If you were a lawyer and a psychotherapist, what would you write about in your first novel? Titusville resident and debut novelist Dan Martin wrote about a fictional drug, BNG, an hallucinogenic plant extract that allows its users to vividly re-experience traumatic scenes from their lives, to reprocess those memories, and ultimately to come to terms with unresolved childhood issues. It is especially beneficial to alcoholics and drug addicts, enabling them to face their patterns of addiction and thus to embark on the road to recovery.
Interestingly, Martin has submitted three short stories to the U.S. 1 Summer Fiction issue, two of which we printed — “Losing His Grip” in 1998, and “Wisdom” in 2004. The third, “Journey Back,” was submitted for our 2001 issue, but was not chosen as one of the finalist. Clearly (and luckily) undaunted, Martin, at the suggestion of a writing teacher, stuck to it, as the saying goes, and that story and another became chapters 1 and 2 of his novel.
Martin will speak on “Journey Back,” Tuesday, September 12, at Barnes & Noble MarketFair. A graduate of SUNY Albany and Cornell Law School, Marin became interested in psychology after practicing law for 10 years in New York and New Jersey. So he went back to school, and earned a masters in counseling services from Rider University.
Since then he has worked as both an attorney and a psychotherapist, and in 1993 co-authored a scholarly monograph entitled “The Danger-to-Self-and-Others Exception to Confidentiality,” published by the American Counseling Association. While most of his work as a lawyer has been in private practice in New Jersey, for the past six months he has been working in New York City.
In the novel, Martin explores the impact of BNG on a bright but schizophrenic journalist plagued by his past. Richard Jones, the story’s hero, is able with the help of BNG to access incidents from his past, including debilitating bouts of paranoid schizophrenia that had led him to flee New York City, leaving his past entirely behind.
Q. What differentiates “Journey Back” from other novels?
A. When you read “Journey Back” it feels as if you’re actually inside the mind of the mentally unstable main character as he lives through one intense experience after another, and it’s often hard to tell how much of the non-stop action reported by Richard Jones is really happening, and how much is a creation of his always overactive, and frequently drug-fueled, imagination. It’s like an enthralling drug trip, always entertaining and occasionally enlightening, but without any of the accompanying physical, emotional, or legal dangers.
This book is intended for intelligent adults who I believe will embrace a complex and flawed main character struggling to deal with the difficult issues in his life. He doesn’t always make the right choices, kind of like you and me, but Jones makes an effort to treat people right, and he never gives up trying to figure things out. Plus he has a great sense of humor.
Q. The plot of your novel centers around the discovery of a new drug that has beneficial, mind-expanding qualities. Are you concerned that it could be construed as promoting the use of illegal drugs?
A. BNG is a fictitious drug, and I am not in any way promoting the use of illegal substances. But I am very concerned about the repressive attitude of our government towards anything that tends to expand our minds or our consciousness. When I was studying to be a psychotherapist I was surprised and disturbed to discover that the thrust of mainstream psychology is apparently to damp down the intensity of people’s feelings. To be different is considered pathological, and drugs are prescribed to smooth over the rough edges of those whose minds work differently than the rest of us. Thus Prozac, Valium, and Xanax are routinely prescribed for anxiety and depression, while the underlying personal, existential, and spiritual concerns that lead people to become anxious or depressed are largely ignored.
The use of other drugs, like alcohol and sleeping pills, which essentially deaden feelings, is also tolerated, if not encouraged, while the one type of drug that is not acceptable is anything that expands or alters human consciousness — drugs like peyote, psilocybin, and ayahuasca. The irony is that our society prides itself on its spiritual faith, yet it rejects the above drugs, many of which are used in the spiritual rituals of other cultures. It seems as if our government is not so much anti-drug as it is anti-consciousness expansion, and I think that is wrong and needs to change.
Q. How did your background and experience as a psychotherapist contribute to the novel?
A. I believe that my studies and work in psychology enabled me to get inside the head of my main character, to see the world through his eyes, and thus to allow my readers to experience life the way a borderline psychotic does.
Booksigning, “Journey Back’ by Titusville author Dan Martin, Tuesday, September 12, 7 p.m., Barnes & Noble MarketFair, in conjunction with the Writer’s Exchange meeting. 609-716-1424.