Archive for Book Thoughts

CRAZY TIME and… Romance???

Kirkus Reviews refers to my novel Crazy Time as having “a side of romance,” which gave me a jolt when I first read it. I don’t write romance! I don’t read romance, and romantic comedy is the one genre of film I categorically avoid. I respect romance writers quite a bit, as theirs is a competitive market and the industry standards have a significant learning curve, but that’s just another reason why I’m not one of them… except… I did put a love story pretty near the center of Crazy Time. Since Crazy Time is crazy Biblical anyway, I’ll echo the Song of Solomon and say it’s one of those “love is strong as death” love stories, if not “love is stronger than death,” as the verse is often misquoted. My novel is primarily the story of Lily Henshaw, secondarily the story of Lily Henshaw’s relationship with Burt Wells, her boss who becomes her lover, as well as someone who protects her and whom she must protect on her quest.

I introduce Burt with the flames already kindled, at least on his side: he and Lily have had a long employer-employee relationship, and he has long been attracted to her, but he has always behaved appropriately. She is aware of his feelings but has never made a move beyond friendship, but when her life starts falling apart, she finds she can turn to Burt, and she does, repeatedly, and he is there for her, even when doing so gets him in trouble (even leading to his arrest at one point). He stays by her side through behaviors and events that would make almost anyone abandon her, and he believes the impossible when she needs him to. After they become intimate, a horrific incident makes Lily’s apartment uninhabitable, so she goes to stay with him—and realizes they are now a couple. Her reliance on him becomes something more, and when, in time, he needs her, her response is passionate. That’s all I’ll say. Read the book to find out whether my lovers achieve the ending romance novels are supposed to have.

Well, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say one thing more. That Lily and Burt are an interracial couple (Lily white, Burt black) becomes important in several ways. First, there’s the arrest I mentioned: Lily has just been assaulted, Burt arrives to help moments before police, and when the police arrive, they arrest him basically because he’s black, despite Lily’s objections, which leads to other plot developments. More important, though, is Lily and Burt’s battle against the corporation Mansworth Futures and Securities, which is very, very white. They treat Burt dismissively and, later, violently… I’ll sum up by simply saying that in the “working world” to which Lily Henshaw becomes “ambassador,” race is a concern that Lily’s choice of partners helps to highlight.

So, the romance storyline serves multiple functions, but mostly, it raises the emotional stakes, and it makes the characters more compelling. Their need to survive might make you turn the pages, but their need for each other—that might make you hold your breath.

Find Crazy Time at https://www.amazon.com/Crazy-Time-Bizarre-Battle-Darkness-ebook/dp/B09QCVHRBJ/

CRAZY TIME and (Video) Games

Referring to my novel Crazy Time’s opening chapter, in which the protagonist Lily Henshaw and three friends are menaced on the highway, a recent Readers’ Favorite Book Review summarizes, “Two men in a pickup truck pursue and engage them in a brutal and deadly game called Crazy Time.” The reviewer is correct in that the two men, who call themselves Earl and Rob, are playing a game, and Earl does call what’s happening “crazy time,” but I never thought of what they’re doing as a game called Crazy Time, which would make the title of my book the name of a game (among other things). I may not have planned that dimension of the title, exactly, but I’d say it’s appropriate, as ideas related to gaming run throughout the book. Earl and Rob treat their assault on Lily and her friends as if it has rules to follow, beginning with the recitation of a kind of nursery rhyme and ending with murder, and they have lots of fun along the way, using a cell phone to take video of the proceeding, presumably so they can savor the event again and again. For them, the novel’s opening horrors become a digitally mediated gaming experience.

Lily’s nephew Donnie is inseparable from his handheld video games, but otherwise, no one in the novel is involved with literal “games.” A game is at the story’s heart, however. Lily goes through so many traumas that she concludes she’s suffering from a curse like in the Book of Job, which she understands as centering on a bet, or game, between God and Satan, who basically play to see how unimaginable suffering will affect a person. Lily refuses to be a passive participant and does all she can to become a real player, trying to learn the rules from a psychic, a Satanist, and others. To take an active role, she discovers—about midway through the book—that she must go to a skyscraper that houses a shady company with mysterious connections to the supernatural forces destroying her life.

I don’t want to drop significant spoilers about the second half of the book, but since video games were very much on my mind as I crafted it, I’ll make a few comments. First, about illustrations: there are five images in the first half, five in the second, and two out of the second five show elevators. The skyscraper’s elevators become crucial to both story and structure because Lily arriving at a new floor of the building generally means facing a new challenge, after which Lily must go to an elevator (often at the end of a chapter) to go to another floor for another challenge. Yes, I’m saying floors of the skyscraper are like levels of a video game. Some of them even have boss battles. Near the end, there’s a reference to the video game God of War that I expect that game’s fans to enjoy.

So why this emphasis on games? Perhaps, in the tradition of the film Funny Games (either version), the malefic and/or irrational forces that treat Lily’s suffering as “play” trivialize and dehumanize her, and by extension people like her, and maybe by extension all people, revealing the brutality of the universal order. But maybe it’s more interesting to think about the phenomenal successes of The Hunger Games (which I knew prior to Crazy Time) and Squid Game (which I encountered after), both of which rely on video game narrative conventions, and both of which use games in their stories for social critique. Such stories suggest that we’re taking our games more and more seriously, relying on them to express ourselves and to interpret our lives. These games are about survival. Lily might not want to play the game of Crazy Time that Earl and Rob initiate, but to keep herself going, she learns what every visitor to Las Vegas knows: you’ve got to play to win.

Find Crazy Time for yourself: https://www.amazon.com/Crazy-Time-Bizarre-Battle-Darkness-ebook/dp/B09QCVHRBJ/

CRAZY TIME Goodreads E-Book Giveaway!

Cooper’s dark horror story is an uncomfortable, trippy, and original roller-coaster ride… riveting and unsettling… with a compelling hero.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Not unlike a Dali painting, L. Andrew Cooper’s latest… is a strange fusion of surreal horror, dark fantasy, and spiritual speculation… powered by stunning imagery and laudable in terms of plot audaciousness… a bizarre and sometimes grotesque narrative.” – BlueInk Review

“A series of traumatic events leads a woman into a battle between good and evil… supernatural twists subvert… expectations… poetic prose… is both unsettling and absorbing….” – Foreword Clarion Reviews

“…truly a bizarre battle with darkness… a unique piece from start to finish… wonderful to read… a great book… engaging and suspenseful…” – OnlineBookClub.org

“Despite its paranormal trappings, the book is a psychological thriller at its heart… disparate threads… are tied up nicely by the ending… A dark supernatural thriller that ponders on what makes us human.” – The Prairies Book Review

“Questions of life, morality, and what it means to be truly human permeate the narrative, giving it depth and substance. A gritty supernatural thriller.” – BookView Review

Between March 3 and March 31, 2022, I will be giving away 50 Amazon Kindle editions of Crazy Time on Goodreads. Please enter, and if you get a copy, please read and review!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Crazy Time by L. Andrew Cooper

Crazy Time

by L. Andrew Cooper

Giveaway ends March 31, 2022.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads. Enter Giveaway

Mental Illness and CRAZY TIME

Lily Henshaw, the central character in my novel Crazy Time, suffers so many traumas in such a short time that she becomes convinced that she’s a target for God and Satan, similar to Job in the Bible. The first chapter describes one of those traumas in detail, and the second chapter opens with a sentence stating unequivocally that, three months later, “Lily [is] not okay.” As she associates environmental triggers with her earlier trauma, bringing on a panic attack, astute readers might guess that Lily has PTSD, and indeed, PTSD and its effects are a major concern of the entire book. I wrote it while coming to grips with my own diagnosis of PTSD and struggling with a long depressive dip in the rises and falls of my bipolar disorder (type two). Although Lily’s traumas and mental experiences are far more extreme than my own, I can still claim that we overlap. “Crazy” is a pejorative word for the mentally typical to use as a description for those of us with mental illnesses, but to use it as an in-group term: Lily’s crazy time is in many ways my crazy time. Maybe that’s why she’s closer to my heart than virtually all my other characters.

The key feature of Lily’s experience with PTSD is repetition, which manifests in several different ways. The most famous kind of repetition tied to PTSD is the flashback, a kind of full-on replay of the original trauma. I didn’t write any long, involved replays for Lily, in part because such moments would be boring in a novel and in part because my dealings with trauma, like Lily’s, have involved multiple incidents, and my repetitions don’t work with cinematic scenes of primal moments. Don’t get me wrong. Associating the right trigger with a traumatic incident can send me briefly back to the horrible moment, and likewise, if Lily sees something she associates with (for example) one of the men who attack her in the first chapter, her mind will briefly take her back to relive some of the first chapter’s circumstances. However, going back doesn’t have to involve a sensory replay, and it doesn’t need an environmental trigger, either. Repetition also occurs through seemingly random, intrusive thoughts. Unbidden, a thought related to a trauma might simply pop into Lily’s (or my own) head, and then it will be there, summoning all the negative emotions associated with it. Intrusive thoughts relate closely to what my therapist calls “obsessive rumination,” what happens when the trauma-related thoughts get into Lily’s and my heads and run around in circles, refusing to leave. The idea of “crazy time” itself, which Lily’s attackers bring up in the first chapter, intrudes on Lily’s regular thinking and circles around, haunting her and gathering new meanings as she tries to make sense of it and dispel it. As she obsessively ruminates, her thinking evolves coping strategies. The repetitions are deep ruts, hard to escape, but each repetition at least has the potential to be a repetition with a difference.

PTSD, the associative nature of its triggers, the seeming randomness of its intrusions, and its obsessive lingering become structural principles for Crazy Time. The novel doesn’t follow a standard narrative line, which would rely on a causal chain of incidents (A happens, which causes B to happen, which causes C to happen, which causes D, etc.). In a standard horror novel, some big bad shows up at the beginning, and a chain of events leads to the big bad being shut down at the end (or, less often, the big bad achieving total victory). Again, not so in Crazy Time. The opening chapter might seem to carry the weight of a causal, original incident, but on the surface, it doesn’t have a lot to do with the rest of the story—except the trauma it causes repeats and shapes Lily’s thinking, which shapes the path she takes toward improving her situation. Indeed, from the first chapter on, Lily’s traumas seem to lack a logical, traceable tree of causes, and a remedy for causality’s absence gives Lily something else to obsess about. A major example of a traumatic phenomenon that seems to lack logical causality but affects Lily repeatedly is suicide. People close to her and people she randomly encounters keep killing themselves. Suicide makes a kind of thematic sense because her traumas leave her depressed, but because she can’t see a more logical, common root for the suicides to be happening around her, she concludes, ““Suicide [is] a rhizome, like certain mushrooms and plants, popping up in bunches here, bunches there… clusters of crazy-time mushrooms” (and yes, I am tipping my hat to Deleuze and Guattari).  Other events and images, such as the intoning of nursery rhymes, seemingly lack logical reasons to recur but do in crucial ways for the story’s development.

Due to a relentless self-reflection that comes with obsessive rumination, Lily at least sometimes recognizes this structure governing her life and book, but she rejects it, insisting on finding a root for the tree that she believes should causally connect her experiences. Her search for the root, which she hopes will point to a remedy, leads to the craziest of her adventures, but she is not wholly resolute in her quest. Doubt follows her everywhere, as she knows “she [has] good reasons… to be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and couldn’t that involve hallucinations?” She doesn’t trust her mind or her senses, and others doubt her as well. Such doubt can be one of the cruelest aspects of mental illness—feeling you might betray yourself, and that others don’t take you seriously—and it deepens her desperation while strengthening her determination to discover an all-revealing root for her difficulties.

No matter how mentally ill Lily may be, her strength when faced with doubt and circumstances that lack traditional sense make her heroic. A mentally ill hero—especially one so smart and self-determined—is a rare creature in any form of fiction, especially in the horror genre, which too often uses “the crazies” as villains. Despite the fact that most people with mental illnesses are no more likely to be violent or dangerous than people without, many horror writers are ignorant, prejudiced, and/or just plain lazy. I encountered enough prejudice and hate associating with certain horror writers that I mostly avoid them now. Lily would gladly show them her middle finger and then go about her quest. She’s admirable, much more so than I. She’s a hero both apart from and because of her struggle with mental illness, which gives her a good chance of coping with her history and, if you’ll give her story a try, having a bright literary future.

Find Lily and Crazy Time on the Amazon Kindle or in paperback.  

Turning the Screw in CRAZY TIME

Crazy Time is a literary horror novel about a woman, Lily Henshaw, who goes through so much trauma that she begins to think that her experiences are supernatural, the results of a curse comparable to the suffering in the Book of Job. That she merely thinks the experiences are supernatural—she doubts her sanity, finds her senses unreliable, and therefore can’t be sure—is crucial for the way the novel unfolds. At least after the first couple of chapters (and possibly sooner), the novel starts “turning the screw,” a term I use to describe any narrative that places what is actually happening in the world of the story into unresolvable uncertainty, a kind of perpetual hermeneutic ambiguity.

The term, of course, refers to Henry James’s famous little horror novella The Turn of the Screw (1898), in which the (inset) narrator’s ghostly experiences may or may not be products of her mind. James uses first person to lock readers in his governess-narrator’s unreliable perceptions, whereas Crazy Time uses third person to lock readers in Lily’s point of view, and James turns his screw with poise and tidiness, whereas Crazy Time is… messy. With our ambiguous turns through compromised consciousness, however, we both exploit a kind of phenomenological weakness for dramatic effect. For both of us, supposedly supernatural phenomena become tests for the limits of conscious processing, gauges for the distance between that which is and that which is experienced, and revelations of the stability of the mind that is processing experience. Reading James, we must consider whether the governess’s sensory experiences of the supernatural reveal objective realities or a damaged mind. Crazy Time poses a less evenly divided question, preferring a spectrum approach. How much of what Lily experiences “actually” happens, and when what she perceives stems from hallucination and isn’t happening, what “actually” is? If Lily is insane, in her world, what might sanity look like?

Although Lily doesn’t have unlimited patience for doubting herself (eventually accepting that “crazy flows forward”), she has far more good sense than James’s governess. As an English and Philosophy double major in college, Lily asks and seeks answers for the sorts of phenomenological questions that interest James. Her book (I almost subtitled Crazy Time “The Book of Lily Henshaw”) offers an array of experiences that might play as un- or super-natural, and Lily stands in different relations of skepticism to them with regard to their “reality.” These different relations are softer and harder turns of the screw. By the novel’s second half, which is perhaps less horrific but permeated by the fantastic, nothing might be real, or everything might be real, or there’s a mix. If decisions are needed, only readers can make them, likely based on how much disbelief they suspend when faced with unnatural, extreme, absurd, and unsettling phenomena.

Trying to grapple with “What is real?,” a question asked often enough in postmodern texts (though hopefully not quite in my novel’s curious ways), Crazy Time’s readers might trip once or twice on the book’s other big phenomenological interest—the experience of time. If phenomenological instability of the “real,” primarily the reality of the spatial environment and what happens within it, points toward craziness (what else is psychosis?), then phenomenological instability of the temporal, experiences of time that disobey the even and predictable ticks of a clock, points toward crazy time.  Crazy Time doesn’t move like most novels. Split into two parts that are almost even halves, Part One covers an unspecified number of months, while Part Two covers a matter of (busy) hours. Some major events take pages and pages to play out, while others slip by in a sentence or two. Some sentences’ tortured syntax, if successful, will slow down reading, while others’ simplicity will speed reading up. Time’s instability is another screw turning, as it throws the scale of experience into uncertainty, deepening the interpretive quagmire.

This temporal instability comes at least partially from Lily’s struggle with PTSD—more on that in another post. For now, I’ll conclude by saying that crazy time, and Crazy Time, make the experiences of both space and time unreliable for both characters and readers. The book leaves no one standing on terra firma. Reading it shouldn’t provide an experience on par with Lily’s—that would be too horrifying—but having the screws turned on you should provide a glimpse of what such an experience might be like. And that, brave reader, is just the sort of phenomenon you’re seeking, right?

For Crazy Time on the Amazon Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09QCVHRBJ/  

For the print version: https://www.amazon.com/Crazy-Time-Bizarre-Battle-Darkness/dp/1977250432/