Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Crazy Week

By Cornelia

Tomorrow is the official launch date for my second novel, The Crazy School. Somehow it seems fitting, in honor of this, that my phone line and DSL should go down. This happened early Sunday morning. It took me two separate hours on my cellphone to finally track down an actual person at AT&T to find out WHY I have no phone and no DSL, considering I just paid them $300 last week.

Mostly, it took this long because the people of Berkeley feel that cellphone towers will distort the harmonic convergence or something, so that the only place my cellphone doesn't work is at my house.
On the bright side, this is the first time I've been able to AFFORD a cellphone since my last one was stolen off the passenger seat of my former Porsche in 2001.

With my recent advance check, I bought myself an iPhone and a laptop. Maybe if I write about fifty more books, I will be able to replace the Porsche.

Here is my new motto now that I have a cellphone:


Even if it doesn't actually work at my house.

Right now, I'm sitting in my sister Freya's kitchen, since she has a working cable connection.

Here is what AT&T told me about why the phone lines don't work at my house:


I hate to point out the obvious, but it is now Wednesday morning.


Meanwhile, here is what my neighbor Steve told me is the actual problem, according to the AT&T repair dude he flagged down on the street near our mutual driveway:

Squirrels. And rain.

I think that's also who runs AT&T's customer service department.


My official book launch for The Crazy School is tomorrow. And the launch party will be at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California.

If you live in the Bay Area, please come out and hang with me and my mom and my sister for the event--it will be at seven o'clock this Friday evening, with a follow up at Diesel Books on College Avenue in Oakland, Sunday at 3 p.m. Full details are on my website at (if you would like a signed copy of the book and DON'T live in the Bay Area, I've provided contact info for the stores through which you can order a copy for me to sign there).

The nicest thing about this book coming out has been the responses from former students at the REAL Crazy School, a supposedly "therapeutic" place called DeSisto in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

I think that campus was the closest I have ever come to facing down pure evil, in the form of a man named A. Michael DeSisto, the school's founder.

The real-life school was at long last shut down by the state of Massachusetts a couple of years ago, after Michael's death. One of the reasons they finally decided to revoke the school's license was that when a female student swallowed razor blades, the staff waited ninety minutes before they called an ambulance, in the hopes they'd be able to cover it up.

That sounds like a typical morning, there, to me.

Here is the official jacket-copy description of The Crazy School:

Madeline Dare has at last escaped rust-belt Syracuse, New York for the lush Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts. After her husband's job offer falls through, Maddie signs on as a teacher at the Santangelo Academy, a boarding school for disturbed teenagers.

Behind the academny's ornate gates, she discovers a disorienting world in which students and teachers alike must submit to the founder's bizarre therapeutic regimen. But when Maddie questions his methods, she's appalled to find her fellow teachers more likely to turn on one another than stand up for themselves, much less the students in their care.

A chilling event confirms Maddie's worst suspicions, leading her to suspect an even darker secret, one that lies at the academy's very heart. Cut off from the outside world, Maddie must join forces with a small band of the school's most violently rebellious students--kids who, despite their troubled grip on reality, may well prove to be her only chance of survival.

I've often said that what drives me to write an entire novel is finding a topic that REALLY pisses me off. The DeSisto School pissed me off more than just about anything I've ever run across, with the possible exception of the Holocaust and Bruno Bettelheim. Which is saying something.

Here is the lead photo of Michael DeSisto from a 1980 People magazine profile of him, though I have to say it looks more like a commemorative poster from a NAMBLA convention.

I guess nobody had heard of pedophiles in 1980. Or something.

Here's a little sample of what I wrote about his alter-ego, David Santangelo:

Fuck Freud.

Fuck Jung.

Fuck Werner Erhard, and his little dog too.

Santangelo was just the latest charlatan to wrap himself in their
snake-oily mantle of overpriced navel-gazing hooey....

The shithead. The fat greasy weasel. The smug nasty pompous low-rent-lumpen Tennessee-Williams-Big-Daddy suckbag of a potentate.

O, the mendacity!

The book is dedicated to all the kids who were students there. I hope they enjoy reading it, or at least think parts of it are funny.

The last chapter is my favorite. As I pledged in these pages during the first year of Naked Authors, the final word of the novel is "Fuck."

Since one of the many rules of the DeSisto campus was that pretty much the ONLY word we were not allowed to say was fuck, this seemed deeply appropriate. Also, it made me laugh.

And just in case there's an afterlife, here's a message for A. Michael DeSisto, wherever he may be:


  1. Right on!

    Congrats on the book--will pick it up at Mysteries to Die For today.

    Have a good tour.

  2. YAY Tom!!! THANK YOU !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Desist-O.

    You just can't make up a name like that.

  4. "Cease and..."

    I hope you have a great time at M is for Mystery on Friday, Louise!

  5. Yay, Cornelia! I'm so pleased for you!


  6. P.S. The bit you quoted from the book is one of my all time favorite literary passages.

    "The smug nasty pompous low-rent-lumpen Tennessee-Williams-Big-Daddy suckbag of a potentate." It just makes me smirk with glee ;-)

  7. Hey Miss C., congratulations on your big day and big book - and a launch party at Book Passage couldn't be more perfect (I don't think I have ever had a launch party, to tell you the truth - I'm clearly missing something!).

  8. Good luck, Cornelia.
    The book will kill.


  9. The AT&T response gets the first 2008 nomination in my ongoing search for "customer eervice rep of the year". The 2007 search brought the person at gamehouse who, when i said that i tried downloading a game 3 times and it had problems, did not load properly so i could not play the 1 hour trial game, suggested i buy the game. That apparently would fix things. "We don't know but it will be fixed" is pretty much the equivalent, innit?

    The best customer service rep I knew was Douglas, bless him, who quit my ISP and I have so not forgiven him. It was Douglas who once explained to me that a problem was caused by "evil monkeys in the server". And i believed him. They are apparently somewhere down the coast, training the squirrels. Be afraid, be very afraid.

    Send me your cellphone number, doofus! Not that i sent you mine but a) my cellphone is NEVER on because I don't use it for incoming calls in part a, sub 1) because calls all go directly to voice mail and we don't know why. Three people tried to fix this during LCC last year when I realized someone had called me and the thing WAS on and I never heard the ring. It never rings BUT b) because it's a CT area code (mom bought me the phone) and I've only ever gotten wrong numbers - including a wrong text msg last week - when it's on. I didn't even know I could GET text messages.

    I SO love that you and Louise have release dates in the same damn week and JESUS I'm counting the days til you're here.

  10. My phone doesn't work at my parents' house in Berkeley either, though I think that has more to do with the giant steel tank in the hill than the local brand of fuzzy thinking.

    Looking forward to the launch party! Who's bringing the ferrets?

  11. Can hardly wait to get my copy of CRAZY SCHOOL. Wish the launch party was a little closer. I'd be there in a heartbeat. Congrats and hope you sell millions!

  12. I think Mom is bringing the ferrets. In cream sauce.

    STILL no phone!!!!


  13. what, no cajun spice ferrets? What kind of signing IS this? Sheesh....

    cream sauce. Ferrets alfredo is SO last year.

    I'm wondering about Daisy mentioning "fuzzy thinking" and then "ferrets". Think there's a connection?

    "We don't care, we don't have to, we're the phone company."

    I had the bumper sticker; story went that someone else bought a bunch of them snuck into the lot and stuck them on the bumpers of phone company trucks (of whatever the bay area phone co was called) back when.


    Kind of begs the questions "If they don't know what's wrong, how the bloody fucking hell do they know it'll be fixed by a certain time?"

    It's yet another case of goddamn callcentre butt-monkeys pulling responses from their nether regions.

    On a much cheeier note: have yourself a bloody good tour Cornelia... NO PUKING THIS TIME! There are big things ahead for you, mate!!!!

  15. Isn't your sister bringing the know...ferrets ala Freya. A HUGE congratulations to you, Miss C.

  16. Intriguing set-up.

    Can't wait to read it!


    That saying is right up there with our favourite line from the last Godzilla movie: "We escaped somehow!"

    COngratulations Miss C.!! Equally on your passion, as well as your literary success. Have great fun and lots of Dark and Stormies...

    And watch out for squirrel infiltrators!!! Banzai!!


  18. Corniela I can't wait to read the book. I spent (or wasted) 6 1/2 years at Desisto, not by choice. Amy

  19. Amy, you deserve a medal for making it through that long! And some champagne, too. That place still haunts me, and I was only a teacher. I'm incredibly proud of the kids who survived it, and I want to honor the memory of all those who didn't.


  20. Dearest Evil Twin- ;-)
    I've said it before, and I will say it again... you will never suck at life. You kick it's ass. I'm so happy for you. I hope this book lands with a resounding *kAbLaM* atop the bestsellers list. For whatever it's worth, I'm going to just go ahead and tell everyone it's "the must read of 2008."
    ~ G

    PS. maybe with the money from the sales of the book you can buy some Lysol for your kitchen sink?

  21. Doll I can't wait to read your book -- I live in the idyllic Berkshires! The Desisto School just closed, if'n I recall correctly, I believe because he died, right? That is ONE scary picture, yikes!

  22. Hooray! Just in time to relieve those nasty post-holiday blues...CRAZY SCHOOL!'s not a comedy?! Where's my light 'n fluffy?!

    I've heard nothing but good stuff from the lucky bastards who've already read the book. Good on ya Queen C.!

  23. Oops.

    I'll be at M is for Mystery on Sunday, my dear, not Friday.

    On Friday, I'll be at Book Passage to celebrate the launch of THE CRAZY SCHOOL!

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  25. Rebecca, DeSisto died about four years ago, I think, and the school kept going for another two. Then there were rumors that they were going to reopen it in Mexico. I hope to hell that NEVER happens.

    Angie, there's some comedy. Mostly there's swearing. And the ending is kind of cool, I think.


    You guys have to buy Louise's new book, it's fantastic!!!!!!!!

  26. Can't wait to read it, Cornelia! Congrats, congrats.

    Damn, that photo of Johnny rocks.

  27. congratulations!!!! i am so thrilled for you!!! and there at book passages in spirit! and clearly the photo of desisto with his adoring acolytes is a portrait of people who all just drank the kool-aid.

  28. You, my dear, when it is your time to move on, will go directly to heaven and have Porches and Champagne and whatever else you might desire! Thank you for giving a hearty "Fuck You" to the eminently deserving shithead wh ran the real Crazy School....

  29. So CLEARLY there will be a reading here, no???

  30. For all who are responsible to be responsible: buy and read this book!
    I was fortunate enough to attend The DeSisto School in West Stockbridge, MA, next to Tanglewood, in the late 1970s and early 1980s before it truly became The Crazy School. Cornelia Read's detailed account of how it was for a teacher was not privy to most students there, and thus fascinating to learn about. Accurate down to the minutiae, Read satisfies us all--alums as well as educators--curious to reminisce with out-loud laughter, and probably some tears as well. The lingo, the rituals, and the worship have been craftily woven into another Dare-ing mystery. Every chapter's end leads to unexpected winding turns, much like Route 183 itself. And Read's hipster voice lends a breezy coolness and vivid color--crisp as the air in the Fall and Winter of the Berkshires Mountains.

  31. Miss Cornelia
    Finally - I have the book. Now to read. I am up to my ass in tax forms so I will wait for my spa weekend in Norwich, CT next month- close enough to Suckbridge, MA.
    I can't wait, a fat glass of Sharaz, getting my feet massaged with honey and oil and reading The Crazy School. Such fuckery ~ Sounds like party! Thank you for publishing your work. Peace, A DeSisto survivor.

  32. I worked at the school until the late winter 2003 then eveyone was laid off. then the school closed. my impression of the school was good. i never met michael desisto. but you all will be please to know the school sits there rotting. it's closed and done with. my suggestion before you go on with speculation in regards to the girl who ate razors that was not true. she was a disturbed student with borderline personality disorder. she did not belong their at all. she was a self-abuser and staff was with her at all times. If you want to talk about crazy schools look at valleyhead school and kolburne school. i thought desisto school was a unique program. their are websites saying it was a cult and these kids talk about how terrible it was. in my six months their i just didn't see that at all. their therapy and clinical staff were part of the lamiraposa group. all of the teahers and staff were great. please e-mail me at . i guess i am just one of the few out there who thought the school was excellent.

  33. Both my sister and I went to Desisto in the late 70's and early 80's.We are both doing well but know many students who have not made it.I knew Micheal well, he was never inapropriate with me but I did see some weird things.I thought you would like to know that I told him of several ocasions to " Fuck off" right to his face.

    I live out of the country but can't wait to read your book.

  34. ah detesto, I hope satan is butfucking the magnificant micheal in the after life, i plan on picking up your copy of the book this weekend at borders im sure mom and i will have a few laughs.
    Thank you.

  35. so whens the tv series coming out
    tee hee.
    I survived desisto barely.

  36. I am having real PTSD symptoms from that school still. I am looking for a support network. Any ideas?

  37. I had the pleasure and the honor to work at the DeSisto School from 2000 to the very last day it closed. It was amazing to see the growth and change in so many kids: and a lot of those kids now are successful in their own lives. I do know that there were many who hated the school, but there are hundreds whose lives were saved.
    I am going to buy your book just to see your prospective.

  38. Oh by the way, why are all the DeSisto haters nothing but lazy pot-heads who sit around crying about the school while the ones who chose to get something out of it are still going strong....

  39. I'm sick and tired about my amazing educational experience not being counted in the "real world" because it doesn't have enough sense to look below the surface. You and your superficial "play-depthness" can go get into your porsche and drive off a cliff for all I care because you disrespect the work that we all did there.

  40. Amazing how the DeSisto apologists always seem to be anonymous. Chacun a son gout.

  41. Cornelia... They're not anonymous, they're just one of a handful of former staff members that LOVED finally being in charge of kids due to their lack of authority growing up. More than a few former staff members were living out some twisted "after school special" kind of dream where they were no longer the kid that was picked on/teased/taunted/given swirlys to, and TDS finally provided a vehicle for them to relive HS and be the BMOC (or BWOC). I say just go ahead and feel sorry for them. Anyone that thinks the majority of former students (i.e "DeSisto haters") are "lazy pot-heads who sit around crying about the school while the ones who chose to get something out of it are still going strong" clearly doesn't know that many former students. *shrug*

  42. Yeah, what Gillian said. Neener neener.