For the Fourth of July: Freedom is not Free (Excerpt from Exile)

Aboard the bright orange-and-blue boat, Liam climbed to the top deck and turned around and around, wanting to take it all in as the ship pulled away from the dock. His fear was replaced by wonder. Steel-and-glass towers, blue sky streaked with clouds, people who smiled without guile and helped and asked and answered questions without wanting anything in return. He held tight to the rail and braced his feet wide, loving the feel of the dark gray waves as they lapped against the steel hull.

Exile 1 (1 of 1)On a distant island, a giant green statue of a woman came to view, her brow encircled with a crown and one hand aloft with a flaming torch. He thought of Queen May and understood her passion for this world. Who wouldn’t want to be here?

A little girl in a red-and-white-checked dress pointed at the green lady. “That’s the Statue of Liberty.”

The girl’s mother, obviously pregnant, her eyes hidden behind dark glasses, looked from her daughter to Liam. “Daria, leave the man alone.”

“She does not bother me,” Liam said. “I am new here. I’ve not seen these things. I do not know their names.”

“She’s a symbol,” the woman said.

“Of what?” he asked, each question through his lips a bit easier.

“Freedom. Your accent… I can’t quite place it. Irish?”

He nodded, not wanting to lie but knowing the truth was not for humans. “Freedom matters here.”

“Of course. It’s what Americans treasure most. Give us liberty or give us death. A lot of us forget just how precious it is and how easily it can be lost.”

He nodded, not certain what freedom meant. Freedom from whom? From what? From a queen who dines on her subjects and steals their magic. From a world where wrong words can have deadly consequences. “Freedom sounds like something worth fightingHafflingFS for.”

“Yes.” She lowered her shades. “That’s both the terrible and wonderful thing about it. We call it a right. Something that comes with citizenship, but there’s a price. As noble as it sounds and as that statue would have us believe, it’s not free. It comes at a tremendous cost, and even today, not everyone has it. The thing I don’t like to imagine is what would happen if we lost it. Some say we’ve already given up much of it, with new technologies and selling off our privacy. I just hope we don’t wake up one day and realize we’ve sold our freedom and our liberty for an endless stream of cute pet videos.”Exile

How to Make a Hero

exile-fb-banner-1-of-1This post is not about sandwich construction, though that’s a good topic. Today’s riff is on what makes a hero heroic. It’s the central theme in book two of my Haffling trilogy, Exile.

The unlikely protagonist is Liam Summer, and he has done horrible things. This is a tale of how the leopard changed his spots. It’s a road map that anyone can follow, though the going is perilous.

What I’ve learned in life—and I’m a practicing psychiatrist who prior to that was an EMT—is that heroes are both born and made. In book one−Haffling−it’s as if Alex popped out of the womb with a raised sword, ready to battle anyone who threatened those he loves. I’ve known people like that, they’re the ones who stand up to bullies on the playground and don’t hold grudges after the fact. They have an internal moral sense and little fear or self-doubt. They see a wrong and they act. “Hey, leave him alone.”

Liam is a different story. Shaped by tragedy, he was raised to use his beauty and his powers of seduction to destroy enemies of a despotic queen. He has ruined many and in book one is sent to trap Alex. I will give no plot spoilers, but when it came time to write the second installment, Liam was the obvious choice for center stage. His story is built on central truths. Here’s one. While fear can save your life— “Oh look, a king cobra, best get out of here”—it can also become a cage. Unchecked fear underlies all anxiety disorders, from panic attacks to obsessive hoarding to agoraphobia, where people won’t leave their homes. It’s the monster in the dark or the cobra on the ground, only there is no monster and the cobra is on television.

This is the start of Liam’s adventure in Exile. Bred in near-constant terror that has kept him alive, he’s brought to a life crisis at the novel’s start. One of those you’re-about-to-die-and-your-life-flashes-before-you moments. Or for Ebenezer Scrooge, three ghosts that tell you what a tightwad you’ve been, and if you don’t change, you’re going to die sick and alone. For Liam, as he faces a fiery death, what he sees in the mirror is repulsive. But it’s who he is and what he knows. He wants to be different—to be good, to be clean.

It’s a crucial first step to say you want to change something, but that’s where many get stuck. “I know I have to stop (insert problem behavior here) but I just can’t seem to do it.” Which brings us to the big, simple, and profoundly hard-to-pull-off solution. Whatever you’re doing that you don’t like. Or as Bob Newhart said in a famous comedy sketch, “Stop it. Just stop.” Do the opposite. Simple, right?

Fear tells you to go right, check to make sure there’s no cobra, and go left. Better still, even if there is a cobra, figure out a way to get past it. Solve the problem, don’t avoid it. Face your fear and do it over and over and over again. It’s not rocket science. It is undoing the habits of a lifetime, and it’s wicked hard. But it works.

As I send Liam and Exile out into the world, I think about his journey. Alex, the protagonist in Haffling, the first of this series, knows right from wrong and up from down. But Liam must start from scratch and face paralyzing fears that have kept him alive but robbed him of his self-respect and his soul. For him the cobras and the murderous tyrant are real. But it’s not enough to want to change, and surrounded by real dangers, there is no guarantee of success. But to achieve his goal and find real redemption, he must stop running. He must turn around, figure things out, or die trying.

Blub (EXILE):

Liam Summer, with the face of an angel and the body of an underwear model, has done bad things. Raised as the cat’s paw of a murderous fairy queen, his beauty has ruined many. When Queen May’s plot to unite and rule the fairy and human realms fails, Liam wakes naked and alone in a burning Manhattan building. Unaware the blaze is arson and he its intended victim, Liam prepares to die.

Enter ax-wielding FDNY firefighter Charlie Fitzpatrick, who Liam mistakes for an ogre assassin. As Charlie rescues Liam, he realizes the handsome blond has nowhere to go. So he does what he and his family have always done… he helps.

As for Queen May, trapped in the body of a flame-throwing salamander, she may be down, but she’s not out. Yes, she failed the last time, but Liam and others will pay. She knows what must be done—possess a haffling, cross into the human world engorged with magic, and become queen and Goddess over all.

As Liam realizes the danger they all face, he discovers unexpected truths—that even the most wicked are not beyond redemption, and that love—true love—is a gift that even he can receive.

Bio (Caleb James/Charles Atkins) −Caleb James is a pen name used by psychiatrist and author Charles Atkins, MD for his paranormal fiction. He lives and works in Connecticut, is a member of the Yale volunteer faculty, loves a flea market, gives a lot of workshops (including experiential writer’s trainings), and lives with his partner and too many cats.

Links:

Web site: www.charlesatkins.com

Facebooks: https://www.facebook.com/charles.atkins.37

Twitter: @CharlesAtkinsMD

amazon link for Exile:

Barnes and Noble link for Exile:

DSP Publication link: https://www.dsppublications.com/books/exile-by-caleb-james-348-b

Caleb James blog: https://calebjamesblog.wordpress.com/

exile-cover-fs-1-of-1

Author Caleb James Interviews Psychiatrist to the fey, Dr. Redmond Fall

First published on the Alpha Book Club Blog

 

CJ:       Dr. Fall, I’d like to thank you for giving me this time, I know your clinical and academic responsibilities make you extraordinarily busy.

RF: My, pleasure, and call me Redmond.

CJ: Excellent, Caleb works for me. So let’s begin. As a psychiatrist with centuries of experience, tell us something about the most-common problems that affect us, from pixie to ogre, and what’s to be done about them.

RF: Fair enough, Caleb. You’d like to know about the meat and potatoes of my day job.

CJ: That’s a human expression. I understand you’re seeing one.

RF: That’s a line of enquiry for another day.

CJ: You’re smiling.

RF: Yes, and if we continue in this vein, I will blush. So back to the day job and all the things that can tip a fey’s kettle. To begin is the massive problem of fairy dust addiction.

CJ: Horrible stuff and so out of control. Dust heads will do anything for their next fix.

RF: It’s the insanity of addiction, it robs them of all morals and compassion. It’s often fatal, and only recently has a cure been found.

CJ: About that, I hear that it’s only offered here at your Center for Fey Development.

RF: Correct.

CJ: Tell me the substance of the cure.

RF: I can’t.

CJ: Hmm. Can’t or won’t, I smell a toad.

RF: I’m allowed my secrets and the contents of the dust cure are proprietary. But I offer it free and all in need are welcome.

CJ: You take nothing in return.

RF: Correct.

CJ: Then I suppose you’re entitled to the secret.

RF: Of course I am. So after dust, let’s see. I’d have to say the next big item, and many with dust addiction have both, is PTSD.

CJ: For the sake of my readers, please clarify what that stands for.

  1. Post Torture Sadness Disease. It’s a grossly unsatisfying title, but it gets to the heart of what happens to those who’ve endured horrific and traumatic events.

CJ: Please don’t speak her name.

RF: Exactly, ours is a society in need of healing. So many have suffered under the brutal heel of the prior regime. PTSD is the normal response that occurs and it comes with a myriad of symptoms from horrifying flashbacks and nightmares to pustular maggot-filled eruptions.

CJ: I’ve seen those, they’re disgusting. Tell us of the treatment.

RF: While I am a psychiatrist, I also practice surgery as so many of us do. And as any surgeon will tell you, “pus under pressure must be lanced.”

CJ: I’m thinking ick and let’s move on.

RF: As you wish, but while graphic, lancing and cleaning out that which festers below the surface is an apt metaphor for how to heal from PTSD. It’s not just the physical maggots, it’s the emotional ones, as well.

CJ: It makes sense, but perhaps leave us with something more useful. Myself, and quite a few of my readers, would love to know about the burgeoning field of travel medicine. I’d love to visit the human world, but…

RF: But you’re frightened of breaking. As you should be. This is where I need to leave the sternest of warnings for those considering the trip. Travel sickness is not to be taken lightly. If you are not protected, you will break, whether human or fey as you pass between the realms. The breakage is unpredictable, for many it’s their sanity. Creatures with magic abilities may find their wings clipped and their powers diminished or gone. At the risk of breaching patient confidentiality, I’m acquainted with one case, he also had severe PTSD. He landed in the realm of Manhattan with no clothes and only the barest of magics left to him. And let me tell you, prior to that trip he was a creature of tremendous and quite horrible power. He possessed the worst magic of all.

CJ: Okay, I’m intrigued. I know you can’t tell me his name. But I’d love to know what you consider the “worst magic of all.”

RF: Hmm. I suppose I can tell you that much. He had glamour so strong, that to just look in his eyes robbed man, ogre, pixie, or sprite of all reason. His magic was false love. And once under his sway, desire for him was stronger than any dust lust. He possessed a fatal beauty.

CJ: He sounds scary…and wonderful. I want the details.

RF: I cannot give them. But…

CJ: Do tell.

RF: His story has been written and is a wonderful read.

CJ: Tell me the book’s name. I seem to know something about this.

RF: Exile, Caleb. The book’s title is Exile.

CJ: Wait a minute… I wrote that book.

RF: Yes, Caleb. You did.

CJ: It’s about Queen May’s cat’s paw Liam Summer, with his beautiful lavender eyes and his vicious glamour. I did not remember…it’s not my first book either.

RF: No it’s not, Caleb. Now lay back on the couch and I’ll help you remember.

CJ: Tell me what’s wrong with me, doctor.

RF: You’ve been pixielated. Now close your eyes, count backwards from ten, and let’s see if we can’t undo what those tricky pixies have done. Ten, nine, eight…

Links to Exile

amazon link for Exile

Barnes and Noble link for Exile

DSP Publication link

Nimby 1

Exile, (Book 2 in the Haffling trilogy) release date 1/24/2017

exile-fb-banner-1-of-1

Liam Summer, with the face of an angel and the body of an underwear model, has done bad things. Raised as the cat’s paw of a murderous fairy queen, his beauty has ruined many. When Queen May’s plot to unite and rule the fairy and human realms fails, Liam wakes naked and alone in a burning Manhattan building. Unaware the blaze is arson and he its intended victim, Liam prepares to die.

Enter ax-wielding FDNY firefighter Charlie Fitzpatrick, who Liam mistakes for an ogre assassin. As Charlie rescues Liam, he realizes the handsome blond has nowhere to go. So he does what he and his family have always done… he helps.

As for Queen May, trapped in the body of a flame-throwing salamander, she may be down, but she’s not out. Yes, she failed the last time, but Liam and others will pay. She knows what must be done—possess a haffling, cross into the human world engorged with magic, and become queen and Goddess over all.

As Liam realizes the danger they all face, he discovers unexpected truths—that even the most wicked are not beyond redemption, and that love—true love—is a gift that even he can receive.

amazon link for EXILE: https://www.amazon.com/Exile-Haffling-Book-Caleb-James-ebook/dp/B01N7AMX0P/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1481381105&sr=8-1&keywords=exile+caleb

Barnes and Noble link for Exile: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/exile-caleb-james/1125203826?ean=2940156937097

DSP Publication link: https://www.dsppublications.com/books/exile-by-caleb-james-348-bexile-cover-fs-1-of-1

Uncommon Heroes

I’ve always written heroes and heroines who swim outside the mainstream. From my first novel, written as Charles Atkins, The Portrait (St Martin’s Press) to this latest outing as Caleb James, Dark Blood (DSP Publications), I have wanted my characters to populate genre novels—mysteries, thrillers, and such—but to take the reader down less-traveled paths.

In The Portrait I wanted a murder mystery with a hero who had a realistic and serious mental illness—bipolar disorder. It provided a wonderful intersection of my passions—writing and psychiatry. That bipolar disorder runs in my family allowed me to use my front-row seat to good advantage.

When it was time for my second book, Risk Factor (St. Martin’s Press), I was evaluating many children and getting involved in grant applications to start programs for at-risk youth and families. What I learned during that period was how sociopaths come to be. It happens very early, and the causes are often found in extreme abuse, neglect, and abandonment before age two. In a sense, that book—also a mystery which begins with a nurse’s murder on an inpatient adolescent psychiatric unit—is my Frankenstein story. Or how you too can create a monster in a few simple steps. The heroine in that book is a single mother of two whose marriage falls apart in the face of her husband’s infidelity. She provided a wonderful foil to my villain as she struggled to raise her kids with limited resources, but tremendous strength and love.

In my personal life I experienced a trauma with a devastating house fire. From the ashes of that, I penned The Cadaver’s Ball (St. Martin’s Press), with its traumatized psychiatrist protagonist who was unable to rescue his wife and watched her burn to death.

And so it’s gone. I worked in geriatric psychiatry and this led to a series of cozies with two older female protagonists… who fall in love with each other. The most recent of these, Done to Death (Severn House) was even a finalist for a Lambda award. As an aside, my work with hundreds of people with dementia and Alzheimer’s also led to a nonfiction Q&A book written as Charles Atkins, MD—The Alzheimer’s Answer Book (Sourcebooks).

And then one year at Book Expo America in New York I met Elizabeth North and the Dreamspinner crew. This was at a time where many/most of the LGBT imprints and publishers had left the market. Suddenly I knew where I was going to head next. Readers in the LGBT communities have to look long and hard to find our voices in mainstream and genre fiction. For pleasure readers, those who like mysteries, romance, thrillers, and the like, getting quality work where we are in the starring roles is a challenge, for the voracious reader, finding it in bulk is impossible.

I grew up in a family where we chewed through thousands of romance novels. I have no idea why this was our shared addiction. Shopping bags filled with paperbacks from the local swap shop would come into and leave the house. My vocabulary was seriously impacted by regency romances. And while I gobbled these down, alongside a lot of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Bram Stoker, and anything and everything horror, it was hard to find my reflection in the faces of the heroes and heroines. And so, after a dozen or more novels and a few nonfiction books, including a textbook, into my writing career, I wrote Haffling (Harmony Ink/DSP Publications).

To say that Haffling, my first young adult novel, wrote itself is disingenuous. But my fingers flew as I birthed Alex Nevus, his mentally ill mother Marilyn, and his sister Alice with her weirdling ways. As with all my fiction, I view it as mainstream. The fact that my protagonist is a sixteen-year-old gay kid is both important and irrelevant. He’s the hero. Full stop. He needs to do what heroes do—confront the villain and his own fears and insecurities and overcome them.

With my latest, Dark Blood (DSP Publications), I’ve again chosen to have a strong, openly gay hero and to drop him into an intense cat-and-mouse thriller with paranormal and magical realism overlays. It’s currently my favorite kind of novel, and I feel excited and privileged to be able to write—and publish—the books I want to create, with heroes and heroines who fight the good fight and travel different and more nuanced paths.

https://www.amazon.com/Dark-Blood-Caleb-James/dp/1634768396/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1482316804&sr=8-5&keywords=dark+blood

 

How I Lost my Head

How I Lost my Head

045
Painting by Alan M. Clark

Remember how your mother said, “You’d forget your head if it wasn’t attached to your neck.” It’s true…at least for me and the time I did in fact lose my head.

Here goes: First year medical students are given two black boxes on the first day of anatomy class. One contains a human skeleton, and the other, about the size of a basketball, holds a real skull. Papers are signed and you swear to guard them with your life.

What many don’t know is the first two years of medical school vacillate between boredom and pre-test panic. The lectures are often with professors forced to teach and the material is dry as dirt. So…in my class of 100, very few went to the lectures. Instead, we’d take turns transcribing detailed notes and then copy and distribute them for studying.

It was my turn, the subject was genetics; it was painfully dull. I dutifully wrote up my eight pages of notes with illustrations, and on my way home from lab stopped at Kinkos to make copies. All was well until my study buddy showed up for some mutual grilling on what all those hole in the human skull are called. I looked around. “Oh crap!” I’d left my head at the copy shop. I called.

“Hi, did someone leave a black box about the size of a basketball?”

“Let me check…why yes there’s one in the window.”

“Awesome! I’ll be right down. And whatever you do…don’t open it.”

Next time, how I lost my rat on a NYC subway.

 

Caleb James’s Flea Market Karma

So here’s today’s Flea Market Karma story:
Three years back I’m prowling the market and I find these two bizarre surrealist paintings. The dealer tells me they’re by a famous artist, Alan M. Clark, who’s done work for Stephen King and many others. I think, yeah right. I buy the smaller of the two, though I immediately regretted not getting both. (I went back the following week and bought it.)
I get home and do what one does, look up the artist and friend him on Facebook. It went something like, “Hi, you don’t know me and… I just purchased one of your paintings at a local (CT) flea market. I have a bead on a second, don’t know if I have the wall space, but love all of the gruesome whimsy. I’m also a writer–both fiction and non-fiction–and appreciate great cover art.” I have to admit that once I knew he was the real deal I had concerns the paintings were stolen.
Alan responded confirmed they were both his. I learned he’d painted them decades earlier, had sold them, and had never been fully paid. We’ll call the culprit Mr. X.
At the time I was working on HAFFLING, and queried Alan about doing the cover. He said yes, and has just delivered the second painting for my upcoming paranormal thriller DARK BLOOD. I couldn’t be happier and love the old-school approach to cover art—an actual painting.


The punchline to this, was provided by a friend of Alan’s, after he’d mentioned how I’d found his paintings and he was now doing my Caleb James covers, ‘Thirty years later and you finally got paid for Mr. X’s paintings.’HafflingFS

Psychiatrist Caleb James Discusses Five Disorders Afflicting the Fey

Psychiatrist and author Caleb James discusses mental disorders afflicting the fey.

As one of the lead authors of the soon to be released DSMF-125 (125th edition of the Dry and Seriously Muddled Conditions Afflicting the Fey), I wanted to take this opportunity to explore five of the most-common psychiatric disorders affecting the fey and/or caused by the fey.

  1. Changeling Disorder and Changeling Delusional Disorder:

Changeling Disorder and Changeling Delusional Disorder are often confused. In brief, Changeling Disorder involves the actual replacement of a human child by the fey with a soulless replacement i.e. the changeling. This replacement can be created from flesh of the stolen child or by substituting a hobgoblin or young gremlin.

Dr James with  newborn hobgoblin

In contrast, Changeling Delusional Disorder, is the false belief that all of your younger siblings, especially those that embarrass you in front of your boyfriend, have been replaced by soulless changelings. Differentiating between the two conditions is best done at the full moon, when hobgoblins and gremlins will reveal their true form (see picture). If the child still looks like your little brother or sister, then they are in fact not a changeling. If you still think they are, you are certifiably insane and will need to go on medication. I know this, because I’m a psychiatrist.

 

  1. Pixielation Disorder (PD): First described over two-thousand years ago by artist and court physician, Alan M. Clark, Pixielation Disorder is when one is besieged or swarmed by pixies. This occurs in both humans and fey, and is the result of damaging toadstool circles, or inadvertently treading on a soft spot between the realms of the See and the UnSee. The symptoms of Pixielation Disorder are extreme: rending off the flesh, howling like a banshee, dancing like a spaz in front of the boy of your dreams, hallucinating murderous glass clowns, and running in circles until the victim vomits uncontrollably.

However, once diagnosed Pixielation Disorder is easily treated by leaving savory, high caloric foods for the rampaging pixies. I recommend Swedish meatballs, or General Tso’s Chicken, pepperoni pizza works, as well.

  1. Brownie Eating Disorder (BED): The tragic rise of Brownie Eating Disorder, which largely affects trolls and ogres (and of course, the unfortunate brownies), can be directly traced to unrealistic portrayals of the Fey as being ethereally beautiful, with the bodies of Calvin Klein underwear models. Brownie Eating Disorder involves the frequent (multiple times per week) and uncontrollable ingestion of entire colonies of brownies, followed by vomiting them back up. This is accompanied by intense feelings of shame and guilt.

While there are no proven cures for Brownie Eating Disorder, some forms of group therapy currently being studied show promise.  As for the digested and regurgitated brownies, aside from post-traumatic stress disorder, most of them are good as new after a shower.

  1. Spriteful Personality Disorder: This is an obnoxious and persistent pattern of maladaptive behavior where the individual only experiences pleasure when pranking others and making them miserable. In particular, fey with this disorder are happiest when their intended victims are drenched after they’ve been pelted senseless with water balloons, are pea green−literally−after food dye has been added to their acne cream, or are covered with welts following the generous application of itching powder into a jockstrap. People with this disorder, have little sense of humor when the tables are turned, and become violent when they are pranked.

Sadly, there is no cure for this disorder and severe cases should be chained up in dark basements.

  1. Fairy Dust Use Disorder (Formerly Fairy Dust Abuse and Dependence): There has been an alarming increase in the abuse of fairy dust, with all of the well-known and negative consequences−falling in love with the first person or animal you see, and the kissing of enchanted frogs, with the resultant rise in unemployed handsome princes, who’ve become a tremendous drain on fey resources.

    nightfrog 2.jpg
    How many unemployed handsome princes can our society support?

Treatment of Fairy Dust Disorders is best accomplished in specialized rehab facilities, where the violent−and frankly icky−withdrawal symptoms (hiccoughs, explosive diarrhea, copious snot production, volcanic zits, and speaking in rhymes) can be safely managed. Relapses are common and peer support organization, such as Dusters Anonymous can offer much needed support.

I hope the above overview of five common fey maladies has been informative and enlightening.  If you, or someone you love, has been afflicted by one of these disorders, remember there is always hope, and be sure to seek appropriate treatment.

Warmly:

Caleb

Dr. Caleb James

The Center for Fairy Development

Professor of Psychiatry, the University of Unsee

Author of HAFFLING