Art inspired by ‘Under The Whispering Door’

The above are illustrations created by me based on TJ Klune’s latest novel Under The Whispering Door. Released on September 21, 2021.

Description of book:

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.

Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop’s owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over.

But Wallace isn’t ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo’s help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.

When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

By turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, this absorbing tale of grief and hope is told with TJ Klune’s signature warmth, humor, and extraordinary empathy.

Inspired by the ‘Arc of the Scythe’ Series by Neal Shusterman

Who knew death could be so much fun? What a creative and unique world Neal Shusterman invented for us through his Arc of the Scythe series. I ate this post-mortality concept up. How did he do this? I’ve read a lot of dystopian literature, and I think this one might be my favorite. It gave me the same feeling that The Hunger Games did, in that I was transported into a world far from where we find ourselves now. This reminded me why books are magic. In a year where we are inside all the time because of a deadly pandemic, you will feel far from quarantined once you enter the world of the Scythedom.

The breakdown: What would happen if we became so technologically advanced that disease and death were eradicated? Where if we were hit by a car and rendered “deadish” we could be sent to a “revival station” and be brought back to life? Wanna look younger? That can happen, too. The one problem: How would we control the population? Shusterman gives us the answer with his creation of the “Scythedom”: a superior and respected group of people who kill others in order to prevent overpopulation.

At the center of this amazing series are two teenagers, Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch, who undergo training as apprentices to Honorable Scythe Faraday (I loved Faraday so hard). Each youth struggle with the “art of killing”, and eventually become extremely important to the future of not only the Scythedom, but to life on Earth as we know it.

Technology is also the star of the show. An advanced computer system known as the “Thunderhead” controls society. Who is preventing plane crashes, sinking ships, and terrorist attacks? The Thunderhead, that’s who. Yep, and it’s watching when you accidentally electrocute yourself and need to be brought to a revival station? The Thunderhead sends reinforcements to bring your fried ass back to life. The Thunderhead is a form of AI that does not make mistakes or have regrets, and serves the population in life, while the Scythedom serves us through permanent death. It operates separate and apart from the Scythedom. In the second and third books, we see how this AI tries to save humanity from itself after the Scythedom goes rogue. And how it’s inability to interfere with the Scythedom complicates matters. What a testament to show that even without disease and death from violence, the same things lead us to hurt one another: greed, power, jealousy, and groupthink.

I loved these characters, even the horrible ones. I also liked to imagine what life would be like if this were real. Would I be a Scythe? Hell no. Would I enjoy getting the 18 year old version of my ass back every few years? Hell yes.

As an aside, I loved the words and concepts Shusterman created. Examples: “Gleaning” (permanent killing), “MidMerica”, “Tonists”, “Revival Stations”. It goes on. The names he gave the Scythes, too. So much fun.

The Arc of the Scythe series is worth your time. Read (or listen) to all three books. If you choose to listen to the audiobooks, you won’t regret it: Greg Tremblay does a fantastic job bringing each character to life.

Dream Cast:

Scythe Faraday: Liam Neeson

Scythe Curie: Viola Davis

Citra aka Scythe Anastasia: Jenna Ortega

Rowan aka Scythe Lucifer: Alex Lawther

Scythe Goddard: Mads Mikkselson

Scythe Rand: Lucy Liu

Greyson Tolliver: Levi Miller

Jericho: Jade Hassouné

Monira: Selena Gomez

Thunderhead: Morgan Freeman

Review of Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family

Donald With His Falcon

Well, damn. The true story of the Galvin family is as mind blowing as it is tragic. Quick note: I conduct Pre-Sentence investigations for the Court. Family of origin and mental health is always a big part to research for the report. These are serious crimes I cover, and at the end of the report there is an evaluative analysis that needs to be prepared so that my sentencing recommendation is supported. And it takes a meticulous review of records, all of them confidential, to complete each report. I’ve done thousands of reports. That said, Robert Kolker puts me to shame. An excellent writer and researcher, I’m not sure anyone else could have told the story about the family on Hidden Valley Road. Patience, attention to detail, and understanding from Kolker are evident. And a wealth of material that is so organized and presented so well, it helps keep the reader stay engaged (and not confused!).

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family is about midcentury American family living in Colorado Springs, CO made up of twelve children, six of whom were diagnosed with schizophrenia (notably, all boys). The family became an important sample for researchers investigating a genetic origin for schizophrenia. The family matriarch is, at first, reluctant to admit there is a problem but eventually has no choice but to acknowledge that she has more than just a kooky family. The patriarch is an overachieving provider, but fairly absent figure, in the lives of the children. Both parents, and eventually their oldest son, Donald, take a liking to working with birds of prey. I couldn’t help but note the irony that the parents of schizophrenic children were also falconers. Falconry is a breaking-in of sorts, a control over another, and a way to have someone with less power than you do what you want them to do and act how you want them to act. Not so for children with one of the most difficult disorders to manage and treat. While schizophrenia manifests differently for each patient, there is often the presence of anger, hallucinations, delusions of grandeur, paranoia, religious obsessions, and a difficulty coping with rejection. Worse, many don’t want to take their medications. A person who is accustomed to the cooperation of a falcon has a rude awakening when it comes to a child, especially a mentally ill one. Unlike a falcon, a person with schizophrenia has their own road to travel, and your plans for him or her don’t mean sh*t. Acceptance, without the enabling of abusive behavior, is the name of the game.

On a personal note, I’ll say schizophrenia can be very scary. And not only for the person afflicted, but to those around them. I’ve seen and been at the end of extremely unhinged and paranoid behavior from probationers. And the harassment can be relentless. They already distrust the government and are convinced there is a conspiracy against them. That said, there were many times throughout this book I said “been there”. And I’m sure it was for other readers as well. It makes you realize how pervasive the disease is, and the commonalities those afflicted have. I cannot imagine what it was like for the children in the family who didn’t have the disease. How terrifying some days must have been for them. And for those young patients that suffer, there are no words.

I think most people that pick up a book of this kind know what to expect but, just in case, be warned that there are a lot of triggering events within these pages. You name it, it happened in this family. Rape, molestation, homicide, suicide, animal cruelty, and more. And there is also some enabling from the matriarch that may anger you.

That said, this is quite a story of survival and a must-read.

Rating: 5/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

If ‘12 Angry Men’ were made today

I drew this for my teenage niece. She has a learning disability (she said it’s ok if I say that) that makes it difficult for her to retain information. She has always been a visual learner, and it’s just hard for her. She tries so hard. Her English teacher assigned 12 Angry Men and is allowing her to also watch the movie to help retain the material. One small problem: my niece isn’t into the movie because it’s in black and white and “it looks old” (forgive her for she know not what she says) and it’s just “a bunch of old white guys” (ok, she got me there but she also knows it was a representation of how things were in 1954 when the play was written). There is a 1997 movie adaptation but she wasn’t interested in that either. So, to make it fun I suggested we put our own diverse cast together with actors she’s more familiar with so she can connect with them and put a face to the character. Then I’d draw them to try to help her remember each man, and what their personalities bring to the jury. She wanted to me to pick six, and then she picked the other six. (By the way, she selected Shawn Mendes as the defendant 😂)

I used the same background as the movie poster from 1957, but I inverted the colors on procreate. Here’s the original:

Here is the version I drew in 2021, the year of our Lord and Savior Dolly Parton:

Jury Foreman: Paul Walter Hauser – calm, fair, employed as a high school coach. Originally played by Martin Balsam.

Juror 2: The Banker. Riz Ahmed. Shy and meek. Originally portrayed by John Fiedler.

Juror 3: The Angry Business Owner. John Turturro. Hot-tempered and estranged from his son. Wants a guilty verdict. Originally portrayed by Lee J. Cobb.

Juror 4: The Stockbroker. Chiwetel Ejiofor. Detail-oriented, concerned with focusing on the facts of the case. Originally portrayed by E.G. Marshall.

Juror 5: The Survivor. LaKeith Stanfield. From humble beginnings. Now a healthcare worker. The one who realizes the position of the switchblade knife is inconsistent. Originally portrayed by Jack Klugman.

Juror 6: The Painter. Oscar Isaac. Tough, measured, protective of the older jurors when they are disrespected. Originally portrayed by Edward Binns.

Juror 7: The Salesman. Patrick Wilson. Wisecracking, totally indifferent, would rather be anywhere but in a jury room. Originally portrayed by Jack Warden.

Juror 8: The Architect. Mahershala Ali. The first one to vote not-guilty. Kind, justice-seeking and humane. Originally portrayed by Henry Fonda.

Juror 9: The Senior. Alan Arkin. Wise. Extremely observant of witness behavior. Originally portrayed by Joseph Sweeney.

Juror 10: The Garage Owner. Woody Harrelson. Bigot, loud-mouth. Originally portrayed by Ed Begley.

Juror 11: The Watchmaker. Mads Mikkelsen. European immigrant and naturalized citizen. Passionate about democracy and due process. Originally portrayed by George Voskovec.

Juror 12: The Advertising Executive. Alan Cummings. Indecisive and easily swayed by others.