This issue features the “Institutionalized” story cycle, which is an exploration of one event told from the individual perspectives of four participants. Picks up where The Nasty Dear (Piltdownlad #4) left off: from the Jackson group home in Anniston, Alabama, to Hillcrest Hospital, a mental hospital in Birmingham, where my brother Joey is put in the Youth Ward and I end up in the Adolescent Ward. Meanwhile, our father and Rick come home to discover their fate: a potential life sentence for child sexual abuse. Interspersed among the narrative are actual court records from the trial, newspaper clippings, song lyrics, photos and other miscellany. As with all issues of Piltdownlad, not for the fainthearted or the hardhearted.
LETTERS AND COMMENT
The “INSTITUTIONALIZED” story cycle:
1. The Adolescent Ward
2. Shit on A Shingle
5. The Hanged Man
6. Mister Nice Guy
8. Feeling Blocks
THE ZINES I READ
So far, only a few people have noticed that Piltdownlad #7 came out before #6. This non-sequential publishing schedule is the result of my original plan to put out the “Institutionalized” story cycle after The Detour Guide (#5), which I semi-finalized by making an announcement in the back of that issue. Since then, however, various obstacles (read: life) have prevented me from making it happen. In the meantime, I released “The Murky Realm,” a story about my parents and their unusual courtship, as Piltdownlad #7. This helped get the juices flowing again. Now that I have rounded the corner with this current issue, I’ve realized that as much as I want to fill the pages of each issue of Piltdownlad with a variety of material, I can only use what comes out and not what I wish I could force out. So I’ve stuck to the one story (or cycle, as it were) in this issue, but I’ve included letters and some commentary on the zines I’ve been reading lately. I’m not making any decisions on the #8 yet. I’ll see what happens after I get this one printed.
Okay, first, some explanation on what this “story cycle” bullshit is all about…
I started writing about the dysfunction and trauma in my family almost four years ago. My original intention was to write a novel in the tradition of Tolstoy and Faulkner with an omniscient narrator, written in third person from the perspectives of each member of my family. Ambitious, yes, I know. But I figured that if I failed, I would be much closer to what I wanted starting out with something on a much smaller scale. The first draft was 850 pages and it was, unsurprisingly, a complete failure. I tried to cram too much information into one story. So I rewrote it in the first person, from my perspective only this time, as a teenager experiencing the events as they happened. That is what became the novel I published earlier this year, A Masque of Infamy. (On a side note, I really wanted to call the book Sucks, Alabama, which is a much catchier title, but felt like that people would perceive the book as a slam on Alabama, which it most definitely is not. While my teenage self wouldn’t have flinched at possibly alienating readers, I’ve since grown somewhat squeamish in my old age…)
While most of the first draft was scrapped, there were a few parts that I really liked. I thought the part of the story when my little brother and I were first admitted into a mental hospital while our father and Rick waited to be arrested on sodomy and child abuse charges was particularly poignant when told from all four perspectives. So I went back in, salvaged and rewrote those sections for this current version. (Although the other parts in third person, I kept mine in first person.) To get at the grist of the story, as I was writing the first draft, I interviewed my siblings and my father several times and obtained the court records from the trial. I reprinted some these documents herein, along with two of the four newspaper articles on the case that appeared in the Anniston Star. (I had to get these off microfilm stored at the local university, an arduous process that was hindered by the very short amount of time I could spend doing research in a library two thousand miles away. Fortunately, I was able to just send away from the court records, though it took a while for the clerks to find the files in the storage warehouse where they had been kept since 1987.)
A few additional notes: There is some “creative engineering,” but only to maintain the narrative and flesh out the characters through dialogue. All names have been changed and/or redacted. Even my own. This is consistent with the novel and done to avoid any hassles with certain people (namely, my little brother) not liking what’s been written about them. (There have been threats.) So this way, I can just point out, Hey, it’s FICTION! (Even though it’s not.) It’s a NOVEL! (Only because I use dialogue and a narrative structure.) And anyway, I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to write a memoir. (Even though, in the end, I kinda did.)
While changing names to protect the victims and innocent bystanders in this story makes sense, you might be wondering why I’d remove the names of the perpetrators? I went back and forth over that point, but decided that since they’d served their time in prison, they paid their debt to society. What they owe me, my brother and the rest of our family is debatable at this point.
The story cycle is preceded by letter/comment section and an introduction cannibalized from The Nasty Oh-Dear zine (Piltdownlad #4), which, incidentally, is the prologue to the novel and, once the current issues with the silkscreened cover are gone, will no doubt go out of print.
I posted an excerpt on my tumblr page: