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It’s Not All “A Beautiful Mind”

Tor/Forge Blog

The Hollow City by Dan Wells

Written by Dan Wells

At the Denver WorldCon in 2008 they had a panel on mental illness in fiction, and having written a series about a boy with sociopathy I thought it would be cool to check it out. I don’t know what I was expecting; maybe some kind of retrospective of cool stories about mental disorders, but what I got was far more interesting and valuable. The audience was made up almost entirely of people who struggled with mental illness, either personally or through someone in their family, and they didn’t want to talk about A Beautiful Mind or anything like it—they wanted to vent. The entertainment industry was using their misfortune as a plot device, and they were pissed. One comment struck me as especially powerful, and I paraphrase it here: “Mental illness in fiction is either demonized or sainted—we’re all either Silence of the Lambs or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I don’t mind seeing characters with mental illness—I love it, because I love to read about characters I can identify with—but I want to see it treated like a real thing instead of a metaphor.”

I had just begun to work on the very early drafts of a book that would become The Hollow City, my new novel about a man with schizophrenia, and because of that panel I challenged myself to treat the disease, like the commenter said, as realistically as I could. The basic hook of the novel is simple: a man with schizophrenia realizes that some of the monsters he sees are real. Yes, there is some sensationalizing—this is a supernatural thriller, after all, and “sensational” is kind of what we’re aiming for. But I decided to delve much deeper into schizophrenia, to portray as closely as I could what it’s like to live with a disease that warps your reality.

I struggled for over a year, and my writing group suffered patiently through several drafts that simply didn’t work. I was trying to write a horror story and a medical documentary at the same time, and there’s no way to do that right. When I was ready to give up, my friend Janci came back to me with the latest draft. Janci has clinical depression, and she’d written a huge note in the margin of one of the pages: “There is nothing scarier in the whole world than not being able to trust your own mind.” I knew I’d found the key that would make the story work, and I picked Janci’s brain for days. Her contribution was invaluable, and the book is dedicated to her. (She’s also an excellent author in her own right, with a book coming out this summer called Chasing the Skip. Look it up!)

The Hollow City, in its final form, is not a thriller about schizophrenia; it’s a thriller with a schizophrenic hero. The difference is key. Insecure artist that I am, I sent some early copies to a few more friends and readers, hoping for some last minute feedback, and just yesterday one of them got back to me. “This book was very scary,” she said, “but it helped me to understand my mother, and to forgive her.”

That is, without question, the best review I’ve ever had.

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More from the July Tor/Forge newsletter:

Tor Books Announces Programming for San Diego Comic-Con 2012

Image Placeholder of - 1 Brandon Sanderson, John Scalzi and Steve Englehart as Comic-Con Special Guests!

This year at Tor’s Booth (#2707), we continue our popular *in-booth signings and giveaways, offering you a chance to meet your favorite authors up close and personal. This year we’re pleased to include the legendary

ORSON SCOTT CARD

author of New York Times Bestselling Ender’s Game, soon to be a major motion picture from Summit Entertainment!

Thursday, July 12th

  • 3pm – 4pm Tor Booth (#2707) New York Times bestselling author and Comic-Con Special Guest, BRANDON SANDERSON, will sign copies of The Way of Kings.
  • 2:30pm – 3:30pm Panel: The Dark Knight Rises: Is Batman Broken? Room 26AB
    Strong, smart, and heroic, he’s the Dark Knight we want on our side. But is Batman also out of his mind? Comic-con Special Guest, STEVE ENGLEHART joins Catwoman herself, Lee Meriwether, to discuss Bruce Wayne’s relationships, strengths and weaknesses. Does the Dark Knight have bats in his belfry?
  • 4:45pm – 5:45pm Panel: The Fiction of Halo 4, Room 6BCF
    Halo 4 heralds the return of one of gaming’s most iconic heroes, the Master Chief, in a new, epic sci-fi saga. Expanding and enriching the narrative, 343 Industries, panelists share how the development of stories across the GREG BEAR Forerunner saga, the KAREN TRAVISS Kilo-Five trilogy, Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, Halo 4 Campaign and Halo Infinity Multiplayer have become connective tissue for Halo 4.
  • 5pm – 6pm Tor Booth (#2707) Bestselling, award-winning futurist DAVID BRIN, will sign copies of his new high concept novel Existence, his first major work in over a decade.

Friday, July 13th

  • 10am – 11am Panel: Art of the Thrill Kill, Room 24AB
    From psycho killers and sociopaths to the vast unknowable emptiness of deep space, these authors know that it takes more than just blood and gore to keep their readers awake at night. DAN WELLS joins other top horror and thriller novelists to discuss how they balance ratcheting suspense with perfectly paced creepiness to create stories that are both psychologically and atmospherically disturbing.
  • 12pm – 1pm Signing in the autographing area, AA09
  • 12pm – 1pm Tor Booth (#2707) Legendary science fiction author ORSON SCOTT CARD & co-author AARON JOHNSTON sign Invasive Procedures a taut science fiction medical thriller. Five lucky people will get a chance to receive a signed copy of Earth Unaware: The First Formic War set in the popular Ender’s series, on-sale July 17th!
  • 12pm – 1pm Spotlight on BRANDON SANDERSON, Room 25ABC
    Author, educator, and Comic-Con Special Guest BRANDON SANDERSON talks about his growth from a nonreader in his youth to become one of the most popular fantasy writers working today. Sanderson’s books include his own Mistborn trilogy and his continuation of the late Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Timeseries, which wraps up in January 2013.
  • 2:30pm Duo Paul & Storm join us in the Tor Booth (#2707) to serenade fans as they wait in line to meet New York Times bestselling author and Comic-Con Special Guest JOHN SCALZI! Then at 3pm, John signs copies of Old Man’s War, the book that launched his career!
  • 3:30pm– 4:30pm Panel: Epic Fantasy War, Room 6A
    Brandon Sanderson (The Way of Kings), joins the top names in fantasy fiction to discuss how the key to writing a real epic fantasy novel lies in the word epic-which doesn’t just mean ambitious in scale, scope, and size.
    5:00pm – 6:00pm Signing in the autographing area, AA09
  • 5pm – 6pm Tor Booth (#2707) DAN WELLS will sign copies of his the book that started it all, I Am Not A Serial Killer.

Saturday, July 14th

  • 10am – 11am That 70s Panel, Room 23ABC.
    STEVE ENGLEHART makes a Comic-con Special Guest Spotlight appearance on this panel. Get out your pet rocks!
  • 12pm – 1pm Comics Arts Conference Focus on STEVE ENGLEHART , Room 26AB
    Travis Langley (Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight) moderates a discussion of Englehart’s stellar career writing the adventures of Captain America, Silver Surfer, Doctor Strange, Coyote, Night Man, the Justice League, and dozens of other characters.
  • 12:00pm – 1:00pm Panel: The Naked Truth About Tarzan and Jane: The First 100 Years of Spectacular Tarzan Imagery, and One of Literature’s Best-Loved Couples as They Enter Their Second Century, Room 25ABC
    Bestselling novelist Robin Maxwell (Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan) and author Scott Tracy Griffin (Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration) gather with illustrator Joe Jusko (The Art of Joe Jusko) to discuss these iconic literary characters. Join them for a presentation and Q&A session hosted by Jim Sullos, president of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Incorporated, the official licensing entity for Tarzan and John Carter of Mars.
    Room 25ABC
  • 2pm – 3pm Tor Booth (#2707) Iconic science fiction author GREG BEAR signs copies of Halo: Primordium, Book Two of the Forerunner Saga.
  • 12pm – 1pm Tor Booth (#2707) Father/daughter duo ORSON SCOTT CARD & EMILY SCOTT CARD sign copies of their first writing collaboration, Laddertop, Volume 1.
  • 3pm – 4pm Panel: A Wrinkle in Time, Room 23ABC
    From the far-flung reaches of the Milky Way to the mind-bending possibilities of time travel, let the authors of speculative fiction tell you what they see when they venture to other dimensions. With DAVID BRIN & ORSON SCOTT CARD.
    4:30pm – 5:30pm Signing in the Autographing area, AA09
  • 5pm – 6pm Tor Booth (#2707) STEVE ENGLEHART will sign copies of The Long Man.
  • 5:30pm – 6:30pm Spotlight Panel with JOHN SCALZI, Room 7AB
    Comic-Con special guest JOHN SCALZI (Redshirts) talks about his latest work, his upcoming novel, video game, and film projects, takes questions and generally tries to amuse the hell out of you for an hour. With him as moderator/interviewer/conspirator: Wil Wheaton (Tabletop). It’ll be the most fun you can have while respirating.
    3:30pm – 4:30pm Solo Autographing, AA18

Sunday, July 15th

  • 10pm – 11am Panel: Stunted Fools and Scary-Ass Clowns: Humor in Science Fiction and Fantasy Room 25ABC
    Join in for an irreverent hour celebrating sly wit and unholy humor with some of the most devilish quipsters, wisecrackers, and satirists writing today. JOHN SCALZI (Redshirts) plays ringmaster to some of the best SFF humor writers in the field.
    11:30am – 12:30pm Signing in the autographing area, AA04
  • 2:45pm – 3:45pm Panel: Heroes for the Middle Grade Reader: Books That Will Rock Your Socks Off, Room 5AB
    EMILY JANICE CARD (yes, daughter of THAT Card) teamed up with her famous father to write a science fiction manga, Laddertop, Volume 1 aimed at middle grade readers, and will join a panel discussing adventurers and unexpected champions that we can all cheer for.
    4pm – 5pm Signing in the Autographing area, AA09
  • 12pm Tor Booth (#2707) giveaway, The Omen Machine by New York Times bestselling author, Terry Goodkind.
  • 2pm – 3pm Tor Booth (#2707) giveaway, Dark Companion the YA debut of Marta Acosta.

Make sure to follow @Torbooks on Twitter for up to date information and last minute events!

All Tor Booth signings are on a first come first serve basis and while supplies lasts. Limit one book per person.

The Hollow City Sweepstakes

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The Hollow City releases next month but we have a chance for you to win a signed advance reading copy now. Comment below to enter for a chance to win.

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. You must be 18 or older and a legal resident of the 50 United States or D.C. to enter. Promotion begins June 11, 2012 at 10 a.m. ET. and ends June 15, 2012, 12:00 p.m. ET. Void in Puerto Rico and wherever prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules go here. Sponsor: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

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