Tag Archives: mental illness

Mean Bone is Coming

ice-pondI’m pleased to announce that the target publication date for my next book, THE MEAN BONE IN HER BODY, is the end of December, and if all goes well, print books will be shipping several days before the official release. MEAN BONE is the first book in my New Royal Mysteries series, my most ambitious project to date, and I’m incredibly grateful to Pandamoon Publishing for believing in it.

I think I can safely say that MEAN BONE is a departure for me in that it is very dark. VERY dark.  It is a murder mystery in the fictional town of New Royal, Ohio—a mash-up of Athens (a college town) and Chillicothe (a prison town). The broad premise for the New Royal series is that the institutions of Higher Education and Corrections have joined forces to offer a unique Crime Writing program.

In MEAN BONE, Professor Elizabeth Murgatroyd finds herself saddled with the task of dragging an unstable research assistant, Jeaneane Lewis, through the steps of graduation. Jeaneane is something of a celebrity in the program for having written a provocative essay about finding the bodies of a military widow and her two young children in an icy garden pond—murders that, for better or worse, put both New Royal and the Crime writing program on the map, especially when Lewis dubs the uncaught killer as the “Beast of New Royal.”

However, when Murgatroyd has a one night stand with a man claiming to be the so-called Beast, she realizes that Jeaneane’s version of events is tainted by her ever-changing grasp on the truth. Rather than going to authorities, Murgatroyd seizes on the opportunity to mount her own investigation, following the Beast’s trail as it leads all the way back into Jeaneane’s terrible past.

In the coming weeks and months I’ll post more details about the series, but for now, I want to say that I I’m writing about three subjects I’ve avoided in sustained fiction: academia, mental illness, and Ohio.

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the fiction of madness (Staycation 11, with theme)

I woke up this morning thinking of my mother’s roses. Or rather, I woke up remembering the two times her roses were destroyed. One time was when my sister was in the throes of breakdown, so she ripped up the roses, oblivious to the thorns that were shredding her arms and hands. Another time was when my great aunt, on the edge of dementia, plucked and destroyed every perfect bi-color bloom, convinced they needed dead-heading.

One act was an attack. The other a service.

There is actually a lot of mental illness in my family, and maybe one day I will write about the subject in a nuanced, sensitive way. In the meantime I write about madness, a fictive, gothic condition that too often may be the blackface version of mental illness.

Right now I am writing  towards a tenuous but plausible connection between the murders that begin my novel and the fractured psychology that had to precede them. I have placed a grieving young mother with an ever-deepening depression in a Dark, Cold House with another young woman whose own mental disorder (marked by narcissism, amorality, and false beliefs) is poorly diagnosed and improperly treated. What could go wrong, as they say.

I’ve become very aware that my fictional urge is to exploit the darkness, to blow it up and exaggerate it, rather than explain it. However, to write the relationship between these women I’ll need to stretch. I’m planning to use irl experience as a grounding (though in the end it won’t be recognizable, I’m sure). It’s not responsible research, but it’s a start. In a generation’s time I don’t want to be that old lady who defends her writing by claiming “it was a different time” as she clings to the rickety scaffolding of genre conventions.


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