Tuesday 28 July 2015

We Are Monsters - The True Story Behind The Book

I am delighted to be joined by fellow Samhain horror writer, Brian Kirk, whose scarily excellent new book - We Are Monsters - has just been published. Considerable research was needed for this book which delves into the shadowy world of mental health and weaves a tale of psychological evil. In Part One of a two-part blog, he talks about mental health and the real-life horrors that have posed as therapeutic treatments until frighteningly recent times...

 A History of Mental Health

Part I

Insanity likely descended upon the first person to question the mysterious nature of our existence. I know I had to hold onto something for support the first time existential questions entered my mind. What, you mean we’re all going to die?

But the manor in which we diagnose and treat the full spectrum of mental disorders has evolved over the last century or so. Sadly, it’s not a heartwarming tale. Let’s take a look at how humans have come to understand outbursts of insanity, and the attempts we’ve made to restore mental health.

Imagine living in 1796, and the conditions at the time. You’re in Pennsylvania visiting a relative in the state asylum. Mind your head as you wind down the stairs that lead to the dark basement, which could more aptly be called a dungeon. Here patients receive the greatest care while confined to chains and forced to sleep in crowded cells on straw. Keepers are on hand with whips in case someone becomes too agitated. Occasionally, they’re granted a bath. “Hi Mom, feeling better?”

What does a day of therapy look like? Well, at the time many physicians believed that evoking terror was an effective way to restore mental health. One common method was ‘The Bath of Surprise.” Wow, that sure sounds nice. Not so fast. This is where a patient is blindfolded and led across a trapdoor that drops them into a cold tub of water.

Variations on this clever approach emerged over time. Renowned clinician, Joseph Guislain, created a drowning device called, “The Chinese Temple,” which was basically a small iron cage. The patient would be locked in the cage and slowly lowered into a body of water, such as a pond. The cage would be raised once the “desired effect” had been attained, usually when the bubbles ceased to rise.

I love the names given to some of these treatment devices. Such as “The Tranquilizer Chair.” Sounds relaxing, right? Imagine being confined to this chair – your arms bound, wrists immobilized, feet clamped together, vision blocked by a wooden contraption encasing the head – and having a bucket placed underneath you for bowel movements. You’ll need it, as you’ll be sitting here for a long time – in some cases, for as long as six months. 

The Tranquilizer Chair
Confinement and hydrotherapy were deemed so therapeutic they were soon combined. One example was the continuous bath, which involved strapping a patient into a hammock suspended in a bathtub. The top of the tub was covered by a canvas sheet that had a hole for the patient’s head. At times, cold water would be used to fill the tub, and at other times water almost too hot to touch. Patients would be kept there for days on end, with bandages wrapped around their eyes and ears to shut out other sensations. Ah… just like being at the spa.

The Continuous Bath
The problem with these treatments was that they just weren’t very reliable. So physicians continued to look for more effective cures. Like good old Henry Cotton, superintendent of Trenton State Hospital in New Jersey, who, in 1916, decided that insanity was caused, in part, by bacteria. So he started pulling his patients’ teeth. According to him, this procedure cured 25% of them. That left 75% unimproved, prompting him to look for other body parts that might be harboring bacteria. He eventually went on to remove his patients’ tonsils, colon, gall bladder, appendix, fallopian tubes, uterus, ovaries, cervix, and seminal vesicles. He claimed to achieve an 85% cure rate with his operations. An investigation revealed, however, that nearly 43% of the patients who underwent Dr. Cotton’s therapy died. Small price to pay for peace of mind.

Learning about how we’ve historically treated the mentally ill not only inspired the subject of my debut novel, We Are Monsters, it influenced its title.

In this book a brilliant, yet troubled psychiatrist is working to develop a cure for schizophrenia. At first, the drug he creates shows great promise in alleviating his patient’s symptoms. It appears to return schizophrenics to their former selves. But (as you may imagine) something goes wrong. Unforeseen side effects begin to emerge, forcing prior traumas to the surface, setting inner demons free. His medicine may help heal the schizophrenic mind, but it also expands it, and the monsters it releases could be more dangerous than the disease.

I have tremendous sympathy for the mentally ill, and am horrified by the way they have been, and continue to be treated. This book, in many ways, pays homage to all who have had to endure inhumane treatments by monsters in human disguise.

To read Part II of this article, please visit Brian Moreland's Blog

 Anyone interested in checking out We Are Monsters can order a copy here:


And for anyone interested in striking up a virtual friendship, please connect with me through one of the following channels. Don’t worry. I only kill my characters. 
Look for more historical accounts of mental heath therapies coming soon to another Samhain author’s blog near you! 

Thank you for being my guest today, Brian. I loved We Are Monsters. Here is my review:

 Brian Kirk scores a major debut hit with a gripping story that packs in more layers than a filo pastry – and is far more scary.

The evil that inhabits Sugar Hill mental asylum takes us deep into the psyches of the main characters and the author has really done his research here. He never flinches from exploring the dark, intricate web of psychological complexities that lurk deep within the minds of his subjects.

What is real? What is a figment of a schizophrenic’s tortured imagination? As each layer of this story is peeled back, we learn more and more about the characters and also that however scary monsters may be, the scariest of them all lurk deep within us.

This book is an irresistible maze. You cannot stop exploring it until you emerge, exhausted but satisfied, and with enough going on in your own head to ensure that the story and its well-crafted characters remain with you for a long time.

I found it a truly extraordinary read. Highly recommended.

Thursday 23 July 2015

Christmas on Q Island - with Russell James

Q Island, is Russell James's latest horror novel and it received a starred review from Publishers Weekly - praise indeed! The reviewer said (in short): 
“The horrors are not created by the virus itself, but by what it allows people to do to one another. This is a seriously creepy page-turner that will keep readers up at night.” *
Having read Q Island myself, I would have to agree, so I'm delighted that Russell has made a return visit to my blog today to talk about an important part of the writing-publishing process. The role of - and need for - a copy editor. He also gives us a sneak peek at a couple of aspects of his brilliant new book AND a fabulous giveaway! Over to you, Russell:

Copy editors are excellent. They have the detail-oriented personality to read through a text, catch every typo, flag every incorrect reference, and erase any continuity errors. Their value cannot be underestimated and no book should EVER be sent out to the world without one.

Copy editors are also on the lookout for the publisher, keeping them from being legally entangled in some mess, especially a copyright issue. Q Island raised that red flag a number of times, all about the same thing.

The lead character, Melanie Bailey, has an autistic son, Aiden. His autism brings on terrible panic attacks, and Melanie can calm him by singing to him. 

When he was still just two years old, before his diagnosis, Melanie and her husband didn’t know what to do to calm this poor, sleepless child who seemed in constant distress. Then a song came on the radio and Aiden just relaxed, relaxed enough to finally go to sleep after an exhausting day. Their prayer was answered. Since then, Melanie used that song to calm Aiden in the most stressful circumstances. The first time he heard it was in December. It was a Christmas carol. So Melanie sometimes sings a Christmas carol year round.

Well, every time she sings the song in the book, the copy editor comments stain the margins like spilled wine, reviewing all the dire consequences possible when this copyright violation comes to light after publication. The good news was that I already had permission to use the song. Because I wrote it. The lyrics for it anyway. They are:

Angels in heaven, look down on the child,
Perfect and lovely, tender and mild.
Shepherds that evening, tending their flocks,
Kneel without pain on nettles and rocks.

The rams and the ewes, surround him in awe.
First to acknowledge our Savior and Lord.

First to acknowledge our Savior and Lord.
Wise men who travel, came from afar,
Guided by faith and the light of a star.

Okay, “awe” and “Lord” is a stretch for a rhyme.

I’m thrilled when someone reads a book I’ve written and says the characters ring true, or the locations are vivid and real.But I was stunned that I might have written something that could pass as real song lyrics.

So if anyone wants to volunteer the melody, I’m willing to bang out a chorus and two more verses. Let’s get it done by December.

About Q Island

It’s an epidemic. An ancient virus is loose on Long Island, NY. Its black-veined victims become sociopathic killers, infecting others through body fluids or a post mortem release of spores. Chaos rules. The island is quarantined.

Melanie Bailey and her autistic son Aiden are trapped. Aiden is bitten, but survives. He might be the key to a cure, if she can escape what the world now calls Q Island. Further east, gang leader Jimmy Wade has also survived infection, and become telepathic with a taste for human flesh. 

Wade sets his followers on a search for the immune boy who can make him a god, if only Wade can consume him. A scrappy, one-eyed nurse and a retired pipeline technician agree to help Melanie escape, but it’s a long shot that they can avoid the infected, Wade’s tightening grip and a military ordered to keep everyone on Q Island.

Praise for Russell R. James—

“James has a talent for combining action-packed vignettes into a powerful, fast-paced whole.”—Library Journal on Black Magic

(Five Stars, A Night Owl Top Pick) “I loved the story so much that I’m eagerly waiting to read more from him. He carefully and very intricately wove his storyline to have elements of mystery and suspense throughout. I now have a new favorite book I’ll read over and over again.” —Night Owl Reviews on Dark Inspiration

“The book had me at the edge of my seat. The writing is so vivid I even jumped a few times. If you're a fan of the genre, love ghosts and are drawn to the supernatural, then do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this book!” —Long and Short Reviews on Dark Inspiration

“James fills the novel with compete characters that are easy to care about and cheer for (or against) when appropriate. There is a very strong human element to the novel that allows the reader to sink into the story and become involved in its events.”--The Examiner

Dreamwalker is the first Russell James novel that I have had the pleasure to read and it was an absolute blast! I am definitely looking forward to exploring his previous and upcoming works. There is something for everyone in this novel - action, horror, fantasy and a hint of romance. Highly recommended!” --The Horror Bookshelf

“This could very well be the best horror novel of the year.”--Examiner on Q Island

 *"This is a seriously creepy page-turner that will keep readers up at night.” * - (full review can be found by clicking here: Publisher's Weekly)

You can find Q Island here:

About the author

Russell James grew up on Long Island, New York and spent too much time watching Chiller, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and The Twilight Zone, despite his parents' warnings. Bookshelves full of Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe didn't make things better. He graduated from Cornell University and the University of Central Florida.

After a tour flying helicopters with the U.S. Army, he now spins twisted tales best read in daylight. He has written the paranormal thrillers Dark Inspiration, Sacrifice, Black Magic, Dark Vengeance, and Dreamwalker. He has several horror short story collections, including Tales from Beyond and Deeper into Darkness, as well as some science fiction collections. Now, Q Island, released July 7, 2015 and he’s already under contract for his next book for 2016.

His wife reads what he writes, rolls her eyes, and says "There is something seriously wrong with you." He and his wife share their home in sunny Florida with two cats.

To find out more about Russell R. James, please visit his Website or follow him on Facebook! Join him on Twitter. Also, feel free to drop him at a line at rrj@russellrjames.com.

Your chance to win!

Rafflecoper giveaway for two audiobook copies of Dreamwalker. Two winners will each win one code for a free audio book, open everywhere. Must use a valid email that you can be reached by. By entering the giveaway, you consent to allow Russell to have your email for very infrequent newsletter updates. Contest ends August 31, 2015. 

(Other contest questions can be referred to Erin Al-Mehairi, publicist, Hook of a Book Media at hookofabook@hotmail.com.)
Good Luck!