by Jenny E. Miller
June Foster’s summer is limping along. Her life on a 1950′s farm in eastern Washington is boring–full of milking cows, picking apricots and tending to the chicken coops. Her only friends are her record player and her books. But when gorgeous, turquoise-eyed Frank falls into her world, her life becomes anything but ordinary.
June falls for Frank hard and fast–he’s beautiful, impossibly strong, and capable of things ordinary humans are not. But she’s wary about his father Jonas, a creepy man with an agenda. She should be. Suddenly June is deathly ill, falling in and out of consciousness. When she recovers, June and Frank discover Jonas’s deadly plans for her–and June takes revenge.
Convicted of murder, declared insane and sentenced to life at Washington Pines Sanitarium, June is stuck. Jonas’s plans are reaching her beyond the grave, and she suspects that there’s a lot more going on in the sanitarium than group therapy and electric shocks. Something evil has followed her here, or maybe it was waiting for her all along. If Frank doesn’t break her out soon, she’ll lose her mind–and her life.
(What beauty liberties, if any, are allowed in the Asylum? What's a fashionista to do?)
In my new book Asylum, the main character is trapped in the loony bin for half the book, and for the other half she’s in 1950’s rural Washington. Why 1950’s? Well, the obvious is that mental health treatment was a little cruder in that day in age. It gave me a creepier setting. But the other reason—the main reason—was that I am drawn to the aesthetics of that time period.
Couches were divans, shoes were oxfords, wallets were pocketbooks and girls wore skirts instead of skinny jeans. There were no cell phones and cars had cooler names like Studebaker instead of Honda. My characters could say things like “swell” and “made in the shade.” I got to mention period TV shows like American Bandstand and The Twilight Zone. It was a fun world for my characters to inhabit.
In terms of fashion, the June Foster isn’t allowed much in the asylum. Most of the time she’s clad in a hospital-type gown. But those who surround her—nurses, doctors, etc.—are period specific. The nurses wear white pantyhose, starched white skirts and caps. The doctors wear white coats and tortoise-shell glasses. The other patients can wear clothes if their privileges haven’t been taken away, and they’re clad in blouses, skirts, and saddle shoes as they play Monopoly and chew Dubble Bubble.
Outside the asylum, however, was where fashion got fun. June is a tomboy, wearing overalls during chores, pants (gasp!) for errands. On her first date with her boyfriend Frank, she borrows a green dress from her mother’s closet that twirls like a whirlybird when she models it in the mirror. Frank comes in dashing in a leather jacket with the collar popped and faded jeans.
June’s mother Lorraine, however, is the real fashionista in the book. She convinced her boyfriend to convert the spare bathroom into her closet, and June marvels at her racks of dresses in every shade from smoke to scarlet. In one particular scene she wears a pink Chanel coat—something that a woman in podunk farmville shouldn’t be able to afford. Her wardrobe adds to the mystery of Lorraine. What does she need the fancy clothes for? Where does she get the money to buy them? What is she up to?
All in all, fashion and style played a big part in writing Asylum. It’s what made the setting fun, realistic and intriguing. Writing the sequels, I’m having even more fun doing research and looking at old photographs of the time period.
I hope you check out Asylum—it was a fun book to write, and even more fun to read. The characters are both smart and quirky, the plot is fast-paced and thrilling, and once you fall into this world where you can drive to the Piggly Wiggly in your Studebaker, you’ll never want to leave.
About the Author
Jenny Miller grew up in Seattle, writing sappy (illustrated!) novels for her obliging parents. She studied creative writing at the University of Washington and holds a Masters in Teaching from Seattle University. She still lives in the Emerald City with her husband, two kids, and a dog who thinks he’s a cat. ASYLUM is her first novel. You can find her at Jennyemiller.com and her food and humor blog RainyDayGal.com.
Sneak Peak of ASYLUM, by Jenny E. Miller, coming to Kindle March 25th
Those few moments of wringing my hands together in the Jeep felt like hours. I turned over every possible scenario in my head. Frank struck by a burning beam; Frank sunk in a burned-out floorboard; Frank gone forever before he even had the chance to take me to the movies. Just as I was picturing his faded jeans engulfed in flames, there he was, running out the front door carrying a mass of bodies. I counted four heads among the bobbing limbs. There was Bitsy and her husband Charles, one across each of Frank’s shoulders, and Dolly and Charles Jr, one cupped under each hulking arm like human footballs. I knew Frank was strong, but Jesus. He was running at an impossible pace down the porch steps and across the grass toward me. Sirens finally echoed across the pastures. Help was coming.
I jumped out of the Jeep as Frank dumped the Flannigans down on the grass.
Frank tackled me to the grass as the house exploded in a ball of flame, a monstrous boom announcing the house’s demise. The world went quiet, replaced by a loud ringing in my ears. Frank was on top of me, the weight of his body forcing me to pant for breath. All my lungs could come up with was smoke. Then I realized that it wasn’t just Frank’s weight that was crushing me—a giant piece of wood from the explosion had landed squarely across his back. It was on fire.
“Frank! Frank!” I hit his arm and screamed. At least I hoped I was screaming; without being able to hear there was no way to gauge the volume of my voice. “Frank!” I pounded his shoulder. He finally pushed himself up, dazed.
“Are you okay, June?” The fire from the beam had spread to his jacket.
“Your back! Your back!” I pointed. He peered over his shoulder and with one hand grabbed the giant beam, flinging it ten yards across the grass. He rose and casually slid off his flaming leather jacket as if it weren’t a thousand degrees and melting even as he pulled his arms from the sleeves. I laid on the grass staring in disbelief. He reached out a hand to help me up.
“Are you okay?”
“What?” He came close and spoke directly into my ringing ear.
“Are you okay, June?” I nodded.
Without another word he grabbed my hand and we were running back to the Jeep. Frank tossed me in the passenger seat, turned the ignition and we were off. I screamed words of protest (was I screaming? I was certainly trying), but he didn’t seem to hear or care. As we sped away I turned to see the kids attempting to sit up. That was a good sign. Charles was hunched over his wife’s body, shaking her. He looked like he was screaming. Bitsy didn’t move.
The Fire Department would be here soon and they would have questions. We had to stay. We had to help. But every objection seemed lost on Frank. The Jeep was already cutting out through the back pasture and bumping through the orchards.