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Marie Wilson

Canadian author Marie Wilson’s first novel entitled “The Gorgeous Girls” has been called “erotica for the thinking woman” by its publisher HarperCollins. In Marie's words, the book - released in April 2013 - examines the lives of three women, “all disciples of the legendary Dorothy Parker, who meet regularly for drinks to dish on their romantic and sexual exploits.”

Marie explained that the novel was based on a series of articles that she’d previously written for Toronto’s NOW Magazine: “The editor and co-owner Alice Klein had contacted me about a new feature she was starting called Love and Sex – which would later become Naked City… I told her I had a rambling draft about three women who hang out and talk about sex – and love. She told me to send it along. From that draft, she extracted three stories for publication. So my Gorgeous Girls - Rose, Wanda and Constance - kicked off the feature…”

Marie’s contributions to NOW Magazine struck a chord with readers in Toronto. Encouraged by the popularity of her articles, Marie took on the challenge of writing a novel based on the amorous adventures of her three feisty protagonists: “Over coffee with a friend I was discussing a novel I’d been working on. I joked that I should put vampires in it if I wanted it to sell. My friend said, “Or sex.” This notion along with my partner Aaron’s idea that I should write a novel full of sex - because my articles had been so popular - gave me the idea to use those articles as the basis for a novel. It was a natural leap to weave it all together, including new material, into a novel. The articles were written over a period of two or three years, but it took me another year to write the additional material and then pull it all together.”

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Marie told me that she grew up in an environment in which she had considerable freedom: “I was an imaginative kid who was given a lot of free rein. My parents seemed to trust that process - or, because I was the last of their four kids, they just didn’t have time to interfere with my life. I didn’t like school much; it put blinders on my imagination. I did not like getting up so early in the morning only to be confined to a desk where I had to contain my natural excitement for being alive. This felt like torture to me! I preferred writing and painting and putting on plays in my basement.”

“When I was nine, I created an “office” in this little space beneath our basement stairs. I had a tiny table and a chair and a pen and some paper. And there I worked on my autobiography and a few stories about witches. I loved stories about witches and these conjurers figured in my autobiography as well. I always felt a magical connection to nature, and certain things within that realm spoke to me of mysteries beyond. The wind, the moon, the stars. At night there was a sense of something beyond the work-a-day world where you had to wake up before you were done dreaming…”

“High school offered some exposure to art and also fashion opportunities - creating what I would wear to school was a highlight of my day - and there was drama club. I was a born ham. But for the most part, the best thing I learned in school was to type.”

“I went on to university but I wanted to experience the real world, so I moved from Vancouver to Toronto to pursue a life in theatre. It didn’t pay, though, so I did a lot of different jobs: waitress, flower vendor, ballroom dance instructor, nanny, answering service operator. Later, when I had kids, acting wasn’t a practical profession for me and I started writing more.” Marie explained: “Acting often requires that you be away from home and family and ready to work long hours, sometimes without notice. If it’s a film, there’s money at stake for the production company and everything rides on your being able to stay on and finish the scene. Even in the case of theatre, I preferred to be there for my kids’ bedtimes. This became even more important once I became a single mother.”

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Marie told me that she usually takes on more than one project at a time: “I work on all kinds of things at once until one of them takes over. If there’s outside interest in the novel, I go full throttle on that. If I’m contacted to write an article, I’m full throttle on that. Same with if I have a short story competition deadline.” Marie described her creative process as follows: “I take the first idea or image or thought that comes to me and I write. I don’t stop to think about what I’m writing. I let it flow and then later I read it and see what’s interesting or what hangs together as a story. Then I do a lot of rewriting. A lot.”

Marie explained that writing allows her to be creative: “I love creating, and with writing you don’t need much in the way of materials or space. Dancing is another art form that requires few external things. Dancing is like writing with your body. I like dancing too.”

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Marie told me that she found her agent in a bar: “Aaron and I knew Peter from our mutual watering hole The Auld Spot. He was often seated at the end of the bar and we chatted with him in passing. And then Peter became the agent to our friend Bev Stone. He found a publisher for her novel ‘No Beautiful Shore.’ When my work was done he seemed a natural to ask about representation.”

Referred to HarperCollins through her agent, Marie described the publishing process as follows: “The editing process was fun, just a back and forth between the editor and me. She rarely balked at my suggestions, while I often balked at hers. But both she and my publisher assured me I had final say on the writing/editing decisions, which was cool. My publisher is a stalwart of Canadian publishing. He’s a great guy - he took a chance on me.”

As a writer, Marie has enlisted the support of her partner to help with the work of promoting her novel: “My publisher has done no promoting. I do some but my partner Aaron Schwartz does the most. He has been tireless in getting my book out there. Aaron is a talented artist in his own right and he’s my hero.”

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Marie told me that she is influenced and inspired by the work of Marguerite Duras, William Burroughs, and F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Marguerite Duras because her writing is powerful and mysterious; Bill Burroughs for his innovation and sheer guts; F. Scott Fitzgerald because his writing was both enchanting and real.” Her favorite novels? “Right now it’s a tie between ‘The Ravishing of Lol Stein’ by Marguerite Duras and ‘Oscar and Lucinda’ by Peter Carey. Also ‘The Great Gatsby’ is always at the top of my list. All these books spin stories that convey the mystery and magic of living and loving and dying.”

Despite her work as a novelist, Marie prefers writing screenplays: “Movies are my lifeblood, and while I find writing them much harder than writing stories or novels, the moving picture is where my passion lies… No, I don’t find novel writing to be limiting. In fact, screenplays are more limiting because you’re writing for another medium. You can’t just say what you want to say. You have to paint a picture for the screen. It’s merely my love of cinema that has me preferring to write screenplays. I am working on a screenplay right now. It’s my “monster in a box.” I’ve been at it for a long time!”

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Marie describes a typical day as follows: “I wake up, recall my dreams, then have coffee while gazing out the window at my little community: kids playing, gardeners digging. Toast and fruit for breakfast. I do some dishes and maybe the laundry. By early afternoon I’m off to walk our dog Nixie. The dog park is rife with wagging tails and wagging tongues and so I watch the pooches play and catch up on local news. Back at home I sit in my sunroom to write, sometimes with pen, sometimes with laptop, often with an old flick playing in the background. When writing threatens to exasperate or overwhelm me, I look out the window or at the TV screen. There’s always something there to catapult me out of the hole.”

“Late afternoon I head out to get groceries and run other errands. When the groceries get delivered I make something healthy for my teenager to eat; she’s in a band and keeps different hours from me. Then I take a short walk to my community centre where I do some work with the youth group I’ve started: hanging photos, clearing a room to create a recording studio.”

“Back at the apartment, I make a late dinner - or Aaron does - and we eat while watching Jeopardy. Afterwards I like to write while drinking a glass of champagne mixed with a soupcon of Magic Hour’s blackberry/lavender cordial. This is also a time to check Facebook to see what my other two progeny are up to; one’s a visual artist, the other a stand-up comedian. Both bartend to make ends meet. If I have time I watch a movie, if not I do a little reading. When I finally hit the hay, I have my laptop with me for last thoughts.”

“Writing fits in everywhere in my day. If I’m not on the computer or jotting in my notebook then it’s happening in my head or through my senses. Everything I do and see and smell and hear and touch and feel is a potential story or scene or shot.”

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Marie is currently working on her second novel – a visual work that integrates both narrative and photography: “It’s called ‘Walter Kist and the Seven Whorls’ and it’s about this private eye whose real passion is photography. Walter Kist is a young man who shoots from the hip and speaks from the heart. It’s a visual novel, which means photos tell part of the story. Ultimately it’s a love story.”

Marie’s advice to writers who are just starting out: “Write all the time. Do not give up.”

For more information about Marie's work, please go to http://www.mariewilson.ca/

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Image Credit: Aaron Schwartz


Marie Wilson was born to a paint merchant and an Olympic runner in Vancouver. After studying painting and theatre, she moved to Toronto where she appeared on some of the city’s best stages. Her writing has appeared in a variety of magazines and newspapers, including NOW and The Globe and Mail. She’s had handful of good reviews, found love, birthed three geniuses, and has recently written an erotic novel called The Gorgeous Girls, currently ranked #1 by www.harpercollins.ca

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Lady

by Marie Wilson

When we reach Anarchist Peak, my mother pulls over and stops the car. The view of the Okanagan Valley is magnificent, but that’s not what we’re here for. My mother reaches beneath her seat and pulls out a twenty-sixer of rye and a small bottle of 7 Up. As she pours herself a drink, she asks if I want one. I’m seventeen years old. I have driven her metallic-blue Ford half the way on this eight hour trip. While she drove the other half, I propped my bare feet on the dashboard and belted out the latest Leonard Cohen tunes: Like a drunk in a midnight choir/I have tried in my way to be free… Although we still have some notorious hairpin curves to negotiate before we reach her farm, I accept a drink. It is my mother’s version of a rite of passage for her daughter. We toast the success of our drive through the winding heights and steep descents of the Crowsnest Highway. My mother downs the last of her highway highball, then starts up the engine for the final stretch. I sip the strong liquor and wonder if they named Anarchist Mountain for my mom. In the Vancouver press she was once known as the Lady in Red and the Speed Queen. But despite the sound of those monikers, she was no shady lady strung out on bennies. Her other newspaper nickname was Queen of the Cinder Track. Yes, my mom was once a track and field star. And she wore red track suits. At sixteen she was deemed Olympic material and sent to Toronto to compete for entry into the games that were to be held in Berlin that year. But when wind of Hitler’s anti-Semitic rule swept the nation, my mom knew she would never get her stab at the gold. Like so many others, her coach boycotted the ‘36 Olympiad. Years later when the story of my mom’s kiboshed shot at international fame had become legend in our household, the only Speed Queen around was the washer on our porch where she did the laundry for her husband and four children. She was still the Lady in Red though: her lipstick, crimson to go with her black-as-night hair, and in winter her red toque. But perhaps more evocative of that sobriquet in the late 50s was her clandestine sexual life. She had an affair. My friend down the road from us had a good Catholic mother who was always in the kitchen. While she was in her apron whipping up strawberry shortcake, my mom was out drinking rye and seven in her high heels and pencil skirts. Not that my mom hadn’t ever made Jell-O or cookies. When I was little she’d baked with the best of them, and I can still remember rushing home after school to sink my teeth into a warm butter tart, fresh out of her oven. But when I (her youngest) was old enough to take care of myself, my mother got her real estate licence and was off travelling Vancouver Island, listing houses and showing properties - and much more, as it turned out, for this is when her cheating began. In one of our home movies my mother smashes a sledgehammer into a wall and laughs. So began our kitchen renovations: new pine cupboards, stainless steel sinks, a garburator. Just months after its completion, my father would discover her infidelity. She may just as well have taken that sledgehammer to his heart. My dad left, never to see my mother again. Nor did he ever mention her to us, except once when out of the blue he noted that “the man who broke up my marriage was named Jeb and the man your mother ended up with is named Seb”. In time I would see that this observation of rhyming names contained all the bewilderment he felt over the loss of his bride. Following the divorce, my mother took my sister and me on a road trip through B.C.’s interior. We stopped in little towns where I bought souvenirs: a pocket knife from Revelstoke, a pennant flag from Golden. The Ookpik purchased in Olalla snuggled with me that same night on a Winnipeg couch in a Keremeos motel. When I search my memory for that defining mother-daughter moment, the one story that describes our relationship, some words of motherly wisdom she left me with, I come up blank. There was no day when she revealed her dreams to me or let me in on her secrets. But I can still hear her voice, deep and soothing, and her laughter. I wonder now about her extraordinarily wacky sense of humour. Was that part of the “drinking problem” I later learned of? Was she impaired half the time? Or half-cut all the time? Was she authentically loopy or just looped? Though I never heard her slur words or saw her tip over, I understood as I grew older that she was fond of tippling. When the Bloody Caesar was invented it instantly became her drink of choice, a taste of saltchuck in a shade to match her lips. The last photo I have of her shows a woman of eighty-three, her hair still dark, her bone structure still chiselled, posing with a bobcat she’d just shot from her kitchen window. He’d been trying to get at her chickens and she took him out at a hundred yards. But the image that stays with me is one of my mother standing at the edge of the creek that ran through her farm. It’s a hot afternoon and we’re there for a dip. She is wearing her blue bathing suit. Her skin is as brown as toasted coconut and her hair is as black as ink, grey strands glinting like silver thaw in the night. She stands as tall and calm as a tree. In that moment I understand everything about her. Note: Marie Wilson has recently published a book entitled The Gorgeous Girls. For more information or to purchase a copy, please click here: http://www.harpercollins.ca/books/Gorgeous-Girls-Marie-Wilson/?isbn=9781443423946#.UX1sqvBXZBk.email

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The Ease of Access

by Jeff Musillo

American author and poet Jeff Musillo took only nine months to complete his first novel. Entitled “The Ease of Access,” it is available on hardcover, paperback, and in e-book format, and was published by AuthorHouse in December 2013. In a recent interview, Jeff described his novel as follows: “The Ease of Access is a story about a male prostitute who is hired out to service reality TV stars. With this novel, I wanted to play with the idea of filthy philosophy – which for me, can be described as a way to encourage contemplation and mental acquisitiveness by means of an exaggerated and perhaps even dark eroticism. Targeting an in-your-face, sell-everything, nothing-is-sacred way of life or existence, I aimed to go over-the-top with the book’s language, particularly with sexual scenarios, in order to touch on what I consider to be the darker elements of contemporary society: greed, obsession, hypocrisy, and the quest for fifteen minutes of fame.” Jeff told me that the reaction of his readers has been positive so far: “Some have gotten a kick out of the bizarre eroticism throughout the story. Some have enjoyed the book for its social commentary. And there have been those who liked both. But each person has also had something different to say. I received a text message the other day from someone who said they felt the main character was “disturbed and disturbing.” I think that’s a good thing. Even when I first started writing this novel, I never wanted any of the characters to have a trace of admirable qualities, especially the protagonist. In fact, I wanted the protagonist to be the worst person in the novel. Accordingly, since the story goes hand-in-hand with a certain part of society, I can see how the detestable components of The Ease of Access are disturbing for some.” Jeff talked to me about his writing process, explaining that his first step consists of writing spontaneously in a notebook, using only pen and paper: “When it comes to my writing routine, I have a somewhat systematic approach. Firstly, I skip the pre-writing process. I don’t sketch anything out. I don’t make a story map. I just jump right into the first step, which involves writing whatever comes to mind in a black and white composition notebook. The whole story goes in the notebook first. I enjoy doing that because, for starters, it’s very easy to move around with a notebook and a pen. I can go from using my desk, to sitting on the couch, to lying down on the floor, and I can do it all while writing. And I think having your body in motion helps keep the flow of the story moving. Also, when I write in my notebook, I don’t worry about sentence structure, or paragraph breaks, or even spelling. I just write from the heart while trying not to think too much.” He continued: “The second step is where I take the story I wrote in my notebook and transfer it to the computer. If an idea organically pops up, I’ll make small adjustments during that transfer. Then with the third step, with everything on the computer, and with the heart of the story intact, I go back to the beginning and start writing with my head. I fix any confusion, any choppiness, any ugly sentence structures while also fleshing out the characters and scenarios. Accordingly, although it is where the story becomes whole, the third step is where I generally overwrite. So for the fourth step, once I feel I’m completely done fleshing out the story and making it coherent, I print out the manuscript and take the red pen to it. I cross out anything that feels unnecessary or that will cause boredom. And that usually wraps everything up.” Jeff chose to forego the traditional publishing route, opting instead to publish his novel through AuthorHouse, with the help of a private backer: “When it came to publishing The Ease of Access, I had received a couple of offers from independent publishers, but due to budgetary matters, those publishers wouldn’t have been able to release the novel until 2015 or at best, maybe late 2014. So, wanting to get The Ease of Access out sooner rather than later, I reached out to a private financier who fully backed the production of the novel through AuthorHouse.” Jeff described the self-publishing process as an interesting option for writers, as long as the required funding is available: “Working with AuthorHouse definitely depends on a person’s economic situation. Money is the key issue. If writers truly, and I mean truly, believe in their work, don’t want to wait on the budget of other publishers, or simply aren’t clicking with other publishers, and have the capital to support their own projects, I would say go for it. The people at AuthorHouse, from the in-house editors, to the marketing consultants, to the designers are all great professionals. They know their business quite well and they provide the chance for writers to work essentially unchallenged.” “But again, money is the issue. I’m not sure about other self-publishing companies, but AuthorHouse isn’t exactly cheap. I lucked out big time by having The Ease of Access fully backed by a financier. Given that he has asked to remain private, I can’t say much about the financier, but I can say that he put about three grand into my project. Certainly a nice chunk of cash. But with that money came many different perks for the book. The biggest advantage involved distribution through Ingram, which helped get my book into stores.” Jeff has also taken on the job of promoting his own novel: “I took on as much as I could on the promotional end. In order to get the word out about the book, one of the things I was lucky enough to do was kind of mix two of my passions. Back in September 2013, I had the chance to be a part of a group art show at this great place in Manhattan called Bar Catalonia. A week or so after that show, I was picking up my work while telling the bar’s event manager, David Morris, about The Ease of Access. Fortunately, David came up with the idea to host a book release party when the novel was published. I really couldn’t have asked for more with that event. I had the opportunity to sell some copies. I met a bunch of readers and writers. And I was able to celebrate with my friends and family, which is always nice.” Jeff’s work has been influenced and inspired by a long list of incredible writers: “Hunter S. Thompson taught me that writing could and should be fun. Through John Fante, Charles Bukowski, and Mark SaFranko, I learned about the importance of truthfulness and fortitude. By reading Kafka and William S. Burroughs I felt it was fine to be a bit strange. With Dostoyevsky, Camus, and Sartre, I understood the importance of patience and deliberation. And then there’s Sam Pink. He makes me laugh while also making me feel a little doleful. Also, Marquis De Sade has had a big influence on me when it came to The Ease of Access. Along with his writing, the debate about his mindset and style played a role in my novel. There seems to be a constant debate about whether De Sade’s writing was pornographic or philosophical. I think the two can co-exist.” In a few months, Roundfire Books will be publishing a collection of Jeff’s writing in a book entitled “Snapshot Americana”: “The book will include my writing from 2006 and 2008 - which covers the time I spent in East Orange, New Jersey, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Washington D.C. The book is a short non-fiction work that looks at the world from the eyes of the disadvantaged. It's about witnessing the privileged roll up their sleeves to make sure that the less fortunate eat. It's about watching people battle for their values while those who mock them stand no more than five feet away. Most importantly, it's about leaving that zone of comfort and exploring unfamiliar areas and circumstances. It explores issues like gentrification, infestation, police harassment, self-governance, and it includes conversations with those who have suffered, and are still suffering due to the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. I also include a unique discussion with a woman who has been living on the street, across from the White House, since the Reagan Years - concerning the possibilities of global destruction.” Jeff explained why he chose to have his second book published by Roundfire Books: “The move to go with Roundfire Books for Snapshot Americana was an easy decision for me. I really enjoy the work they have published in the past. And I truly respect and trust those in charge at that house. This is a simple way of looking at it, but the people at Roundfire really love literature. A lot of publishers, agents, and consultants love money. But Roundfire loves literature. And, as a writer, those are the only type of people I want to work with.” Jeff has recently completed his second novel entitled “The Charming Swindler”: “I co-developed the story with a friend of mine. Although it took a while, the process with my second novel was pretty straightforward. I would call up my friend, who happens to be an incredibly complex and interesting guy I met while working at FUSE TV. He would tell me stories about his life. Sometimes he would talk for five minutes. Other times he would go on for an hour or so. I took notes as he talked. Once my friend was done with whatever story he felt like telling me, I would work on my notes, mix some of my own experiences with his, and use all of that to create a chapter for the book. Once that chapter was complete, I would call him up and start again with a different part of his life - and so on until the book was complete.” “What we ended up creating was a dark, chaotic tale about a man named Eddie Crisp. In the book, Eddie leaves his hometown of Oakland, California in a quest to become the world's pre-eminent television producer. His wild voyages take him from Oakland to Boston to New York and finally to Las Vegas. In fact, the book opens in Los Angeles with Eddie apprehensively waiting to marry his love, someone he met at Emerson College before his own alcohol and gambling addictions and self-worth started spinning out of control. Above all else, with The Charming Swindler, I wanted to play with the idea of what an “Alpha Male” is supposed to be and represent.” Jeff’s reason for writing: “It’s tough to put into words why I write. But I can say that taking a break at this point seems impossible. If I don’t write, even if I go without it for one day, I feel like something is missing. Like something is wrong. Literature is something I need every day.” ***** Jeff provides the following advice for writers who are starting out: 1. When it comes to editing, it’s always essential for one to do as much work on his or her own project as possible. However, writers are so close and so locked in to their own project that they are bound to miss some, or even a bunch of mistakes. There’s no way around it. In view of that, given that you want the project to be at its best, it is very important to find a professional and trustworthy editor who can not only tighten and clean the manuscript, but also one who can provide some thoughts that may enhance the story. 2. Read. It’s the ultimate literary cliché. But it’s a cliché for a reason. It works. Reading will help writers learn about technique. It will teach them about pacing. And, above all else, it will teach them about themselves. When someone finds a writer they love, they also learn more about their own feelings and desires. They essentially discover the writer they want to ultimately become. So find your favorite writer and read all of their work. And then read your favorite writer’s favorite writer. And so on. I’ve never attended any writing courses. I just never had the desire. Given the competitive nature of most people, perhaps being in a class and being around other writers can push an individual to create a better story than John or Jane. But I’m not totally sure. For the most part, writing is a game that involves isolation. Plus, I think the best literary teachers can be found at a bargain on the bookshelves of any library. 3. Get ready for rejection. The percentage of writers who break through right away is so small that it might as well be zero. Don’t let it force you into submission. However, I think it’s also good to take rejections personally. I think it’s good to get angry about a rejection and then utilize that anger to create motivation. When he was thirty-one years old, Jean-Paul Sartre’s first novel was rejected. In an interview almost four decades later, Sartre had said of the rejection: “I took this hard: I had put all of myself into a book I worked on for many years; it was myself that had been rejected, my experience that had been excluded.” Obviously, he took it personally. But that rejection didn’t stop him. It pushed him forward.” To purchase a copy of “The Ease of Access,” please go to: http://goo.gl/yHcLTX ***** Image Credit: Used with Jeff Musillo’s permission

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Summer on Tubbs Hill

by J.D. Coburn

In 1966, my late best friend, Phil Dickenson and I spent the summer living on Tubbs Hill near downtown Coeur d'Alene. Tubbs‚ as it is known locally, is a knoll about 400 feet high situated on the North Shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene. There’s a nice two mile hiking trail that winds around the hill adjacent to the shoreline with spurs leading up and down along the way, a wide creek to cross, boulders of basalt and cliffs of granite ideal for diving, a smattering of private beaches, a couple of caves, and just about anything a kid would want in the way of a forested playground. No shirts, no shoes, no problem. In the city by the lake, there was one rule: Don’t track in the sand for someone else to clean up. So clothing was kept to a minimum. A pair of cut-offs with your tighty whities peeking out over the top was plenty for us boys. In the summer, we kids were either swimming, or riding our bikes to other places where we could go swimming. The Hayden, Fernan, and Coeur d’Alene lakes, and the Spokane River were all within biking distance. Some of my best memories are of the little bubbles squishing out of the wrinkles and creases in my wet cut-off jeans as I pumped my twenty-six inch Schwinn from one beach to another, the sun baking the trails, streets, and my bare skin equally. Phil and I were fourteen years old. Phil's older sister, who was sixteen, had just run away from home because she was tired of her father’s daily rampages, which we referred to as ‘the beatin’s.’ That left Phil as the eldest kid in the family, which meant he would now bear the brunt of his father’s rage. So, for respite, for his sanity, we camped out on Tubbs that summer. ‘The beatin’s’ always started after dinner. So, on most days, I'd show up at Phil's around dinner time. We’d walk to the coffee shop where we'd meet up with the other members of our clique, aka The MOB. One of our junior high teachers had named us as such, and the name had stuck. In school, we were defined less by who we were than by the numbers we represented, so for ease of reference, the teachers referred to us simply as The MOB. We weren’t jocks or nerds, and we were too cool to be popular. We smoked cigarettes and played in a band. We listened to The Stones, thank you, and The Doors. If we had a Beatles album among us, that meant that one of us had stolen it from a party we had crashed. Phil would take a few thumps from the old man, Jerry, before he left the house, but with Phil out for the evening and his older sister gone that summer, it meant that his little brother and sister took more than their share of ‘the beatin’s.’ Phil's mom, Joanne, took the worst of it. I'm sure that their fifth child was stillborn because Jerry beat the baby out of her. I remember that a little white coffin was buried at Forest Cemetery over on Government Way. Only the family was in attendance for the services, but three or four of The MOB looked on through the fence surrounding the grounds. We were ready in case Phil’s dad decided to start punishing Joanne or the kids for the death of the baby. After dinner, Phil was safe, at least for the time being, so we went to the coffee shop where we could smoke and talk about what we'd all be doing for the rest of our lives when we managed to get to anywhere but Coeur d'Alene. ***** That summer, the summer of 1966, Phil and I lived in a small outcropping of rocks on the eastern edge of Tubbs. We were only a couple of blocks from Sanders Beach and maybe a couple hundred feet from the home of a fellow MOB member we called Mouse. His real name was Kevin Anderson, but from the moment we first saw him coming out of the water looking like a drowned rat, he was Mouse. Mouse's dad worked for the city water works and part of the deal was a free house next to the reservoir on Tubbs. He'd get really pissed when we'd break into the reservoir for a swim. It wasn't just the fact that we had the whole damn lake to swim in that got him so upset. It was because he'd have to drain the reservoir and refill it after our escapades. He suspected that we were the perpetrators, I'm sure, but there was no evidence, just some whispers and stifled laughter. Sanders Beach was next door to Mouse's place. It was a smaller beach than City Beach where all the tourists went and it was cleaner, so it was the beach of choice for the fourteen and fifteen year old girls with their bikinis, golden hair and tan lines. Phil and I, living on the hill without parental supervision, were very, very attractive to the girls. Two or four of them would follow us to our campsite where we would giggle and tease, and grope crotches and budding breasts. Away from the prying eyes of adults, our mischief was gleeful and harmless. For some reason, I was the funny guy that summer. I’d always tried hard to be liked by others, and that was made clear by my litany of bawdy vaudevillian jokes that had been handed down from my theatrical family. Mostly, my neediness was looked upon as obnoxious, but that summer, maybe because we were all fourteen, all of my jokes seemed hysterically funny. During the day, from sunrise on, we were at the beach. In retrospect, it was strange that no one ever looked for us or reported us missing. We sure didn't tell our parents we'd be living on Tubbs Hill that summer, but no inquiry was ever made as to our whereabouts. In fact, I have no recollection of ever being hungry. I don’t even remember eating. Of course, Mom knew I was at the theater most nights. I was doing repertory with the Montana State University Red Door Players and we were staging a melodrama on the pier over the lake that summer with our local theater group. After the shows though, I was gone. I’d meet up with Phil backstage and we were off on whatever adventure was planned for the night. Usually our late evening activities involved getting girls to sneak out and hang with us. If we were very lucky we might get the girls involved in kissing practice. It was just what it sounds like, practice only, nothing serious. After exhausting the girls with laughter and play, Phil and I would peruse the streets until the wee hours. We'd break into cars to steal cigarettes that had been left on the dashboards and whatever else that hadn’t been bolted down. We had all these trails and pathways around town that allowed us to steer clear of the local constabulary. I think there was a Debbie or a Rhonda who made my heart go pitter-pat that summer. I don't recall. But I do remember that it was late in the summer, in August, when one of Mom's friends gave me a car. A two-tone, 1957 Studebaker Commander V8 in oxidized purple and sky blue, three speeds on the column, four doors, three of which worked, and a full complement of three spare tires and three gallons of oil in the trunk. We called it the X-15 because the speedometer went sideways and always indicated a speed that was much faster than the car could go. If the speedometer had gone around about three times you knew you were doing fifty-five miles per hour. At fifty-five, the car started to shake violently, so I would say that was its top speed. Since we lived in a tourist community, there were always activities for teens on summer nights. The Slab, near the entrance of City Park was determined to be a safe place for local and visiting teens to meet and carouse, and a band was hired to set up there on Saturday nights. The events were known as Slab Dances and they were well attended. At the last Slab Dance of the summer, I finally came into my own. A hint of a mustache had sprung up over the summer, and there was muscle tone where there had previously been only gangly limb. After a long summer of swimming, hiking and camping out, I was fit. It was a Saturday night and I had a rare night off from the theater. The Slab was a huge piece of concrete that accommodated four half-court basketball areas surrounded by a fence made of logging chain. Put a live band on one end and old Joe Whitley at the entrance to collect two dollars a head, and you had an enterprise. I had not seen a barber or a shoe all summer so my hair was long, wind blown and sun bleached. My tan was perfect. I could put out a cigarette with my bare foot. My soles were like leather. I wore a baby blue pinstriped muscle shirt and a pair of hip hugger wide wale cords the same color. It all fit like a second skin, which was very cool at the time. I showed up at the dance alone. It was already dark. I had to walk clear across town because I couldn't drive at night yet, but things were just starting to hop when I got there. I was very existential in those days and was therefore convinced that if I wasn't there, the party didn't exist anyway. Well, Pam, Debbie, Carla – I don’t remember their names exactly - took one look at me and got all squishy. They were quite literally hanging all over me. By the time Phil showed up at the dance, I was feeling very secure about my immediate future as a spelunker. But, nothing happened. We danced outside the chain fence. The music didn’t seem to recognize the fence as a barrier, and neither did we, but at the end of the night, everyone just went home. School started a couple of days later. Phil and I were back living at home with new shoes that hurt like hell and clothes you couldn't swim in. Phil and I spoke infrequently about that summer in the following years, but when we did, we both acknowledged that we’d never laughed so hard or so much before or after. For Phil, that summer was the first time in his life that he had not been beaten on a daily basis and that he’d felt free. I was just glad to be along. As soon as the abuse at home had resumed, Phil had started taking it out on me again, just as he had our entire lives. My best friend for life, my BFF, in the vernacular, was the living definition of the cycle of abuse. A year or so later I casually mentioned ‘the beatin's’ to the mother of a mutual friend. She quickly attacked me for telling lies, insisting that Phil’s father, Jerry, would never raise a hand to those kids. I didn’t argue. I didn’t say another word. I guess she must have said something to Phil's mom, because two days later the whole family moved out of the house, leaving Jerry alone. A couple of days after that, Jerry moved out and the family moved back in. And that’s the way it stayed. The nightmare was over. ***** Image Credit: Istockphoto/AlpamayaPhoto

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Living Among Shadows

by David Philip Norris

Lately, I’ve been watching American author and educator John Green’s “Crash Course: World History,” a series of forty-two videos that basically covers all the world history you should have learned in high school, but probably didn’t, in about eight hours. There are a number of different courses on this particular YouTube channel, ranging from psychology to U.S. history. One of these courses is on literature, and in one video, Green discusses the poetry of Sylvia Plath. I was particularly struck by the following excerpt, in which Green addresses the tragedy of suicide: “Dear Suicide, you are a permanent response to a temporary problem, and you are a solution to nothing. I just want to say at the outset that there is nothing good or romantic about you, Suicide. You are a tragedy. You are also, in almost all cases, preventable… So, it’s very important to me whenever we talk about a writer whose life ended with suicide that we note that people survive depression—and also that Sylvia Plath wasn’t a good writer because she eventually committed suicide. In fact, her career was cut short, and I mourn all of the many wonderful books we might have had.” ***** I live in the shadow of suicide. My grandmother committed suicide in 1960. As a writer, I am aware of the corpses that litter the landscape of our profession: Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Yukio Mishima, Hunter S. Thompson, David Foster Wallace, Sarah Kane. To most, these names represent words on a page, a collection of letters and dates. But each of these human beings lived entire lives between the bookends of their birth and demise, enduring what must have felt like an eternity of bleakness and torment before finally gasping out their last breaths, whether head first in an oven or staring down the barrel of a shotgun. Up until a couple of years ago, I couldn’t fathom the idea of suicide. For one, it was—in my then Christian mind—an appalling sin, the ultimate act of rebellion against God. For another… well, I couldn’t even bring myself to prick my finger during the unit on blood type in biology class. Plus, it seemed like such a cowardly way out, an option for those who just didn’t try hard enough. Somewhere in my adolescence, probably around the time I started to become aware of my sexuality, but possibly as early as the age of eight or nine, I found myself experiencing periods of darkness. As an Evangelical, I believed that these slumps in mood had a spiritual cause. The cure was more Bible and more Jesus. It wasn’t until I took a course on psychology during my junior year in high school that I learned that my dark moods had a name: depression. And it was different from “the blues.”* ***** Most people associate depression with sadness, but it’s much more than that. In a 2013 TED Talk, writer Andrew Solomon described his downward spiral into depression: “Everything there was to do seemed like too much work. I would come home and I would see the red light flashing on my answering machine, and instead of being thrilled to hear from my friends, I would think, “What a lot of people that is to have to call back.” Or I would decide I should have lunch, and then I would think, “But I’d have to get the food out and put it on a plate and cut it up and chew it and swallow it,” and it felt to me like the Stations of the Cross.” Over the years, I’ve come to understand that depression is more than a condition. It’s fundamentally shaped how I view the world. In addition to affecting my moods, depression alters my perceptions. The smallest setbacks are magnified into megaliths of personal failure, and tiny inconveniences set me off as if they are crimes against humanity. It’s like having lenses in my eyes that pre-filter the light, dramatically changing how I see people and events. Everything is distorted, like in a funhouse mirror. When I am in a depressive state, I feel worthless. Powerless. Hopeless. Disconnected from everything and everyone in my life. Even happy moments are colored with gloom. The flavor of celebration comes across more like sand than sugar. Well-meaning friends try to cheer me up and lend support, not understanding that the problem is within, not without. At its worst, it feels as if I’m shut up in a glass box, able to see everything going on outside but unable to touch or be touched by anything or anyone. Things that would otherwise bring me joy seem gray and uninteresting. I can’t concentrate on anything. Even sex doesn’t interest me. ***** In June of 2008, just months away from my decision to finally come out as a gay man, I abruptly began having random and intense thoughts about death. While sorting my recycling one afternoon, I suddenly realized that it was almost July, which meant that the year was nearly over, which meant that I was a quarter of a century old, which meant that I was going to die someday. Gradually, thoughts of suicide began to creep in. I would think of driving my car into oncoming traffic. Slitting my wrists while working in the kitchen. Overdosing on pills I’d take for a headache. As an atheist, I have come to terms with the reality that death is merely the cessation of brain activity and that consciousness just fades. The more I struggle with the loneliness and exhaustion of dealing with the emotional minefield of my past and present, the more alluring these thoughts of suicide have become. ***** Setbacks or disappointments that might merely discourage a non-depressed person appear catastrophic and calamitous to me. For example, a few weeks ago I met a guy on OkCupid who seemed decent. We went on a date, had dinner and a wonderful talk. A few days later, we went on a second date that seemed to go equally well. After that, I heard from him less often. Then on Sunday night, he explained that his ex-boyfriend had recently contacted him, and he was pondering whether they should get back together. I asked whether he missed him. He said yes. They had been together for eighteen months before breaking up. I gave him a few days to collect his thoughts, and then texted him to ask if he’d come to any decision about whether he wanted to pursue things further. He apologized, saying that he hadn’t been ready to start dating again and really hadn’t thought things through when he first contacted me. But yes, for my sake, I should move on. Now, here’s how a normal person might view this situation: We went on two dates. It was fun, but it wasn’t meant to be. Just try again. This is how it looks to a person who is depressed: I am crushed. And disappointed. Not so much by the loss of a prospective boyfriend, but rather by a persistent and growing realization that this is how my entire dating life has gone so far, and probably will for the rest of my life—I meet a guy I like, and things might seem to go well for a bit, and then something like this happens. Rinse, repeat. So that night I made a decision—one I’ve contemplated many times over the years: “If I’m still single when I’m thirty-five, I’m going to kill myself.” Because, I reasoned, if I don’t meet anyone by then, there’s no way it will ever happen, and I don’t want to be one of those single, older gay men constantly getting passed over or used as a one-night stand. Again—that’s the depression talking. It is frightening to think that after all of the years of struggling, the idea of simply not existing, of not having to worry about anything anymore, is so comforting. Then my reason snaps into gear again, like a bucket of cold water to the face. After all, who knows what tomorrow will bring? And the day after. Maybe I’m about to meet my future husband. If I kill myself, that future will never be written. It’ll be like an O. Henry short story, where an ironic twist of fate causes two people to just miss each other at a train station. ***** Depressed people do not kill themselves simply because they are sad. Depressed people choose to end their lives because they are tired—tired of waiting for things to get better, and of listening to friends and family members tell them that it will get better if they just hold on. Tired of hurting all the time when everyone says they should be happy. Tired of the guilt of feeling like a burden or drain to everyone around them. As I write this, I am in the midst of a depressive episode that has lasted almost five months. On even the best of days, it can take an enormous amount of energy just to get out of bed in the morning. Deciding whether to leave the house or even to see a few friends is like balancing my checkbook, making sure there are enough funds in my emotional bank account to attend even a small gathering. Most days I avoid seeing people because the anxiety about what we might talk about or what we should do or what we should have for dinner is overwhelming. Even finding the energy to finish this article is exhausting. ***** The best advice I’ve received for living with chronic depression is to chart my moods and look for patterns and cycles. This helps to remind me that, no matter how bad a depressive episode seems, it will eventually come to an end. When I am depressed, I am intellectually aware of this fact, but I still find myself thinking that the present situation will last forever. No matter how much I remind myself that the light at the end of the tunnel will eventually appear, the depression is always there, casting its Edward Gorey-esque shadows over those hopeful thoughts. I see the world as it is, but also a shadowy mirror version. There’s a shadow double of everyone and everything—friends, family, strangers, billboards, television shows. Even a potential relationship that fizzled out. “Who are you kidding?” the shadows sigh, the sum of their voices drowning out the messages of the real world. “You’re holding out for a dream that might not ever come true. Your future husband or your future career could always be just beyond the next hill. Or the next one. Soon, you will be wrinkled and gray, and your whole life will have passed you by, and you’ll have nothing but white-hot regret to warm you…” It’s like having a Dementor for a roommate. ***** Over the years, I’ve learned an important lesson about depression. In the words of Andrew Solomon, “Shutting out the depression strengthens it. Talking and writing about my own depression in recent years has taken away some of its power over me, and by acknowledging it I have been able to seek out help and support to manage my dark moods when they inevitably come around." And yet, despite scientific evidence of the physiological nature of depression, there is still so much stigma in our society surrounding mental illness. We continue to stigmatize and alienate those people who are suffering from depression, who already believe that they’re alone, that no one cares, that they have no right to feel bad when they have it so good, that everyone will think they’re a failure, and that their friends will abandon them if they find out what’s going on. A few years ago, I was with a group of people, and I mentioned that I was seeing a therapist to help treat my depression. One woman exclaimed, “I’m so glad you said that! I’ve been seeing a therapist too, but wasn’t sure if I could mention that here.” I think we treat mental illness differently from other physical conditions because there’s no easy solution. And that makes many people uncomfortable. ***** In interviews, J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, has stated that the Dementors, the dark creatures that guard the wizard prison of Azkaban and feed off human happiness, were inspired by her own bouts of depression. As fans of the books and movies will recall, the only method to repel a Dementor is by way of the Patronus Charm. In the third Harry Potter book “The Prisoner of Azkaban” we learn that this charm is cast “with an incantation, which will work only if you are concentrating, with all your might, on a single, very happy memory.” (Rowling, p. 176) As events in the story unfold, we see that the Patronus charm is a difficult one to master, and at the end of this book, thanks to a plot twist involving time travel, Harry is gifted a second chance to cast the Patronus charm to save both himself and another character. This is a scene I’ve been thinking about lately. It is a reminder to me that the Patronus charm is an elusive one, that on some days I simply won’t be able to conjure a happy memory. On these days, I know that I’ll have to call on friends and family who love and care about me to provide me with the strength I will need to hold back the darkness. It is a tremendous act of courage to call upon the people in your life for help, to tell them how you’re feeling, to defy those voices that tell you that it’s hopeless and that everyone would be better off if you were dead. Our greatest strength is each other. ***** I will close with one final quote from Andrew Solomon’s TED Talk: “The question is not so much of finding great meaning and deciding your depression has been very meaningful. It’s of seeking that meaning and thinking, when it comes again, “This will be hellish, but I will learn something from it.”” “… I think that while I hated being depressed and would hate to be depressed again, I’ve found a way to love my depression. I love it because it has forced me to find and cling to joy. I love it because each day I decide, sometimes gamely, and sometimes against the moment's reason, to cleave to the reasons for living. And that, I think, is a highly privileged rapture.” ***** *Note: Depression differs from “the blues” in one significant way: depression is persistent. Everything could be going perfectly for a person’s job, relationships, and personal life, but the ability to enjoy these things is impaired. The DSM-IV defines Major Depressive Disorder as: “Depressed mood and/or loss of interest or pleasure in life activities for at least two weeks and at least five of the following symptoms that cause clinically significant impairment in social, work, or other important areas of functioning almost every day.” These diagnostic criteria include symptoms like fatigue or loss of energy; feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt; diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness; recurrent thoughts of death; insomnia or sleeping too much; and diminished interest or pleasure in all or most activities. Along with major depressive disorder, the American Psychiatric Association’s revised fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) outlines six other depressive disorders along with their subtypes. These include dysthymic disorder, bipolar disorder, substance-induced mood disorder, adjustment disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders. From a clinical standpoint, all of these must be considered as possibilities when approaching a depression diagnosis. References: Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (n.d.). Appendix D—DSM-IV-TR Mood Disorders. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved June 28, 2014, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64063 Rowling, J. (1999). Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury. Solomon, A. (2013, October 19.) Andrew Solomon: Depression, the secret we share. http://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_solomon_depression_the_secret_we_share/ ***** Image Credit: Istockphoto/sokolovsky

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Nights So Long and Dark

by Ana Torres

Nights so long and dark Please lay me down to sleep, I’m desperate for some rest And hope my dreams are deep. Nights with shining stars In this bed, I lie awake, Though I try to close my eyes I can’t for heaven’s sake. Nights so long and dark I just can’t face the day, Let’s keep the light afar With luck, the moon will stay. Nights that just drag on My mind is all abrew, Let’s make a pot of coffee And pour a cup or two. Nights, you are not kind In these hours I am alone, There is no comfort in the dawn For what must I atone. Nights, you are my friend I know you understand That I have come to life Because you’ve held my hand. Nights so long and dark On you I can depend, But what am I to do When you try me to no end? Nights so long and dark, Please take me in your arms, Pray lay me down to sleep And soothe me with your charms. ***** For more information about Ana's work, please go to: http://amtorres070.wix.com/amtorres Image Credit: Istockphoto/MisterM

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