Friday, May 10, 2019

Blog Tour: Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley by Carol Es


Author: Carol Es
Publisher: Desert Dog Books
Pages: 356
Genre: Memoir/Biography

Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley is a guided tour through a Tilt-A-Whirl life that takes so many turns that you may find yourself looking up from the pages and wondering how the hell one person managed to fit them all into 40-odd years. And many of them are odd years indeed. From a rootless, abusive childhood and mental illness through serious and successful careers in music and art, much of which were achieved while being involved in a notoriously destructive mind-control cult. Carol Es presents her story straight up. No padding, no parachute, no dancing around the hard stuff. Through the darkness, she somehow finds a glimmer of light by looking the big bad wolf straight in the eye, and it is liberating. When you dare to deal with truth, you are free. Free to find the humor that is just underneath everything and the joy that comes with taking the bumpy ride.

Illustrated with original sketches throughout, Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley is not just another survivor’s tale, it’s a creative perspective through moments of vulnerability where the most raw and intimate revelations are laid bare. As an artist and a woman finding self-worth, it’s truly a courageous, relatable story that will keep you engaged to the very end.



Too bad I’d just finished restoring my 1970, racing-green Volkswagen Karmann Ghia to its original, stock condition, because that car accident I wasn’t a little fender-bender. I was knocked unconscious, and the car was totaled. It looked like an accordion. You can’t drive an accordion. Since it wasn’t my fault, at least I got a decent settlement. But I don’t think I cared about having a big wad of money, or even mustering the wherewithal to set myself free of the shoe garden. Aric was gone and losing him made my heart ache like nothing I’d ever felt before. I was in pain every which way.
The days floated through me, and I through them; seemingly moving in slow motion, or in every other frame of a motion picture. Some other me found an apartment in Van Nuys—a two-bedroom, mid-century triplex on Tilden Avenue. I had enough money to live there without working for months, and eventually to furnish it. These are things I’d normally be happy about, but I felt nothing. Isolated, I crept about the empty apartment like a ghost, passed through Jell-O walls, west of Woodman.
While the apartment came to me on the cheap, the money would run out eventually. The place formerly belonged to Royce, the guitar player of my band at the time. He moved to the apartment underneath, and the landlord let me in on the same low rent. We rehearsed in one of the garages that came with our apartments. A sweet deal. Our bass player, Camacho, used to jam with my brother. Royce and Camacho were both special and skilled musicians, and especially original. Our band, The Column, had its own sound, southwest-funk, or a “swampy R&B.” Our music motivated me to stop drinking for a while.
When I had to start working again, I found a job at Moorpark Pharmacy in Studio City, a family-owned business. I worked behind the film counter selling greeting cards and knickknacks. The location brought regular celebrities in, and I had a little rapport with Natalie Cole, Billy Barty, and a couple others. I used to play a game with the stocking guys and guess what types of medications different customers were picking up. We’d goof around as much as possible. It wasn’t a job with much potential, but that was okay with me. I enjoyed it. I only wanted to stay away from my parents and stop working for my dad, if possible. That was difficult. He paid under the table. Always a dangling cash carrot. If I really wanted to build a life away from them, I had to work elsewhere for less money.
The pharmacy didn’t pay great. I needed to find a roommate for the other bedroom, a good match came in my drummer friend Thad. It was Thad, along with his girlfriend, Tanya, who really helped me make the difficult break from Raven, before I moved back to my parents’ house. Tanya, in particular, tried pulling me back on lines into the org. Though I had a bad taste in my mouth since the auditing I’d done with Vicky at the Advanced Org—considering how grim things were for me at the time—taking Scientology courses to improve my life was not off the table for me anymore.
Thad, my drummer brother from another mother, was a perfect fit for the Tilden Avenue place. He had to leave CC anyway; it was time for the big renovation there. Everybody out! The timing couldn’t have been better. We’d stay up and talk drums for hours. I always loved that he respected me as a musician, not simply Raven’s protégé. Tanya came over on the weekends. She was sweet, and someone to whom I could relate. The two seemed happy together. Both of them were raised in a Scientology family like many other young Scientologists that Vicky introduced me to. Once those two became more prevalent in my life, so did more Scientologists: Tanya’s group of friends and Thad’s musician friends, etc. They all seemed to have their shit together. Their families too. They seemed sane compared to my family, though anyone’s would. The desire to better oneself began to rub off on me, and there was no doubt I needed and wanted control over my life. Haunted by death and failed relationships, losing my brother to drug addiction, a job with no true future, I started gravitating back to the idea of officially practicing Scientology. Maybe it would help.
The transition began with Tanya becoming my FSM (Field Staff Member). These are Scientologists who try to get new or fallen people into the Church and onto their next service. They are akin to sponsors, only they get a 10 percent commission on everything you do in Scientology for the rest of your days. I do not believe Tanya’s purpose was financially motivated, but what do I know? She seemed to care. She came over after work nearly every day, and we used Scientology books and techniques. We mostly used the Ethics Book. Of all of them, it has the most tangible and applicable exercises. Working with her, I climbed out of a dark place and gained some self-respect. I saw that being an enemy to myself wasn’t getting me anywhere. The information in this book actually helped me, and it would later become my go-to book for solving just about every problem I had.
During the first couple of months we hung out, Tanya also brought with her the Scientology community newspaper, Needs and Wants. It mostly listed classifieds, and she encouraged me to find a better job. In fact, she sort of pointed out that I might have been contributing to the country’s drug consumption problem by working at a pharmacy, which distributes sinful psychiatric drugs. This set off alarms in my mind. Not because it sounded like her views were kooky, but because I believed that psychiatric drugs were bad. By then, I blamed psychiatry and the pharmaceutical companies for ruining my mother and taking her from my childhood. I also blamed them for the underlying cause of Mike’s drug problems, since he’d been given Ritalin as a child. I’d read in one of the Scientology magazines (Advance!, Celebrity, Freewinds, Impact, etc.) that drug addiction and having been prescribed Ritalin were related. I blamed any and all of these medications for most of the world’s evils.
Hubbard felt that people with “psych” histories were ruined beyond repair. While you train to be an auditor, you view scores of technical films, most of which are propaganda about how dangerous psychiatry is: 1950s-style reenactments of crazy, high-voltage, electroshock treatments performed on patients screaming for their lives. Time and time again I saw people over-drugged and drooling in dirty gutters, lobotomies performed with ice picks, and illustrations of inhuman practices used in the beginnings of psychiatry by uneducated “doctors” who didn’t know what they were doing. This would scare the shit out of anyone. These films make the whole psychiatric field look barbaric.
According to Hubbard, and Scientologists worldwide, psychiatrists are wicked beings who have been trying to ruin thetans for trillions of years. Most of the Scientology community are terrified of psychiatry on a very visceral level. They’re portrayed with the power of darkness equal to that of the Devil himself. I was petrified of being in a room with even a social worker, because they train in the world of psychology, which is essentially the same thing. I didn’t want to be affiliated to it in any way and definitely didn’t want to contribute to it. In my mind, I had to quit my pharmacy job immediately.
As Tanya kept bringing me different issues of Needs and Wants, I saw an ad that stood out every time I came across it. Save people’s lives! Help them recover from drugs and alcohol. These words really appealed to me. I thought, If I can’t get my own brother off drugs, maybe I can get a hundred other people off them. I wanted to feel useful and have a purpose, as I’d always felt useless. After some thought, mixed with a dash of desperation, I called the Narconon Rehabilitation Center.


Self-taught artist, writer and musician, Carol Es is known primarily for creating personal narratives within a wide spectrum of media. A native Los Angelina, she often uses past experience as fuel for her subject matter.  Writing on art, her articles have appeared in Huffington Post, Whitehot Magazine, and Coagula Art Journal; her prose published with small presses — Bottle of Smoke Press, Islands Fold, and Chance Press among them. Additionally, she makes handmade Artist’s books which have been acquired for such collections as the Getty and the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Carol is a two-time recipient of the ARC Grant from the Durfee Foundation, the Pollock-Krasner, and a Wynn Newhouse Award for her art. She’s also earned grants from Asylum Arts and the National Arts and Disability Center/California Arts Council for writing. In 2019, she won the Bruce Geller Memorial Prize (WORD Grant) from the American Jewish University.


Author Interview

Please tell us a little about yourself.

There are times when I do like to talk about myself, but I’m also known to be very shy. I have bipolar and dissociative disorder, so my moods are tricky. I stay focused on making art, writing, or any project that keeps my mind distracted or I feel I may get too out of control (manic), or too depressive.

I was a professional drummer all through my 20s, or about 15 years. I think the physicality of playing helped me to release a lot of the inner pain of my past experiences. I also had a lot of great experiences with my band, as we played every place on Planet Earth and it was fun. Okay, maybe not the whole planet

Throughout half of my life, I was also involved as a member of the Church of Scientology, so that’s also part of my story. Leaving was difficult and confusing. It changed me in many ways. However, I still have the same off sense of humor I always did.

What are your hobbies/interests?


Books or movies – which do you prefer? Do you have a favorite?

I long time ago, I’d say books, but these days, I prefer a good documentary or movie because of the artistic use of visuals. But it has to be a really good movie or they’ll lose me.

If you could meet one famous person, past or present, who would it be and why?

Maybe Charles Bukowski. I’d just want to have a beer with him. If any wisdom came out of him, during the conversation, great—I’d cherish it. If not, I’d like to just be around him, shake his hand so I could be one more person he could forget about.

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?

Hmmm. Well, it’s not a secret to everyone, but I sort of identify a tad more male than female.

What inspired you to write Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley?

My whacky life, which I always knew was whacky even when I was a little kid. Despite all the tragedies I’d gone through, I thought my family in particular were hilarious (in a dysfunctional way of course). I know everyone’s family is dysfunctional in their own way, but mine reminded me of great movies like Where’s Papa or House of Yes: dark, sick people whom I loved and were stuck with. Also, I was very compelled to finally speak out about the cult.

What is your favorite part of the writing/publishing process?

The writing part.

What is your least favorite part of the writing/publishing process?

In publishing, there needs to be about 100 different eyes on your final manuscript in the editing and proofreading process (no, not your mom). This is after you have already edited it into a perfect story in the perfect order to the best of your ability. It should probably be beta-read by people you trust before you make final changes. Even once you get your galleys, you’ll find typos. The next version, more still! You can pay the most sought-after proofers and editors—there will still be errors! It will drive you crazy. Then there is the cover. You may go through that 100 times before it’s right. Then there’s promoting, the launch, the responding to every person that’s interested, because you have to build your reader base, and the list goes on. Some people might be exhausted before they ever get going. I know I am.

…not to discourage anyone. 😉

Mostly, you need to get your book READ and get as many reviews as humanly possible. Just do the best you can and keep trying. Don’t beat yourself up and try not to worry.

If you could thank one person who has inspired/helped you along this path, who would it be?

My boyfriend—the very talented writer, artist, podcaster, and most supportive person in my life, ever, Michael Phillips.

Any advice for aspiring authors?

Believe in yourself, because when no one else gets you, who else is going to?

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