Title: PSYCH WARD, a spotlight of my achievements
Genre: Family saga/commercial fiction
Word count: 99,000
They are naïve. They are uncivilized. They are an Oklahoma family adjusting to 1970s California culture shock (shocking the culture, is more like it). Meet the Austens.
Actually, Patty, the elementary-age youngest member, would prefer that you didn't. Not if she plans on fitting in. Her family, whose outrageous antics often leaves her hiding in embarrassment (even their cat is a regular in the police blotter), is only half the problem.
Patty’s the other half. She practices every religion, for good measure, has inanimate objects for friends, i.e., Aunt Jemima syrup bottle and a pet rock, and believes in luck, charms, and signs. Clearly, her family’s not the only one a straw short of a haystack. But she craves a normal life. Normal isn’t for the hearing impaired. She’s too deaf for the hearing world and not deaf enough to ignore what folks are saying about her family, about her. Normal isn’t being the only white girl in an all black school. And when they move—and they move a lot—it isn’t being the only poor hillbilly among old-money privilege.
When her dad purchases a psychedelic hippie-band tour bus as their new residence and then parks it in their upscale neighborhood, she realizes that maybe she is meant for something different, that ordinary life is not for her. Being a society reject breeds an isolation that can lead one to amazing and unexpected things. Or life in the loony bin.
In alternating timelines, adult Patty (our unreliable narrator) is in the hospital recovering from back surgery. Either from side-effects of morphine or perhaps from too many episodes of Jerry Springer, she believes she may actually be in the psych ward, contrary to what the staff tells her.
PSYCH WARD, a spotlight of my achievements, is told in a nonlinear frame-like narrative with one protagonist, two storylines, and two plots. My story of the bullied misfit is softened with humor like that of THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN and of FORREST GUMP.
This novel reflects my own experiences growing up hearing impaired, which has enabled me to write with authenticity about my protagonist. I've had publications in Slow Trains, Turtle Quarterly, Halfway Down the Stairs, and various print and web magazines, including excerpts of my novel.
Maybe it was our vehicles still in the driveway Sunday mornings, or our Southern accents, or my eleven-year-old brother Eddie digging in the trash and peeing in the hedges, or maybe it was our pigeon trapped in her hair, but the neighbor at our door had all the look and mannerisms of someone who wasn't here for a social visit.
"Get it off," was what she said when I opened the door.
I stared at her. Better not approach it.
"The dirty bird." She flailed her arms. "Get it off."
Before I could make any moves in her direction, our dog Dorky bounded out of the house and jumped and ran circles around her as if she were playing keep away with the bird. Gerber flapped his wings for balance, peered below at Dorky, and did a pigeon equivalent of a ha-ha-you-can't-get-me squawk.
The lady squawked, too, and Dorky barked. And jumped. Gerber flapped his wings. The lady flapped her arms. The lady jumped, flapped, squawked, barked and ran in circles, and I thought it was funny and slapped my knee and laughed. The lady did not mimic any of my motions. What a letdown.
"Who is it, Patty?"
I didn't answer; I didn't want to interrupt the show. Mama came to the door exasperated and apologetic and shooed the bird away. Dorky ran off after it. The lady demanded to talk to our mother. Mama shook her head and sighed deeply.
"You're the mother?" the lady spat. "No wonder."