Intensive Therapy: On Writing the first book

How did Intensive Therapy: A Novel come to be written? How does any author decide how and when to write his first book? Read on and I’ll share the key moments in my personal and professional development that made this book come to life.

The ideas that coalesced into Intensive Therapy: A Novel came from many sources over many years. My mother, a voracious reader of mysteries and whodunits was always asking when I was going to write a book. “When I have something to say, Mother,” I used to tell her. “When I have something to say.”

During my early years I was a science nerd; it wasn’t until later that I learned to love books and words. I was always trying to figure out what things were made of: tables, chairs, people, the mind, the brain. Artistically speaking, as a teenager and young adult I was much more interested in music, so, like Jonas of the novel, I read more scores than contemporary novels. In college I was intimidated by the size of classic works of literature. I didn’t have a particularly long attention span, and I was such a slow reader and inaccurate typist that I figured I better learn to do something else with my life other than become a writer if I wanted to put bread on the table.

Besides, a typical Symphony lasted about forty-five minutes, the right time, as I figured it, of a good short story. The first ‘author’ that spoke to me was Ludwig von Beethoven, but later I developed a taste for Tchaikovsky’s and Stravinsky’s ballets, and the musical tone poems of Richard Strauss. In my mind their themes and melodies became stories, with dramatic tension, reflectiveness, development, and resolution. Anton Dvorak’s New World Symphony is still one of my favorite ‘books.’ I learned to think musically: themes, melody, counter-melody, harmony dissonance, rhythm musical dialogue, and orchestration. Thankfully, my musical attention span grew longer, so my creative imagination became steeped in the music and stories of the operas of Wagner and Puccini.

Meanwhile, psychoanalysts were expected to learn Sigmund Freud, which, for me, was like trying to learn to like Brussel sprouts. Freud was undoubtedly right about the power of the unconscious mind, however he and his followers missed the significance of the empathic bond between therapist and patient, which is the ultimate determiner of the success of a psychotherapeutic relationship, and merely a mirror of the multiple dimensions of connections between people. The relationship between analyst and patient; the relationship between writer and reader; those ideas made something percolate in my creative unconscious mind.

Something marvelous happened around the time that I wrote my first stories. Some company with the logo of an Apple began making machines on which typists could correct errors easily before they printed their work. It was on such a machine that I wrote my first stories which were actually a series of case histories and discussions published in psychological journals; in retrospect I was preaching to either a choir that was already converted, or a religious sect that saw me as an outlier: not exactly what I had in mind for exercising my creative muse, although writing up case histories and re-creating dialogue sessions was good practice for the projects I would ultimately undertake.

The psychological dramas that made the most sense to me were books like Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, written years before Freud’s theories of infantile sexuality and intrapsychic conflict. The psychoanalyst in that book, Inspector Porfiry Petrovich, coaxed Rodian Rashkolnakov into confessing his crime by painstakingly reconstructing Rashkolnakov’s personality formation and his inner motives. The interaction between Petrovich and Rashkolnakov forged a bond that was sheer music. How ironic: Petrovich’s speeches to Rashkolnakov, as sly and humorous as they were lyric, underscored the power of human interaction. I began to see it everywhere: in my life and in my work.

In 2006, on the plane home from my 25th wedding anniversary in Bordeaux I read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road—I keep the book on my writing desk for inspiration. Kerouac’s road to self-discovery took him through seedy bars and bus stations into a drug culture that ultimately killed him and destroyed his brain. That may have been his road but it definitely was not mine.

Midway across the ocean on the flight home I began scribbling down thoughts and ideas for articles about psychological topics I wanted to publish for the public. Had she been alive, I would’ve called my mother when we arrived home safely to say I finally found something I wanted to write about.

Not long thereafter, Victoria Schone and Jonas Speller were born. The idea for the book started with an affirmation about the potential of relationships to change the trajectory of the protagonists’ lives. Every honest writer will tell you that every book he writes is a book about himself, so it should come as no surprise that Victoria and Jonas are different aspects of myself.

I had been troubled by many of the portrayals of psychiatrists in books, movies, and television, so I wanted to try to present psychiatrists and psychologists as ethically responsible and accessible human beings. It is important not only to destigmatize mental illness, but also to destigmatize mental illness therapy.

In many ways Jonas is the me I wished to have been in my younger life, and Victoria is the more feminine side of me, analogous to Dickens’s Bleak House’s protagonist Esther Summerson, the author’s feminine alter ego. The Victoria of Intensive Therapy: A Novel searches for her identity amidst a storm of conflicting emotions. The Esthers of today are strong and caring women seeking to integrate career, motherhood, and relationships amidst the storm of conflicting demands.

Another thing that I want readers to appreciate: In addition to the protagonists Jonas and Victoria, Intensive Therapy: A Novel is my love story about Philadelphia, a place where I spent many years of my formative life. Although I haven’t lived there for several decades, I cherish my Philadelphian memories, for it is the place where I became a man.

Happy to say, books aren’t going away anytime soon, which is a very good thing. I want to share the joy of creating and writing stories that hopefully move men’s souls and join the generations of those who have come before and will continue long after this storyteller is gone.

I hope readers come to love the Chapter One blog as much as I will enjoy writing it. If it works as I hope, Chapter One will be much more than Jeffrey Deitz telling you what’s on his mind. It will be about the readership sharing their thoughts and feelings about what they’ve read and what they think. In the comments section, please bring up the subject you’re interested in and we’ll see if we can address them in upcoming posts.