Thanks to Andi’s Book Reviews for this opportunity to do a guest blog post. I’m excited about the recent launch of my new mystery, THE RULES OF DREAMING, which Kirkus Reviews called “an exciting, original take on the literary mystery genre.”
Years ago I imagined a story about a patient in a mental hospital who sits down at the piano in the patient lounge and flawlessly plays a difficult piece of classical music. Although this usually requires years of instruction and practice, the patient’s psychiatrist discovers that he has no musical training or experience. So the question I started with is: Where did this music come from? Where does any music come from? Does music come to you as a kind of inspired madness, or does it come from outside the human mind?
THE RULES OF DREAMING takes off from that idea. Hunter Morgan, a 21-year-old schizophrenic with no musical training or experience, performs a fiendishly difficult piece for his young psychiatrist, Dr. Ned Hoffmann, whose life soon begins to spin out of control. Another patient—a beautiful graduate student named Nicole P.—suspects that the psychiatrist is ruled by the fantasies of a poet who’s been dead for two hundred years. Meanwhile a blackmailer named Dubin stumbles on the isolated town where the hospital is located and finds enough crimes on its conscience to keep him busy for the rest of his life. As the characters become enmeshed in a world of deception and delusion, of madness and ultimately of evil and death, they begin to focus on the schizophrenic pianist’s mother, the opera singer Maria Morgan, who hanged herself seven years earlier on the eve of her debut at the Met. The opera she was rehearsing—Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann—seems to be taking over the lives of her children, the doctors who treat them and everyone else who crosses their paths.
Here’s a little background about Nicole, the female hero of the book. Nicole is a 28-year-old Irish graduate student in literature at a university in New York City. Following her breakup with an abusive boyfriend, she has moved to Egdon, a small town about two hours northwest of New York, where she combats her anxieties and struggles to find a topic for her dissertation. Fearing that she is losing her mind, she checks into the private mental hospital located nearby, where she is treated by Dr. Ned Hoffmann. Recovering quickly, she is discharged two weeks later, but not before Dr. Hoffmann has secretly fallen in love with her.
Nicole is a beautiful young woman with red hair, emerald eyes and a free spirit who attracts the attention of men, while in her own mind she feels inconspicuous and often on the verge of desperation. She knows she’s a little wacky. When she’s discharged from the hospital she returns to her dingy garret and types a “To Do List” on her computer:
Bread, milk, eggs, corn flakes.
Pick up dry cleaning.
Find a thesis topic.
Keep from going crazy.
The last item on the list, she realizes, must be her highest priority: Keep from going crazy. She wants to accomplish this in her own way, without any help from the pharmaceutical industry, so she flushes the pills Dr. Hoffmann has given her down the toilet.
Now, she thinks, I’m on my own.
About The Tales of Hoffmann:
The Tales of Hoffmann is a beautiful, fantastic work which is all about the shifting boundary between fantasy and reality. I’ve dreamed of writing about it ever since I watched the spectacular film with that title which was made by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in the 1950s. If you haven’t seen that film, you should rent it. It’s been a major inspiration for Martin Scorsese, among others. My interest in the film and the opera led to a study of E.T.A. Hoffmann, a writer known in the English-speaking world almost entirely through derivative works (Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, Tchaikowsky’s The Nutcracker, Robert Schumann’s “Kreisleriana,” Delibes’s Coppélia, Freud’s essay on “The Uncanny”) and the stream of influence that traces back to him (Schumann, Poe, Baudelaire, Dumas, Offenbach, Doestoevsky). Unconsciously standing knee-deep in that stream of influence, I recalled my fantasy (Hoffmannesque, without my knowing it) of a patient in a mental hospital flawlessly playing a difficult piece of piano music without the benefit of any musical training or experience. The Rules of Dreaming took off from there.
About me: I live with my wife in Philadelphia. I’ve worked as a pianist, music teacher, bookseller and attorney and have been writing fiction for many years. My first novel, Perfectly Healthy Man Drops Dead, won the Salvo Press Mystery Novel Award and was published by Salvo Press in 2008. If all goes well, a steady stream of new books will be coming out over the next few years. I can be found on my blog, http://www.brucehartmanbooks.com; on my Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/author/brucehartman; and on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1672631.Bruce_Hartman.
THE RULES OF DREAMING
The Rules of Dreaming
A novel of madness, music — and murder.
A beautiful opera singer hangs herself on the eve of her debut at the Met. Seven years later the opera she was rehearsing—Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann—begins to take over the lives of her two schizophrenic children, the doctors who treat them and everyone else who crosses their paths, until all are enmeshed in a world of deception and delusion, of madness and ultimately of evil and death. Onto this shadowy stage steps Nicole P., a graduate student who discovers that she too has been assigned a role in the drama. What strange destiny is being worked out in their lives?
Read an excerpt:
Late last summer, after less than two months at the Palmer Institute, I witnessed an extraordinary performance. One of my patients, Hunter Morgan (that was not his real name), sat down at the piano in the patient lounge and started playing like a virtuoso. Hunter was a twenty-one year old schizophrenic who had lived in the Institute for the past seven years, and as far as anyone could remember he’d never touched the piano before. The piece he played was classical music—that was about all I could tell—and it sounded fiendishly difficult, a whirlwind of chords and notes strung together in a jarring rhythm that seemed the perfect analog of a mind spinning out of control. He continued playing for about ten minutes and then suddenly stopped in the middle of an intense climactic passage. Without acknowledging his audience—which consisted of his sister Antonia, his nurse Mrs. Paterson, a few other patients and myself—he stood up from the piano and ran out of the room.
Since I was new at the Institute, the impact of this performance was lost on me at first. I assumed that Hunter had been studying the piano from an early age. It wasn’t until later that afternoon, when I reviewed Hunter’s chart and questioned Mrs. Paterson specifically about the piano playing, that I realized how uncanny this incident really was.
“You mean he’s never played the piano before?”
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