The Hand, Mind and Written Muscle:
How PTSD & TBI Helps Inspire A Writer Part II
By: Whitney Hill
Editor: Phyllis Hamilton
Posted: June 26, 2013
“A wise mentor once told me that we are born with a family. We have no control of who or what they are. When we get older, a hallmark of our maturity is to understand that we get to choose who or what we call our family. “
SPORK! recently had the pleasure to interview Baer Charlton, author of the children’s book the Very Littlest Dragon and Death on a Dime.
Baer’s personal experience on living with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)/ TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and how he proactively uses his writings as a therapeutic outlet, all helps bring his characters to life. With inspiration coming from personal experience, Baer opens up and shares some words of wisdom on understanding ones self .
Is equality in the writing community a struggle for characters who stray from the main stream difficult?
Sadly, I do see a lot (or at least a certain) “stay with the status quo and we’ll accept you.” I think we are seeing more acceptance on certain grounds such as women and some black issues. But if the woman is too powerful or the black is too assertive, then the book/movie is pushed into the niche marketplace. The same definitely holds true with gay issues.
Bird Cage, Pricilla, Queen of the Desert and To Wong Fu, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar are great examples. The gays are the humor fall guys… but if it’s serious like Brokeback Mountain, it can have all of the critical acclaim it wants, but the real vote is at the box office; and financially, Brokeback was just too much for the religious mainstream and right.
Which as a social anthropologist, I find really sardonically ironic.
All of this is very close to a raw nerve with me, and I’m hoping I can dance around the head-on confrontation. In my mystery series, one of the major characters is not only gay, but a retired Naval Intelligence officer, POW and recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. But he does like wearing those really ugly granny dresses when he’s working in the garage.
In Stoneheart, my Marine becomes close friends with one of the most controversial figures, a trans-gender. A lot to love about this crusty old retired contractor, as long as you can get past the fact that she changed toilets.
Have you found that your TBI / PTSD helps feed into the creative process and characters in Death On A Dime?
All of my disabilities, foibles and peculiarities feed into the process.
My years of jerking cars from wrecks and hauling them across San Jose produced the mundane side of Hooker.
My being overweight, love for cooking and caring for others shows up in Dolly the dispatcher.
My year spent in a wheelchair during college shows up in the retired detective.
Time spent as a midnight radio disc jockey gave me [the character] Sweets.
Being a klutz [newbie], I fobbed off on the character Squirt.
He [Squirt] will be back or around for a while, but he’ll never be able to shed the nickname. If they ever decided to make the book into a movie, I even know the kid for the part!
What do you find most exciting about Death on a Dime?
Personally? That it found me.
The time and location of the mid-1970s in San Jose was a truly exciting time. The old Mafia was losing turf to the younger more street aggressive Vietnamese Mafia, as well as the Mexican cartels moving coke and other recreational drugs into the South bay area. The Silicon Valley was just starting and the nerds hadn’t even figured out that they even had muscle, much less flex them.
There was still a special innocence in the world, where boys dreamed of cars with big engines and girls dreamed of boys bent over [examining their cars]. Families still went to the schools for Friday night games, and there were open fields, where old kids played games that were more mature then touch football. The speed limit was 55, and most cars could go twice that, and [if lucky], some three times that.
The fastest tool for solving a crime was between two ears, or putting six heads together.
To paraphrase Dickens, “…it was a terrible time, but also kind of awesome.”
Of your books (future projects included), which one do you most personally identify with?
I’ve been a professional picture framer for over 40 years, so getting to publish The Very Littlest Dragon, and explaining the complexities of the profession was a personal coup.
The [hero] character, Tink, journey rose more from my anger at Hans Christian Anderson’s The Ugly Duckling becoming ‘politically incorrect’ and pulled from schools and libraries.
But personally identify with? That would have to fall to my mystery series. The hero is a young tow truck driver and kind of a rebel without a cause. His “family” is a mix of quirky people that I knew/know. The period is San Jose, CA from 1973-78, which is when I lived and drove tow truck there.
If you take the first book as a single book, you have a murder mystery. But if you take the arc of the half dozen books, you have the story of how a diverse collective of radically different people can make up a cohesive family.
All of my stories are about people and relationships.
From a tiny dragon in a mug…
to a black woman passing as white….
to a lost Marine with PTSD & TBI finding his way home…
to a writer who is willing to give his left leg for a snap of the football on his 50th birthday (The 13th Man).
The oldest story of mankind is the hero’s journey. It has been told billions of times and ways, but one thing remains, it is always about the people.
You’ve mentioned that you have worked with people who are the “salt of the earth.” How have these people influenced your work?
Every blue-collar worker will tell you, that is bunk; but only because we call it “class”. I grew up in the lower rungs of the middle class. We had shoes on our feet, but we also had patches on the knees of our pants in the summer.
I gravitated towards people who saw life more in terms of “truths they could touch”.
Rhetoric is not the tool of a janitor or grease monkey or hard rock miner. Their truths can be seen, are obvious or at least observable. If you push the dust mop down the hall of a high school, you can look back and see the trail of shining linoleum; work shows.
Gatsby is big right now, but only because they want to sell glitz. I think a better movie for right now would be Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, or Grapes of Wrath. It’s great to dream about the high-life, but those huge mansions contain a lot of empty air. There is a lot more love and honest truth in Honey Booboo’s world than there is in Dallas or Nashville.
We like to poke fun at Hallmark’s “Movie of the Week” as being smaltzy and a tissue shredder; but there is a reason they still get millions of viewers. When we are finished with our day of labor, paying bills, dealing with the problems of the home, we still want to see that there is a reward in life.
I read in Author Moment that your mother was a pretty big influence (so is mine!). How did she influence you?
The year before I was born, my mother learned how to print using a small tabletop printing press. She was the same all-around artist she taught me to be, carving linoleum blocks, printing our Christmas cards, as well as a zillion other things.
I learned to read, at age three, by setting type. By the time I was in school, when they would give me Dick & Jane books, I was already reading folk tales from Japan. Only problem was, I was holding the books upside-down; the way I learned to read.
Setting type, and feeding a printing press one tiny piece of paper at a time is a mind numbing process. So as one of us would set type, the other was running the press, we would talk into the night. The safest talk was telling stories, or more like “building” stories.
We would start with a premise, and then the characters, and finally move the characters through the journey. As we got the gist of the story nailed down, she would write down the salient points on a 3 x 5 card. That card would go in the bundle. Later, that bundle became the boot in my backside to write and submit my first article.
Long after she was gone, I opened that bundle of memories, and her last word on a tiny piece of paper fell out. It was the one thing she could never bring herself to attempt, and she wasn’t going to go quietly into that long goodnight without one last kick at her son.
She left me that one last word; “Publish”.
Two months later, I was a published journalist in Rider Magazine.
Would you call her an advocate?
Advocate is a very strong word. It carries with it the powerful fist of confrontation; something my mother wasn’t good at. What she was good at was loving.
The social language of Jews has a perfect word for what my mother was - a nudge.
She never nagged or pushed . . . but softly pulled and cajole. Maybe if she had done a little more advocating and confrontational ass-kicking, I might have done home-work and been better than a D+ student when I was home.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make the Dean’s List until after she was gone.
What type of writing styles, subjects if any, do you wish to see more of in the future?
Anything but Vampires or Harry Potter!
As someone with PTSD and TBI what advice do you have for others who find themselves in the same position?
Here is where we’re going to have a problem. This [question] assumes that I’m a guru, and I have answers.
Have I known that my brain-box was out of whack since the 1970s?
Not just yes, but vividly yes.
Do I have answers?
Not really, but I do have things that work for me.
- · You will have acquaintances; even good ones . . . but know who your good friends are, and hold them carefully. (For me) You’re going to be a jerk, the good ones will wait for the Baer they love to show back up.
- · Memories, review your old photos. . . if you don’t recognize where you were, ask your good friends. Then write the information down. If you string the beads together, you might get lucky and end up with a necklace you like.
- · If people don’t seem to want to be around you, even though you take a shower every day. It’s you, so find out why, and get help working on it. There is help out there even for free. But you need to ask.
At the end of the day, what is the one sentence you want to leave behind for future fans, budding authors and TBI/ PTSD members alike?
My religion/mission on this mud-ball is to put a smile on the faces of people I meet, and that their day is better for having interacted with me.
Your mission, if you so choose to undertake it, is to continue my work.
(PS: you don’t have to wait until I’m dead!)
You can visit Baer Charlton’s website here
Phyllis Hamilton is the esteemed author of the riveting novels, Cypress Whisperings and A Lark On A Wing. She is currently working on a her third novel. You can buy her books here
Whitney Hill is founder and editor of SPORK!, a consolidated news and assistive technology website for people with mental, physical and invisible disabilities.
All distribution of the Hand, Mind and Written Muscle: How PTSD & TBI Helps Inspire A Writer has to be sourced back to Sporkblog.com