Comfort Zone: A Tale of Suspense
I just finished reading Comfort Zone: A Tale of Suspense by Stephen Bentley, former undercover British detective, now crime author. The book is different than Bentley’s previous novels. Comfort Zone is a thriller and a crime story, but not as fast-paced as The Steve Regan Undercover Cop Thrillers Trilogy or Mercy: A Detective Matt Deal Thriller. Comfort Zone is more complex.
Phil Mercer is one of the most intriguing characters I’ve read about in a long time. Mercer is a British veteran who returns home from the war in Afghanistan and studies law, then becomes an attorney in London. He is also a murderer who is not completely evil even though he’s done evil things. He defends the poor and underprivileged citizens. Phil Mercer is not a one-dimensional character. The author writes about the humanity of a person who has taken the lives of other people. Like when watching a tragic play, I felt sympathy for Mercer at various times and then cringed at the murder scenes. The novel is also a mystery because the parts of the story come together in the end, similar to how the different parts of Mercer meld into one. I think he comes to accept his fragments and acknowledges them.
The title comes from the name of a parlor game at a dinner party that Mercer gives for his friends and colleagues in the legal profession. He’s invited them because he wants to show off his cooking skills and to play the game he’s invented. Every detail of the menu, the wines, the guests and the game is planned with precision.
Phil Mercer suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) from his war experiences. His role as an attorney is stressful, but he’s able to do a good job. The author uses Mercer’s military background to explore issues that many veterans experience such as long-lasting, even permanent, mental, and physical illnesses. Many serious traumas may cause PTSD, but since Mercer is a combat veteran, his wartime experiences continue to influence his life. War always has an enemy no matter whose side you’re on, and Mercer’s nemesis haunts him when he attempts to live a normal life. The opposing roles of Phil Mercer, a murderer given in to the temptation to kill, and an attorney, driven by order, logic, and law, make for a unique protagonist. Bentley does a great service in the way he writes about Mercer’s interior dialogue, hallucinations, depression, and memory problems. He does not make Phil Mercer a stereotype of a mentally ill person. Mercer is a sympathetic character; one who is approachable for the reader. I liked Phil Mercer so much that I can visualize his character in further novels by the author.
Told through flashbacks, dream sequences, and various points of view, Comfort Zone is a first-rate story. Crime novel fans will be entertained by Comfort Zone. I highly recommend reading this book. I received this book from the author as an ARC.
The release date for Comfort Zone is August 3. Pre-order price is 99 cents/pence. Paperback is coming soon.
Why I Keep Trying Even If I’m Too Sick to Go On
“Perhaps some day I’ll crawl back home beaten defeated. But not as long as I can make stories out of my heartbreak, beauty out of sorrow.”
Should I Give Up Writing?
That is the daily question. It never leaves. I am a writer. I’m also sick with incurable illnesses. Lately I’ve been considering giving up writing altogether so that I’ll have less stress and anxiety. Marketing my work especially causes stress along with the painful feelings of rejection. That makes my depression worse. The coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic and quarantine adds fear to my problems. My vivid writer’s imagination makes me wonder if the world is coming to an end.
Making a list is a favorite method to clear my head, pros in one column and the cons in the other. I’m using my list to write this blog so hopefully it makes sense. Here are a few reasons why I’m tempted to quit writing. That’s the important thing in this post. I am tempted to abandon writing. Let’s examine the negatives first. Actually, I’m the one doing the examining; I just need some sympathetic readers to hear what I have to say.
I don’t receive much validation as a writer or appreciation of my work. I realize other writers may be in my situation. That’s a logical statement. I can understand perfectly why people want to point out someone else’s problems, but I don’t like it. If I get any feedback on my writing, it’s about what’s wrong with it. But logic is cold and impersonal. The lack of validation about my writing causes me to feel bad.
Opening my email to find another rejection message for something I submitted to a literary journal or contest makes me feel hopeless. Getting turned down after all the energy and time I spent on writing, sending it out and most of all, waiting for a reply, is one of the worst feelings. Their replies are many times the same. I receive a short answer like this: “Sorry, but we have decided that our publication is not the right place for your work.” I spend the day after that rejection, wondering where is the right place for my work? Is there really such a place? Does it exist or am I dreaming? Should I give up and stop writing? Should I throw my writing in the trash can like I did when I was twelve? Or burn some poetry like I did at age twenty three? Maybe tear it into strips and soak them in water so nobody can laugh at my writing ever again? I did that on my fortieth birthday. Should I dump the entire mess into a box and seal it with duct tape until later? When is later?
Anger is a powerful emotion and I get sick when I’m mad. I want to scream and sometimes I do. Those stupid editors don’t know poetry or fiction when they see it. They’re too dumb to appreciate my work. It’s good! They publish trash and garbage and silly stuff. I can’t tell anyone my opinions why the stuff that gets published is trash because I’ll lose what little friends I have. Well, they’re not really friends in the real sense, but Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, email and writer group friends. Online friends.
Justifications are easy to find. Quitting will lessen the negative feelings and expectations. I can have more time for other activities such as reading for fun and baking. I can have time to paint and draw. I’ll stop feeling guilty for using so much time marketing my writing. I can just read what I want without having to read boring articles such as “Give Your Readers What They Want!” or “One Hundred Proven Ways to Get More Reviews!” Haha! Reviews are another problem that cause me trouble. I have a few reviews. If I say how many, that will make me feel like people will laugh at me. Obviously, people didn’t care enough about my book to write a review, and they probably didn’t even read it if they bought it. Then I remind myself that the average person doesn’t write book reviews. Authors know how important reviews are. I’ve sold a small number of books and again, if I tell you the number, that will prove how worthless my writing is. How worthless I am. Won’t it?
I have life long mental illness. I have schizophrenia which is a very serious illness with acute symptoms. Disassociation, identity problems, lack of awareness, hallucinations, psychosis, lack of affect, paranoia. Not all of these symptoms are the same for all. I’ve had them in the past, but only a few now. They come and go. There’s always the possibility of relapse. The medicine has terrible side-effects. One is I can’t see good because it causes blurry vision at times. I can’t write or read with blurry vision. Trouble walking, tremors, oversleeping-these are terrible.
I have epilepsy that’s manageable now. Some studies have suggested that schizophrenia and epilepsy are interrelated. The anti convulsive medicine can provoke seizures. How crazy! Having a seizure wears me out for days. I have damaged heart valves which brings on fatigue and reduced energy levels. These problems have led to other issues. Testing revealed that I have mild cognitive problems. In my case, that’s forgetfulness, or sometimes not recognizing people I know. Occasionally, I go blank when I’m writing and don’t know what word to choose. The same thing happens when I talk. It’s not a case of trying to use the best word at the time. I mean I can’t think of the name of a certain object or action. An example is I want to make a peanut butter sandwich but I forget what to call the stuff inside the jar. If I am alone no problem. But I’ve had trouble naming the peanut butter when other people were there. I’m aware of what I’m doing and I realize I can’t think of the name of what I’m spreading on my toast. I say “stuff” or “this” and use pointing to make myself understood. When my brain pauses like that, it makes it so hard to communicate. Writing is a solitary activity but I’m still slow. It may take me a week to complete a blog post like this one, stopping and starting as needed. (It took a month to finish this one. Damn you virus!)
Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
Funny thing is my writing has gotten even better as time goes on. It improves with each story or poem or book. Even writing a blog post improves my writing. The act of writing gives me more practice, just as practice with a sport or hobby makes you better. As the advertisement says, Just Do It!
My depression makes me introverted. It’s impossible to interact with people when I feel that way, so participating in writing groups and social media gets me “out of myself.” A positive aspect of social media is the ease of communication for people like me. Writing a sentence or two as a reply is still writing.
My dad used to motivate me when I was confused. That’s another result of depression and mental illness-confusion. What to do now? What to do next? The future? Dad always said that I don’t have to do anything except take care of myself, be a good person and stay close to God, and that gave me some direction. ( I’m not including working for pay, or taking care of children or home in this part.) I don’t have to write that blog post or article. I don’t have to submit a story to a journal. I don’t have to enter that contest. I don’t have to answer that email if I don’t feel like it. The knowledge that I don’t have to do certain things gives me hope out of darkness. If I just want to sit and think, that’s okay. If the only strength I have is reading in bed, that’s okay. If I don’t feel strong enough to say a word that day, that’s okay. My family understands. I try to at least say good morning but sometimes I can’t handle any more than that. When people talk beyond my comfort level it feels like a bunch of sounds beating on my skull forcing themselves into my brain. On the days I feel better, I can write. If I don’t write for a month or more, that’s okay.
I know that I’d feel worse if I give up writing. Today is a good day. I can use the logical side of my brain easily. I don’t want to make a decision that I’ll regret later. I know that I have the power to give up writing if I want to, but I don’t want to give up. But I will make a decision and that decision is not to give up. Today.
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I found this photograph of Yellow Gorse, a bush with beautiful flowers that grows wild in Ireland. I still have to find out what kind of bird this one is. He or she is magnificent! Credit: Richard Steel / naturepl.com
Stop Using the Name of My Illness in Vain
My husband took me to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to celebrate our thirty-ninth anniversary. All along the Malecon, the boardwalk, are sculptures and statues. They are all visually striking and thought-provoking which fits the definition of art. Isn’t the purpose of art to entertain, to take the viewer out of their everyday existence for a few minutes or an hour? If every artist in the world only painted pretty red roses and blue skies, the world would be missing out on so much. How about a brown sky or purple grass? That’s the power of imagination. God gave humans the gift of creativity, I believe.
The statues were unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Twenty-foot tall beings made out of bronze with elephant tusks and wearing clown shoes; a bench with big ears; strange-looking children climbing up a ladder to the sky and aliens with laps to sit in had us staring and gawking. I couldn’t look away. Tourists lined up to sit on a butt-shaped seat to have their pictures snapped. My husband Tony posed with a statue that looked like an adult with a child’s face and on its head was a hat with wings just like that old television program The Flying Nun. Maybe that is what it represented-the power of art to cause the viewer to “fly away.” Who knows? That’s my opinion and everyone has the privilege of interpreting art in their own way. I did notice a statue of a woman golfer. It was done with skill. The human form of a young female was nearly perfect in proportion. But nobody stood and talked about it. No admirers and art critics even paused. It was ordinary. Not really unique, it was simply a statue of a girl swinging a golf club.
What does art have to do with my illness? Schizophrenia. I said it. I’m out of the closet. A woman walked up to us that day and gave her critique about a certain statue. The one that was my favorite, the one of a Plague Doctor, when doctors wore animal masks out in public. During the Middle Ages, doctors believed that the masks would frighten Death away.
The woman walked right up to me almost out of nowhere. At least I hadn’t noticed her before she got in my face. “Isn’t this something? Obviously the guy who made this stuff was Schizophrenic!” Then she walked away.
Why is the word schizophrenic used to describe anything unusual such as art, politics, even the weather? An artist is not automatically supposed to have Schizophrenia just because they used their creativity to make art. The premise isn’t even logical. Only people who have Schizophrenia can be artists, or all artists have the illness; those statements are not always true. So according to the woman, the artist had to have an illness in order to create a sculpture. Who said it was a male artist? Maybe a woman was the sculptor. Maybe there was more than one sculptor.
No one says “Oh! The weather is cancerous today!” News commentators have never called a politician Luekemic or Diabetic or Hypertensive, unless they were actually reporting this as information, not as a description of someone’s personality. Some artists do have a mental illness, but not all of them. Some writers suffer from diseases of the brain, but not all. Some musicians, movie stars, and athletes have mental illnesses, but not all of them.
I wanted to run after the woman and give her a piece of my mind, but the tourists would have seen me yelling and screaming about a word. And it is just a word. It’s a form of discrimination and ignorance to use the name of an illness so casually for something that has no relation to the disease. I am sensitive enough and smart enough that I would never remark “Oh, the weather is absolutely schizophrenic today” just because the wind was blowing hard and the temperature suddenly dropped thirty degrees. Why can’t people be more aware of what they’re saying? Nobody calls the weather manic-depressive or it has associative identity disorder. The list of mental diseases and conditions is quite extensive. Why pick on Schizophrenia? Is it because some schizophrenics are violent? Most schizophrenics are not violent. Anytime a murderer is found to have Schizophrenia, people think it’s the disease that caused the murder. This is not true. A disease does not kill people or cause bad things to happen to another person. All murderers are not schizophrenic! All schizophrenics are not murderers! There are different varieties of Schizophrenia and each person has different symptoms. Of course, some symptoms are common to the disease, but again, not every person has the same symptoms.
I hope people can become more aware of this illness. I hope people can stop calling anything out of the ordinary schizophrenic. This disease has biological and genetic origins. It is permanent, incurable but manageable with the right medication and treatment. I will discuss this more in another blog post.
Photo: Kat Jayne