Sunday, June 19, 2016

Yesteryear's Madness

She closed her eyes. “Howard, did you ever know anyone with a head injury—a really bad one that caused them to be—well, helpless?” 
“Sure, I saw a lot of that during the war.”
“What happened to them?”
“Most of them died.” He put his hand briefly over his eyes. “They were the lucky ones. The others, well, they went home. You couldn’t say they were really alive though.”
“Their families had to take care of them, you mean.”
“Or find some place to put them.”
“A hospital.” 
He shook his head. “Nothing so fancy. Asylums, they’re called.” 
“But people are cared for there.”
“I’ve seen a few of those places, and no, I can’t honestly say people are taken care of in them.”
“Why not?”
 “No money for one thing. No decent help either. I’d beggar myself before I’d put a member of my family in one.” 
“They’re that bad?” 
“Do you believe in hell, Susanna?”
“I think so—yes.”
“Well, that’s what they’re like.”

Although institutions/hospitals to deal with mental illness/brain damage/birth defects were conceived  as early as the medieval era, such places were meant to house rather than treat the unfortunate inmates and were often--as the character in Susanna’s Secret opined--“hell”. Before the era of public “madhouses”, families had no choice but to keep their mentally ill members or mentally challenged children locked away or boarded out.
Great Britain took the lead in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the concept spread to America when the Utica State Hospital opened in New York in 1850 due to the influence of Dorothea Lynde Dix. Around 1841, she reported to the Massachusetts State Legislature, "I proceed, Gentlemen, briefly to call your attention to the present state of Insane Persons confined within this Commonwealth, in cages, stalls, pens! Chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into obedience."
Women were particularly vulnerable to confinement in these so-called hospitals. Being outspoken, having strong opinions opposed to their husbands, and even real illnesses such as postpartum depression or symptoms connected to menopause, could earn them a one-way ticket out of sight and out of mind.
Ten Days in a Mad-House resulted from journalist Nellie Bly’s (arranged) commitment to the Women's Lunatic Asylum in New York City in order to investigate conditions there in 1887. (Follow the link Nellie Bly to read about her brutal experience.) She also published her findings in the New York World newspaper. The ensuing investigation led to a budget increase to ensure that only those who really needed institutionalization were admitted.
In Nazi Germany, Hitler emptied hospitals and institutions and dispatched the residents to premature deaths in order to be rid of anything he deemed incongruous with the perfect specimens who would populate his Thousand Year Reich.
Along the way, many horrific and unhelpful ‘treatments’ have been visited on the mentally ill: trepanation, hydrotherapy, chemically-induced seizures, insulin-coma therapy, and the irreversible lobotomy which reduced presidential sister Rosemary Kennedy to living out her life in an institution with twenty-four hour care. These rare photographs from the 19th and 20th centuries illustrated the slow progress of treatment.
In the 20th century, parents who had a child with signs of mental challenge or serious physical impairment were often encouraged not to bring the baby home from the hospital but rather allow the doctor to find a place for them. (It happened in my own family in the 1940s.) Today, medical science has advanced to the point of being able to diagnose problems in utero. As a result, many doctors encourage, even urge, the termination of such a pregnancy. It’s estimated that as many as 90% of babies thought to have Down Syndrome are never born.
In Susanna’s Secret, I deal with the subject of mental impairment and what it meant in the 1870s-80s. 

Available June 28 from Amazon
Susannah's Secret is a fast paced tale of human failings and triumphs. It typifies how courage and compassion in the face of adversity works to the advantage of all. The characters are so believable through their human failings but rise above their selfish interests. Readers who have wanted, birthed, raised, or lost a child can especially connect with Susannah and her choices which is what good reads do by pulling us into the story with our emotions. ~Georgia

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Friday, June 17, 2016

A Man Forever Free

Though not mentioned frequently in Susanna’s Secret, Elijah is by no means a minor character in the story. His ‘back story’ tells everything--how he came to Texas with Nathan and Susanna Kingsley as a slave and remained technically such until the end of the Civil War some 20+ years later.

Mr. Nathan brought me out here when I was a slave, but he never treated me like one. Place to live, work to do, chance to learn to read and write, a name. . .Kingsley. . .even the chance to leave when the war’s over.”
“I’m glad you didn’t. You’ve been part of us for a lifetime. Part of our family.” 

This brief exchange between Elijah and Susanna tells his back story in a few words, though in Wednesday’s blog on Nathan Kingsley, I imagined him as a slave on a plantation in the deep south. I could see the lower social status Nathan and Elijah becoming friends as little boys and growing up together--so Elijah’s escape to accompany Nathan to Texas seems a natural circumstance.
The story portrays him as working in the house rather than on the ranch, a sort of ‘houseman’. But he did back-breaking labor alongside Nathan and Susanna as they built the Kingsley Empire. I believe, when Nathan could afford help, he place Elijah inside not as a servant but as a manager. He helped raise the Kingsley children and probably became their confidante in the stead of a busy, frequently-absent father.
He states his position neatly:

“Elijah, how much do you know about. . .”
He shook his head and held up his hand as if to stop the flow of her words. “I don’t know nothing, Miz Kingsley. Nothing but what I see ‘round here.” 
She laughed a little then. “And you don’t miss a thing either. It was a good day for all of us when my husband brought you out here. I didn’t believe in slavery, but he said you’d be better off with us.”
“And I was.”

I expect Elijah was a ‘free’ man long before Emancipation. Upon Nathan’s Kingsley’s death, he probably inherited what was rightly his--either an interest in the ranch itself or land and capital to use for himself.
Perhaps Nathan knew what he wanted, but did he know who he was? Susanna struggles with her own identity. But Elijah knows who is he, so his personal dignity and self-confidence brings a certain stability to the shattered family.
Does he know their secrets? Of course. Does he keep them? To the grave.
And will he always be there for them?
Until his dying day and probably beyond as they remember him.
A minor character ‘on the fringe’ often guides the story more than anyone else.

 I have been a fan of Ms Nickles books for a long time, I love her writing skills. This book is no exception, "Susanna's Secret" kept me spell-bound to the last page.      ~Paula

Releases June 28
Pre-sales available June 21
from Amazon

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A man of his time. . .

Who was Nathan Kingsley really? Here’s how I see his backstory (for which there was no room in the summer short Susanna’s Secret.

   Like so any men of his time, he was an empire-builder in the Old West, specifically a cattle spread in Texas even before it became a state. But where did he come from? I visualized him coming from a poor, probably large family in the Old South. Knowing he couldn’t rise from the ‘poor white’ caste, he struck out for the land of opportunity--Texas, recently proclaimed a ‘republic’ after winning its freedom from Mexican rule under Santa Anna.
   With him went his young wife Susanna, also probably from a less-affluent family, and a slave, Elijah. I think Nathan and Elijah grew up together on adjoining land and were friends despite the color difference. I believe Nathan engineered his friend’s escape from a wealthy plantation owner knowing he could disappear in the Texas wilderness. (More on Elijah on Friday)
   Nathan worked hard--as did Susanna and Elijah--and became a wealthy, influential man in his vicinity. (The town of Kingsley’s Valley was named for him after all!) He prided himself on his sons--heirs to take up the name and the land when he was gone.
   Did he love Susanna? Probably as much as he was capable of loving a woman who, in those days, bore children, tended the hearth, and provided an extra pair of hands for work to be done.
Strong, smart, capable--and not above straying. Did he ever regret the bargain he struck with his wife? Did he do it out of duty or necessity or a little of both. (Sorry--if you want to know about their ‘deal’, you’ll have to read Susanna’s Secret when it’s released by Solstice Publishing on Amazon June 28.
   Did I just sneak in a promo? Hmmmmmmm.
   Did Nathan fight in the Civil War? Maybe. The story makes clear he didn’t believe in slavery. Though Elijah lived as a slave, he was essentially a free man even before Emancipation. His slave status basically protected him in a slave state. But if Nathan did fight and survive, he still met a violent death--and left a mixed legacy to his wife and children.
   I don’t know if I liked Nathan, but he was most definitely a man of his time. Love him or hate him, he became part of the history of the West he helped to build.  

Available for pre-sale June 21 from Amazon
Release date by Solstice Publishing: June 28

 Although this is a "short story", a lot is packed into only a few words.  Nickles weaves a tale of of the scoundrel Nathan Kinglsey, his wife Susanna, who is left to clean up his mess after he is murdered.   This is a beautifully told compelling story of the damage we do to ourselves when we allow ourselves to carry anger, hurt and resentment and the healing power of forgiveness.  ~Cookie

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