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Bruce Hartman lives with his wife in Philadelphia. He has worked as a pianist, music teacher, bookseller and attorney and has been writing fiction for many years. His first novel, Perfectly Healthy Man Drops Dead, won the Salvo Press Mystery Novel Award and was published by Salvo Press in 2008. If all goes well, a steady stream of new books will be coming out over the next few years.
Welcome, Bruce. Please tell us about your current release.
The Rules of Dreaming is a literary mystery that takes place in and around the Palmer Institute, a private mental hospital in upstate New York. A beautiful opera singer who lived nearby hanged herself on the eve of her debut at the Met. Now, seven years later, strange things begin to happen:
The singer’s 21-year-old schizophrenic son, who has never had any musical training, sits down at the piano and plays a fiendishly difficult piece of classical music;
A beautiful graduate student, struggling with her thesis, suspects that her psychiatrist is ruled by the fantasies of a poet who’s been dead for two hundred years;
A young doctor’s life spins out of control as he falls under the spell of three irresistible women;
A blackmailer stumbles on an isolated town with more crimes on its conscience than he could have imagined...
Until all are enmeshed in a world of deception and delusion, of madness and ultimately of evil and death.
What inspired you to write this book?
Years ago I imagined a story about a patient in a mental hospital who sits down at the piano in the patient lounge and flawlessly plays a difficult piece of classical music. Although this usually requires years of instruction and practice, the patient’s psychiatrist discovers that he has no musical training or experience. So the question I started with is: Where did this music come from? Where does any music come from? Does music come to you as a kind of inspired madness, or does it come from outside the human mind?
The troubled graduate student, Nicole, is the female hero of the book. I identify with her intellectual preoccupations, her compassion for the schizophrenic twins, and the sense of bewilderment that leads her to play such a significant role in the story.
Here’s an excerpt about Nicole arriving back at her apartment after being discharged from the mental hospital, where she has spent two weeks after a brief mental breakdown:
Nicole had mixed feelings about going home after two weeks at the Institute. She occupied a dingy garret in a dark rambling house that had been converted to apartments, overseen by a nosy landlady named Mrs. Gruber who owned several cats but never seemed to feed them. One bright spot: the computer was still on, waiting faithfully for her return. The screen was blank but all she had to do was touch the space bar and a magic technicolor world rose up before her. Out of habit she opened her “Things To Do” folder. Most of it was out of date now—unminded reminders, dead deadlines, pointless appointments. With one sweep of the mouse she consigned the entire contents of the folder to the trash bin. It was a grand feeling, having nothing to do, but it was short lived. Now the computer stared at her with a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun. Tentatively she started typing:
Bread, milk, eggs, corn flakes.
Pick up dry cleaning.
Find a thesis topic.
Keep from going crazy.
Let’s put that one on top and keep it there. Thing To Do Numero Uno: Keep from going crazy. But how? Much as she liked Dr. Hoffmann, she wanted to accomplish that particular Thing To Do in her own way, without any help from the pharmaceutical industry. She reached in her purse and found the pills he’d given her, and without thinking very much about it she ran into the bathroom and flushed them down the toilet.
Now, she thought, I’m on my own.
What exciting story are you working on next?
My next book will be coming out this Fall. I’m putting the finishing touches on it right now.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I don’t know if I’ve ever actually considered myself a “writer.” I’ve been writing since I graduated from college. In the meantime I’ve had a few other careers that enabled me to raise a family and live a fairly normal life.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I am now writing full time. I can’t say that I get up very early in the morning or keep very regular writing hours, but since writing is my preferred activity I don’t have any trouble squeezing it in. I’m usually writing at the expense of all the other things I’m supposed to be doing.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
My only writing quirk is that I don’t have any. I’m a fast typist, so I like to work at a computer with a regular keyboard, not a laptop; I can’t stand the sound of ringing telephones, barking dogs or loud music, and I don’t like to be interrupted; I surround myself with dictionaries and other reference books and have papers piled up around me until it’s almost a fire hazard; I can’t do anything in the morning until I’ve had about four cups of coffee and sometimes I get so engrossed in my work that I sit in front of the computer for hours until I’m famished and barely able to stand up—but no, I don’t have any writing quirks.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I aspired to be a writer from an early age—I don’t know why; it certainly wasn’t anything my parents encouraged—but I knew nothing about what being a writer really entailed. I realized later that it’s a solitary activity, which can be depressing for a gregarious person like myself. So I’ve pursued a number of more social occupations and now I’m happy enough sitting at my desk writing. I have enough other things going on in my life to keep me from getting too lonely.
Thanks, Bruce. Readers, don't forget: Bruce will award a $50 Amazon or BN.com gift card (winner's choice) to one randomly drawn commenter. For a chance to win, leave a comment below. And to increase your chances of winning, visit other tour stops and leave comments there.