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  • Writer's picturePortland Jones

The Talking Cure (A Novel of Magic and Psychiatry)

The Cutter and Mann Series Book 1

by Barbara Lien-Cooper and Park Cooper

Dr Cynthia Mann, psychiatrist, left New York city, driven out by reporters and fans intrigued by her involvement in the mysterious disappearance of a famous pop star. Or something like that. She doesn’t like to talk about it. Her life is now in Cleveland - new location, new office, new people who don’t know her.

We swiftly meet Zach Cutter who is very open about the fact that he is a magician, and more interestingly, he claims to be ‘your average supernatural detective type.’ Zach reveals the scars on his arm, a failed suicide attempt. He tells Dr Mann that, after a horrific incident where his girlfriend died, he was locked up for months. Dr Mann can be forgiven for thinking that this guy has serious mental health issues. The more she learns about him, the more concerned she becomes.

At almost every session they have, Zach tells her about a case he’s worked on or some other amazing part of his life. At first, she goes along with his fantasies, believing he is telling his incredible stories as a way of letting out his inner turmoil. Yet Zach persists and doesn’t waver from his claims. Zach insists he is a magician in the real sense of the word, not an illusionist, and that the strange world he describes actually exists.

Dr Mann challenges him. She is quite sympathetic towards the existence of the supernatural from the events that led to her leaving her former life behind, but this is at a different level. She wants proof of what Zach is claiming. Miraculously, Zach changes fresh flowers into fakes made of silk. Dr Mann can’t comprehend how this could have happened so still refuses to believe it’s magic. Maybe it’s sleight of hand. Or something...

Zach’s tales become increasingly bizarre – vampires, monsters, ghosts. He explains how he was apprenticed to a magician, though his relationship with the master became problematic.

Dr Mann really likes Zach. If he wasn’t her patient, she would more than consider going out with him. However, she knows he needs help that only a professional can provide. She also recognises that many psychiatrists would either have Zach well-medicated or even institutionalised. She makes the decision that the best way for her to help him is to keep him as a patient.

Zach really likes Dr Mann. He wants her to be his psychiatrist as well as much more. This ongoing dilemma makes life difficult for both of them. Dr Mann does her best to keep the relationship professional – after all, there are consequences for inappropriate behaviour with a patient. Yet Zach does his best to take the relationship up a level or three. He flirts outrageously and steps in at every opportunity to endear himself to her. Cynthia starts to feel she is losing the battle, and if she was honest with herself, would be quite happy to.

The style is interesting. In parts, it is written as reports from the case files of Dr Cynthia Mann, as if she is taking notes of her sessions with her patient. She records in detail what Zach her patient tells her including his initially dubious tales.

Zach’s stories are recorded in his own words so we have a story within a story. At first, I wasn’t too sure how this would work, but it worked well. It was like interactive flashbacks. Dr Mann would interrupt to clarify something or ask questions. The tales may be bizarre but the style in which they are told - so matter of factly - makes it possible to accept that they may have really happened. Just like someone telling you about that odd customer at work or the weird person they’d met at the pub.

The growing relationship between Dr Mann and Zach is skilfully handled. You can feel Zach’s determination and desperation to be with Dr Mann. You can feel Dr Mann’s desperate struggle to keep him in her life and to help him which she can only do by maintaining her professional distance. She is torn between frustration and longing.

The narrative overall is upbeat and moves quickly. The conversations are fun, often typical banter between friends, at others discussing impossible situations, but not developing into laboured exposition. Personalities are well constructed. Zach is overwhelmingly positive and brave and caring, most of the time. Dr Mann is more introspective and worries about what is the right thing to do.

I love the haunted car with a mind of its own and a wicked sense of humour. This is a character in its own right. The whole story stretches belief yet is grounded in the here and now. Dr Mann and Zach are the focal point and their growing love story is never lost sight of in favour of the fantastical things happening around them. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

I asked the authors to tell us about their publishing journeys.

Barbara tells us that she came about being an author in a roundabout way.

I started as a bedroom artist singer-songwriter. I started getting nibbles from indie record companies. Then disaster struck: I’d had gotten increasingly ill. I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. So, that dream collapsed.

Greatly saddened, I eventually started reading graphic novels, because I could read them even if I was having a day of brain fog. I thought: “This doesn’t look too hard.” So, I started writing graphic novels. What I didn’t know at that time was that few women got into the comics industry as authors. The idea of institutional sexism being a problem hadn’t yet occurred to me.

Unfortunately, although people thought my work was ‘excellent’, I wasn’t able to find a publisher willing to take it on. I then got a job with the manga industry, so I left comics and did that for several years. My husband Park also go a job for a while as an editor for Del Rey Manga. Then the manga industry in America went belly up.

So I decided to write prose novels with my husband. After spending a lot of time perfecting our craft, we started trying to get an agent. What happed right smack out of the box is that agents said my work was excellent but rejected it in anyway, blaming the economy and saying they ‘couldn’t take a risk’. When we did get a novel published, the Indie publisher went under – one day the book was available to order from Amazon, the next it just wasn’t.

My husband finally said ‘to heck with this, we’re self-publishing. He said that if we get an agent down the road, that’s great, but we’d still have to publicize our work, so we might as well start with self-publishing.

Park tells us he got his college degree from Texas Tech University in Lubbock. I then got my M.A. from the same place, and then my Ph.D. from Kent State in Ohio. My specialization was postmodern literature. I’ve gotten just a few articles and/or chapters in books here and there, did just a few scholarly book reviews in academic journals, too, and eventually got my dissertation published as a scholarly book.

For a few years, I was hired as the Editor-In-Chief for a comic book company called Septagon. I got a cyberpunk graphic novel that I wrote called Swipe out... but the publishing company has had a lot of troubles, and nothing further that I’d written about the same characters has come out.

So, I started helping Barb. I was already her editor, but now I started collaborating with her more and more. We are both professional editors so we handle editing ourselves. We go over it (including out loud) over and over beforehand.

We have made book trailers to market our books. We do book tours and get reviews.

Barb and Park, thanks for the insight into your writing life. I wish you well for the future. See the links below where you can find out more about this writing duo. This book is available in Kindle but not through Kindle Unlimited. Still worth a read.




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