Publisher: Hamilton Stone Editions
Release Date: September 2, 2019 (revised edition; first U.S. edition)
Format: PaperbackISBN-13: 9780990376705
What happens behind closed doors comes into the light
A young woman’s coming-of-age story set against a backdrop of mystery and fanaticism
It's the summer of 1964 and the Supremes are the reigning queens of radio. Sheryl-Anne MacRae dreams of running away from her home on an apple orchard in southwestern Ontario to find her missing mother. But the teenager's plans are put on hold when her uncle and guardian, Fergus, the local pharmacist and an amateur photographer, brings home a handsome young hitchhiker.
When Sheryl-Anne meets the guitar-toting Peter Lucas Angelo, she falls in love. But life in Eden Valley is not as idyllic as it seems. As the summer progresses, Peter is pulled deeper into Fergus' dangerous underworld – a world of sex, drugs, pornography and apocalyptic visions.
Through the naïve eyes of the ethereal 14-year old Sheryl-Anne, Kelly Watt explores themes of child abuse and sexual deviance, and the secrets, dissociation and denial that allow it to flourish.
A gothic tale told in vivid, often hallucinogenic prose, Mad Dog was a 2001 Globe and Mail notable book and Watt's first novel. The book has been republished with a U.S. publisher (an updated edition).
This is a very appropriate book for resent times; especially with the #metoo campaign. I thought author, Kelly Watt did a wonderful job of showing physical, emotional, and mental abuse but in a "classy" way. What I mean by this is that there abuse was not given with tons of details as to be a major turn off.
I related to Sheryl in this book. I really felt so bad for her. Her innocence was lost and she was forced to grow up faster than she should have had to. However, I do believe that Sheryl came out stronger and a bit wiser from this horrible ordeal that she experienced.
This book does show that abuse is closer than people like to acknowledge. It sadly comes from family members or those close to others. Yet, with the #metoo campaign and books like this; I think that victims of abuse will come to realize that they are not alone and don't have to stay silent anymore.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kelly Watt’s award-winning short stories have been anthologized, published internationally and longlisted for the prestigious CBC Radio’s Short Fiction Contest twice (2017/2015). She is the author of two books—the travel companion Camino Meditations (2014), and the gothic novel Mad Dog
(2019). Watt lives in the Ontario countryside with her husband, a miniature schnauzer and three diligent chickens.
Author’s Website: www.kellywatt.ca
Author’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kelly.watt.12
Author’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/kellywattauthor
Author’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kellywattauthor/
Author’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kelly-watt-89b82a16/
By Kelly Watt
- Mad Dog tells the story of a young girl experiencing very traumatic events. What inspired you to write this story?
In my late-twenties and early thirties, I went into therapy after years of struggling with insomnia, depression, and anxiety. I ended up spending six years experiencing terrible flashbacks of abuse I’d suffered as a child while living in various boarding and foster homes. One of the ways I kept sane was to journal. I felt that if I could write one sentence a day then I would be okay. I began journaling, and the writing started spiralling off into stories. Mad Dog started as a story, but it just kept getting longer and longer until I had to admit I was writing a novel.
While in therapy, I had a flashback that really haunted me about a troubled young man. I was trying to figure out why this teenager voluntarily hung around this abusive group of men. He was being sexually abused by one of the men and they were taking pornographic photographs of him.
I posed myself a question: why would a boy be lured by these men? What would be the appeal? What would he be fleeing, what were his vulnerabilities and how would the perpetrator convince him to stay? I wrote the book to answer those questions for myself.
There wasn’t much known about grooming or the tactics of predators or pedophiles in those days, so I just posed the question, “why?” And wrote a book about it. I was trying to come to terms with my own violent childhood, much of which remained opaque and inexplicable to me at first. I was trying to understand what kind of people would behave in such a predatory way and why.
- Are any of the experiences of the main character pulled from your own life?
Yes, some of the experiences in the book have been pulled from my own life. Others are fictionalized. A book becomes its own creature after a while.
Sheryl-Anne’s whole desire in life is to reunite with her mother, and that was mine too. I lived apart from my mother off and on from age 2-11. I spent my early days feeling abandoned and longing to be united with her. I was also abused and manipulated in some of the ways Sheryl is in the book and had total amnesia about it for many years, as Sheryl does.
- What other personal experiences did you want to explore in this novel?
I wanted to write about dissociation, denial and amnesia – that process of burying what’s painful. Of being half alive or sleepwalking through life, because of trauma and fear. Due to my own trauma, I felt that I was awakening from a deep drug-induced sleep or hypnosis.
All my life I had felt tormented, and I hadn’t known why. I would say to my therapist over and over that there was something I wasn’t remembering…but I couldn’t finish the sentence. Then the truth of my childhood came to the surface. And it was horrific. It was a huge shock that led me to question everything. Suddenly I was aware of the unfairness in the world, the way certain powerful men got away with abusing their power, how secrets are held and enforced.
My awakening was at a much later age, but I wanted my character, Sheryl-Anne, to have her awakening as a young woman, so that she could know and escape.
- This novel was originally published in 2001. Why release a revised edition now?
Mad Dog was originally launched on September 13, 2001. My beloved stepfather died on September 4, and of course then there was 9/11. So, what I anticipated as being one of the greatest times of my life, became the worst.
I also felt that it was too soon. People were still uncomfortable with the subject matter at that time. I had people say to me that child pornography was just a rumour and grossly exaggerated. The internet wasn’t flourishing yet, so people were still very naïve about child sexual abuse and human trafficking, etc. I got involved with an independent press in the U.S., Hamilton Stone Editions, and they asked me to publish the book with them. I kept saying no, there were just too many painful memories around it. But as the #MeToo movement began and I realized people were more open to this topic now than 20 years ago, I relented.
- How does this story resonate in the current #MeToo era?
Society is finally accepting that sexual harassment and assault takes place, and in unprecedented numbers, and the public is finally supporting women who come forward. So, I think now people will finally understand that these same things happen to young girls and children, as in my novel.
- Mad Dog takes place in 1964. How different was that era for women and children who experienced sexual assault compared to today?
I picked that year because it was the pivotal year before the 50s became the 60s. When we talk of the 1960s, we are usually referring to that groovy time from 1965 onwards. Before that the staid, post-war 1950s were still the status quo. I wanted that conservatism, and the old boys club atmosphere that was rife in small towns at that time, as a backdrop to Sheryl’s discoveries.
When it came to my own research into the justice system, I found out that crimes committed are tried by the law of the time, no matter when you come forward. And in the 1960s there were no trafficking laws in Canada, no child pornography laws, only an obscenity law, and even that required a witness. I was told someone would have had to witness my rape for me to win in court. So you can imagine the likelihood of that. In most cases of rape the only other person present is the perpetrator, so you can surmise how many of those cases were ever solved in favour of the victim.
Basically, women and children were not protected under the law when it came to sexual violence. It didn’t exist in Canada. And still doesn’t in many places around the world.
Fortunately, #MeToo has kicked the door open. Whether the door stays open and women get to pass through it and receive justice and healing is another thing. Public opinion tends to swing like a pendulum and there can be a backlash.
- What kind of research did you do for this book?
I did quite a bit of research for the book. I didn’t grow up on an apple farm, for instance. I was a city kid who had spent time in a small town in the country, so I had to do a lot of research when it came to rural farming life. I liked the allegorical nature of apples, and so set the book on an apple orchard. I asked some very nice fruit farmers outside a northern town for their help, and I interviewed them and hung out and worked with them for a while during harvest season so that I could get a sense of rural life. I always felt a bit badly that the farmer characters in the book are such bad actors, because the people who let me hang out and learn about apples from them were truly wonderful people.
I also spoke with many other survivors of what we call ritualized abuse and torture, or intergenerational sex rings, and so I had a sense of the dynamics that occur in these sick pedophilic family groups, and their gang-like behaviour.
- Ultimately, what do you hope readers take away from your novel?
I want to raise awareness about these issues – about the prevalence of child sexual abuse and its long-term effects, and particularly the tactics that predators use to lure their victims. Although the book takes place many years ago, the techniques pedophiles and traffickers use then and now are essentially the same – the flattery, the stringing along, the promises, the offers of gifts, free drugs and alcohol and sex, all that is typical grooming behaviour. As parents we need to be aware of them.
One of the things that the recent case around Jeffrey Epstein has highlighted is how a predator can use other victims to lure new victims. Sadly, predators take advantage of our innocent assumptions, including that a woman wouldn’t help a predator, and yet there are many instances where that is not true. Predators often work in pairs. Even Weinstein had helpers. So did Epstein. That other woman in the car or the woman who invites you to the party, may also be a victim, may be programmed and manipulated, or just plain innocent of what’s about to take place. It’s so tragic.
So, the first step is to share and discuss these issues to get the information out there. I’ve added a reader’s discussion page at the back of my book, and I’ve been offering to do book clubs so that people can get together and discuss these issues, in a safe setting, either in person or by webinar, so that they have a forum to share their experiences.
I’ve also created a resource page with places to get help in the U.S. and Canada, as well as a list of social justice organizations like the one I used to volunteer for so people can access them. There are a lot of amazing resources out there now, but people need to be aware of them. I’ve started a weekly blog on some of these issues for the purposes of sharing info and related news events. You can find all this information on www.kellywatt.ca.
It’s secrecy that allows these crimes to flourish. If we want to keep our children safe from pedophiles and traffickers, then we need to be open and get the information out there.
- How where can readers purchase Mad Dog?
The new book is available on Amazon.com, both in paperback and Kindle and Smashwords.
- Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your journey?
First, I think that it’s important to be kind when people divulge their experiences of trauma and violence to you. It takes a lot of courage to come forward and it’s important that we allow people to speak their truth.
The second thing is that it takes years to heal, sometimes many, many years. I look like a normal person, but the truth is I have spent almost 30 years in therapy. I consider myself a fully recovered survivor, not a victim.
Lastly, no matter what has happened to you, you can heal. What the people of my generation did was learn and develop new modalities of healing, and they are available now. No matter how dark the present, there is hope for the future. The world is changing.
Outside, the sky was purple and the Hay moon hugged the horizon in a yellow haze, the way it did sometimes in July. The escarpment was midnight blue, the orchard serene, the trees hissing gently in the wind.
The porch was brightly lit, the whole family had come over for Sunday dinner as usual and they always retired to the porch afterwards in the good weather for drinks and dessert. The conversation rose in small waves, the laughter echoing in the yard, ice cubes in cocktail glasses clinking.
Sheryl sat on the porch steps beside Earl’s skinny wife April, who smiled and asked, How you doing, kid?
Earl was in the midst of a story they all knew well, a piece of oat grass between his teeth, the end fluttering in the air.
Fergus was picking one day, Earl laughed, father had sent him up into the higher branches because he was light and nimble and did a good set--that’s the way you set up your ladder against the tree there, Pete. And there he was like a bird way the hell up in God’s country, it was the close of a day and there’s good old dad below, always the slave driver, hollerin' up at him: Hurry it up, hurry it up, I don’t have all day. Yellin' at Fergus when he rushed and dropped an apple or two. And Lordy, wouldn’t you know it, on the horizon a storm starts brewing. Before you can say Jim Dandy, a wind comes up, and the sky is going all black and snarly, but before there’s a drop of rain and young Fergus can get himself finished and back down that ladder, a stick of lightning comes out of nowhere, and in a blinding flash it whacks the tree. Pop’s yellin' to beat the band, callin' for help, and Momma comes runnin' down from the main house, the tree is on fire and the wind is howlin' and her hair’s all over hell’s half-acre and she’s bawlin' her eyes out, thinks she’s done lost her favourite son. And here’s Fergus cool as a cucumber coming down the ladder step by step and when he gets to the bottom he turns to Dad with his basket proudly and says: Didn’t lose a one.
Here we thought he’d been hit, but the lightning never touched him.
Fergus sat quietly invincible, blue eyes beaming, long legs crossed, the cigarette going back and forth to his mouth, while all eyes turned to him in admiration.
Rubber boots, he laughed. I took it as a sign, he added mysteriously. I saw this blinding light, and at first I thought I’d died and gone to my maker. My life changed after that day. I always felt I was spared for a reason.
Sign? Sheryl said.
Amen, Earl said and his wife April echoed him. It was a thing they had started doing lately, ever since Peter arrived, saying Amen and Hallelujah like Fergus was a preacher or something, and they were all in church, but a church with guitars and cocktails and hootenannies out on the porch. Sheryl couldn’t tell if they were joking or they were suddenly crazy for God but something was different. It had all started when they had come back to live on the farm, and while Fergus didn’t have a job he had read a whole bunch of books, underlining and scribbling things in the margins and wandering the house saying, It’s all making sense now, like he was in a trance or something. All of a sudden he started having a lot of ideas and talking about the coming of the new world and things began to happen just like he said they would. He had gotten a job at the pharmacy and bought the dwarf trees and organized Eammon and the orchard and even helped Earl buy the abattoir, and there was money now for things there never had been before when Fergus was in school and they all lived in a little flat in Toronto. It was hard now even to remember the dark and dingy days when they’d camped in windowless rental apartments, had macaroni and cheese for dinner every night and Sheryl’s uncle had lain on the chesterfield for hours not talking.
The men sat on the porch now and yakked about how these were the good times, and they treated Fergus with the kind of respect you treat a doctor or a policeman. Fergus had always been the smart one, but now he seemed extra-special. Every day he was a bundle of energy and enthusiasm, and Sheryl was proud because he was like a father to her, the closest thing to a father she’d ever known.
What sign? Sheryl asked again, but nobody answered.
As I remember it, I still got a hiding for having taken so long, Fergus said.
You certainly had your share of beatings, Earl added, I don’t know why, but Lordy, papa sure had it in for you.
Peter looked over at Fergus wide-eyed, and Fergus smiled.
Builds character, he cackled.
Josh said, Okay Pete, watch, I’m Sheryl when she sees a bee. He leapt off the stairs, his hands flapping up and down at his sides, squealing in a silly girlish falsetto, Get it away from me, get it away, running in loopy circles on the grass.
They all laughed.
Drop dead, Sheryl said, hugging her knees.
A hand-rolled cigarette appeared out of nowhere. Fergus passed the reefer to Peter who looked nervous, but Fergus calmed him, saying, Don’t worry we’re all family here. We share everything.
Peter took a drag of the cigarette and exhaled.
I had a dream not long ago that I lay in a circle, Fergus said, a white circle. I lay naked on an altar, stark naked with incense burning and candles, and there was a blinding light from above, and I saw a goat and a lamb. Suddenly I knew that the true law is man’s will, what is evil often does good, and what is good sometimes turns for evil. And knowing this my heart opened, embracing everything, and I felt freed from all my hangups.
Fergus closed his eyes, and the porch was silent, all eyes watching him. Change is going to rise up like a great white dove and sweep the world. We’re in the final process. In preparation we need to let go of the old game and embrace one another like one big family, kiddo, one big tribe. God is the Great Mathematician, he said; he seemed to be addressing everyone but his eyes were on Peter’s.
In Genesis, God creates fruit after the land and sea but before the sun, the moon or Adam and Eve. Go forth, be fruitful and multiply, he tells us. The apple, malus domestica was in the beginning, in the garden of Eden. Why? Because the apple is the fruit of the gods, the nectar of Apollo and Aphrodite, and look at us—surrounded by apples for miles!