The good folks at Green Snake Publishing just released my novel The Coma Monologues. I’m very fond of this book. In it, a man, Gary Hawken, gets smacked by a truck and falls into a coma. His doctor says he has little chance of recovery, but his wife, Melody, does not accept the doctor’s opinion. She decides she will bring her husband back by telling him stories. Specifically, she gets people from his life to come to his bedside and talk to him in a series of monologues. His high school chum comes and talks to him. As does a former teacher and camp counsellor. The hospital janitor puts in his two bits. Isaac Asimov also talks to him (even though he is dead). A centaur comes and delivers a monologue. Scheherazade, perhaps the most famous storyteller of all, talks to him. Also his house. And God. And Mother Nature. They’re all there to try to bring him back to the living. It was great fun as a writer to try all the different voices and as I was reading it over while getting ready to publish it, I felt like it would be a fun book to read. So here’s hoping I’m right.
Here’s an excerpt from the book, the beginning of the Scheherazade monologue:
I am told that my fame has outlived me. How can this be? You are not of my time and country. This place is foreign to me. What are these bare white walls and these contrivances surrounding you? I see boxes, shiny. And lights. The sighing of machinery, if machinery it is. Or is it magic in those boxes? Are there genii living in them?
I may not even be real. Am I the manifestation of some wizard’s imagination? Calling me up for his amusement? Indeed, are you such a one? Are you more cunning than you appear, inert and dumb on the bed before me. My king was such a man. So filled up with hate and revenge in his heart that he could not be moved. Not for many months, though I told him tales.
And why does my history still live on in this age? I come from a time and place when killing a woman, merely for being a woman, was not a crime. Indeed, it was common practice for a king who tired of his wife to dispatch her to the empty realm and no consequences befall him for such an action. Not just kings. Men of lower class, even the lowliest of the low, could indulge such murderous impulses with impunity.
But history changes things, does it not? My tale, one of desperation, one in which I concocted tales as a way to outwit a wicked king, has become a charming legend, when in truth, as I lived it, it was a terrifying and soul-slaying time.
You know that the king forced himself upon me? Your legends of me do not make that clear. He made three sons by me in this way. Finally, after I had exhausted my tales, after I had birthed for him three children, then and only then, did he consent to let me live.
Let me live.
In all my stories that I told to him, none was so fantastic, so incredible as my own tale, the tale of how I became a queen.
Your versions of my legend make it clear that I volunteered to be his consort. Oh, how the blind eye of history mocks my life. Why would I volunteer to put myself into such jeopardy? I did no such thing. I was snatched up from the streets by the king like a common dog and made to appear before him for his night of debauchery. Can you conceive of any sane person, any sane woman, putting herself into such a situation? If you can, you have a more expansive, a more profound imagination than I ever employed in my survival.
No, it was only my quick-witted thinking, on the spot, that allowed me to propose to the king that I might tell a story before my death.
You know the rest, of course. I stopped my story before the end, feigning weariness. I told him I could not go on. The king granted me a day’s reprieve that I might finish the story the next night. Such a kind-hearted soul, no? Bah! He wanted to hear his stupid story, one I made up about a king and a genie and, oh for goodness sake, who knows? It was a ridiculous tale, born of desperation. My professed weariness did not prevent him from raping me that night. Nor the subsequent nights. But that bit of my tale is missing from your legends, is it not? Too awful, I suppose. The reality of what happened to me might spoil the charm of my tales, is that it?
On the next night I finished the first story and immediately launched into a second. I stopped before the end and the king indulged his desires upon my body again. And so our life together proceeded in this way, night after torturous night. I desperately wracked my brain for a new story every night. Sometimes I remembered old tales my mother had told me. Sometimes I made up new stories from my own imagination. Other times I told about my family. My kind sister, my timid brother. Everything I ever knew, all the people I had ever met, they all went into the ragbag jumble of my storytelling. It kept me alive, yes, but what a life. I thought of death. Longed for it. But life has different plans for us sometimes. Life can be stronger than our own impulse for a preferred existence.