Skinner publishes first novelPublished 9:37pm Monday, January 14, 2013
Tim Skinner grew up in Niles, graduating from NHS in 1988, but now lives in Dowagiac, where he has taken appropriate steps to reside in the home of the Dogwood Fine Arts Festival with his wife, Stephanie.
He acted in four plays at Beckwith Theatre (a lawyer in Paul Pugh’s take on the House of David, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” “Inherit the Wind” and “Rest Assured”); wrote a two-act play about The Honeymooners cult, modernizing the 1950s sitcom starring Jackie Gleason, Art Carney and Audrey Meadows; and published his first novel, “Shades of Eva,” volume one in the Asylum Chronicles.
“Don’t ask me why I like grumpy old men like Ralph Kramden, Archie Bunker and Fred Flintstone,” he said. “It’s set in modern times. The Honeymooners is a secret order a million have joined. When you join this underground society, you assume the role of a character, so you have Ralph Kramden 535 or Ed Norton 285. I have an affinity for the ‘50s.”
His grandfather, Howard, was the first pastor of the former church which houses the Beckwith.
Skinner, 42, who has started a new radiology job with Lakeland, is also writing a prequel, “The Emerald City,” as in L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” published in 1900, and “Xenos,” Christian science fiction.
Baum has written 13 sequels. His works foretold television, laptops, wireless telephones and ubiquitous advertising on clothing.
Many interpret Baum’s Oz novel as an extended 1890s political allegory.
Baum, in Dakota at the time, “is kind of a sunny character. He wanted to take scary scarecrows, take the fear out and make them fun and friendly. I want to pit him against the 1890’s most notorious serial killer. The world’s fair was going on in 1893, which brought Baum to Chicago. The theory is when he saw the skyline, it looked like emeralds.”
When Skinner began “Shades of Eva” eight years ago, he meant to write a memoir about his mother, who died when he was 16.
His parents met in an asylum. His mother was institutionalized in Kalamazoo for four years, ages 17 to 21.
“Shades of Eva,” set at Coastal State Asylum for the Insane, though the cover was photographed in Wales, is available exclusively in Amazon’s eBooks collection.
According to its synopsis, Mitchell Rennix is an alcoholic drifter running from a troubled past, confronted by a Gulf War veteran turned private investigator.
Amelia Hawkins claims to have information about Mitchell’s missing brother and a rape Mitchell’s mother (Eva McGinnis) may have suffered as a teenager institutionalized at Coastal State.
Faced with the possibility of locating his missing brother and understanding reasons why his mother was committed, Mitchell reluctantly agrees to return home.
But as Mitchell moves deeper into the mystery surrounding his mother’s past, which involves infiltrating the asylum where she once resided and meeting his mother’s first love, characters are inevitably forced to revisit a time best forgotten.
It is billed as a “mind-bending romp through the dark side of human curiosity and the lighter side of vengeance. Rich in sentiment, heavily laden with noir, this novel is an ode to our missing persons and those whose lives were cut short by mental illness, as well as to those of us grieving in the still of their collective absence. To our troops returning from the wars, ‘Shades of Eva’ is a welcome home. May we remember as much as we can. We owe that to those who can remember no more.”
“I’m pretty much self-taught,” Skinner said Friday. “I didn’t go to school for writing. I’m a drifter, educationally. I went to Albion College in 1989 and decided I didn’t like electrical engineering. I went to Southwestern Michigan College and graduated in 1997 with an associate degree, then went to Indiana University South Bend for two years and a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
“I was good at math,” he said, “and I finally found a class in 12th grade I liked” — physics.
Homesick, Skinner dropped out of Albion and “decided to wash cars for four or five years” for Schilling’s in Niles.
“I found out quickly I couldn’t write a novel,” Skinner said. “I wrote and rewrote this book three or four times, and it’s not anything like when I first began. I always did well in English, but I didn’t take any formal classes, I just became a student of the craft. I didn’t even read fiction until a few years ago. Everything I read had to do with academic psychology stuff, psychiatric texts or nonfiction biographies about people with personal issues. It turned into fiction for lack of information.”
As for veterans, “I don’t know any soldiers,” he said, “but I’m a big supporter of the troops. I needed to create a character who was an alter-ego to my other protagonist, somebody with determination and a strong sense of justice and commitment.
“The field I work in is somewhat of an institution. Since the age of 20, I’ve worked with adults and students with disabilities, emotional or physical, including autism. I was a teacher’s aide at Blossomland Learning Center for 15 years.”
Skinner tends to write at night around his three jobs, which also include being an X-ray technician in South Haven and work at a Niles group home.