Patrick C. Greene Unveils Solomon Archer, Ph.D.
Solomon Archer is the author of the story
in the new anthology from Sekhmet Press
Hi Solomon! Thank you for joining me today. Let’s kick off this interview with the most important question. Have you ever encountered a ghost?
I can’t honestly say that I have. I was a bit of a loner as a kid and I desperately wanted to encounter a ghost. And not the saccharine friendly, naïve, vaguely-reminiscent-of-a-KKK-rally-fetal-afterthought-sheet-wearing Casper the Ghost kind. I wanted to meet a real ghost. A lost soul wandering the Earth that was looking for a way to reunite with his or her loved ones in the afterlife. I thought that would be a wonderful if bittersweet friendship. But the more I learned about physics and religion, the more I questioned the whole ephemeral misty trace that was the archetypical ghost of my childhood. I mean, if they were really able to weightlessly float around free from their corporeal vessels, why the hell would they need to stand around anywhere? They’d have to constantly be looking down at the ground to make sure they were at least close to it. Otherwise, why bother appearing at approximately our level and of the same dimensions they were in real life?
But as I got older I started to think less about ghosts as a physical manifestation of the dead and more about the possibility that when people died they left behind traces of themselves that were too weak for most people to detect with their normal senses unless they were particularly attuned (genetic variability could account for such a phenomenon) and only a subset of those people might understand what it was that they were detecting.
One of the worst cases I worked in this field (has been edited out) The important point is that later at the coroner’s office downtown, when I saw the body the police had discovered in the same closet she’d been filmed from, cloaked in two blood-drenched comforters, I could have sworn I felt a trace of her over my shoulder. The solitary drive home that night was quiet and somber. Maybe it was her I heard whispering from somewhere in the car (“It hurt right up until the very end”) – maybe it was only my imagination. So I can’t say definitively that I have ever encountered a ghost. But I have been haunted.
What kind of music do you listen to for inspiration?
I prefer to listen to instrumental music while I’m writing. The soundtrack to BladeRunner by Vangelis has always been a favorite of mine. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it. I once gave a street performer in Austin the soundtrack on tape and told him I’d pay him $20 to learn the Love Theme from the movie on his saxophone. And he did! I about died when a few weeks later I was walking down 6th Street and heard that impossibly intimate gravelly brass/woodwind piece drifting through the throngs of weekend revelers. Currently the stations I most frequently return to on Pandora are Tycho, Chicane, Boards of Canada, Ulrich Schnauss, and Sigur Ros. My hands-down new favorite instrumental band is Hammock. If I’m feeling nostalgic, I listen to New Order or The Smiths. If it’s time to explore depression, I turn to George Winston. To get in the mood for aggressive self-destruction, I break out Trent Reznor and Nine-Inch Nails.
Have you ever started a project, felt it run out of steam and had to abandon it?
Unfortunately, this happens all too often. I’ve noticed that my productivity comes in cyclical fits and starts. Sometimes I get inspired to write or draw something and I go at it pretty much non-stop for weeks or months and sometimes I go for years without producing a single original thought on paper. The ideas and thoughts are still there, but I lose the driving fire behind it. Probably the biggest project I had to abandon was a story I had been writing between the ages of 13 and 15. It was called “Phases” and it was about a neglected teenage boy who had the ability to understand messages in the seemingly random sounds of nature. He is guided to a new world within his own by the secret language of the trees, wind, and rivers and he is tasked with saving the Earth from destruction by the hubris, greed, waste, and hostility of humans. I hand-wrote about four or five hundred pages over the course of two years but one day I woke up and realized I hadn’t written anything in over a month. By then, it was too late. I had lost the momentum, purpose, vision, and meaning I had felt while the story had been alive in me and trying to resurrect it felt obscene. So I left it there and it’s been stuck at age 15 ever since.
What’s the most shocking book or story you’ve ever read?
I know it sounds jaded, but I haven’t found many books or stories that really shock me. I’m sure part of that is because of my day job. The seemingly bottomless pit of man’s creative and willful cruelty has kind of numbed me to the horror in fiction, where it’s safely ensconced between the acknowledgements page and the author bio. That isn’t to say that I haven’t read books that haunted me long after I finished them. Watership Down comes to mind. Reading that story when I was about eight scared the bejeezus out of me. I still recall the imagery of the waves of blood washing over the meadow and the feeling of vulnerability and helplessness at witnessing the mindless slaughter of the innocent. The idea that grown-ups (people who looked and sounded like my parents, neighbors, and teachers – people I knew) were capable of such senseless violence opened a door in my imagination that I just couldn’t shut. Now if I could just figure out which side of that door the light is coming from, I’d be golden.
Do you remember a particular moment or incident that made you decide to be a writer?
When I started eighth grade I felt a little intimidated. The only non-Christian junior high school on the island I grew up on was in a high crime area and it took me a while to acclimate. The surroundings were pretty dilapidated, everyone was a stranger, and the kids were all bigger, louder, and not at all averse to using profanity. Needless to say, I was fairly intimidated. One way I had of coping was to retreat into fantasy. And since I was a skinny Jewish kid just starting to learn about the holocaust in Sunday school, that fantasy world was very dark and violent. About a month into school, I birthed a character I called “Traque.” I chose that name because it sounded cool and emotionless (looking back, it sounded like something a skinny Jewish kid learning about genocide would come up with, but that’s beside the point). Traque was an assassin. He would develop a list of people that he felt had no reason to live and were a threat to/burden on society and he would abduct and kill them in wildly imaginative ways. I showed the stories to some of my friends and they started coming up to me and saying things like “Mr. Willis sent me to detention for selling candy in class. You should make a story about killing him.” So I would. I’d sit outside the library during lunch and write a little one-page story in which the person requesting the tale could live vicariously through Traque’s adventures. The stories were a great release for me and I like to think they offered some measure of satisfaction for the readers despite the fact that their expressions while reading the stories typically approached revulsion and I didn’t have many encore requests. At any rate, it was very validating to have people (sometimes complete strangers) come up to me and ask me to write for them.
Do you have a certain space and time set aside for writing or is it more of a free-form process?
It is a more free-form process and that has me worried about my future with the craft. I write when I get inspired, but that doesn’t happen every day. Or even every month. I know what I need to do to be productive and stay on top of my game – I just don’t do it reliably. It’s like staying in shape. Everyone knows what you have to do to get in shape: eat right and exercise. It’s not rocket science. It’s the same thing with writing. You need to make time for it and zealously defend that time, even if you don’t come up with a single idea or type a single word. I’m slowly coming to terms with that and am in what William Miller would call the “contemplative stage”. I don’t suffer from “writer’s block” so much as I suffer from “writer’s lack of faith in the process.” I try to worry less about what I’m going to write and more about that I’m going to write. Because the story doesn’t happen in my head. It happens outside on the paper or the screen. I need to have faith not only that the wheels will start turning once I start to write; I have to be okay with not knowing exactly where my writing will take me when I follow it.
How would you describe your writing style?
I would call it “meandering-free-association-driven-spontaneous-road-trip”. As I mentioned before, I rarely know where the story is taking me. I may have an idea about what I want to say but once I start writing, it almost always takes an immediate series of detours. Different thoughts and possibilities pop up along the way and my brain follows them for some distance before getting distracted by some other loosely connected thought or idea that flashes like a neon strip club sign on the side of the road. Before I know it, me and my story have ended up in the boonies and I have no idea where the hell I am or how I got there. But once I’m in the thick of it, writing becomes a compass for finding my way out of the mess I’ve gotten myself into. And that’s how most of my stories come to life. Those that don’t end up abandoned, starving, and dying a slow death in the middle of the woods.
What other sorts of themes or genres would you like to explore?
I have always liked the work of Dave Barry and I’ve often thought about writing something more along the lines of humor. I suppose my current work has some levity in it, but the book would not be classified as a “humor publication” by any stretch of the imagination. I really want to keep develop my stamina in writing horror/suspense and psychological thriller stories. There is a story I’ve been dying to write about human trafficking that involves delinquent teens that are abducted and sent to a camp in the South Pacific where they are systematically abused (physically, mentally, and sexually) in preparation for sale to the highest bidder. It’s a bit cliché, I know, but I’ve always wanted to explore that area. I would also like to write a crime novel where the protagonist and antagonist are different alters of a patient with dissociative identity disorder. And of course I also think we’re overdue for a real critical look at the whole Sasquatch legend.
Please briefly describe your path to publication.
PsyKu is the only creative work I’ve ever gotten published. It started off as a couple dozen pages of haikus that had been transcribed from scribbling on cocktail napkins, cable bills, the margins of psychological evaluations, or any other surface that happened to be nearby when an idea stuck me. After a while, I got enough for a pamphlet and I started looking for the cheapest way I could mass produce it for friends and family. I didn’t want to have it done at a local office supply store because I worried that the employees would read it during the typesetting process and it would wind up the object of ridicule. I couldn’t bear the thought of my little book being passed around the break room of Office Depot like an altar boy at a Vatican after party but I wanted it to look at least more professional than a high school American History report so I wound up turning to the Internet to see what was available. Now, like a lot of aspiring writers, I found the idea of self-publication to be at best incredibly vain and at worst professionally and morally repugnant. But after doing a little research online I stumbled across a company called LuLu. They had an easy-to-use interface and with only modest effort on my part I uploaded my manuscript and cover, charged the pretty nominal fee to my debit card, hit “Submit” and crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t completely suck. About ten days later I got a package in the mail from LuLu and was completely stoked at the results. The book looked great and though it was only about 30 pages at the time, it felt like a real accomplishment and it gave me hope that I might be able to do something more with it. Over time, I added a lot more material including several short stories and some wonderfully disturbing artwork from a very talented artist in Portland and had an editor friend of mine (Allison Dickson) work it over with her literary scalpel. It was Allison who showed the work to Jennifer Greene at Sekhmet Press, who contacted me and asked if I would be interested in publishing under her label.
Who are your favorite fictional antagonist and protagonist and what was it about them that struck a chord for you?
Danny Torrance and the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. I have a soft spot in my heart for what I consider “true victims” – innocent, kind-hearted people trying their best to navigate their way through a world that would just as soon take advantage of them for their trust and acceptance as ridicule and marginalize them for daring to search for their place in it. Danny’s only reliable companion is a childlike manifestation of strength and power from the spirit-world, a place he would fit in far better than the world he occupies with his damaged father and ineffective mother, but that will remain elusive as long as he continues to draw breath. Destined for a life devoid of any special purpose or fulfillment, it is quite fitting that his latent talent would become a life-altering gift at a place called the “Overlook.” Danny’s purity among the malevolent spirits surrounding him and his family makes his reluctant bravery heart-achingly endearing if for no other reason than because the reader is all too aware of the unfathomably mismatched power of the hotel against him. For me, the Overlook is such a wonderful antagonist because of its inhuman patience and hidden malevolence, which I consider to be two of the most frightening characteristics of evil men. The hotel’s awful intent is not truly realized until it encounters the right troubled soul that it can use as a conduit to exact blind, impersonal vengeance. The story of Danny and The Overlook is the story of David versus Goliath, but one in which the giant has some recognition of the power of his adversary and the threat that implies. This makes the antagonist more human and by extension more vulnerable. And it ultimately gives us hope that we might prevail against the often unseen and nebulous fears we encounter in our own lives.
Aside from writing, what is your favorite artistic medium?
Drawing. When I was in graduate school, I used to come up with cartoon ideas while in class or during group supervision. I kept a notebook with the premise, tag line, and picture ideas for something like 500 cartoon ideas. One day I was at Barnes and Noble and I happened upon a drawing section and picked out the most rudimentary instruction book I could find. It showed how to draw simple cartoon characters and scenery from basic shapes. I found I was particularly good at drawing pipes, volcanic craters, and happy sharks. Unfortunately, none of the 500 ideas I had written down in my notebook included any one of those elements, let alone all three. So I tried drawing other things. Gary Larson’s “Far Side” was my inspiration. I traced my favorite cartoons of his and I practiced and practiced. Eventually, I was able to do some okay cartoon figures, although each one took me a week or more to do and they all basically looked the same.
Still, I had fun with it and even published several of them in my university’s newspaper, which had a daily circulation of around 30,000 – 40,000. I used a pseudonym (the same one I have now) because if my supervisors ever found out I was doing anything other than research, teaching, or clinical work, they would have kicked me out of the program. At one point, I entered some of my drawings in a contest and I won second place for Best Single Panel Cartoon in a national competition! I still have the folder with the cartoon ideas and about three dozen sketches in various stages of incompletion. Maybe one day I’ll take it up again and make a little book of cartoons for my friends and family. If you have any cartoon ideas involving pipes, volcanoes, and happy sharks I’m all ears!
Thanks again for joining me today and letting us get to know you better. I wish you the best of luck with Wrapped In White and all of your future endeavours.
Solomon Archer is a Pseudonym. The author of PsyKu is a criminal psychologist. He received his doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin with a focus on behavior pathology. He completed his forensic internship through in Ohio where he specialized in working with low-functioning sex offenders and treatment with probationed and paroled offenders.
He continued his work with the mentally ill criminal population through his forensic post-doctoral fellowship in North Carolina with a focus on competency and sanity evaluations.
His career path subsequently branched out to the prison system, where he has worked for well over a decade. The author is currently the Chief Psychologist of the [REDACTED] State Department of Corrections. He spends much of his time working with serious and dangerously mentally ill offenders, some of whom are not so disorganized that they couldn’t figure out a way to free themselves from their restraints and stab him in the head with an altered food tray. (Incidentally, the going rate for shanking a psychologist is two pounds of coffee and three bags of Top tobacco. You know, just in case you were curious).