Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Double-blind: unwittingly playing with the family jewels

No, I have not read all 702 pages of the recently released "Family Jewels" files, a collection of misdeeds to which the CIA had admitted:'s_family_jewels©right=0&release_dec=RIPPUB&classification=U&showPage=0001

Summaries of the report indicate there are documents pointing to, amongst other Cold War delirium, testing electronic equipment on US telephone circuits and the funding of behaviour modification research on "unwitting" US citizens.

"Unwitting" is crucial here. That means the subjects didn't know. Were not informed. Could not possibly give proper consent.

This brings to mind the CIA's funding of Ewen Cameron's behaviour modification research on Canadian psychiatric patients – unwitting and unprotected.

But before Canadian readers here get too smug, we do need to remind ourselves that the Canadian government stepped in with funding for Cameron after the CIA pulled out. Stand on guard for thee.

All of this high-strung lethal foolishness is in the background of my novel Double-blind, which is narrated by Dr. Josh Bozeman, an American psychiatrist contracted under a program like MK-Ultra, working in Newfoundland.
Dr. Bozeman's fictional research includes behaviour modification and some farther paranormal activity. His big struggle is with his own empathy. His big question is "Who could forgive me?"

So. Some jewels are out. Some mistakes were made. My big question is "What do we learn here?"

I've learned that knowledge eats sleep.

Here's a bit about Double-blind:

It's the 1970s, the final icy winter of the Cold War. American psychiatrist Josh Bozeman finds himself in St. John's as part of covert research group SHIP, the Society for Human Improvement and Potential. But SHIP defines "improvement" and "potential" as anything that can be forged into a weapon.

Enter Christy Monroe, one of Bozeman's favourite patients, a nine-year-old girl with an extraordinary psychic gift. She becomes Bozeman's subject in a SHIP double-blind experiment where the whole reality is dangerously obscure, blurring the lines between patient and doctor, duty and conscience, sanity and madness.

Twenty-five years later, Bozeman is drawn into an even darker paranormal agenda that sends him back to Newfoundland as the principal player in an endgame that could have mortal consequences for Christy, or for his own soul.

Double-blind is a feverish story of complicity, empathy, and the extremities of duty and love

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ferryland Lightouse -- reading on June 16th

So I was on the same bill with Michael Crummey – an honour. My husband and children came out to see the lighthouse but would not be staying – I didn’t think the younger one had the attention span, and I didn’t feel like using my characters’ profanity in front of them. So they went off to have supper, but not before clambering around the restored lighthouse.

We couldn’t have asked for better weather. Sunshine, warm winds, whales playing offshore – and quiet. After the previous weekend in Toronto, I needed this: big ocean, clean sky. Our blood is salty.

Feeling better than I had in weeks, I read the story “Late lunch” form the shadow side of grace, then gave ‘er with the opening of Double-blind, which is narrated first-person by an American psychiatrist, originally from the south. I had no business writing that novel from Dr. Bozeman’s POV – man, it was fun – and even less business reading in his voice, but the prose just falls that way. The rhythms. I’m no actor, and I need to work on control, but reading Bozeman as Bozeman felt like flying.

Fine line between bravery and foolishness.

Doubt and Depression, demons at large

You can pick your friends, but your demons pick you.

Doubt was in the living room with his feet up. Depression was outside having a smoke. I lopped their heads off last week, but both demons have this dandelion quality to them. Seeded. I’ll see them again.

Clinically depressed, as in needing and accepting medical intervention? Not this time. Teetered close, though. Looked like a raggedy darkness creeping under the door.

What does it feel like?


Like a dental abscess. A kidney stone. A razor cutting open a bruise. Like all of this, while at the same time the sparks that make you you are battered to powder, which then blows away. Some dim awareness you inhabit a shell. Some limp desire for numbness, until that, too, dries up. Love is farther away than stars. Then the wound consumes you. Depression exists. You do not.

So that’s why I lopped off his head. A trip to Ferryland helped.

Book Expo Canada: big pond, little fish. Endangered? Hardly.

Now, I was warned that Book Expo could make me feel small. After all, I’m just one little-known (okay okay, next best to unknown) writer with a small press. But we were also up there with advance review copies of Double-blind; surely, I muttered to Doubt and Depression, two familiar demons who have dropped by for the summer, surely that amounts to something.

Book Expo looked like a cross between a fair and a mall, but it smelled like a corporate boardroom. Stalls were fancy to varying degrees, and in the first feeding frenzy of Saturday morning, people grabbed books off shelves, happily ignoring signs that read “For Display Only.” (I wondered what happened to the concept of “Ask first.”) Lineups for signings snaked round. Big-arsed publishers had thick plush carpet over their share of the hard floor–ever harder, hour after standing hour. I worked in malls years ago. I don’t envy the fatigue and ache that infests you after standing around, walking the sales floor and counting the minutes until your first break … all before opening the doors to let customers in.

So what happened at Book Expo? I didn’t see many orders being placed, but that seems to be done ahead of time now. It’s a bit like getting lost in a bookstore for the first time, when you can’t see over the shelves but know Mom is somewhere close by. I did see lots of hugging, air kisses and lots of lining up. Traffic seemed steady through the centre, sparser on the far edges. One person I chatted to commented on my accent, or perceived relative lack of one and pointed this out as though it were a high compliment. Joy. People still do that?

I had two signings for Double-blind, one Sunday afternoon, one Monday morning. I also had lineups, which I was not expecting, but hey, free books, right?

I’d never had lineups at a signing before. I’m more accustomed to the Sit Next to Your Books and Look Friendly While Everyone Avoids Eye Contact scenario. My second signing for The shadow side of grace was at Coles in the Village Shopping Centre. The Village is a … quiet mall. Coles is at the back end. And it was a gorgeous fall Saturday. I was sure tumbleweeds passed by, or maybe that was lint on my glasses. Then, she came. A little old lady. Fierce of mien. Sharp of eye. She strode past the table. Stopped. Strode back. Picked up my book as though she were Ahab and the sun had just offended her. Turned it over like it was a beetle in the sun. Peered over her glasses at the price. Slammed it back on the table. “It’s too expensive, dear; you’re just starting out.”

Having a line-up at a signing is a bit like driving on the Queensway in Ottawa: you’re baffled on either side and focused only on where you’re going. No lane change here, baby. You want to chat with everyone, find out their name, figure out if they’d like the book personalized or just scribbled on, and thank them. Gratifying and draining all at once.

Did I feel small? Sure. I’m one of thousands of people in this country who can string a sentence together with a bit of skill. Hoop-de-doo, yay for me, got another book coming out.

Yeah. Got another book coming out. Doing what I’ve wanted to do since I was seven.

Small. But not squashed.

Launch: The Vagrant Revue of New Fiction

The Vagrant Revue of New Fiction launched in Halifax on May 28th. I got to visit the very orderly city of Halifax and twack around Agricola and then downtown. The Vagrant Review is an anthology, with writers from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador represented. The editorial policy was literary merit, not provincial representation.

It was probably the swankiest, and certainly, the busiest launch I’ve attended, but then I’m no ravin’ maven of parties given for books.

Check your indy bookseller for this one. Vagrant, an imprint of Nimbus, is repped by the Literary Press Group, and there disturbing stories – surely I’ve misunderstood – that Chapters Indigo ordered no spring titles from LPG.

Spark-gap transmission / Michelle Butler Hallett

Spark-gap transmission / Michelle Butler Hallett
in progress