Tunnel Vision is now available!
Wohooo! Lookit! I seeee you!
In which I list names for the acknowledgments of Tunnel Vision
You can be in the acknowledgements of "Tunnel Vision" if you give me one hundred dollars!!! Naw. I'm just kidding. You won't need to give me one penny. Unless you really want to, then, okay. I'll take it. Here's the backstory:
Way back in the summer of 2010, I asked readers to vote on what kind of blovel (blog/novel) I should write. They chose a gothic story set in the 30s, and it eventually became “Tunnel Vision”, the story of twisted love in The Northern Michigan Insane Asylum.
I’m writing the acknowledgements and I need your help. Please let me know if you did any of the following so I can include your name in the book (if that’s okay with you):
- You read the blovel, even if you never told me or anyone else
- You commented on a post or on my Facebook page
- You gave a character name suggestion
- You encouraged me in any way to keep on going
I’d love to include your name in the acknowledgments, so let me know who you are either by commenting here with how you’d like your name to appear, on my Facebook page, or send me an email to Tanya@tanyaeby.com.
And if you have to give me a name like Ben Dover, I’ll put it in there too, because I’m a teenager at heart and that stuff makes me laugh. But your real name would be good too.
And in case you’re wondering: here are the characters that made it into the book:
Mallie Lyn Peters
Dr. Christopher Grooms
1938, Northern Michigan Insane Asylum Three hundred and seventeen souls took flight during the tuberculosis epidemic. Ama and the rest of the team of nurses and volunteers tended to them, cleaned their beds, soothed their coughs, and prepared bodies for burial. She worked endlessly, at all hours of the day, and took over for Nurse Kolenda when she developed the telltale rattle in her chest. Nurse Kolenda recovered; many others did not. And when the epidemic passed and the halls emptied and were washed and polished again, the hospital returned to its former state as an asylum. Patients were locked in their wards. Treatments for their mental ailments resumed. And a new doctor arrived on campus. He brought with him knowledge of a new technique that would cure the most violent of patients of the terrible spirit writhing within them. By drilling holes into a skull, the mean spirits were released and the patient returned to life quieter, simpler, and (Ama thought) without any personality left. Later, the surgery would be replaced with the simple use of an icepick through the eye and into the frontal lobes of the brain. This, though, would be a decade yet before coming.
Ama grew big with child and though everyone at the asylum knew she was pregnant, knew in fact that Doctor Kinney had placed it within her womb, the nurses and doctors responded with silence. They did not acknowledge the pregnancy and so it was as if it didn’t exist.
Mallie Lyn Peters returned to work at the asylum where she would take up duties as one of the cooks in the three cafeterias. She placed the food order with George who brought her baskets and baskets of meat, cheese, fruits and vegetables. And one day, he brought her a ring.
The moment he slipped the ring on her finger, far away, in the belly of the hospitals, Ama bit her lower lip and began to push.
Her daughter entered the world much as she did…in the shadows…but this time, there were hands to welcome her as several inmates had followed their favorite nurse down into the tunnels. They had not turned their backs to her pregnancy. In fact, they awaited it with anticipation and Ama’s daughter was greeted with laughter and joy.
Ama gave her new child her nipple to suckle. She pulled on it and her lips smacked. The pain that ran through her breast struck her as proof that her child was alive and fierce with longing. She would grow strong and healthy, but she would not grow up here.
On their wedding day, when George carried Mallie Lyn over the threshold and into the small dusty space that was their kitchen, a basket greeted them with a small child wrapped in hospital cloth. Mallie immediately heated some milk and soothed the screaming babe with milk dribbled from a cloth. The newlyweds did not discuss it. They looked at each other and simply nodded. They would call her Elizabeth. She was their daughter, for what does it matter where a person comes from or how they’re brought into the world as long as once they are in it, they are swaddled in love.
Now I know. I know the truth of my past, the place where I started, and how my parents came to raise and love me.
Am I better for knowing the truth? Yes. I think I am. I have always felt different from my family, and now I know why. I refuse, though, to believe that I am an abomination. I am not doomed to repeat the mistakes of Dr. Kinney, my biological father. Nor am I doomed to remain trapped in a place like my biological mother, Ama. She was trapped, I think. Or maybe not. Maybe giving me up was a choice that allowed her to do good work at the hospital. She stayed at the asylum until her own death twenty years ago.
To think, I missed knowing her by one year. Had I found this out last year, I might have tracked her down. We would have shared tea and…what? Conversation?
I cannot answer all the questions I have about my birth, but I can answer the ones my daughter will have about her own.
I will tell her that when she was but one month from being born, her grandmother (Mallie Lynn Peters) and I packed my belongings into two suitcases and I left that house on 2nd Street. I left to dishes crashing and my husband screaming and as Ama did so many years before, I heard the echo of my footsteps as I walked away from him.
We are not who our parents were. We are unique creatures and worthy of love.
Now, as I write this, my darling girl Ama Lynn naps next to me. I can here the soft puffs of breath from her. My mother works in the garden. And I think of what is to come next. I, too, am no longer trapped. I do not know what waits for me and my daughter, my daughter who represents the best parts of me and her father, the best things in life. My daughter represents hope. I will love her. I will tend to her. And when she grows up she will have choices before her, and she will not be afraid.
There is no reason to be afraid.
We will not hide in the tunnels anymore. We will be fiercely happy. We will move forward, into the light.
1957, Traverse City, Michigan In my mind, I hear my mother’s footsteps echoing in the very corridor I’m standing in now. My adopted mother has taken me on a tour of Munson Hospital, formerly known as the Northern Michigan Insane Asylum. It is not the facility we’re looking at, but ghosts. I see my father in the shadows. He is a threatening force. And I see my mother in the way the light pours in through the windows.
Of course, I am not sure if I should even call Ama my mother. Isn’t a mother the person who raises you, who loves you, who tends to you? Is a mother purely biological, or is it a choice?
I run the palm of my hand over the smooth curve of my belly and within me my daughter shifts.
Something else shifts in me too. An idea, maybe. Something about life. How much of our lives, our happiness, is a choice? And how much is forced upon us? The woman who stands before me now, her shoulders hunched, her face lined with age and worry and the pain of giving birth to six children (only three who are still living), this woman…what choices has she made in life? I am almost afraid to ask her.
It turns out that I don’t have to.
“Come on, dear,” my mother says to me, her voice lilting with the brogue of her youth. “Let me grab my shawl and we can walk home and have a cup of tea. It will soothe the little one within you.” She smiles briefly and for a moment I catch a glimpse of the woman she was before my father died. “Perhaps it will soothe me too. Let us have the rest of the story. I will tell you what happened next.”
She tells the head nurse that she is leaving for the day. I follow her out the door, leaving both the darkness and the light of the asylum behind me.
As we walk down the long path that leads to the gate, I realize that even this place has undergone a transformation. There are no longer cries from crazed spirits, but the hollow silence of a hospital ward. Things are sterile now and humane. Some say it is on account of the frontal lobotomies practiced here. They say modern science has brought a great calm. I don’t know if that is true.
Sometimes when there is silence, trouble boils underneath.
I know this, because there is something boiling within me.
The gate is iron and twenty feet high. It is open. We walk through and turn the corner. My mother’s house, my old house, is only two blocks away. While we walk, I slip my arm into hers. We walk home in silence. I can wait a few minutes more for the rest of the story.
Not ‘the’ story. I can wait a few minutes more for ‘my’ story. That’s what this is about after all. It’s about me. The place where I began. Was I a choice or a curse? Did I begin with hope or with fear? Does it even matter? For me, it does. I am so close to deciding what I must do, but before I can think of the future, I have to fully understand my past.
It’s waiting for me. Just there. Shivering in the distance.
I can almost touch it.
Kinney’s bed lay in the front porch of Building 50, surrounded by rows and rows of other patients in white beds, their pillows dotted with red. “Do not watch him, dear. It does not do your spirit good,” Mama Lilliana said to Ama.
They stood in the shadows, where they were both so at home. Lilliana wore nothing but a thin nightgown, the outline of her voluptuous body just visible beneath the gossamer threads. She looked as if she belonged in the asylum, as if she were a part of the place. Madness had seeped into the lines of her face, the spin of her long hair. But it had not etched itself with pain, but with acceptance. With an embrace. Sometimes a house or a church or an institution could reach its tendrils into the very fabric of a person and bind to them. This had happened to Lily. She was a part of the hospital now and she did not fight this. No. There was no need to fight that which you loved.
Ama, on the other hand, had changed. There was a time when she belonged in the shadows. When her very existence was a mad secret whispered through the tunnels that crisscrossed underground. Now, though, she stood clothed in her buttoned white dress, stretched taut over the new curve of her growing belly. The nurse’s hat was pinned securely to her thick hair…and she looked at Kinney with the detachment that authority breeds. Ama was no longer an inmate in her house, but an authority.
“He’s gone, you know. There’s no hope for him. The sickness has him,” Ama said. “But then, the sickness has always had him, hasn’t it.”
Lilliana’s response was a pat on the back.
“I can get you out of here,” Ama continued. “I have money now. I know people. I can set us up a house. For all of us. For you and Papa Beeler and…” She paused, knowing that her other parents, Papa Kostic and Mamma Grant, were gone now to that place of white from which they could never come back. Lilliana did not answer this time. In fact, she had already disappeared into the shadows, so quickly and silently that Ama wondered if she had ever been there at all.
The hospital shivered with the coughing of the dying.
Kinney tossed in his bed. Writhed. He was like a snake trapped in cloth and tried to free himself by endlessly turning, thus snaring him even more securely. His cough became a great crescendo. He clawed at his throat. He fought against his own body.
Ama could have gone to him and said, “This, this is what it feels like to be trapped. This is what you have done to so many of the ones that I have loved.” Or perhaps, “Look! Look around you doctor! You are just like us, now!” Or maybe even, “You are not my husband and I am not your wife and you are not well. You are not sound.”
He needed no curses from her though. Justice was being delivered by an invisible hand. Ama saw the hand reach into his mouth, swirl into his mind and take what was there, steal his breath and his heart…and it was this that he choked on. Ama knew that for Kinney there would be no tunnel of white light to pass through. His end would come with the coldness of not a soul caring.
It only took a minute or so and it was over. Kinney gave up fighting. His body contracted and then released.
The ward fell silent for a moment as if relieved from his passing. Ama stared at him. He did not move. The child in her belly reached forward. Ama felt her child’s caress inside her and it was as if it were saying goodbye.
Ama turned and walked down the hall.
Her footsteps faded into the darkness.
I have turned over my new leaf. What on earth does that mean anyway? Whenever I turn over a leaf, I just see it's veiny underbelly. Expressions. Sheesh. They're so confusing. Let me start again. This is my first week of taking a break from being endlessly neurotic and obsessively promoting everything I'm doing. I'm just kicking back and reading and teaching and being a mom and a fiancee. It's nice.
But I have some unfinished business with a piece I started last year. A year ago, I asked for people to vote on a story idea for a Blovel (a novel posted in blog installments). Voters chose an historical gothic novel which is sooooo out of my comfort zone.
I decided to write about a 1930s insane asylum in Northern Michigan. Who knew I had such darkness? (Actually, I was pretty serious and literary and dark up until having my kids. Then I grew a sense of humor.)
I found working on this piece to be challenging, disturbing, aggravating, and a whole lot of fun. I posted like 17 installments, and then, well, life and the Promotion Machine took over and I stopped writing it. I didn't think anyone would notice.
A couple of you did.
So, because this story needs to be finished, because a couple of you have asked, and because I've decided to rewrite this little bugger and beef it up and make it a real novel, I'm going to finish it. In fact, I'm posting the next installment TODAY.
You can check on posts about "Tunnel Vision" by entering it in the search tool at the top right of the site. It's also categorized in "Summer Blovel". Or just CLICK ON THIS. You'll find previous chapters, and blogs as I talk about the process.
I'm excited to return to this. The characters still want their story to be told. Frankly, they're annoying me. So...without further delay...I bring you the ending chapters of "Tunnel Vision".
Just not right this second. Some time today. I have to take a shower and get ready to teach first.
It’s no surprise that I’ve been having (what I lovingly refer to as) an existential writer crisis for about, oh, a year. Well, I think it’s hit its precipice. At least I hope it has. It’s 12:57 AM and I can’t sleep. All I can think is ‘It’s time to do my work’. A rather annoying thought to have when what I’d really like to be doing is sleeping. I know what my brain is telling me. It’s telling me to quit whining, grow up, and write what I should be writing. (I keep thinking of the end scene in Uncle Vanya.)
These last two years on my own with the kids have been pretty chaotic. I’m constantly busy with teaching and narrating and then writing and more recently endlessly promoting my three small books that are out there. You can do a lot of things at one time, I’ve discovered, but you can’t do a lot of things well. I’ve given my all to my kids, my students, my audiobooks, and what little is left over, I give to my own work. There isn't a lot left over, actually. There's hardly anything left over.
Here’s where things get touchy.
I have a huge chip on my shoulder about why my work isn’t catching on, and why I can’t get an agent, and why I can’t get that elusive big New York publisher. Originally, I just thought the world was against me. Now I realize it’s actually more personal than that. My work isn’t good enough. I’m not saying this for pity; I’m saying it because it’s true.
I’ve thrown a tantrum over a colleague of mine and the accolades that he’s rightly receiving. I’ve thrown a tantrum because my alma mater GVSU said they wouldn’t let me do a reading there because the type of stuff I write (romantic comedy) isn’t supported by their department. I’ve thrown a tantrum as I’ve watched other writer friends get agents, book deals, readings at Schuler’s, etc. I threw a tantrum this week when the two agents looking at my new manuscript passed on it, even though they said I’m a good writer with a keen imagination. And I nearly threw a tantrum last night when I googled my college boyfriend, and discovered that he was on The Daily Show in January talking about his critically heralded second book on Detroit and the auto industry. The man is called a genius, and the truth is, he is.
What do any of these tantrums really accomplish? Why am I being such a baby?
Here’s the truth. I have a smidgen of talent and I’ve always floated by on that. I’ve never really tried at anything. Good grades came easy in school. I was a mostly A student. The same in college. Papers came easy, and later so did stories. Now if I’m being really honest, I’ll take it a step further.
Writing is a joy to me. An escape. So I don’t like to work on it. Work is, well, work. My three books out…they’re pretty much 1st drafts. Sure, I fix the typos and I add things here and there, but you’re pretty much reading the 1st draft. Why? Because I’m sort of just floating by.
So while I throw tantrums all over the place about the ‘world not recognizing me’…what kind of effort and work have I put into making them listen? Are my books the best work I’m capable of? No. They’re not. They’re just parlor tricks.
What would happen if I really took some time and energy and put it into a novel? What would happen if I stopped complaining, stopped looking at everyone around me and what they have, and just focused on my work? On those novels that I want to write? On the novels I need to write, but haven't had the energy for? What would happen?
I’m hoping for magic.
This is what I’m going to do. I’m finally at a place in my life where I feel loved and supported and safe. It has taken all my life to get to this point. (My childhood is the stuff of pained memoirs.) I have great kids and a wonderful fiancé and a wedding to plan. I don’t have to fight anymore to be who I am, or struggle emotionally or financially. Things are in place.
So now it’s time to shut up and do my work. I’m returning to a literary novel that I started a decade ago and didn’t want to put the time and energy into it because it was too hard. And I’m also going to rewrite “Tunnel Vision” and see if I can add depth and texture to it. If no one bites on “Foodies Rush In”, I’ll self-publish it and I’ll move on.
I’m tired of my own tantrums. It’s time to get serious about this.
It starts now…
Or, okay, it starts after I get some sleep.
Don't worry. I won't lose my sense of humor in my work, but I'm going to widen the scope a little. There are characters still waiting in Rusty's Bar and Grill, and a fortune teller has moved in above the restaurant. This is what I'm going to work on. Everything else around me is just noise.