Updated: Jun 18, 2022
With what I had learned about psychology, and being based in Portland, I wrote two novels-Borderline and Fixation--with a new protagonist. He was a combat veteran who, surprise, surprise, worked as a crisis clinician in Portland in a community behavioral healthcare setting. Critics praised the psychological detail. I’m not a combat veteran but I had worked with and known some and had worked with dozens of people who had survived traumas.
There was the unusual, like the man who had been hit by a car while in bed. His bedroom was near the front of the house and a car had smashed into it while he was sleeping. But all too common was childhood sexual/physical/and emotional abuse. One client speculated that my walls should be covered with slime because of all the horrors that had been recounted there.
Writing fiction was a way that I coped. As a writer, you have the ultimate power. Who lives, who dies, good people rewarded and bad people ultimately getting punished for bad deeds. An outcome I often did not see in real life.
It is strange when writing a novel and characters develop their own voice and identity. Whether coming out of a writer’s subconscious or some mystical-magical place, stories take their own twists and turns. A minor character in the first draft turned out to have such an interesting story that they took on a life of their own. A main character turned out to be a dud, and had to be killed off, or not even written about in later drafts. I struggled with one novel where the villain was just so much more interesting than the hero that I wasn’t able to make it work.
I do outline but that is subject to change. Lots of change. An outline is helpful in the beginning, a seemingly clear road map. But then the scenery is just so much more interesting at an early exit, that I deviate from the planned route. With The Master Mind I had an entirely different ending that I changed. And the whole book was originally a first person/third person hybrid, that I changed in later iterations to all third person.
But I digress. Meanwhile, back at the community behavioral healthcare ranch my frustrations were building, and the pay was never rewarding. I had a new supervisor I was less than thrilled with.
While working at the agency I had met, and become friends with, psychologist Soonie Kim. She was all enthused about a then relatively new therapy called DBT. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. It had been developed by University of Washington psychologist Marsha Linehan to treat borderline personality disorder, a notoriously difficult condition to treat that often inspired antipathy in clinicians. People with borderline personality disorder are frequently angry, suicidal, and impulsive. They often have addictions and are highly sensitive to real or perceived abandonment. Eventually, Linehan would disclose that her pioneering treatment came out of her own suffering.
Soonie had built a successful independent clinic. I went to work for her at Portland DBT.