|Computer technician Himal Steina realizes his dream of a mythic return to the sanctuary of a vast foggy university of Soul when he’s appointed writer in residence at the Soul Institute and falls in love with one of its numerous faculty goddesses, unaware that he’s blundering into a catastrophic jumble of power lust, romantic chaos, drug abuse, and gang violence.
Published by Sortmind Press
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At Moolka Waxtor’s farewell party in the English Department offices, Derrick Dexter recoils in dismay at their out of control lovemaking in a closet minutes earlier. How can he handle an affair with his flirty cousin? Should he try to escape the oppressive Soul Institute with her? How can he deal with his wife Jipo, TSI’s ruthless administrator? But Moolka, now fully in love with Derrick, tearfully declares she’s decided to stay at the Institute even as Director Alfred Burlcron hires a midlevel computer technician from Chicago, Himal Steina, to replace her as the writer in residence. Burlcron makes Himal one of the secret ruling caste of Overcrons, but Himal falls for Moolka and begins chronicling his feelings for her in the pornographic memoir TSI is committed to publish.
Blasted by days of inhalant highs, Burlcron’s fourteen-year-old son Mitar leads the Paint Sniffing Gang on a raid to vandalize the Institute’s library, then is dumbfounded when two gang members die huffing carburetor cleaner. When gang leader Angent Tunn runs afoul of the authorities, Mitar consolidates command of the gang and orders it to assault his own house. Police break up the attack, but Mitar and his girlfriend Rhea steal her father’s Cadillac and head to Mexico.
Solis Waxtor, Moolka’s father and Derrick’s uncle, lost five hundred million dollars turning the ancient Waxtor estate into a crackpot religious school; now, after years in exile in Africa as a soldier of fortune, Uncle Solis arrives in Linstar to help the college town prepare for National Soul Day. Neither Moolka nor Derrick have seen the vile old man in years, yet to their horror he guesses at their heretofore secret union at dinner. But by now both Derrick and Moolka have each betrayed each other, and Moolka graphically reveals to the entire restaurant that she and Himal are now lovers.
Yet when Moolka hears that Burlcron has hired the Kaiser Death Gang to protect his disintegrating kingdom, she plans an escape for herself and Derrick. As the Soul Institute confronts the wild inner forces it’s so piously sought to celebrate, National Soul Day is threatened by drug-addled teenagers armed with homemade explosives and illegal Chinese machine guns.
Maps and Charts
Background, and 2020 Update
The novel describes a chaotic November at the Soul Institute, a small Texas university founded on royalties from the Director’s bestselling novel. The Soul Institute came from my recurring dream of a return to Rice University–not the common anxiety dream about getting behind in classes, but the urge to explore some vast, stupendous, mystic Source, the Other World, the sanctuary of Himal Steina’s foggy university of Soul.
Several sets of characters build their own stories, all eventually interrelating:
- The TSI administrators and faculty pursuing complex, farcical love affairs, power struggles, and fantasy life in an attempt to ignore TSI’s increasingly hateful bureaucracy.
- The students who came to live the life of Soul as advertised in the TSI catalog and are dismayed to discover the underlying chaos.
- The ninth graders at Faller Junior High with their separate world of inhalant abuse and gang violence.
- Members of a past paradise, Waxtor Carnationist College in Chicago, with its deep genealogical ties to TSI. Considered by some to be merely a rough draft of the Soul Institute, for others Waxtor is the Other World they must return to.
The Soul Institute was the most problematic of my novels to write, but apparently needed to be. Not until the end of a second draft did a central emotional concept become clear. At times during the first five years of the novel I considered abandoning it, taking a years-long vacation from all writing, or abandoning writing entirely in favor of visual art. Throughout the overly long, 381,000-word first draft there was something frustratingly unfused even as some fascinating events and characters kept emerging. Finally in the last year of the first version (1998-1999) a major plot reorganization brought out a central vision based on those characters.
I printed a manuscript and considered the novel completed in December 1999, but I found I really didn’t know what to do with it, and it sat in a drawer for ten years as I concentrated on shorter works, figuring that the long novel couldn’t be published until after some shorter ones found an audience. I’d assumed that this novel was so well-done that it might just need a little light editing. So I was surprised to reread it in 2009 and find it needed a thorough revision.
And then I found it needed another revision in 2011, another in 2014, and yet another in 2015.
And then … another. In April 2020, five years after the novel’s initial 2015 publication , I reread my paperback copy and decided there were numerous punctuation issues, as well as a bit of dialog overkill, that slowed down or distracted the reader. So my flagship novel The Soul Institute has received a thorough copyediting and is in fact about 3,000 words shorter. Yet it’s the same novel; no scenes, characters, or plot have been changed. It’s much tighter and more forceful now and I’m extremely pleased with it. The updated version has been uploaded to all sales channels.
6. The Head Monk Is Thoroughly Charming
7. The JFK Assassination Librarian
8. In the Chapel
9. The First Party
10. Self-Circuit Test
11. Welcome to the Soul Institute’s Fall Play Web Page!
12. Getting Mystically Drunk Over a Map of Chicago
13. Cubic Miles of Buried Light = Darkness
14. Poison Laminate
15. Across the Fields With Sandra
16. Angent Tunn
17. Yet “Overcron” Soon Does Inspire Fear
18. All Holy Six Overcrons Need to Flow Together
19. The Slight to His Career and His Reaction
20. Administrator In Over His Head
21. Lisa’s Inner Life, or, Welcome to the Soul Institute’s Hall of Shame!
22. Hanging Numerous Paintings in a Space
23. Nada Crater
24. Sharing Secret Evil
26. Cheating at Solitaire
27. The Nude Debutante
28. New Members
29. In the Culvert
30. The Doomboat Tolls in the Harbor
31. The Slanted Mirror
32. Overcron Versus Doomboat–and Derrick’s Confession
33. The Power Books
34. Priest Monsters of Ortang
35. Problems of Photographic Exposure
36. The Remaining Sniggers
37. Fannin’s Other Studio
38. Building a Universe
39. The Ortang Lunch, or, Moolka Resists, But Abruptly Feels Sensual
41. Properly Exposed
42. Serious Crap that No Sane Person Wants to Think About
43. I Didn’t Expect … That
44. The Storm Sewer
45. There’s Never Enough Pain to Force Any Sort of Awareness
46. A Visit from Uncle Solis
47. Boots and Scars
48. The Blond Woman from His Dream
49. To Their Mutual Horror
50. National Soul Day is Coming!
51. The Crackadon
52. A Woman’s Voice
53. Betrayal of the Meticulous Plan
54. Two Cups
55. Every Bit of My Life Force
57. Where are the Puma Surgeons?
58. Asteroid Hospital
59. The Cruel Math of Freshman and Senior Girls
60. Can I Borrow Dorrington up in Friends?
61. Progress of the Non-Self
62. Mitar’s Call (Evidence of Treason File 1)
63. Miscarriage through The Cadillac is Gone
64. Deathometer Rising!
65. The Counter-Realization
66. Local Arrangements Committee (Evidence of Treason File 2)
67. Bureaucrats Stake Out Their Turf (Evidence of Treason File 3)
68. Hasslestorm! (Evidence of Treason File 4)
69. Stoned on the Way to the Command Post
70. She Admits She’s an Overcron
71. Who is the Real Mate?
72. That Moolka is a Force
73. The Chainsaw
74. I Have Never Given Up, But I Have Halted, Dazed and Confused, at Various Hazardous Intersections Where I Could Have Been Taken Out By Snipers
76. My Final Statements Concerning Librarianship: The Full Text of the Farewell Address, Complete and Uncensored
77. The Harvest of What’s Been Happening
78. The Thoughts of Stain Caruck
79. Gorgeous Mental Illness
80. The Sewer at Soul Hour
81. Liberation of the Themes
82. Welcome to The Soul Institute!
83. Welcome to The Soul Institute Again!
I found this fragment in old notes. It sums up the initial urge to write TSI:
But Derrick was immersed in the dream. A dream of wandering with Felicia and several others on the rugged hillside by a huge lake–an endless park that seemed related to the Waxtor Summer Refuge but wasn’t WSR. They’d been searching for something in the dusk, but it had gotten too dark and they’d decided to leave. But Derrick had lost his boots and needed to go back alone, in the dark and barefoot, to retrieve them. There he’d found two long-haired young men eagerly digging up a box containing five thousand dollars in cash. Evidently some acquaintance of theirs had committed suicide and had left a note telling where the treasure was. Derrick had come up to them and said: “Excuse me, but I think that’s my handwriting on that note–” Bored, they’d let him look at the note. Yes, some of it was his handwriting, and some of it was his mother’s, but that was only on the back, and their handwriting was just part of a photocopy that the suicide writer had used as scratch paper for his real note on the other side. “Don’t worry, I’m not here to try to claim the money,” Derrick had said, backing away–to spend the entire night until dawn walking barefoot, looking for his boots–and meanwhile Felicia was waiting for him, with the others, all night long, they’d returned to the city and were worried about him …
All words and images copyright by Michael D. Smith