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imagesI was born and grew up in Indiana, graduated from IU and still identify with the term, “Hoosier.”  I know Indiana but I do not know, and in fact am sickened by, the right-wing farce it seems to have become.

The state’s  appalling “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” quickly revised only four days after its signing by Republican presidential hopeful Governor Mike Pence, weirdly granted not only to actual people, but to corporations and all forms of business, the right to refuse service to anybody on the basis of its (the business’s) religious beliefs.  In Indiana, businesses are capable of thought, which can include the choice to espouse various beliefs. Among these beliefs is one insisting that no “Christian” gas station, pharmacy, restaurant, etc. should be forced under law to provide services to people whose personal identities do not meet the approval of the gas station/pharmacy/restaurant’s religion.

Okay, maybe I’ve been gone for too long, but this pathetic nonsense is not the Indiana I carry with me everywhere.  In the “real” Indiana there is only one rule – “Do the right thing.”  Everybody knows what “the right thing” is, and while it may be done uneasily, quietly, even covertly, it will get done.

Is Indiana racist?  Yes and no. Slavery (the enslaved were largely Native Americans and white indentured servants)  was constitutionally banned when Indiana became a state in 1816 and the few remaining black slaves of southern settlers were legally freed in 1820, long before the Civil War.  Indiana fought for the Union despite, at its southern end where I grew up, its shared border with mostly Confederate Kentucky.

But yes, there was and in places probably still is, racism.  Not the Jim Crow sort of the true South, but a queasy, uncomfortable sort that everybody knew was not “the right thing,” but nobody knew quite how to change.  The answer was to dress it up and hope that helped.

There had been segregated public schools in Indiana until the practice was legally abolished in 1949, so that by the time I was in grade school I had black classmates.  Well, I had one, and his name was Ronnie.  His dad was a porter at the train station and my dad knew Ronnie’s dad and thought highly of him.

The schools enforced a rule that demanded a birthday party  invitation to every child in the birthday kid’s class.  There was no idea of “private” birthday parties.  Either everybody was invited or there was no party.  And so Ronnie was invited to mine and I to his.  Except there was another, silent but zealously observed rule that forbade white and black people from setting foot over each other’s doorsills socially.

And so Ronnie’s mother, dressed to the teeth in hat and gloves, would arrive at our house and hand to my mother a beautifully wrapped gift at my party her son could not attend.  But she couldn’t come inside.  And for Ronnie’s birthday parties that I could not attend, my mother, also in hat and gloves, would deliver Ronnie’s gift to his mother at their home.  But she couldn’t step inside.

It was a fidgety, hybrid racism, although no less cruel for that.  And by the time a few hundred kids who’d chafed at the birthday party rule hit high school, it was over.  A new black family moved to town, including attractive teenage twins, Jeannie and Joey.

Basketball is a religion in Indiana, and Joey played first string while Jeannie happily taught us all the new dances learned in whatever enviably sophisticated big town they’d come from.  So we elected them homecoming king and queen, effectively ending at least one entrenched pattern of racism.  The whole town was relieved and the birthday party rule died.  Everybody knew it was The Right Thing.

Is Indiana anti-Semitic?  Not if anti-Semitism is perceived as The Wrong Thing.  All the grade schools had basketball teams, and all the boys (not girls) could play.  But in jr. high the only basketball teams were sponsored by the Y.  The Young Men’s Christian Association.  My classmate Eddie was Jewish, and as a non-Christian he was not allowed to join the Y in order to play basketball. Social death for an Indiana guy!

Eddie was devastated, but the jr. high principal, Tab Tolbert, quickly organized local business owners whose contributions supported the Y (including Eddie’s family) to urge a bit of alteration to the Y’s rules.  Eddie was suited up and on court within a week, and a few months later the entire jr. high attended a convocation in celebration of his bar mitzvah.  Eddie, in yarmulke and tallit, chanted in Hebrew and everybody cheered as if he were Eddie Cantor.

Hoosiers do the right thing.

Is Indiana homophobic?  Again, sort of but not really.  Not as long as the “right thing” decorum is maintained.  The accountant for my dad’s business and half the businesses in town was gay and everybody knew it.  The man was welcomed as a Mason and member of countless civic organizations,  He generously supported artistic endeavors and always showed up at diners and functions with a successful woman hospital administrator who may also have been gay.  Nobody cared and nobody would have dreamed of refusing to pump gas into their cars on religious principles.

But this was a long time ago.  So what’s happened?

Is Indiana full of religious fanatics?  It would seem so, although again it’s necessary to look at the root of “doing the right thing.”  That “thing” arguably derives from the Golden Rule, often attributed to the figure of Christ although in fact it is an essential tenet in every known religious or ethical system.  Hoosiers, as I know them and am, want to treat others as we wish to be treated, and probably were first introduced to the idea in churches.

Lots of churches.  Denominational identity was big when I was growing up there, and everybody knew who was Presbyterian, Catholic, Jewish or whatever.  There was no judgment; it was more a matter of, again, that frenzied need to know the right thing to do.  If you invite your Catholic neighbors over for barbecue on Friday, be sure to grill a few catfish filets because they won’t be able to eat the ribs!

But somewhere along the line Indiana seems to have fallen prey to a right-wing creepiness that’s antithetical to both churchly and secular Doing the Right Thing.  At least a sufficient number of people with sufficient power have managed to pass a law that makes a laughingstock of my home state and trashes what I know to be its core identity.

Indiana is strange, a relatively unknown place and culture within the larger American one.  It’s a jumble of at-times old-fashioned agrarian mores in the south, and old-fashioned immigrant mores in the north, but essentially it’s sort of stalwart.  A significant number of Hoosiers may be floundering in a maelstrom world spinning too fast, and for a moment may have grabbed on to the unstable bit of sociological flotsam that is right-wing fundamentalism, but I hope it won’t last.

Because it’s not The Right Thing.

 

 

 

One of many evocative touches at Butler Greenwood Plantation B&B in St. Francisville, LA

One of many evocative touches at Butler Greenwood Plantation B&B in St. Francisville, LA

In Louisiana and indeed the entire South, an elegant, if hidden, cultural doppelgänger exists.  Yes, the foreground is often a cacophony of political corruption, bad schools, dimwitted fundamentalism and deadly/delicious fried food.  But in the shadow of every pickup truck with a gun rack and Confederate flag, there’s something else.  It’s been there all along and is still there.  I think of it as a real and steadfast spirit of place and people only externally doomed by slavery, economic isolation and Civil War.  Impossible to define, Faulkner captured it in a line from Light in August – “…a luminosity older than our Christian civilization.”

Two weeks ago I was an honored guest of that luminosity in the form of the 8th Annual Writer’s and Reader’s Symposium in St. Francisville, LA., despite not being A Southern Writer.  I slipped under the wire as A Not-Southern Writer Who Wrote a Book About the South.  An Unremembered Grave is written from  the

That book

That book

point of view of a New York State history professor suddenly up to her teeth in Louisiana kudzu as well as a decade-old murder and the attentions of a neighbor who actually knew Descartes.

At the speaker’s table with me were, however, real Southerners whose work reflects that luminosity of which Faulkner wrote.   You’ll see it in Richard Sexton‘s breathtaking photographs, Moira Crone‘s novels and Ava Leavell Haymon‘s poetry.  Ava and I did an all-day writer’s workshop at Butler Greenwood a week after the big symposium, and sat up half the night before, dishing writerly dirt and discussing the sestina.  That is, Ava patiently explained what one is.  Ye gods, I taught upper-level English for years and had no idea!  Shameful.  (Learn about sestinas here.)

During the week I visited old friends in Baton Rouge, and was taken to an unusual plantation exhibit, the Whitney Plantation.  There are countless “display” plantations in Louisiana, but this one is unique in that it’s focus is on the lives of the slaves rather than the plantation owners.  I was mesmerized by the sculptures 20150226_111842of slave children, scrupulously reproduced from actual 1800’s lithographs by Akron, Ohio, artist Woodrow Nash.  They’re quite lifelike and eerie, forcing me to wonder long after we left – “What happened to them?”

20150226_110320

Even stranger, the Whitney includes, on slabs of black marble, some of Gwendolyn Midlo Hall‘s voluminous research that I referenced in An Unremembered Grave!  Column after column of engraved first names of slaves, but in keeping with the site’s mission, no recording of place or “owner’s” names, which would have been the slaves’ surnames.  Crazy-making for researchers like African Americans tracing their genealogies.  But I get the point – the Whitney is not about massa.

Also made my way to LA’s maximum security prison at Angola to visit Ben, a friend of my now nearly-five-years dead friend, Douglas Dennis.  The criminal perspective on some things is actually pretty compelling.  Only problem is, you wind up in a place like Angola.  I think I’ll stick to writing about fictional crimes.  Orange is not my color.  ;)

 

Literary Louisiana

imagesThink the entire South is an intellectual wasteland?  No way!  If anything, that unsavory political climate seems to nurture enclaves of cutting-edge brilliance.  (Always has, actually.  The list is endless, but sorry, Faulkner, my heart belongs to Flannery O’Connor.)  Below is the text from www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com about a literary festival at which I’ll be a speaker in February.  Check out the other three honorees – LA Poet Laureate Ava Haymon (whose Eldest Daughter smashes incestuous silence), Richard Sexton (whose photography of forgotten architecture is also a kind of poetry), and Moira Crone (all of whose books I ordered as soon as I realized she tackles issues of psychiatric illness in award-winning prose).  I’m thrilled to be honored beside these southern writers despite not being remotely southern.  So read their work and if you’re anywhere near St. Francisville, join us!

Writers and Readers Symposium Coming Soon to St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler

As 2015 dawns, St. Francisville steps into the future with a number of improvements, from the grand new library and prospects of a commodious new hospital to several much anticipated new restaurants and shops. But location scouts have long appreciated the little town’s ability to step BACK in time, the many preserved historic structures making it possible to throw some dirt on the streets and…voila!…it’s the 19th century.

Residents deal daily with this dichotomy, the delicate balance of preservation and progress, recognizing that the present and hopes for a financially stable future are of necessity firmly grounded in the past, built upon history. Town founders had forethought and high hopes, laying out side streets with optimistic names like Prosperity and Progress. As that old Greek proverb proclaimed, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
padgett
But how to connect past and present, especially in a meaningful and sensible way? Participants at A Celebration of Literature and Art’s Writers and Readers Symposium on Saturday, February 21, at Hemingbough Convention Center in St. Francisville will get a variety of unique views on the interconnections between past and present as four celebrated authors—mystery writer Abigail Padgett, poet Ava Leavell Haymon, New Orleans novelist and short story writer Moira Crone, photographer Richard Sexton, all with new books– share their creative processes both individually and in moderated panel discussions with audience participation encouraged.

Abigail Padgett’s latest book is An Unremembered Grave. A resident of San Diego who has visited St. Francisville over many years, Padgett was struck by a 1990s photograph showing excavations through the striated strata of Angola’s Tunica Hills. At the lowest level of a dirt pit cut deep into the loess soil, LSU paleontologists were shown examining mammoth bones, while at the very top ground-level layer, archaeologists and prison staff in the same photograph examined newly uncovered skeletal remains of an unidentified 19th-century burial.

Considering these layered connections, a single photograph linking time periods from prehistoric creatures through Native Americans and antebellum plantations to the present correctional facility, award-winning mystery writer Padgett has woven an imaginative web of intrigue involving a prescient history professor, a spooky Louisiana plantation, an innocent prisoner, an ancient slave-made quilt. And, oh yes, a charming vampire with a plausible explanation for these entwined moments of time, whose slumber under the oppressive weight of history was interrupted atop that loessial bluff on Angola, the vampire whose blood-thirst was essential to pass along the eternal stories, the immutable history of the race and the currents of collective memory coursing through the veins of living creatures.
creole world
Gifted writer-photographer Richard Sexton’s most recent book, Creole World: Photographs of New Orleans and the Latin Caribbean Sphere, explores and illustrates with dreamy images the Creole connections between New Orleans and the Latin Caribbean. It’s all in the eye, really—well, maybe the mind too, and the heart and soul. That’s how Sexton, with his strong architecture and art background, spots the elegance amidst the decadence and celebrates the colorful remnants of Creole culture even in the most desolate Caribbean slum or New Orleans housing project. Compelling images reflect the author’s four decades roaming across the Latin Caribbean capturing architectural and urban similarities connecting New Orleans’ Creole heritage with colonial cultures in Haiti, Colombia, Panama, Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador and other historic locales.

Sexton says his Creole book “isn’t about home decorating—or pretty architecture, or even about city planning, although I think it addresses those interests. It’s my attempt to sum up an outlook—and a culture—that feels Creole to me. I’m drawn to places that accept accidents and decay, that put the past to fresh uses, that proceed by trial and error and keep things that work even if they don’t fit the rules.” As Sexton, who has lived in New Orleans since 1991, explains in an interview with Chris Waddington of nola.com, “I don’t just celebrate the past. I’m looking to see how the past can help us get to the future.”
author
Prestigious LSU Press has published four collections of Louisiana Poet Laureate Ava Haymon’s poetry, and she is editor of the press’ Barataria Poetry Series. A Mississippi native who grew up in Kansas City with a Baptist preacher father who made her memorize ten verses of Scripture each week and recite them perfectly before the television set could be turned on, she attended Baylor University and then moved to Baton Rouge so her husband could go to LSU Law School and she could get a master’s degree in English.

She found Louisiana a poet’s dream, “a wonderful place to write poetry about. It has exotic weather, all sorts of ethnic groups and fabulous music. It’s sensory.” And yet, she finds inspiration in family dynamics across the generations as well. Her most recent book is titled Eldest Daughter, in which LSU Press says the poet combines the sensory and the spiritual in wild verbal fireworks. “Concrete descriptions of a woman’s life in the mid-20th-century American South mix with wider concerns about family lies and truths, and culture that supports or forbids clear speech. Haymon’s poems encourage us to revel in the natural world and enjoy its delights, as well as to confront the hard truths that would keep us from doing so.”

Also inspired by family dynamics in the South is Moira Crone, respected New Orleans novelist and short story writer. Called one of the best American writers, Crone attended University of North Carolina and Smith College, then studied writing at Johns Hopkins. After moving to Louisiana, she directed the MFA Program in Creative Writing at LSU in Baton Rouge before relocating to New Orleans with her husband, writer Rodger Kamenetz.

When she received the Robert Penn Warren Award for Fiction from the Fellowship of Southern Writers for the body of her work, it was said that her interest in things spiritual “has led her work to be wittily described as ‘Southern Gnostic.’ In books like What Gets Into Us, Period of Confinement, and Dream State, Crone charts a zone of family resemblance and family claustrophobia. Her work can be hilarious in dealing with contemporary moral relativism. She is a fable maker with a musical ear, a plentitude of nerve, and an epic heart for her beleaguered, if often witty characters.”
ice garden
Moira Crone’s newest book, published in late fall 2014, is The Ice Garden, called “a story as dazzling and dangerous as ice, a heart stopper. This may just be the most haunting and memorable novel you will ever read.” The book’s narrator is ten years old, daughter of a mother trapped in the suffocating southern culture of the sixties, and only she can save her family. Of all Crone’s prize-winning novels and short stories, reviewers call The Ice Garden her finest book yet.

Tickets to the Writers and Readers Symposium, including lunch with these authors and a juried exhibit of photographs linked to literature, may be purchased at www.brownpapertickets.com ( OLLI members can sign up through LSU); January tickets are $40, February $50, at the door $60. Seating is limited. Thanks to the Town of St. Francisville, this program is supported in part by a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council, and as administered by the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge. Funding has also been provided by Entergy and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.
Adjuncts to the program include Ava Hayman teaching a poetry workshop for Bains Elementary School students, and Abigail Padgett, who has taught creative writing at Harvard and other institutions, working with promising upper class students. In addition, Hayman and Padgett will conduct a Writers’ Workshop for aspiring and professional adult authors Saturday, February 28, in a stimulating plantation setting.

Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and
Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: the Cottage Plantation, Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday).

The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 13 January 2015 )

 

Charlie Hebdo

CharlieAbbie1xLike most Americans, until January 7th I was pretty much unaware of Charlie Hebdo despite spending a lot of time in France.  So I Googled it and got the idea.  Satire.  Political cartoons.  Gross political cartoons.  Lots of penises and anuses, hideous old women with saggy boobs, the sorts of caricatures found on the walls of jr. high boys’ bathrooms.  Offensive, even disgusting to most Americans, particularly women.  Clearly not my thing, but interesting in some weird, sociological way.

Charlie Hebdo, in a French cultural tradition that perhaps more than any other on the planet takes freedom of expression seriously, lampoons everything with boyish, scatological verve.  Politicians, writers, all religions, social movements, anything is fair game.  Nothing is spared; nothing is sacred.  And while the juvenile, bathroom-wall images are occasionally stomach-turning,  they’re meant to be.  They’re meant to shock, to demolish acceptable patterns of thought and make room for new ones.

Charlie‘s cartoons wouldn’t survive three minutes anywhere but France, where social awareness and social criticism are the national religion and ridiculed on its pages as often as any other.  They wouldn’t survive because they quite deliberately overstep the boundaries of acceptable public imagery.  (Father, son and holy ghost imagesin sexual congress?  So over the top.)  But hey, I’ll take gross cartoons any day over one entire magazine office and a kosher grocery heaped with dead bodies.

Islamic radicals, Christian radicals, Jewish radicals, French cartoonist radicals – all have the right to espouse their ideas while the rest of us have the right to ignore them.  But those who attempt to seize social power through mindless slaughter rather than the exercise of intelligence are simply The Beast, primitive, barbaric and loathsome.

As a writer and member of civilized society, je suis definitely Charlie!index

 

 

AbigailPadget-FRONTcoverA new book! Three characters. Spooky Louisiana setting. Blood.

I don’t live in Louisiana, do not teach history, have never been imprisoned and don’t “believe” in vampires. Yet An Unremembered Grave is the story of a history professor, a prisoner and yes, a vampire, in Louisiana. So what was I thinking?

The History Professor

Danni Telfer was abandoned as a toddler and has no history, which may account for her getting a Ph.D. in the subject. But amphitheater classrooms of bored college freshmen aren’t doing it for Danni. When an ill-advised affair with her department chair results in an invitation by the dean to get out of Dodge for a semester, she scrounges an obscure grant to study the history of cotton in Louisiana. Danni has always been “different,” prone to odd experiences no one else seems to share. And now she’s about to find out why.

+++

“History” in my long-ago formal education was an agony of boredom. Kings, wars, names and dates memorized and instantly forgotten. A wasteland of data actually painful to recall. But I hang out with friends now who are History professors, and from just listening to their shop-talk quickly learned that “history” isn’t like that any more. Approached creatively, it’s a vast cache of stories, most of which do not involve kings, battles or specific dates. Had I to do it over again, I might major in History! Thus is born Danni, an alter-ego whose academic skills I admire and envy even as I create them from the distant perspective of the English major.

The Prisoner

Antoine “Monk” Dupre didn’t murder anybody in Opelousas ten years ago. Yet he was convicted and sentenced to life in Louisiana’s infamous maximum security prison at Angola. Monk, in the company of his cat, Bastet, works as head inmate counsel, helping other men struggle toward freedom even though his own case is hopeless. In the prison hobby shop he fashions exquisite wooden cats in the image of the Egyptian deity for which his own cat is named, only joking that his carvings might have magical power. But all that is about to change.

+++

Once a plantation, Angola is an entire town that, as such, appears on no map. It lies imagesat the end of a single, two-lane road in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by wild, snake-infested hills and a treacherous stretch of the Mississippi River. Isolated even now, seething with brutal history and snared in Louisiana’s traditional laissez-faire political corruption, Angola might be seen as the prison exemplar, a fantasy prison embodying all prisons. Except Angola is real. For seventeen years I visited a friend imprisoned there and talked on the phone with him every week. We even wrote and published a short story together. But that’s another whole book, a memoir in progress. For now, Angola belongs to Monk, a desperate man whose life hangs on the skill of a History professor… and a vampire.

The Vampire

sabrewolfThe man, Stephane Grimaud, was born to Basque shepherds near Bayonne, France, before there was France. But Grimaud is no longer a man; Grimaud is a vampire. Staked and buried by a courageous but dying slave during the Civil War, Grimaud has slept beneath the soil of the plantation called Angola for 150 years. When a crew of prisoners grading a golf course for the warden unearths his grave, Grimaud struggles to stand, starving and terrified. He will need help if he is to survive in a world unimagined before he slept. How fortunate that an adept is nearby, one of the mortal humans who see and understand realities beyond the accepted one. Her name is Danni and he knows what she is, but why does she flee from him in terror?

+++

Kids love stories of the occult, witches and vampires, magic and all things outside the quotidian. Most outgrow it. I never did. So it was with fascination that I observed the recent, sudden and unprecedented popularity of vampires in fiction and media. (At this writing there are 10,920 vampire novels listed on Amazon Kindle, most written in the last five years!) What is this about? I dived into the research and came up with a theory. Interest in vampires demonstrably increases during periods of social change. The current time is such a period, a paradigm shift of incomprehensible dimensions, and so of course there are vampires everywhere. But why? Why do people, particularly young adults, crave endless stories of deathless, humanoid beings who drink human blood?

Eureka!  In human blood is encoded the history of the human race. But history is threatened with obliteration by social change, and the blood-coded stories in every individual perish when the individual dies. Vampires cannot die, and so shoulder the task of consuming and preserving human history. The vampire, born of a Balkan folk belief and refined by the minds of many writers, including mine, is a symbol rising from our collective unconscious. Young adults, teetering between the dying world of their parents and grandparents, and the unknown world in which their children will live, are acutely, if unconsciously, aware of the shift. They, and I, long for the vampire, who preserves what we cannot. And so… Grimaud!

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Strawgirl

strawgirlNEW3I’ve never written about this, the darkest of the Bo Bradley mysteries. I haven’t because anything I can say is likely to anger a few people, but they aren’t likely to read my books anyway so why not?

Strawgirl is on a promotion right now – 99 cents from 8/8 to 8/15. Please tell your friends unless they’re among the few referenced above.

So here’s the upsetting idea from which this book grew – The only difference between psychiatric delusional states and “sanity” is the absence or presence of consensus. If one person thinks something irrational is true, that’s a delusion and a psychiatrist must be called. If many people think something irrational is true, societies will respond as if it is. Witch hunts and McCarthyism are examples, but Strawgirl was spun from much more recent stuff.

I went to work as a child abuse investigator in the late eighties, in the wake of the McMartin Preschool “Satanic/Ritual Child Abuse” madness. And I use the term “madness” deliberately. The case, which involved accusations of satanic child sexual abuse with fantastical elements such as children being flushed down toilets to secret underground tunnels where they were molested in the presence of circus animals and murdered babies, went on for seven years. The McMartin criminal trial was the most expensive in American history but, not surprisingly, resulted in ruined lives but no convictions.

The mass hysteria did result, however, in enormous federal funds pouring into “training programs” which would enable child advocacy professionals to recognize evidence of satanic child abuse. I was one of those professionals and had no choice but to sit through mandated satanic abuse workshops. Really.

In one of these we were told to scour record collections in the homes of clients for

Ozzy Album Cover

Ozzy Album Cover

those by Ozzy Osbourne (heavy metal rock personality), as these were indicative of satanic influences in the home.  That night my teenage son and I  joked about burying album covers in the yard to avoid being arrested as satanists even though he was never into heavy metal and didn’t own a single Ozzie record.

But not everybody was laughing. The mindless hysteria endured well into the nineties, spreading across the country and wrecking hundreds of lives. And there are still individuals and organizations who, in the absence of any evidence whatever, seriously believe in satanic ritual child abuse. This is madness, but because it is espoused by several rather than one, it is not so-labeled. Nobody was or is dragging these individuals and groups off to see the shrink.

So I wrote Strawgirl, in which bipolar child abuse investigator Bo Bradley (who really does live with a psychiatric disorder) must battle the undiagnosed craziness of mass hysteria around satanic/ritual child abuse. Complicating her task is the opportunistic psychologist, Cynthia Ganage, who’s riding the craziness all the way to the bank, and Bo’s own supervisor, who’s determined to use Bo’s psychiatric diagnosis to end her career.

An Extraerrestrial

An Extraterrestrial

I wanted to point out that special interest groups, sometimes called “cults”, are usually harmless and often interesting, so created the “Seekers,” people who believe in or hope to see extraterrestrials. Eva Broussard, a half-Iroquois psychiatrist who studies the Seekers, becomes Bo’s new psychiatrist. And of course Dr. Andrew LaMarche, whose interest in Bo is far from professional, is again at her side despite her unorthodox methods. But without the courage of one homeless man, probably living with schizophrenia, Bo would not have been able to solve this case.

In real life people labeled “mentally ill” carry the stigma of crimes committed by thousands who are perfectly “sane” as well as the highly-publicized few committed by a handful of their number. In Strawgirl, a bipolar social worker, a homeless mentally ill man and a renegade psychiatrist revered by a cult, combat an epidemic of societal madness to protect a child.

It’s a dark novel with unpleasant details presented graphically. The villain is vile, but he isn’t crazy. Bo is sporadically crazy, but she isn’t vile. Both exist in a world distorted by a dangerous mass delusion that has passed, but pockets of which still exist and can flourish again in other forms, at any time.

Cornell historian George Lincoln Burr is often quoted as having said, “… that the Salem witchcraft was the rock on which the theocracy shattered.” If only that were true!

 

 

 

 

imagesI don’t read reviews of my books because authors aren’t supposed to respond to reviews, ever. Gads, this is hard! Reading them, I’m dying to email the reviewer, saying, “Yes! You got it! You’re brilliant!” or something coolly courteous like, “I think if you check page 117 you’ll see that your comment is egregiously in error.”

But prior to launching a promo (going on now – Child of Silence is 99 cents on Kindle through August 1) I thought it might be a good idea to look at those reviews for some idea about reader reactions to Bo and her rather unusual life. One review really captured my attention.

imagesIt was one of those “bad” 3-star reviews over which authors tear their hair because anything below 4 stars drags the overall ratings down, but it was a “good” review. It was intelligent, thoughtful and articulate, exactly the sort of review I’d love were it not for the star issue on which my livelihood depends. (I loathe the star system, but it seems intractable, a permanent blight.) In it, the reviewer expressed concern that in Child of Silence readers might fail to “…recognize the difference between influences of mental illness and belief founded on faith.”

So now I’m dying to take this clearly intelligent and thoughtful person to lunch so I can say, “Um, there is no difference!” Humans (we don’t know about animals) are wired, some much and some almost not at all, for awareness of the other, the mystical. In some bipolar humans during manic episodes, such awareness can become extreme, but it’s the same awareness.

Bipolar Bo Bradley at times bases her interpretations of events on ancient Celtic imagesimages learned from an Irish grandmother. Bipolar Martin Luther documentably suffered brutal depressions and almost certainly nailed those Ninety-five Theses to the door of All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg on October 31 (Hallowe’en, gotta love that manicky symbolism!), in a full-blown manic episode that would result in Protestantism. Fictional Bo accesses energy from mysticism and saves kids. Non-fictional Martin used his lutheran symbolextreme experience to reform a major religion and inspire the founding of the Lutheran Church, without which we wouldn’t have the music of Bach.

There’s a continuum of experience, reviewer, but no matter what interpretative labels get attached (“mental illness” or “faith”), it’s all interesting, possibly inspiring and ultimately personal. No lines need be drawn.

And I don’t dare read any more reviews!

 

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