Where and When? Why I Leave it to My Readers’ Imagination

NightmarZIf you’ve read my previously published episodes, Asylum and Parfait, you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t specified a place nor a time in my stories.

The books are obviously set in a contemporary setting, but is it during our modern days, in the near future, or in the near past?

There are no indications as to where the story unfolds either—and the characters names are no help with that.

In the eighteen episodes I’ve already written (and intend to publish), I mix possible places, foreign names, customs.

My world is a bit like our world, and obeys the same set of rules, except for one: the supernatural exists. There are nightmares that come to life, curses, magical powers, and all kind of supernatural creatures.

Why do I do this? It’s something that comes naturally to me, I never consciously intended to do this. But as I cut all filler from my books (which some reviewers called short, stabbing installments—so happy!), I also cut anything I feel could take the reader out of the story.

Some writers advise to write for the “ideal reader”: the one that will get what you write, that will enjoy it. So far, I have not met this reader… so I write what I would like to read.

I dread long descriptions in books. I also dread reading about cities I’ve never visited. My vision of what a city looks like, as a French person, is obviously way different than someone from New York City, Genova or Munich.

My Louisiana, for example, is defined by the books and TV shows I’ve seen all my life. I’m sure that most people think Eiffel Tower, bread and cheese when they think about France. However, this is not the depiction of my France, the one I live in, the one I’ve seen all my life. To avoid stereotypes, I want to avoid naming places.

Also, I am an inhabitant of the world. I like to think that the place you come from does not say anything about you, and does not define who you are or who you become. Nowadays, people travel and move around a lot. I don’t want French names or German names or American names to mean a thing in my fiction. There are too loaded with meaning and the countries’ past. So I will use them however I feel like, without bothering about any hidden meaning they might have for anyone.

I like reading contemporary fiction. I’m not an history buff, and I have a hard time adjusting when reading stories set in the future. That’s why I write contemporary fiction: it’s what I like and what I know.

I don’t want to timestamp my stories. I’d like people to enjoy them in ten, twenty years, without thinking they are outdated. Of course, since I don’t know how science will change our lives then, I can only hope that’s what will happen, and that they’ll stay “contemporary” for a long time.

I get how this might be an unusual approach for readers. I truly hope that you’ll be able to get past that, and focus on the important sides of my books: the characters, and the story.

[The Truth Behind the Fiction] Psychiatric Wards

NightmarZ: AsylumThe depiction of the psychiatric ward in my book is harsh and cold.

You might think it’s straight from all the horror films that depict asylums situations in the past—with a very strong abuse due to the genre of the films.

Thank God this doesn’t happen anymore, right? Thank God disabled people are treated with care and respect in the current psychiatric wards. Right?

Thing is, many people have no idea what happens behind those doors. It’s rare to get depictions that really are close to the truth—at least, in some of the psychiatric wards. I’ll be the first to hope there are places where my words are only fiction. Sadly, sometimes, truth is harder than fiction.

I try to be honest in general, in my books and in life. I don’t mean this to say my words are a universal truth—I just want people to take what they think they know, what they think is normal, with a grain of salt. Let me tell you about what I know about psychiatric wards, in my little corner of the world.

Let’s hide those mentally insane nobody wants to see

There is a psychiatric hospital not far from where I lived when I was a teenager. It was a big, quite new building, with gigantic gardens in the front. No one ever went through those gates, though, except ambulances. I know this, because this is where i took the bus everyday—to go to school, to go see friends, at different hours and different days.

No one ever went in the gardens, even though they were protected by high iron gates and fences. You see, in France, you don’t talk about handicap. You hide the handicapped. You put them in psychiatric hospital and you try to forget about them. At least, that’s what the psychiatrists ask you to do. Forget, go make another child, leave the handicapped in their care. This is particularly true for autistic people, but I’ll write about this subject later.

In college, I was asked to find an internship somewhere, in order to experience life as a working person. At the time, I was already very interested in mental handicaps. As a teen, I had read all of Torey Hayden‘s books, and I deeply and dearly wanted to work with handicapped people.

I sent a letter to the asylum, hoping to get my internship there. I waited and waited, and never had any answer whatsoever. My mother called, asking if per chance my letter got lost, and she got an answer for me. They told her that the families didn’t want strangers to see their child/sibling/older member of the family.

It wasn’t because I was unqualified—they didn’t care about that. It was not because I was young—they didn’t ask questions about that either. They didn’t even ask what sort of internship I wanted—administrative internship or anything else, it didn’t matter. You had to be a member of the staff, or you couldn’t come in at all.

There is a shame about showing out handicapped people. People with physical impairments have it hard here already, but their families don’t endure the constant shaming and horrified looks people with mentally disabled children get.

No one knows…

It was a little more than fifteen years ago. I was in Italy for a month, hoping to find a job there in order to be near my boyfriend (who was, at the time, a man from North-Italy). I’ll always remember this time with fondness. It was a much simpler time for me, and I lived a care-free life, the way young adults do.

His father was ill—I think it was diabetes, but I might remember wrong–and sometimes was very tired. That one time, when I was there, he had to be hospitalized.

What does this have to do with psychiatric wards? Not much, except that he was hospitalized in the psychiatric ward, because there was no room in the other parts of the hospital.

That week, I saw more dirty, lost, haggard people than I’ve ever seen. They roamed in the corridor in night gowns. A lot of them had dirty hair, or no shoes. Once in a while, if one of them was making too much noise, a nurse would accompany him back to his room.

All those people spent the whole day wandering. They had absolutely no therapy sessions, they didn’t have much visits either from their families. You could argue that I was there a small amount of time, but I can assure you it was enough to see that they were more “handled” than taken care of.

What about the older disabled persons?

A few years later, my grandmother fell and had to be hospitalized and go through surgery. She couldn’t come home with us, because my mother and I had day jobs and no one could take care of her there during the day.

She stayed for a few months in a place where she received therapy so that her leg would work again. The place was awful, a real deathtrap. We made sure to go see her every evening after work, to make sure she was okay.

There were a lot of other older people there. A lot of them had Alzheimer’s disease. Not all of them had the chance of having a family coming to see them frequently. I could notice the difference in treatment between my grandmother and her roommate. Just because we were always there and complaining when something wasn’t right, they took a better care of her than her roommate.

If my grandmother didn’t eat, we made sure she had sweets and good things to eat every evening when we came to see her. If her roommate didn’t eat… well, she didn’t eat, no one cared. We complained when the sheets weren’t changed, we complained when we saw that they didn’t make her move enough and she had bed sores. The others didn’t have that chance; and most of them were too far gone to care for themselves or complain.

For the time we were there, we made sure her roommate was treated correctly too, but I have no idea how she fared after that, when we came home with my grandmother.

I lived all these life experiences as a young person. These were around fifteen years ago. One could argue that was a long time ago, and would be right.

Let me now tell you about how psychiatric hospitals are, nowadays, here in France…

Autism? Doesn’t exist

In France, autism doesn’t exist. As this disability becomes a worldwide epidemic, with as much as 1 in 88 persons with PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder), in France the psychiatrists don’t diagnose autism. Autism doesn’t exist. We have a funny diagnosis, that exist only in France, of “disharmonious evolution”, because God forbid they put a diagnosis on the children. But actually, what the whole psychiatric institution is taught is that what the rest of the world calls autism is not a neural development disorder, but a psychosis, due to the bad relationship between the mother and her child.

I can tell you all about this: I am the mother of two autistic children. Yes, I am that mother. The “refrigerator mom”, the one that is too cold and neglects her children—or, if you prefer, I am the one that has an incestuous relationship with her sons. Yes, that is what we’re hearing from the people who are taking care of our children. What goes on in France shocks a lot of people overseas—with good reasons.

In France, there is almost no behavioral component to the therapies for autistic people. We have no PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System), no ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis)—we just have psychoanalysis.

Mothers are shamed, they are asked a lot of questions about how they neglect their children, or how they deny the father his place with their children and enter an incestuous relationship with them as replacement of the husband. You can argue all you want—you’re a liar, or in denial, because it’s your fault if your child is psychotic.

This per se is already terrible, and lots of families are distraught just by these accusations. Worse is how criminal the therapies are. Let me show you what I mean when I say the fiction is not far from the truth.

You have to respect the subject

In France, autism is not a neural development disorder. It is a psychosis due to the child’s mother behavior. The autistic person is not someone you have to help learn—he is someone who is capable to learn by himself, and who just refuses to do so.

Psychoanalysts argue that their desires must be respected, and that they will learn when they’re ready, when they’ve been teared off their mothers’ evil grasp.

That never ends well, of course. Autistic adults are not potty-trained, they don’t speak nor read no write, and have no means of communication. In the US, they mostly are able to live different in the midst of neurotypical people, and even do their own advocacy. Here in France, they’re committed to psychiatric hospitals.

There is a lack of care that is awful. Parents that fight for their children do so on their own—when social services are not involved to take their children away, because psychoanalysis is the only way, and trying something else without psychiatrists backing you is the best way to have your child taken away.

We’re told to leave the child in their care, to forget about him. To go make another one. Subtext is, without screwing that one up! Doctors are making these statements—the very persons you are taught to trust from your childhood years. It’s those persons that are at the head of every hospital and state substructure there is.

People like me who actually are able to read in English, and who are decided to push their children hard so that they’ll have a chance at dignity and the most normal life they can in the future, have to go rogue and find people outside of the normal path.

What does all this have to do with the topic? Let me show you why I won’t let my children be taken care of by psychiatric hospitals.

Neglect

This video show two different points:

  • how autistic people are not helped how they should be
  • how autistic people are neglected in hospitals

Of course, this does not happen in all psychiatric hospitals—thank God. But it happened. How can we know how many of these places treat autistic people that way?

It is in French, but the pictures tell the whole story: Acacio, a young autistic man, was totally neglected by the psychiatric hospital he was in, for more than ten years. He slept on the floor in a very small room without windows, had to go to the toilet in a pail, and wasn’t fed if his parents didn’t come to feed him. He was given a lot of drugs to keep him calm. He was never taught how to communicate.

The story covering shows how the new place he’s been sent to had to teach him the most basic things like how to eat. In one year, they have made a difference in that young man’s life, who almost died in that psychiatric hospital.

Torture

Because neglecting autistic children is not enough, here is a French therapy called “packing”, which consist of putting the child between cold wet sheets, to help him. See, autistic people (“psychotics”) are said by the French doctors to be “leaking” by their own pores, that they don’t know they’re contained by their skin. Packing would be the way to help them–at least that’s what they’re subjected to, from age 3.

This method has made an enormous cry of anger from parents last year in France, but psychoanalysts still practice it without the consent of the parents—what they don’t know can’t hurt them, right? And since most autistic children aren’t able to say that they’re subjected to the packing, or even to say no to the doctors on their own, they are unpunished.

Abject therapies

Last but not least of the therapies I’ll talk about today is what is called here “atelier pataugeoire”. It’s a room with a small trough where you can make a puddle of water. There is a mirror in it, and autistic children are brought there regularly for therapy.

pataugeoire

It’s not a place where they learn anything. It’s more a place where therapists come to observe them and make comments about the child’s familial environment.

There can be up to three therapists there, and none of them will teach the child anything. The child is encouraged to do whatever he likes. No one will tell him anything if he defecates in the pataugeoire, or if he masturbates. The staff is there to watch his “productions” and psychoanalyse. No one will teach him it is inappropriate to do so—all “productions” are acceptable in the pataugeoire.

pataugeoire

The little boy on the picture has a bathing suit—this is generally not the case, the children go in there mostly nude. Parents are not welcome, of course, to any of those therapies. Am I the only one who sees how sick it is for grown men and women to let a child masturbate and defecate in front of them? All this to form this “psychical skin” autistic people seem to lack? How this doesn’t help anything, and even makes things worse by not pointing out one cannot masturbate/defecate in public?

NightmarZ: Asylum—Reality or fiction?

So, yes, my depiction of the psychiatric hospital in my book is creepy. It’s part of the story, it’s part of setting up a mood and to give a sense of horror and urgency to my story.

Psychiatric wards are not the asylums of the old days. And I really hope in other parts of the world every mentally disabled person is treated with the respect due to them.

But there is some truth behind my fiction.

Unfortunately.

[Blog Hop] My Next Big Thing

Last week, Linda Castillo was kind enough to tag me in a blog hop. She is currently working on her first book, Lash. The cover is amazing, and I anticipate a great story judging from her blurb. Mark your calendars (or subscribe to her mailing list): Lash release date is June 24th, 2013!

Lash (L.G. Castillo)Lash
Broken Angel Trilogy, Book 1

Decades after being banished from Heaven for saving a life he shouldn’t have, seraph Lash is given a chance to redeem himself. His mission: protect Naomi Duran, a young woman who has lost her faith. The assignment proves to be anything but simple when his superiors, the Archangels, withhold key information about Naomi and refuse to restore Lash’s powers. When an unexpected source reveals centuries-old secrets, his trust is shaken to the core, and he begins to doubt those whom he had once considered to be his greatest allies.

Determined to avoid anything that would risk his chances of returning to Heaven, Lash struggles with the greatest obstacle of all—his growing feelings for Naomi. But when her life is threatened by an unknown source, Lash questions the wisdom of the Archangels and his ability to keep her safe.

Soon, Lash will have to choose where to place his faith—in the home he has fought so hard to regain or in the forbidden love he can’t bear to lose.


NightmarZSo… I’m going to answer questions about my work in progress: NightmarZ.

I have written two other first drafts for the sequels since then, but it is the one I’m editing right now for publication.

NightmarZ is the first season of my series (The Z Series), and is made of six episodes, which I am releasing one by one before I’ll actually publish the whole season in one bundle.

You can check the first episode, NightmarZ: Asylum, at Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo or Smashwords. It’s about 37 pages long (more than 10000 words), and only $0.99.

What is the working title of your book?

The first season of my Z Series is named NightmarZ. It has–as you have guessed–nightmares in it. That become reality. Scary stuff! Each episode has it’s own name, too:

NightmarZ
Asylum · Parfait · Squid Row
Infected · Cura · Beginnend

I’m currently working on NightmarZ: Parfait. I have no release dates for the episodes, because it’s hard for me to find the time to write regularly, but there should be one out at least every two months.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I wrote NightmarZ during NaNoWriMo 2010. Each november, writers from everywhere around the globe join forces and try to write a novel. The goal is to reach 50,000 words by the end of the month.

For a long time, I had been denying myself to live. To be completely honest, I had allowed people to tell me what I could and couldn’t do with my life. There was never a good time for writing: with two autistic young children, I always had ten thousand things to do, and I was shamed when I wanted to take time to do things for myself. For many years, I tried to win NaNoWriMo, only to stop a few days in due to the pressure I endured.

In November 2010, I just had 35 years, and I was doing nothing with my life. Well, nothing but catering to everybody else’s wishes. I felt the clock ticking, time passing without anything for me to look forward to, nor look back and be proud of. With the help and moral support of two friends, I finally made it: I won NaNoWriMo that year. I pushed myself and I discarded any attempt to guilt me into forfeiting. At last, I had achieved something just for me, something that was the first stone of my legacy to the world–as small as it may be.

This book came naturally to me. At 11:59pm the day before NaNoWriMo, I was still uncertain of what I would write about. I had a plan, with a plot, that didn’t appeal to me any more–writing it, even succinctly, had dried my desire to tell that story.

I wanted to write about supernatural elements. I have been a Stephen King fan for as long as I can remember. I devoured Graham Masterton’s books, Dean Koontz’s, Anne Rice’s… I wanted my chance to write about what I loved and knew best.

I didn’t want to contain my book’s world in just one supernatural element either. I love vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies… I wanted a chance to write about all of them if I so decided. I also loved long series, so I knew that, even if the novel had to be a standalone (one of my self-imposed list of obligations), I would want to be able to revisit that world again and again, maybe during the following NaNoWriMos (and I’m happy to report that I did–UndeadZ and WereTigerZ are the two sequels of NightmarZ, and will be published as serials too as quickly as I can edit them).

So, at midnight, I decided: I had just one plot twist in my mind when I started: nightmares becoming reality. I then asked myself questions: who, why, and what would happen then? I won’t give the plot away, of course, you’ll have to read NightmarZ: Asylum and its following episodes to find out! :)

What genre does your book come under?

NightmarZ–and the entirety of the Z Series, for that matter–is a Dark Fantasy. It has some adult themes, violence and sex, and is not appropriate for children or adults sensitive to trauma triggers.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I don’t really have one type in mind. I give very few description of my characters, because I want the reader to let his mind go and visualize the kind of physics my characters would have. If I had to choose *physically* from the actors I know, I guess Gabrielle would be short-haired Molly C. Quinn, Parfait would be Ryan Gosling (or Matthew Modine), and the infamous Doctor Schmechel would be Donald Sutherland. The father could be played by David Morse, and Creepy Dieter by a young Anthony Perkins.

MollyCQuinn Ryan Gosling DonaldSutherland DavidMorse AnthonyPerkins

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When her nightmares suddenly become reality, 17 years old Gabrielle must find a way to survive while she tries to understand the curse that plagued her family for generations.

Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

Self-published. I love the freedom of self-publishing–being able to choose my cover and my release schedule, working closely with the editor of my choice and not having to please anyone by modifying the story I have in my head, in my heart and in my guts.

It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t consider the right contract with a publisher, should the terms be interesting to me, but I’m a long way from that (if I ever will receive a proposition at all) and I’m not even considering it for the moment.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Less than 30 days. It took me more than two years to start editing it, though. The version in my head is way more advanced and interesting than that first draft. I’m doing my best to transcribe it in my books.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I have been influenced by a lot of authors over the years. To the aforementioned Stephen King, Graham Masterton, Dean Koontz and Anne Rice, I could add James Herbert, Charlaine Harris, Jeanne Kalogridis, and more recently Richelle Mead, Stephenie Meyer, Suzanne Collins, Christopher Smith, Amanda Hocking and Maggie Stiefvater.

When I was younger, Stephen King was my idol. I admired his talent for storytelling, and his capacity to make me crap my virtual pants. For a long time, I’ve had this representation of my Muse: the monster in the cupboard from Cujo.

But it’s now Amanda Hocking who inspires me to publish. Of course, I know I won’t ever be as successful as she is, but that’s not what I mean. Her story has been the one to clue me on the self-publishing possibility, and for that I will always be grateful. I’ve read her books, and she knows her way around a story. She’s the proof that being a writer is something you have inside you, not something that is granted to you by someone else. She is the proof you can follow your dreams.

Since then, I have met a lot of other self-publishers and enjoyed their books and their company. I had never been with other writers before, except for NaNoWriMo, and it’s amazing when someone just gets it, what it is to write, to be a writer–our struggles, our joys and pains, and the daily task of writing.

Now, you may think I have been rambling instead of answering the question, but there is a point to my musings: there is no book like mine. It’s the sum of all the books I have ever read, a sum of the things that makes me who I am and make me vibrate.

If I really had to compare it to something, it would be much closer–though not at all in the same mood or setting–to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because of its main theme: when a gift is also a curse, a girl tries to live a normal life despite her duty and her fate.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I can think of a dozen persons that inspired me. My friends, Cécile and Benoit, who have pushed me to finish NaNoWriMo that first year and the following ones. All the writers I have mentioned in this blog post, too.

I was also inspired a great deal by Holly Lisle–how she became a writer at a terrible time in her life, how she found a way to make it, and how she gives all she has to help other aspiring authors write their first book. I have taken her courses, and her website is full of tips about writing with joy. If you wish to become a writer, I recommend reading her e-book Mugging the Muse.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Thanks for asking! Here are four items that might be of interest to my readers:

  • a beautiful–and tragic–love story (though my books are not romance, and thus don’t follow the HEA (Happily Ever After) or HFN (Happy For Now) ending romance readers might look for),
  • lots of supernatural creatures–I won’t give a detailed list though, in order not to spoil, but I plan to hit a lot of them,
  • the main character, Gabrielle, will evolve a lot during the series, and not necessarily in the direction a reader would expect,
  • there is a lot of thinking around the struggles between who you are and who you would like to be, and how difficult it can be to manage the two (or get what you want).

Thanks Linda for tagging me! I would like, in turn, to tag my fellow authors:

Can’t wait to read what your next big thing is! :D


Here are my taggees’ posts!

Ready? Set… Publish!

I’ve pressed the publish button on every dashboard available to me. It’s done, there’s no turning back: in a few days time, I might know if I wrote something readable, or if what I’m publishing is utterly and irrevocably useless and undeserving of praise.

I’ve been having ups and downs during the last few weeks. Highs were very high, but lows have been dig-the-bottom-of-the-ocean-and-bury-yourself low. I sometimes read my novelette and feel proud of myself, and then other times I wonder who will ever like to read that piece of crap.

Well, hello and welcome to the life of a fiction writer, I guess. I bet the fun is only beginning… The only thing I know is that there are 17 more episodes waiting to be edited and brought to life. That ought to keep me busy for a while, right?

7 Things I’d Rather Do Now Instead of Writing

I like to blame my lack of writing on my kids, the Shitlings.

It’s true that while they are around it’s hard to think, what with all the shrieking and demanding and quarrelling.

But really, sometimes it’s not their fault.

7 Things I’d Rather Do Now Instead of Writing

  • tweak my website,
  • tweet,
  • look at octopus pictures
  • pick my nose,
  • make a playlist for the next still-unwritten episode,
  • roam on Goodreads,
  • go to bed and sleep / drool on my Kindle five minutes later.

Erhm… Nighty night?