Further Reading: INSTITUTIONALIZED


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PILTDOWNLAD #6:

Includes the INSTITUTIONALIZED story cycle.

I started writing about the dysfunction and trauma in my family almost four years ago. My original intention was to write a novel in the tradition of Tolstoy and Faulkner with an omniscient narrator, written in third person from the perspectives of each member of my family. Ambitious, yes, I know. But I figured that if I failed, I would be much closer to what I wanted than starting out on a smaller scale. The first draft was 850 pages and it was, unsurprisingly, a complete failure. I tried to cram too much information into one story. So I rewrote it in the first person, from my perspective this time, as a teenager experiencing the events as they happened. That is what became the novel I published earlier this year, A Masque of Infamy. (On a side note, I really wanted to call the book Sucks, Alabama, which is a much catchier title, but felt like that people would perceive the book as a slam on Alabama, which it most definitely is not. While my teenage self wouldn’t have flinched at possibly alienating readers, I’ve since grown somewhat squeamish in my old age…)

While most of the first draft was scrapped, there were a few parts that I really liked. I thought the part of the story when my little brother and I were first admitted into a mental hospital while our father and Rick waited to be arrested on sodomy and child abuse charges was particularly poignant when told from all four perspectives. So I went back in, salvaged and rewrote those sections for this current version. (Although the other parts in third person, I kept mine in first person.) To get at the grist of the story, as I was writing the first draft, I interviewed my siblings and my father several times and obtained the court records from the trial. I reprinted some these documents herein, along with two of the four newspaper articles on the case that appeared in the Anniston Star. (I had to get these off microfilm stored at the local university, an arduous process that was hindered by the very short amount of time I could spend doing research in a library two thousand miles away. Fortunately, I was able to just send away from the court records, though it took a while for the clerks to find the files in the storage warehouse where they had been kept since 1987.)

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A few additional notes: There is some “creative engineering,” but only to maintain the narrative and flesh out the characters through dialogue. All names have been changed and/or redacted. Even my own. This is consistent with the novel and done to avoid any hassles with certain people (namely, my little brother) not liking what’s been written about them. (There have been threats.) So this way, I can just point out, Hey, it’s FICTION! (Even though it’s not.) It’s a NOVEL! (Only because I use dialogue and a narrative structure.) And anyway, I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to write a memoir. (Even though, in the end, I kinda did.)

While changing names to protect the victims and innocent bystanders in this story makes sense, you might be wondering why I’d remove the names of the perpetrators? I went back and forth over that point, but decided that since they’d served their time in prison, they paid their debt to society. What they owe me, my brother and the rest of our family is debatable at this point. However, if you are really curious, click here to see what Rick looks like these days after twenty years in prison.

The INSTITUTIONALIZED story cycle is preceded by letter/comment section and an introduction cannibalized from The Nasty Oh-Dear zine (Piltdownlad #4), which, incidentally, is the prologue to the novel and, once the current issues with the silkscreened cover are gone, will no doubt go out of print.

Read the excerpt “Mister Nice Guy” here.

Purchase a copy here.

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