RED CARPET DAY
Playing the Genetic Lottery
Terri Morgan is a freelance journalist who’s work has appeared in dozens of different magazines and newspapers. She is the author of four sports biographies for young adults, and the co-author of two others. She is the co-author of two books on photography: Photography, Take Your Best Shot, and Capturing Childhood Memories, The Complete Photography Guide for Parents. Playing the Genetic Lottery is her first novel. She lives in Soquel, California.
When people first discover my novel, Playing the Genetic Lottery, is about a 32-year-old wife and mother who grew up with two schizophrenic parents, one of the first questions they have for me “is this autobiographical?” The answer is no.
I’m much older than Caitlin, my protagonist, I don’t have any children, and both my parents were quite sane when I was growing up. In fact, my mother still is the picture of mental health, while my father is deceased. The next question is generally “How did you come to write about schizophrenia?” That answer takes a little longer to share.
I’ve always been fascinated with people, human behavior, and trying to figure out what makes people behave the way they do. One day my friend Kathy, who is also fascinated with the same thing, called to tell me about a woman she’d met. The woman, who was the oldest of seven children essentially raised her six younger siblings because both their parents had schizophrenia. Knowing that I’d written 8 non-fiction books during my career as a freelance journalist, Kathy suggested I work with this woman on a book. Suddenly, a light bulb went off in my head. Even though I hadn’t written anything but non-fiction for the past three decades I said “no, I want to write a novel.”
The words came out of my mouth before I even realized what I was saying. But once they were out I was obsessed with the idea. I started reading everything I could get my hands on about schizophrenia, and had lots of conversations with friends who had schizophrenic relatives. The one person I didn’t talk to, however, was Kathy’s friend. I was so worried about inadvertently stealing her story that I wouldn’t even let Kathy tell me her name. Once I had enough material I sat down and started creating Caitlin and her world.
The book seemed to have a mind of its own. I had a general idea of the story I wanted to tell when I started, but the novel kept evolving as I finished more and more chapters.
The topic of schizophrenia wasn’t completely new to me; as a journalist I had encountered a number of mentally ill people while covering the courts and crime beat, and writing general news stories about the homeless in our community. I have also known several people who are schizophrenic, and, being interested in human psychology, had done a little research over the years just to satisfy my own curiosity. But working on the novel taught me so much more about the disease and the impact it has on families. It also reinforced the fact people who are unfortunate enough to develop this devastating mental illness are individuals, people who have families and friends who love them, and should be respected like all the other people we share this planet with.
Terri Morgem -Author of Playing the Genetic Lottery.Read excerpts from my novel at http://www.terrimorgan.net. Now available as an ebook at smashwords http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/104186 and at amazon
Excerpt from Playing the Genetic Lottery
Caitlin Kane knows more about the impact of schizophrenia than most people could imagine. Both her parents were afflicted with the devastating mental illness, a disease that tends to run in families, and Caitlin and her brother grew up trying to navigate the chaos of living with two schizophrenics. Her tumultuous childhood left Caitlin determined to forge a peaceful and serene life for herself. Now 32, she is living her dream. Married to her best friend, she and her husband are raising two bright young children in the suburbs of Seattle. While her unusual upbringing has left Caitlin with emotional scars, she enjoys the love and support of her extended family and her challenging career as a pediatric nurse. But no matter how hard she tries, she can’t shake the obsessive fear that the family illness will strike again, robbing her of her mind or stealing away the sanity of one or both of her children.
School started up again, and Jon and I were at our third elementary school. I was in second grade, and Jon was in fifth. A month or so after classes started, Dad stopped going to work at the hardware store again and started spending more and more time pacing through the apartment, talking to someone neither Jon nor I could see or hear. The discussions grew more heated as the days passed, and Dad would frighten us as he argued with his demons, repeatedly, and loudly, insisting that they leave him alone.
Mom, on the other hand, was actually doing pretty well. Her doctor had her on a new medication, and although it made her gain some weight, it seemed to leave her healthier than she’d been for a long time. She was painting steadily, and she started picking up dinner shifts at a Mexican restaurant nearby. She was bringing home money again, along with left over chips and burritos that Jon and I would take to school for lunch.
Mom was at work, and Jon and I were in our bedroom, trying to do homework while Dad was stomping around the apartment yelling that we had to hide. Suddenly, the door to our bedroom was thrown open, and Dad barged in. “Come on,” he shouted. “Come quick.”
He grabbed my arm and pulled me off my bed, my schoolbook and papers flying off my lap. “We have to get out of here. They’re after us.”
Jon’s eyes widened. “Dad, calm down.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down,” Dad shouted. “This is an emergency. We have to get out of here. NOW!”
Dad was dragging me out of the room. My feet went out from under me, and I slid on my side as he pulled me towards the living room.
“Help me Jon,” I screamed. Jon rushed over and tried to knock Dad’s arm away from me to loosen his grip on my forearm. Dad lashed out with his other arm and knocked Jon away. Jon’s legs went out from under him, and he crashed onto the floor. By the time Jon got back on his feet, Dad and I were out the front door. Jon ran after us.
“Get in, get in,” Dad screamed as he pulled me to the car. I was screaming too, and Jon was yelling “Stop it,” at the top of his lungs. “Both of you get in. They’re coming to get us. We have to get out of here now.”
Jon could have made a run for it while Dad was struggling to shove me into the back seat. I would have, if I had been him. I would have run as fast and as far as I could have from Dad’s maniacal delusions. But my loyal, protective, older brother didn’t abandon me. He climbed in the back seat behind me and pulled me close.
Dad fired up the engine and peeled out of the parking lot in reverse. The tires shrieked as he slammed the car into drive while we were still backing onto the road. He floored the gas pedal, and we took off.
“They’re after us, Jon, they’re after us. You have to help us get away.”
Jon must have realized arguing with Dad was futile, so he took the only other option available, and pretended to cooperate. “OK Dad. What do you need me to do?”
“Keep a look out the back window. See if you can spot ’em while I try to lose ’em.”
Jon turned and knelt on the back seat, peering over the back dash and out the rear window. “I think it’s clear Dad. There’s no one behind us.”
“They’re too crafty, son. They’re still there. Keep looking.”
I strapped on my seat belt, certain we were going to crash and gripped the armrest on my left hand. I was still crying, but more quietly now, more confident that Jon would be able to reach Dad and get us out of this nightmare. That confidence began leaking away as Dad sped up, blasted through stoplights, took turns without slowing down, while continuing to rant that “They’re after us, they’re trying to catch us.” Jon was gripping the back of the seat, but was unable to hold on when Dad abruptly turned to the left. He fell towards me and landed partially sprawled on my lap. We both yelped in pain, loudly.
The noise distracted Dad for a moment. He looked into the rear-view mirror and began yelling again when he realized Jon wasn’t in position to watch for our tail. “Get back up there, son. You can’t quit. They’ll get us if you do.”
Dad turned his head to see if Jon was complying, and the car began veering to the right. We screamed. “Watch the road,” Jon shouted.
Dad turned his head back and jerked the steering wheel to the left. We were inches away from sideswiping a minivan. Then suddenly we were racing into oncoming traffic. “Look out,” Jon screamed again, as horns blared. The other driver swerved in time, somehow, missing us by inches. Dad corrected and swerved back into his lane. Jon slide down onto the seat beside me and belted himself in.
Flashing blue and red lights filled the car. “Oh shit,” said Dad. “It’s a trick. They’ve got the cops in on it now, too.”
“No Dad,” Jon said. “I can hear them on my radio. They’re here to help us. Pull over.”
“It’s a trick,” Dad repeated and sped up again. “I’ll lose them at the light.”
He raced towards the intersection, where the traffic light signaled red. “They think I’m going to stop,” Dad said and started to laugh. “I’ll show them.”
The last thing I remember was Jon screaming “NOOO.”
Thank you so much for your visit Terri – if anyone missed Terri’s interview she can be found on the last Red Carpet Day