At the end of September, Sirens Call Publications released Mental Ward: Echoes of the Past. Twelve authors wrote stories that will take seat in your mind and chill you to the bone. As with all of our anthologies, we like to learn why the authors wrote their particular stories and invite them all to write something that speaks to their inspiration. The Castle on the Hill was Joseph A. Lapin’s contribution and he has agreed to step into the past with us and tell us what made the story speak to him. But before we get to that, let’s learn a little more about Joseph…
Joseph Lapin is a journalist, author, and poet living in Los Angeles, California. He is a contributing writer at the LA Weekly, and his work has appeared inSalon, The Rattling Wall, Pacific Standard, OC Weekly, Sliver of Stone Magazine, The Village Voice, and Literary Orphans. Originally, he’s from Clinton, Massachusetts. He graduated from the MFA program at Florida International University. You can find him on Twitter at @josephalapin or on his blog.
The Journey to The Castle on the Hill
When I first started writing The Castle on the Hill, I was a student in the MFA program at Florida International University, taking a class on historical fiction taught by Debra Dean, author of Madonnas of Leningrad. At the same time, I was working on a novel in stories about a character named James Tully, who is loosely based on me. His greatest fear was waking up one day to find he had been locked away in a mental hospital—a fear that stems from his mother’s mental illness. His mother had been in and out of institutions most of his life. This narrative, of course, mimics my own. The mind, for a large part of my life, was as tumultuous and convulsive as the ocean, and any attempt at predicting its path was futile as long as a white squall lurked around the corner.
During the historical fiction class, Debra Dean encouraged her students to research something from a particular time period. So I started digging deep into mental-health environments from the 18th and 19th century. I started hanging out in the school library, amazed to discover how mental patients were treated. I read about techniques that echoed water boarding; I read that doctors believed they could bleed the “madness” out of their patients; and I read about abuse and how patients were chained to walls. This was a great horror, and to think that if my mother was born a century earlier, then she would have been subject to such atrocities.
At the same time I was researching mental-health practices, my thesis adviser and author of Magpies and The Secret Names of Women, Lynne Barrett, told me about all these mental hospitals in New England that were closed down to budget cuts around 1992. That’s about the time I started heading to mental hospitals to visit my mother. So I read a couple of Melville and Hawthorne horror stories for inspiration, and one day, the librarian where I was doing the research told me about a field trip she had taken as a kid to a mental hospital. It all just sort of pulled together from there. Writing the story felt like a voyage to visit my greatest fear, and I wrote the bulk of the story in two different sittings. In the end, I felt like I confronted something about myself in the depths of the mental hospital.
In places where unspeakable atrocities occurred sometimes ‘something’ lingers, stuck between the worlds of the living and the dead. Those who believe in the grey area behind the veil will tell you that those places can become eternal cages that hold the souls of the deceased captive.
Mental Ward: Echoes of the Past is a collection of twelve such stories; tales of hauntings taking place in asylums. The places where the crazed, the insane, and sometimes the different were hidden away from society’s view.
Follow the winding path crafted by the talented, and in some cases, twisted imaginations of the storytellers who would taint your peaceful world with their echoes of the past.
Brent Abell, Chad P. Brown, Sarah Cass, Alex Chase, Denzell Cooper, Jason Cordova, Lindsey Beth Goddard, Sharon L. Higa, Lockett Hollis, K. Trap Jones, Joseph A. Lapin, and Kimberly Lay