Zack Tripler, a psychiatrist, admits to the hospital Youssef al Saud, an agitated young Saudi American, in the midst of what appears to be a psychotic break. Youssef has been hearing voices and was found hiding with his laptop in the woods from unidentified assailants whom he believes are trying to kill him. He’s found coded messages on the laptop that he suspects portend a terrorist plot.
When Youssef is found dead, either by suicide or murder, Zack develops symptoms similar to Youssef’s, hearing voices and catching glimpses of his dead patient, whom he believes is trying to kill him, then witnesses the murder of another of his patients. He becomes entangled with Youssef’s widow Jamilah in her efforts to solve the mystery of her husband’s death and the coded message on his computer, but nothing in Zack’s world is as it appears as he swings between concern for her safety and suspicion that she is responsible for Youssef’s death and part of the terrorist plot that he suspected.
Zack narrates his own story, his descent into madness, and the terror he endures as he struggles to hang onto the last remnants of his sanity.
Targeted Age Group:: Young adult and adult audiences
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 3 – PG-13
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
As a psychiatrist, I often struggled with competing ethical and legal responsibilities. In the course of providing treatment to relieve distress, I was expected to keep whatever my patients told me strictly confidential. At the same time, I was entrusted with preventing harm. Some patients posed the risk of harm to themselves, some of harm to others, and still others offered information about people around them who posed danger to them or to others. The responsibility to prevent harm was further complicated by my limited influence upon my patients’ fate.
Balancing the duty to maintain confidentiality with the duty to prevent harm and walking the often fine line between them caused me many a sleepless night. And the severity of the dilemma was directly related to the magnitude of potential harm that I envisioned.
The seeds of Shared Madness, originally titled Folie a Deux, arose out of this ever present burden and the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001. What if, I imagined, a patient were to share with me information about a possible future terrorist attack? And what if this information was shrouded in sufficient doubt that the consequences of withholding it weren’t clear or compelling? Would the potential magnitude of an unlikely event be enough to breach the confidence of a patient and perhaps even put that patient in legal or physical jeopardy?
I framed my story against a backdrop of a psychotic patient who heard voices and experienced delusions of persecution that altered his perception of reality. What might a psychiatrist believe about a tale of treachery told by someone with such an unreliable and distorted view of his world? And it occurred to me that if the doctor was also hallucinating and delusional, assessing the validity of the threat would become even more daunting.
I wrote a half dozen chapters starting in 2005 along with some character backstories, got stuck and filed it away while I continued to practice psychiatry. After retirement from practice, I turned again to writing, veering into science fiction, and completed the Brink of Life Trilogy in fits and starts over much of the past decade. The blank canvas of the future fed my imagination and the stories began to flow with increasing ease.
Last year, I stumbled upon the nearly forgotten file of Folie a Deux. Having drawn my trilogy to a close and honed my storytelling craft, I embraced the project with new confidence. And I brought to the task a new perspective, venturing into the first person, writing entirely through the eyes of my protagonist, and balancing the constraint of that limited perspective with the freedom of living in my character’s head and experiencing his world fully. The story grew organically, expanding beyond its original framework into a full blown thriller.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My main character, a psychiatrist, is a reflection of my career experience, although he is only my alter-ego when explaining how the mind works. The ethnicity of my other characters was dictated by their roles in the story. And since OCD is one of my special areas of expertise, writing about a character with OCD was both natural and fun. I would also consider Maine, one of my favorite places, almost as a character. The chapters set in Maine that included the character Otis were written during a vacation there. Ayuh.
THE FRONT SHEET of my new outpatient was filled out in a tiny manuscript hand, each letter rounded and so perfectly formed that it resembled a computer font.
“Kimi Y Jones,” I read, trying to imagine what ethnicity lay behind such a name. I skipped down to her age, 29, and her marital status, separated. Turning to the second page, I found that she had no serious medical illnesses and no previous psychiatric care. She took no medications.
Maria, my receptionist, showed her to my office. I looked up to find a petite Asian woman standing at the threshold. Her slender face was framed in straight black shoulder length hair the texture of fine silk. Her almond eyes were almost as dark as her hair so that the irises and pupils merged to create an illusion of magnitude that seemed to fill the narrow space in which they sat. Her nose was a perfectly formed sliver that divided her face into symmetrical halves. From tiny ears dangled jade drops of teal. Her lips, painted deep red, were as delicate as the rest of her features. Her slender body was wrapped in a silk kimono of flowers on an indigo background. She was breathtaking, a fragile counterpart to the commanding Middle Eastern woman I’d just met in the hospital.
“Please come in,” I said, beckoning her to have a seat, but she remained at the threshold, toes aligned with the seam of the carpet. A pair of wrinkles appeared at the bridge of her nose, tiny flaws in a velvet face, the only traces of her consternation.
She looked down at her feet and then at me with pleading eyes, but I had no idea what was wrong or how to make it better.
“Is something the matter?” I asked. She looked again at her feet, lifted her right foot slightly off the floor, then placed it precisely back where it had been. She rocked in place for a moment, stepped away from the doorway, bent down and removed her shoes, depositing them side by side in the hallway to the left of the door. She bowed, crossed the threshold and moved quickly past me to the sofa across the room. She sat in a half-kneeling position with her legs tucked beneath her.
I settled back in my chair, crossing my legs, and began the interview.
“What brings you to see me and how can I be of help?”
“My husband left a couple of months ago,” she began in a voice slightly larger than she was, “and I’ve been having such a hard time. He used to take me wherever I had to go.” She fell silent, her eyes moving between my face and my feet. She squirmed and her lower lip trembled. She was staring at the rough black soles of my Timberlands and seemed to be struggling with a decision.
“Excuse me, please,” she said at last, “would it be OK if you took off your shoes?”
“Do they make you uncomfortable?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Doctor, it’s not you or your shoes. It’s just that I don’t like people to wear shoes inside. It makes me nervous.”
I untied the shoes, slipped them off and placed them on the floor by my chair. She looked at me again with a plaintive expression, then down at the shoes.
“What do you want me to do with them?” I asked as she squirmed and clasped her hands together.
“Maybe you could put them outside?” Her question was timid, but I had no doubt that it carried the force of a command. This interview would go nowhere with shoes in the room. I opened the door and placed them beside hers. I had already lost ten minutes of the hour set aside for the history, although the exchange that had just occurred told me volumes about her.
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