Just WTF is a Mind Altar, Anyway?

Got the notion for this book a long time ago. When I was a boy, I had boy friends, like most boys. But for some reason, I also had a girl friend. It was clear even at the age of 8, that we weren’t playing house. She was a friend, and I felt we had this special link, almost as if she was my sister.

And then she became sick, with cancer. I remember visiting her in her basement apartment. A hospital bed had been set up in the living room. My mom came with, and when I saw her lying in that bed, my friend seemed so small and white, angelic, even to me. Smells accompanied her I hadn’t smelled before. Hospital smells, medicine smells, sickness smells. Our teacher had us all make cards for her, and then she died.

I dreamed about her after that. Dead people often visit my dreams, as I’m sure they do yours, too. And when they come, I think they really visit us from an Underworld of two dimensions, of whispers and shadows. Colorless, like our dreams. Doesn’t matter how good you’ve been, you end up trapped there. Creased into its overflowing book of souls like a folio.

To me, 1st grade was this tryout for life, an instant Olympics of popularity I was never ready for, and Bill was the one I emulated. I would’ve sold my soul for popularity, for acceptance, to be him. And in some ways I did. Everything I did, I did to be like him.

He hung himself years later, while we were both still young. And I got this idea that I invited him to take up residence with me. His psyche needed a home, and if he wanted, he could come live with me.

Over the years, our psyches entwined so that we could not longer be separated without the death of both of us. A psychic later confirmed my suspicions. We were the Mantle twins in Dead Ringers, conjoined at the mast of the soul.

And so I came up with the character of Eurydice Wiles, a young woman with a gouge in her personality similar to the two dents I’ve just mentioned. Along with six other misfits, she contracts, for sumptuous hazard pay, to go underground and solve a mystery: what made everyone turn on one another in the most dangerous prison in America. One that housed psychopaths. Called the Facility, it’s carved deep under a mountain in the middle of the American desert. Staff turned on staff. Prisoners took over the asylum. I’ve always believed that psych wards and prisons are different aspects of the same gulag, since most prisoners are mentally ill.

I’ve worked professionally with psychopaths, as an attorney and as a psychotherapist.  I believe that severe mental illness is often the modern expression of what was once called demonic possession. Just new paradigms for old metaphors. A friend who knew a psychiatrist who worked in a mental hospital once had this shrink tell him that every psych ward has its own exorcist. No shit.

So you have a journey underground. Its the Underworld, speckled with the most macabre, unspeakable acts. And the people sent down to check it out are bent as well. They’ve got their own demons. And this place, this Facility that seems to have a mind of its own, it starts to work on them. One by one, slowly. Challenging their sanity.

Well, I never answered your question about what a Mind Altar is. But if I did that, I’d kinda ruin the book.