Tag Archives: traumatic brain injury

March Madness, in More Ways Than One

Now that the greatest sports tournament in the country, the NCAA’s March Madness basketball showdown, is underway, time to take a breather from what has truly been a mad March from the writing and editing desk.

Actually, count in February as well, especially since the Southern California Writer’s Conference. It turned out to be a major catalyst and motivator to a lot of people, me included. I’m overjoyed to see so many of the attendees taking the spirit and momentum of the conference to power forward with their novels and non-fiction books. Consequently, they are keeping editors and agents very busy right now.

So, a few tidbits from the writing world, about some friends, and also fun cultural happenings from my other creative loves, music and art.

Spent Saturday afternoon at Rock Your Loxx in Oceanside, a hair salon with a wonderful rock music motif and theme. The salon, owned by long-time vocalist and stylist Stephen Jerome, is filled with classic album covers, books, photographs of thirty years of stars, memorabilia and the like. Stephen’s supplies and scissors sit on a Marshall amp, there’s a drum kit in the corner, and the newest piece is an autographed guitar signed by rock star Stevie Salas, who is from Oceanside.

On Saturday, I (literally) ran down to Rock Your Loxx to find nearly a hundred people jamming

Robert Munger (R) presents an autographed Stevie Salas guitar to Rock Your Loxx owner Stephen Jerome during Saturday's promotion for artist Derek Riggs.

Robert Munger (R) presents an autographed Stevie Salas guitar to Rock Your Loxx owner Stephen Jerome during Saturday’s promotion for artist Derek Riggs.

into the salon and waiting in line outside to see Derek Riggs, a fabulous artist best known for his Iron Maiden covers. Whether or not you like heavy metal, Derek’s legacy is this: He is probably the last great album cover artist of a storied tradition that began with Rick Griffith, Wes Wilson and the psychedelic rock band covers of the 1960s. As we all know, albums went the way of dinosaurs in the late 1980s, replaced by CDs — which are headed in the same direction as collectible vinyl becomes all the rage. It was an awesome afternoon for a hair salon whose unique design is now catching the interest of the greater rock music world, and for a stylist who definitely personifies his salon.

During the day, Rock Your Loxx’s interior designer, my long-time friend Robert Munger, introduced me to one of my media heroes: legendary disk jockey Bob Buckmann, who turned up with his wife. After building a 100-watt pirate station in New York as a teenager, Bob made his name on WBAB-FM in Long Island, followed by WAXQ, known better as Q104.3. He headed to the West Coast, and became programming director for the greatest of all West Coast classic rock stations, KLOS. You Southern Californians, remember “The Seventh Day,” when KLOS DJs “Uncle” Joe Benson and Jim Ladd spun seven full albums on Sunday evenings? Bob had a hand in this and other programs in more recent years.

Now Bob is at KGB-FM in San Diego, offering up his 43 years of professional experience. What a thrill it was to meet him and talk with him about a mutual acquaintance and friend, Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane, who I helped 10 years ago with his memoir, Full Flight. We agreed: Marty had one of the greatest voices to ever grace a rock stage. In fact, he inspired the titling of my novel, Voices, because in the 1960s, a helluva long time before a certain TV show grabbed the title, he was known as “The Voice”.

I know one thing: Stephen Jerome is all smiles today, which is his birthday. As Queen lead guitarist Brian May told me years ago on the American Idol set, where he was overseeing a week devoted to Queen, “The key to shaping a show is to hit ‘em over the head with the first two songs, then you can put whatever you want into the set.” Rock Your Loxx pulled off a great show.

• • •

I needed a good rocking break. It’s been crazy, with several clients getting ready (or already started with) the publishing rounds with fantastic novels, trilogies, memoirs and other goodies. In my 12 years as a book editor, I’ve never seen so many high quality manuscripts at the same time – and I’m hearing the same from other independent editors. The competition to publish traditionally is so fierce that writers are putting out their best work – early on. And I’m proud to say that my clients are writing highly publishable material.

Meantime, through my agent Dana Newman, I’m in the middle of publisher negotiations for works that I will share more with you when the good news comes. Yep, I’m superstitious. Seen too many “sure bet” deals slip through the cracks. But these look good, and when the contracts arrive, I’ll tell you all about them, who’s publishing them and where to find them next year.

• • •

Barbara Stahura and Ken Willingham

Barbara Stahura and Ken Willingham

A tip of the cap to my long-time friend, Barbara Stahura, who recently moved from Tucson to Southern Indiana. Barbara was the most versatile journalist with whom I worked when I was editorial director at Faircount International in Tampa, and also the person most responsible for hooking me up as a presenter/teacher at writer’s conferences.

Almost 10 years ago, Barbara’s husband, Ken Willingham, suffered a serious traumatic brain injury in a near-fatal motorcycle accident. She wrote about the experience in her 2008 memoir, What I Thought I Knew. She also wrote a workbook based on her time participating in Ken’s rehab, After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story, A Journaling Workbook, which is quickly becoming the standard-bearer for TBI writing therapy in a field that finally has the attention of the nation.

Today, Barbara is a national expert on TBI, particularly writing therapy, as well as a masterful journaling teacher. In a recent article in the Evansville Courier, she discusses the sudden change in her life, and the ensuing decade that has brought her to this front-in-center advocate’s position. What a great work and service, Barbara.

•  • •

Speaking of inspiration, stay tuned tomorrow and Wednesday for a two-part blog that will likely leave your jaw dropping. Let’s just say the subject, and the author, Martha Halda, are the closest things to me in this life. And soon, we’ll get to read all about it through her memoir, A Taste of Eternity.

That’s all the teasing for now. Back tomorrow. Write and read well today.

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Interview: Timothy Dean Martin, author, Mental Hygiene

Timothy Martin made his first writing mark as a lyricist, penning several national pop hits during the 1970s and 1980s. Now, he returns with his debut novel, Mental Hygiene, based in part on his experiences in a Mental Hygiene Clinic while serving in the U.S. Army in the late 1960s. In this interview, Tim describes not only his novel and the circumstances surrounding it, but also the process of integrating life experiences into fiction — and, most significantly, some of the haunting similarities between what is happening with returning troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, and those who returned from Vietnam. Most specifically, as it concerns post-traumatic stress syndrome and traumatic brain injury.

Q: In what ways did you incorporate your personal experience in the Army with the story of Mental Hygiene?

A: Many of the characters were based on real people with whom I served in a Mental Hygiene Clinic at Fort Jackson, S.C. in 1967-68.  The historical perspective was easy because sociological events like wars, riots, assassinations, and the like, embed themselves in one’s moral consciousness.  Many people have asked me if Michael Murphy, the protagonist, is based on me. Michael and I shared the same experience of losing our innocence, so there is that similarity.    

Q: One of the fun aspects of the book that struck me as really unique — and positive  — was creating a relationship between Murphy and a young hippie woman. In the ’60s, the hippie and military cultures were polar opposites, yet your characters found a common bond: love.  Could you elaborate on what you saw in the hippie culture as a young serviceman?

A: When I was drafted, I considered myself a post-beat era poet.  In my mind, post-beat morphed into the hippie generation.  I was definitely not military material but unwilling to run to Canada. The hippie culture, big on the west coast, was an anomaly in South Carolina.  Nonetheless, thanks to the draft they imported it.  Coffee houses like the UFO in downtown Columbia were magnets for artists, writers, and counter-culture types who were draftees from all over the Eastern Seaboard.  That’s what led to the start of the anti-war movement inside the military.  As the Vietnam War became unpopular, the movement became emboldened.  Peace, love, and rednecks; what a combination.

Q: Mental Hygiene offers a perspective on the Vietnam War that is completely different from other books that have come out on the subject. What knowledge did we have in the psych wards about PTSD, traumatic brain injury and other brain-oriented afflictions at that time?

A: I don’t think it was a matter of knowledge that was the problem, although amateurs like me had no business treating mental illness.  I was an English major, for God’s sake!  Luckily, I had quality psychiatrists to consult with, and a referral procedure.  Mindset was the big issue then and now; the culture of the military.  It’s difficult to diagnose the patient when the beast needs to be fed.  We had half a million troops in Vietnam, so careful diagnosis got put on the back burner.

Q: One thing that’s never talked about, but you subtly alluded to, was the down time between battles in Vietnam — and how that messed with soldiers’ minds. How does the down time in a war affect one’s psyche?

A: The best depiction of down time I’ve read is in the novel Matterhorn by Karl Malantes.  The description of living in the bush in Vietnam is soul eroding.  In the Afghanistan conflict, soldiers in the Korengal Valley go about their daily routine while being constantly attacked.  It’s no wonder that the rates of PTSD and suicide are skyrocketing.  Sebastian Junger wrote a book titled War and made a companion documentary, Restrepo, which deals with the stresses ever present in that war zone.  Imagine a fifteen-month tour of duty waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Q: I find Mental Hygiene to be an important book today, with so many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan coming home with everything from PTSD to traumatic brain injuries and the like. What are the similarities and differences in the way we need to care for these veterans from what you experienced in the Vietnam era?

A: In the Vietnam Era, PSTD was largely ignored by the military.  We lost a generation of men who have never recovered.  It’s a disgraceful reminder and lesson that we still seem to be ignoring.  Until 2006, when the Hartford Courant published a major news story, PSTD and the alarming suicide rate among returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan was largely ignored in the national press.  Today, the military and present Administration are making bolder proposals about mental health treatment.  Whether they will bear responsibility and provide funds for more personnel is unclear, in my opinion.

Q: That’s an interesting point. After otherwise thoroughly enjoying the colorful, entertaining story that is Mental Hygiene, I felt a sense of deja vu, that we’ve been down this road before with PTSD.

A: It doesn’t help that the Army’s stance has been to discount PTSD whenever possible in treatment of returning veterans, according to reliable reports.  Nothing that I know of has been done to address the “culture” in the military that encourages soldiers to minimize mental health problems.  Returning troops are not routinely given a face-to-face interview with mental health personnel, although some reports state that as many as 30% of them suffer from PTSD in some form.

Q: You’ve decided to carry on Murphy’s story in a second book. Without giving up too much detail, where will we find him heading in his post-Army life?

A: Murphy will be heading for the music business circa 1969.  It’s just your everyday story involving sharks in tie-dye, lunatics running the asylum, and staggering one’s way to the top, a perfect Michael Murphy environment.

Q: You’ve got quite a diverse writing background. You were quite successful as a songwriter in the ’70s and ’80s. Who were some of the bigger acts to which you supplied songs?

A: I wrote songs in an era when recording artists weren’t necessarily songwriters.  It gave me the opportunity and privilege of writing for a diverse group of artists including David Clayton Thomas of Blood, Sweat & Tears, C.W. McCall, the DeFranco Family, John Davidson, Cilla Black, the Outlaws, Manfred Mann, and a host of others.  It was a fun ride.

Q: You’re also a very good poet, which I find can work hand-in-hand with strong fiction writing. Could you briefly discuss how the precision, voice and feel of poetry correlates — or differs — from what you’re trying to achieve in your fiction?

A: Poetry has its own language.  For me, there’s no room to maneuver in the heart of a poem.  It’s your entire life on stage alone.  It takes a special courage.  Fiction, at least the way I write it, is like a dance or sometimes like trying to get cats to march in a parade.  It moves outside of me and tells me what happens next.

Q: Tell us about the Wounded Warrior Project how it’s going so far.

A: The mission of the Wounded Warrior Project is to raise awareness and enlist the public’s aid for the needs of severely injured service men and women, It helps those service members aid and assist each other, and provides unique, direct programs and services to meet the needs of severely injured service members.  It’s a great non-profit organization that I can’t praise enough.  81% of donations go directly to their programs.

Q: Writing seems to continue in your family. Your daughter, Alwyn, is a fine up-and-coming short story and fiction writer.  Did you raise her in a household that honored literature and fine writing? Speaking of which, what authors proved to be the greatest influence in your development over the years?

A: Writing and books were always around the house.  Since I was a writer, my children got to see me expressing myself that way.  I think it took away the fear of failure that so many kids have when it comes to exporting their thoughts and feelings onto a written page.  Writers that have influenced me the most over the years: in poetry, Robert Creeley; in disciplined fiction, Hemingway; James Lee Burke for a good story; and the New York Times for great journalism.


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