
lonely holidays. And always, there would be entertainment.
On this day, when the false Jesuses were
weeded out and the hobo Jesuses had departed, I turned to my regular patients
and thanked them for their help in getting rid of the imposters. See, the truly
mentally ill don't like people who play games at being mentally ill. It's like
an insult or something. I divided the group into two sections, and placed half
of them on the left of the common room, and half on the right. With the help of
Vincent, a very large black man with schizophrenia and a penchant for crushing
skulls, and Marge, the supposed mobster's moll with the severe OCD and the voice of an angel, we took all the chairs and turned them over so that their legs stuck
up in the air and formed a long double line down the center of the room.
Positioning my troops on either side of these makeshift barracks, I handed
out several bags of marshmallows down the ranks and ordered my soldiers to
Grinning like fools, even the most disturbed
and dangerous patients grabbed handfuls of the fluffy white treats. Several
troops ate their ammunition but that was ok. Fun was what I was after, to
lighten the mood after the false messiahs had turned the day sour.
"ON MY COUNT!" I screamed at the top
of my lungs, a little unhinged myself. "ONE...TWO...THREE!
They let loose with a volley of marshmallows
back and forth across the upturned chairs. Drifts of sugary confections
gathered in the legs and crannies of the chairs, and several patients got down
on their bellies, crawling commando-style across the floor, to retrieve these fallen
treats only to pop back up with several in their mouths and several more to
fling at the "enemy" on the other side. Curtis Eldridge, a young man
who was there for killing his parents after they'd kept him tied to his bed
until the day they forgot, was singing jingles to commercials at the top of his
lungs in a surprisingly wonderful alto voice. Vinnie and Marge were feeding
each other marshmallows and then spitting them back at each other, using their
hands to clap distended cheeks and force the sugary projectiles out at top
I watched with a sense of satisfaction. These
damaged people, who came to me broken and unable in many cases to communicate
with any "normal" people always seemed to do best when under my care.
I loved them all, the crazy bastards, and many years after they came, stayed or
went, and even died under my watch, I can still hear them laughing and
singing and waltzing around the room, slipping on marshmallows and crawling on
the floor like children, without a care in the world or a Jesus in sight.
I read a blog the other day where the author talked about the many changes and events which happened to her the previous year, and any upcoming events she knew were ahead that she was looking forward to. I thought that it was a brilliant idea and a positive way of looking back on what was accomplished rather than what was not. Here are some big things, and small things, that happened last year:
1. Emily turned eighteen and graduated from high school.
2. We moved into my childhood home. It isn't much but it's ours.
3. I finished writing my first book, and then it was published. I wrote a second one and published it too, all in one year.
4. Madyson chopped off all her hair, and I lived through it.
5. Caleb completed his tenth year at his job, a milestone which not many can say they've reached these days.
I dislike making resolutions for a new year because inevitably I have
set myself up to fail. I will never be thin, but I can be healthy. I
will never be organized, but I can try new ways of keeping one step
ahead. And I may never reach some of the goals I've set for myself, but
at least it was fun to dream about. In the year ahead, I'm looking forward to:
1. Austin (my stepson) will graduate and turn eighteen, too.
2. I will graduate from college with my BA in English in June this year. Wow.
3. Caleb will be (hopefully) selected for a leadership position within his career.
4. We might be able to leave the house to Emily and Axel and move to the ocean. At least visiting the ocean a few times this summer would be lovely. Madyson loves the ocean and so do I!
5. Speaking of summer, I will have the summer off this year and can focus on my writing. The second circus book is due out in September/October this year.
What are you looking forward to in the year to come?
Oh how I love writing! Editing...not so much. Thankfully, I'm not in the editing phase for the many projects I am working on and that is swell. Oh, by the way, here is a link to my author page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chrystalwrites.
In other news, I've read several books lately. Here are some brief reviews:
Belong to Me, by Maria de los Santos. This was a great book, and the only one I gave five stars to on my Goodreads list. I loved the way it was written, and the care that was taken with the language and descriptions of places, people, and relationships. I liked the plot twist, though I saw it coming and figured it out before the big reveal. That didn't detract from the books enjoyment factor. I recommend this one for anyone who likes books about people and relationships.
The Matched Trilogy (Yes I read all three of them), by Ally Condie. I only gave these 2 to 3 stars because they really didn't do that much for me. The first one was pretty good; a lot of people said it was like The Giver, by Lois Lowry, but I've never read that book so I didn't have the comparison issues. I just felt that, like so many other trilogies, this one started falling down by book two. I'd read them if you just don't have anything else to read.
Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline. This one was great...for half the book. The half that told the story of the orphan train, and the life of Naimh (pronounced Neev), the Irish immigrant whose life was turned upside down...that part of the story was great. The part of the story with Molly and her issues with her boyfriend and foster parents, while a sad story, didn't really seem as connected as the other half of the story. I'd still read this one again, if I had it to do over, because I did like it. I would have given it 3.5 stars if I could.
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. Whoa. The first book of hers I read, I hated. Never has a protagonist seemed so whiny and horrid. But this book was awesome. Yes, the characters were whiny and horrid but what evil they were hiding behind those normal facades!!! I really liked this one. You gotta read it if you're in to horror with a twist.
Innocence, by Dean Koontz. This is tough for me. I love Dean. I mean, I have every book he's ever written and some he wrote as someone else. But it seems like lately, he's really had a hard time reaching that spot where he use to write from. This was a good book, much better than 77 Shadow Street, but his protagonists are starting to blend. This new guy, Addison Goodheart? Well, he seems like just a facet of Odd Thomas who is also a facet of Mr. Snow. Still. It's a Dean Koontz book, so there will be magic animals and a lot of philosophical goodness to chew upon. Happily. With some tea and cookies and a big cozy blanket.
The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri. This book had a lot of hype surrounding it but frankly, it was far too slow for me. I didn't find the characters relatable, not because they were from a foreign land but because they were too one-dimensional. At any rate, I was only able to give this book a 2 star rating, and I feel that is generous.
With the successful (fingers crossed) publication of my second book, "Dead in the Water" (available here) I'm back to writing. Currently, here is a list of books I am working on and their ratings, with a little plot synopsis for each:
Straw Houses (sequel to Sideshow)
Hailey's adventures with her circus family continue, but the new act Fig hired is more than your average teleporting trapeze artists. Murder and mayhem (of course) ensue in the second act of this macabre show. Horror/Rated R (18 and over). Currently, I am stuck on Chapter 7 for this one because what's next is difficult to write. I had the same problem writing the first book, so I'm sure I'll get through it.
Molly and Gerta Goldfinch lost their husband and father, Jacob, under very suspicious circumstances. Add in a vampire, his minion, and his reluctant pet werewolf, and Molly is convinced that foul play was involved in her father's death. She sets out to uncover the truth, with the help of a furry friend, and maybe begin a new career as a vampire hunter to boot. Children's/Rated G (8 and up). I'm on Chapter 3: The Goldfinch Grave. This book is a lot of fun to write, but it's been on the back burner for a while because it's hard to write when Madyson is here. Since the book is for her, I get distracted by running bits of plot by her, which she likes but which doesn't get a lot of writing done. I will probably work on it in the coming week off from my day job, because she will be preoccupied. The sequel to this one is writing itself in my head too...Woeful Witches. Love it!
Thirty Jesuses (and Other Bedlam Stories)
Colleen Macready was a nurse in the New Mexico State Mental Institution's "E Ward" for 27 years. Often poignant mixed with horror and humor, these stories encompass the durability of the human spirit and what the compassion of one nurse can mean to those who are trapped by their own demons. The stories also explore who the real monsters are: those in the institution, or those who dictate how it is run. Corruption at the highest levels eventually lead to the shutdown of E Ward, and the heartbreaking fate of many of "that crazy nurse" Colleen's patients. Horror/Rated R. I say horror because some of the patients were murderers and their crimes are documented here. While this is a work of fiction, many of the patients' crimes are based in fact. I'm on Chapter 4 of this one and it is posing difficulties because the murders must be researched thoroughly before I write them. I'm not a cop, or a forensic scientist; these images and crimes are hard to read, and harder to write. I'll likely work on this one between chapters of my kid's book so I have a little lightness to go with the dark.
The Sound of All Things
Ludwig van Beethoven is well known as one of the world's most influential musicians and composers. Most people know of his personal angst, the loss of his hearing as a relatively young man and his courage in continuing to perform the work he felt passionate about even after his affliction. Some even know of his unpredictable temper and legendary coldness along with his numerous trysts and affairs. What is less well known of him is the contents of his conversation books, small volumes he began carrying with him after his deafness struck, where he would write to his guests and they would write to him. Another sort of man emerges from these pages; often angry and vindictive, or kind and caring beyond belief. An interesting fact struck me while reading these conversation books: Beethoven never approved of his brother's wife, a woman he felt was nothing more than a gold digging harlot. He doted upon their son, however, and was never fortunate enough to have children of his own. Upon his brother's death, Beethoven became fixated with the boy and embarked in a bitter custody battle with his brother's widow in an attempt to steal her son from her. In his conversation books, we can see his interactions with his nephew and his increasing desire to claim the boy as his own and name him his heir. His disappointment in his nephew's choices, particularly that of loving men rather than women and thus ending the Beethoven line, drove the senior Beethoven into such rages that the nephew attempted to commit suicide and though he lived, never saw his uncle again. This is not yet rated but will likely be rated R because of the adult content. I am in the research phase of this book still so no chapters to report yet but I'm very excited to begin. The research about Beethoven and his life is fascinating, and I've written to a few archives overseas to see if I can get copies of some of his conversation books so that I can see his writing for myself. Many of them are gone, some say destroyed by Anton Schindler, but an excellent book titled "Beethoven Letters Journals and Conversations" is on my list of research sources as it is a comprehensive source of information, written in a non-biased manner (I can't wait for it to get here!). Many of the conversation books can be viewed online as well. I enjoy reading them because it's an insight into the mind of someone I've admired my entire life and who lived long ago. The books humanize him in ways many historical figures are not. My book will be a work of fiction, but of a historical nature, so I will not be bogged down with writing from a non-biased point of view and can take some liberties as well.
This is a tawdry vampire/succubus romance thing. Lily Nox is cursed with the ability to draw power and energy from men using her sexuality. She's drained more than a few of them dry by mistake, and the supernatural community is in danger of losing their open status among the humans. They send a regulator to bring her in and eliminate the danger she poses by having one of their own mate with her. Permanently. Lily refuses to go down quietly but she meets her match when Alexander, her fated destiny, finds her and sets out to make her his. She struggles against her fate, and destiny, and Alexander, but in the end her heart is captured by the tall handsome vampire. This is totally Rated R. Maybe X. I'm on Chapter 3 on this one, and it's just some fun fluff I write when I'm feeling...um, you know. Like during True Blood Season when Alexander Skarsgaard is on my screen every Sunday. Is it coincidence that my Alexander looks like Eric Northman, also a vampire? Yes. Yes it is.
The Heart's Compendium Victoria Brumley is a street urchin, a homeless runaway who
has done more than her fair share of things to be ashamed of, in order to
survive on the tough streets of Seattle. Jaxon Alvis is a survivor of the same
streets but something more, as well. Their meeting is unorthodox, as Jax
kidnaps Tori from the streets and imprisons her in his library. He feeds her,
clothes her, and shelters her, and keeps her captive, only asking that she
refrain from reading a particular book in his library, The Heart's Compendium. Naturally, Tori finds the book and begins to read a heart wrenching story of a fallen man, who she suspects is her captor. Eventually, the main character of the story falls madly in love with the reader, and Tori is drawn further and further into the tale until the final chapter, where the reader is asked to finish the story on the blank pages she finds there. But the book's protagonist isn't the only one who needs rescuing. Thus a tale is written so that the main characters falls in
love with the readers, and become each other's salvation. This one is not rated yet either. I just finished writing Chapter 1 but it was echoing in my head...someone posted a meme on Facebook about "someone should write a book where the main character slowly falls in love with the reader." Ok, I volunteer as tribute! Haha. One thing about this one so far: I can't decide if it will be a YA book or not. There is already the threat of a rape in the alley kidnapping scene and a lot of cursing. We'll have to see how it pans out.
And that is it for now! I'm going to try and focus on the first three as much as I can for this year. My goal is to have Straw Houses complete by September (when it's due to my editors and proofreaders) for publication in October. The other two will be finished when they are finished, as they aren't on a deadline. I do have a reader (my editor as well, Annette) who loves the asylum book and is constantly pestering me for chapters (which is great or I'd never finish anything) so it is likely that this will be completed this year as well. As for the Misunderstood Monsters book...well, it belongs to Madyson and will be done when she says it is done. And not a moment sooner.
Happy reading everyone!
PS-don't forget to stop by Goodreads and enter to win a copy of "Dead in the Water" on sale now! Here's the link!
I love Christmas as much as the next gal, but I've got nothing on my husband. He is just like Clark Griswald, you know, from Christmas Vacation? He loves that movie. All the holiday movies, really, and the Christmas songs...sometimes it's hard to go along with it when I'm not in the mood, when I'm feeling bah-humbug. But then, I'm grateful. The girls love Christmas more when he makes it fun. And that makes it easier to enjoy the season.
One of the best parts about Christmas for me? I completely enjoy giving gifts and the spirit of the holiday, and I love the faces on Christmas morning as they open their carefully selected presents. No, we don't have much. But we have each other, and we have that Griswald spirit; I think we have it pretty good. I wish everyone did. I have much to be thankful for. Merry Christmas everyone!
I have waited to post the final results because I didn't want the recipient to see before Christmas. I had enough leftover yarn to make her a beanie too. Check it out! One of the best pieces I've ever knit:
In natural light, before blocking
Right side (left) and wrong side (right) before blocking
Here it is during the blocking process...it's too large for the bed...
My beautiful sister in law with her hat and scarf. I'm so glad she likes them!