I am really glad to be back at my old friend, Penguin Publishing. ( I have loved their logo since I was a little girl.) Hopefully, we can grow old, or older together. They are publishing my new book about patients I’ve have treated over my 25 year career as a therapist. It is really a book about psychological bravery. It was inspired by when I went to a high school reunion in the States and we gave a standing ovation for an alumnus who got the Purple Cross for his bravery in War. I thought to my myself that I’d seen more bravery in my office than General Patton ever saw on the field. The book is a tribute to that bravery. It was originally titled STILL STANDING: PROFILES IN PSYCHOLOGICAL BRAVERY. It has been changed to GOOD MORNING, MONSTER. Who knows what the title will be when it comes out in Spring 2019.
I am having a new experience. That alone is a joy at the age 70. I am writing an historical novel! (One of my son’s said I am so old my three memoirs are now historical.) It’s a big undertaking but it keeps my mind alive.
I did, in fact, already write somewhat of a historical novel in 1985 called SEDUCTION about Darwin and Freud. Although it was placed in a modern setting, it explored Darwin and Freud through their letters and writings. In this novel it is truly historical as it is about the Underground Railroad and takes place years 1815-1860.
I don’t have a title yet. I was thinking of UNDERGROUND since it works for everyone in the novel—both slaves and abolitionists. We all have feelings that have gone underground as in unconscious things and secrets that we won’t reveal as well as the actual Underground Railroad. So that title would work on many levels.
I have wanted to write this book since I was a little girl. I grew up in Lewiston, New York, which was one of the hubs for the Underground Railroad since it is a border town on the Niagara River. It was the last stop on the Underground Railway since it was on the American border. All that was left was to row across the river to freedom in Canada. I could see Canada from my U.S. home when I was a child.
New York State has dedicated a statue to Lewiston’s work on the Underground Railroad and placed it at the spot where the slaves crossed the River to freedom. This statue is one block from where I grew up. (See the picture below of me standing in front of the statue on the riverbank.
The house I grew up in was built soon after the revolutionary war and billeted soldiers in the war of 1812. My relatives lived there for over 200 years and were active in the Underground Railroad in its heyday. On some of the timber beams in the basement people, presumably slaves, who were hidden there, have etched their initials. I grew up with these stories and their embellishments that have turned into Lewiston legends.
When I started the book I had no idea how hard it was to write an historical novel. In my memoirs I could write almost everything from memory. (My husband calls me an idiot savant since I can remember what I wore to my 8th birthday party but not my present cell number.) Remembering the local and national politics was a piece of cake since I lived through them from the 50’s to the present.
My protagonist, named Lydia, is going to run the Frontier House Tavern and hotel in Lewiston as a cover for her Underground Railroad work. She is a partner with a black woman named Hazelon. One is the cook, the other works the bar and together they own the hotel.
Lewiston, now a sleepy town, was bigger than Niagara Falls and Buffalo in the 1800’s. So anyone who was anyone (as my mother would have said) who wanted to see Niagara Falls had to stay in Lewiston at the Frontier House. (See picture of Frontier House. The records show Mark Twain, Dickens, De witt Clinton, Lafayette, Henry Clay all stayed there—and the who’s who goes on.) James Fenimore Cooper wrote The Spy in Lewiston and included the Lewiston barmaid as a character. It is a daunting but fascinating task for me to find a way to tie all this history into one novel. (The Frontier House was built in 1824 and is still standing. See picture. This is only the upper half.)
As I began writing I realized –oh my God these people at the bar have to have conversation! What will they talk about? I had to read history books to know what happened in the antebellum era. In order to have chatter at the bar and to reveal the characters in the town, I had to know this history enough to make banter. That means I had to know it as though I’d lived through it. America grew to four times it size, slavery was debated, Indians were run off their land and “Jacksonian Democracy” (ironic term since it didn’t include women, blacks natives, or landless whites) took over.
Also how did people get around? Does my protagonist jump on a horse or what? In 1830 she took a stage coach, by 1840 their were no stage coaches and she took a train.
What did she wear? I have had to go to costume museums and study what undergarments were worn and what was in style and what was out of style. If you want to describe someone as out of date in their apparel, you have to know what year men stopped wearing breeches. I know exactly what the 1980’s shoulder pads looked like but the corsets of the 1830’s threw me. I had to learn women couldn’t take deep breaths in them and had to pant shallowly so their breasts would flutter. With the smallest exertion you could feel faint. You had to carry smelling salts in small vials that were covered with the same fabric as the dress.
In my ignorance, I, As Blanche said in A Street Car Named Desire, I had to “count on the kindness of strangers.” I went to Lewiston sixty years after I left there (I now live in Toronto) and knocked on the door of the Tryon House that was the most famous station on the Underground Railroad. It is located on the steep bank of the river and there are three hidden basements that go down to the river’s edge where slaves were hidden. Often run-aways were hidden for months until the ice broke on the lake. Remember there were whirlpools and strong currents as it was not that far from the falls. It was less than a kilometer to get across and only fourteen miles away in St. Catherine’s lived Harriet Tubman. (See picture below of back of the house with all the basements to the river.)
This is the first time I have had to collaborate. I have probably lived in my own head for way too long. (Only child writes in her Third floor garret for 50 years. Picture a white haired loony like Mr. Rochester’s wife in Jane Eyre.) Three things shocked me in this collaboration. I was surprised by how much information there is on every tiny thing that ever happened in the past and how much controversy there is over every historical event. Secondly, I was taken aback by how many people are fascinated by local history. For example one amateur historian has sent me all kinds of information on trains used to get up the steep escarpment. Another couple dressed in period attire and enacted a short play with abolitionist dialogue for me down by the river. Thirdly, I am bowled over by how kind people are in the donating of their time. People have opened their historical homes, their minds and have given unflinchingly of their time and copy machines. The local historians have researched all the transportation for me, and the town council members and history volunteers have unearthed reams of data. The Lewiston Librarian knows every pertinent document available from the 1800’s. When I arrived she had it all packaged for me. She even has the deeds to the original family homes. People who have lived in the village for generations have passed down tales to their children and their children have gotten wind of my project emailed their lore to me.
I think Hillary Clinton was right when she said, “It takes a Village.”
Can you tell us how you became a writer?
I was a psychologist in private practice for twenty-five years. For fun, I once wrote an unsolicited column for Facts and Arguments in The Globe and Mail and just faxed it in one day. To my surprise it was published. An editor at Chatelaine magazine happened to read the column and invited me to be their psychological advice columnist. That was the birth of my journalism career.
My creative writing career was equally serendipitous. I’m a bit of an Irish storyteller, so once, at a party, I told a childhood tale about how I’d worked full time from the age of four delivering drugs with a black delivery car driver, and how we’d been trapped in the snow overnight. Someone at the party told me to write the story and send it to a publisher. So I quickly wrote up the tale and then mailed it in on a Friday. On the following Monday I received an advance cheque in the mail with a yellow Post-it attached that said “finish it.” Not wanting to give back the cheque, I finished the book. That is how my childhood memoir, Too Close to the Falls, was hatched. It was on the bestsellers list for seventy-two weeks, so that helped me to decide I must be a writer.
What inspired you to write this particular book? Is there a story about the writing of this novel that begs to be told?
Twenty-five years ago I wrote a Ph.D. thesis titled Darwin’s Influence on Freud. Over the many years I spent in the library reading their letters and works, I got to know Darwin and Freud fairly well. I noticed personal quirks and inconsistencies that I believed were subtly reflected in their theories. My mind was full of the sort of details you can put in a novel but never in a Ph.D. thesis.
1. Discuss Kate’s role as the narrator of this story. What effect does her perspective have on your reading? How much do you trust her to be true to the facts?
2. Was Kate correct to suspect Dr. Gardonne’s motives right from the start? Or does “paranoia” play a part here? And if so, is there a sense that paranoia helped her solve the case? Consider also the role of Bozo, who was labelled a “paranoid” by Konzak.
3. In what ways is Seduction a conventional detective story? What elements distinguish it from the genre?
4. Kate and Jackie travel far and wide — Vienna, Toronto, London, New York, the Isle of Wight — during their search. Discuss how Gildiner brings these places to life for readers, through Kate’s eyes and her memories.
5. In her author’s note at the start of the novel, Gildiner states that she “freely altered” historical information about the lives of Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud and Charles Darwin for the sake of her fictional storyline. Discuss the responsibility, if any, novelists have to the facts of history.
6. Discuss Kate’s attitude towards the murder of her husband. Is she dispassionate? How may her years behind bars have affected her perceptions? What do you think really happened that day?
7. In the first chapter, Kate tells us of Freud’s belief that everyone is born with two drives, sex and aggression, and that what interested him was what happened when these drives are curtailed — for instance, when we use defences like repression, denial, intellectualization and sublimation. How does this theory play out in the events and characters of Seduction?
8. Both Kate and Jackie have come up with ways to deal with their feelings of guilt and shame — Kate analyzes her emotional reactions and throws herself into her studies; Jackie lives in the moment and refuses to feel shame for the past. How healthy do you think they are, emotionally and psychologically? Consider both characters in terms of how prison has affected or shaped them.
9. Do you think that the truths uncovered about Freud and Darwin would have struck the blow to psychoanalysis that Gardonne and the rest of the industry feared?
10. Why does Kate feel such a bond with Anna Freud? In what ways are they similar, or different? Think particularly of their childhoods and their relationships.
11. Discuss the quote from Freud that opens this novel. Do you think “every normal person” has some psychotic element to his or her psyche? What about the characters in this book?
12. How do the letters, diary excerpts, notes, papers and other documents included in the text add depth to Seduction? Did you ever find yourself forgetting that you were reading fiction?
13. In what ways is Kate affected by her visits to the house that Bozo, Shawna, The Wizard and Edgar live in? What do these characters and their lifestyle represent in the novel? And what do you make of The Wizard’s disappearance?
14. In chapter 4, Kate and Jackie discuss Freud’s seduction theory and how it morphed into the Oedipus complex, as they try to get to the root of Konzak’s plans. Discuss these theories and their role in this novel, both in past events and in the current story. For instance, what kind of relationships do Kate, Jackie, Dr. Gardonne and Anna Freud have with their parents?
15. Discuss Seduction and its characters (such as Jackie, Kate, Dr. Von Enchanhauer, The Wizard) in terms of the Darwinian statement “Only the fittest survive.”
16. What do you think of the relationship between Kate and Jackie? What does the future hold for them? Is romance likely?
The author of the much-loved and bestselling memoir, Too Close to the Falls, now brings us a novel of international intrigue, centred on the Freud Archives, in which two ex-cons are hand-picked to investigate an upstart archivist with plans to upset the entire psychoanalytic applecart.
Kate Fitzgerald has served nearly a decade of a life sentence for murdering her husband. While incarcerated she has put her restless brain to use by reading all of Freud’s works and has become known in academic circles as an expert. Her prison psychiatrist offers her parole if she agrees to find out what archivist and womanizer Anders Konzak plans to reveal in the forthcoming, unexpurgated Freud-Fliess correspondence. Kate’s partner in the investigation is to be Jackie Lawton, a violent bank robber who has been in jail most of his life, but who now works as a private detective, having finally shed his criminal past – at least that’s his story. Jackie and Kate are charged with discovering what Konzak has found that will, as he boasts, “make psychoanalysis obsolete.” He has already publicly impugned Freud’s famous seduction theory; what could be next?
The novel takes us from Toronto to Vienna, London, the Isle of Wight, small-town New York and back again to Toronto. Along the way we meet an assortment of characters, from misfits to the demure but resolute Anna Freud, still living in the London house where she brought her ailing father for the last year of his life, and where she actively guards his legacy.
Told with wit and erudition, this accessible and thrilling page-turner is an intellectual delight and a detective story of outstanding ingenuity.
Inspiration comes from many places, but perhaps the greatest source is the daily knowledge and happenings we observe around us as we journey through life.
Renowned author, Catherine Gildiner, imparted some of her insights to an enthralled audience at the Millpond Centre in Alliston Friday during a fund-raising event in support of the Friends of the New Tecumseth Public Library.
The non-profit organization has a mission to enhance and support library services and enrich the literary experience.
By profession, Gildiner is a psychologist, who spent 25 years delving into the secrets of the human mind. She now practises just one day a week. The rest of her time is devoted to her talent as an author. Born in Lewiston, New York, Gildiner crossed the border to complete her graduate studies at the University of Toronto in the city she now calls home.
By Catherine Gildiner
The Toronto Star, January 16, 2005
Reprinted with permission
Photo credit: Toronto Star
The writer’s solitary existence conspires against meeting the people who read what they’ve produced. The joy of the book tour, says Catherine Gildiner, is in bonding with complete strangers.
When I wrote Too Close to the Falls, a childhood memoir about my life from 4 to 14, I was thrilled that it made it to the best seller’s list. One of the best parts of the experience was the book tour itself.
Writing is a solitary activity. I was hunkered down on my third floor month after month pressing little keys and then one day I pressed print. Suddenly I was sent around the world to actually see the effect of my words. It is a magical moment to see a group of people you have never met respond to your writing with laughter or tears. It is a moment of shared intimacy like no other.
On a more practical level it serves as a mini market research group. You see what works and what falls flat. Audiences are not like friends. They don’t spare your feelings. You want the truth? Read aloud to strangers. On my first tour through the States I was given a ‘greeter,’ usually a cheerful middle aged woman who drives you to book stores and introduces you to people that she doesn’t know either. You not only have to talk all day to the people that are buying your books – fair enough, they’re forking over money – but the greeter is usually more demanding and she is getting paid.
Often they get lost in their own cities – having never been downtown. They say, “Uh oh. I’ve never been to this part of Chicago. Lock your door and read me the map.”
You stay in luxury accommodation, the kind that leaves chocolate on your pillow and then knocks on your door, terrifying you that they may be a rapist and saying they want to turn down your covers. Sometimes they call to see if you are happy and ask what they can do to assure that you are not disturbed. Then when you think you should go to more than five cities across the U.S. especially since the book is about small town life, the publisher says, “Sorry Cathy, we already spent our budget.”
Yeah – on a greeter and hotels.
The first question Catherine Gildiner is asked by those who confuse books with reality is, “Did you murder your husband?”
When, tongue-in-cheek, I ask her the same question, she laughs and hastens to assure me that no, despite the character in her new novel Seduction, who has killed her husband, she has no such act in her closet.
On the other hand, based on her long experience as a therapist, Gildiner found that she always liked the murderers best. When I ask her why, she tells me it is because “murderers usually make a mistake at only one moment in time,” while people who commit and repeat other offences are less trustworthy, recidivist and thus more determined law-breakers. I am, of course, fascinated. We are all fascinated by crime, and readers of Seduction (Knopf Canada, 486 pages, $34.95), will be compelled and intrigued by the mystery that she frames and then unravels in the novel.
Read or download the PDF review of Seduction:
Seduction: Time Magazine Review
“Very clever . . . definitely a cut above other thrillers.”
“There are enough twists, turns and identity shifts to keep you guessing… Like a dream, it makes you question what’s real and imagined.”
“Seduction is smart and entertaining — brainy fun for a cold winter’s night.”
—The Globe and Mail
“Book-review clichés come to mind: “I couldn’t put it down,” “compulsively readable,” etc. Seduction is a fast-paced modern novel filled with snappy dialogue, exotic settings and juicy intellectual plums, somewhat in the manner of The Da Vinci Code.”
“A stylish suspenseful romp through psychoanalytical academia.”
—The Bay Street Bull
“Seduction is certainly a romp, and the author’s pleasure in writing it comes across, a rare enough literary event. Her devotion to the subject matter is apparent.”
“A fast-paced intellectual thriller . . . Dr Gildner’s insights about the desires that motivate us will keep you hooked.”
“Seduction introduces crime fiction to literary mystery. . . . An addictive thriller that combines a crash course on Freudian theory with an old-fashioned detective story . . . Seduction is written with the kind of wit and intelligence reminiscent of another page-turner, The Da Vinci Code.”
–The Hour (Montreal)
“A psychologically deep novel that combines two ex-cons, Anna Freud, and ambitious archivist and a zany catalogue of characters.”
“A snappy pageturner of a debut.”