Novel of the Year (one of 6) 2002
- Chicago Reader
- Milwaukee Shepherd Express
- Rapid River Literary Digest (Asheville, N.C.)
Author Paul McComas has found a unique and effective way to get across the message that treatment helps, time heals, and life does get better again. . . . I applaud Paul for embracing our shared mission and for seeking to fulfill that mission in a vivid, vital, and creative fashion through his novel, Unplugged.
Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI)
Paul McComas’ debut novel Unplugged deftly navigates a woman’s heroic journey through the dark corners of her own mind. The book can be enjoyed as an adventure story, but more than that, McComas brilliantly illuminates his heroine’s complex inner world and the wild, lonely landscape that she allows to transform her. Inner peace and social justice, not unlike the personal and the political, should never be entirely separate; that’s another theme of this novel, and McComas explores it via memorable songs and meaningful narration that have universal resonance.
Sadly, this novel’s mission—combating rape, depression, and despair—still desperately need attention. Unplugged is a journey of struggle as bisexual alt-rocker Dayna Clay struggles with depression and her past demons, leading to a spiritual and personal journey to inner peace. Her emotional search takes her to the rocky Badlands of South Dakota, which comprise a character in the novel. The centerpiece of Unplugged, however, remains Dayna, for whose creation the author did a great deal of research in order to accurately and respectfully write not only from the woman’s point of view (a notion McComas dismisses, saying “There’s no such thing as ‘the woman’s point of view’; there are 3.5 billion of them, and I only need to be authentic to one.”), but also from the perspective of a bisexual woman struggling with both depression and the trauma of having been raped. McComas then mixed that research with a composite of real-life inspirations. There’s a little bit of Kurt Cobain in the character of Dayna, as well as a bit of McComas himself and his own personal battles with depression. Elements of the character are also inspired by his first girlfriend, Julia, a talented acting and performing student who was raped and, six months later, went to the top of the tallest building on her college campus and tragically committed suicide. As McComas says, “We must not let the story end there.”
Milwaukee native Paul McComas’ novel Unplugged, about a young musician and rape survivor trying to overcome depression and come to terms with her troubled childhood, includes a soundtrack CD that benefits the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, the nation’s largest anti-sexual-violence organization.
Unplugged tackles serious, relevant issues in a far-from-conventional way. Protagonist Dayna Clay is a successful musician struggling to stay out of the infamous “27 Club,” a group of famous musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain who all died at that age. Throughout the book, Dayna battles to overcome past sexual violence and to secure her mental health. Author Paul McComas’ deep commitment to these issues led to his writing not just the novel, but also—as part of that process—the songs Dayna would have written: “Since she’s fictitious, I had to create her work for her.” People need to be able to talk about these issues openly; they are complex and often difficult to speak about for the general population and survivors because of the stigma against mental health.
Marquette University Tribune
Art, music, and literature often influence each other; a novelist might respond to a song, a playwright to a story, or a musician to a play. For Milwaukee native and author/performer Paul McComas, all three happened on the same project as he channeled a character he’d created, a musician and songwriter named Dayna Clay. The songs he wrote for her inspired his novel Unplugged, which detailed Dayna’s struggles both in the music industry and in life. The novel emphasizes the power of music as a transformative tool; the lyrics bring the character, her life, and her story to the fore. What’s more, out of the book came a stage adaptation that combines key scenes from the novel with the songs, which work alongside it to bring the story to life—and the inspiration just keeps on coming: there’s a soundtrack CD benefiting the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, on whose National Leadership Council and Speakers Bureau the author serves.
Milwaukee Public Radio WUWM-FM 89.7
As an author, McComas portrays his work in a unique way: theatrically and with original music. The subject matter of Unplugged is so emotionally challenging that it perhaps *has* to be performed, rather than read aloud by the author with a book in hand and his head down. Rather, McComas really gets his message out there—in every conceivable way. And it’s excellent.
WMSE-FM 91.7 Milwaukee
I enjoyed Unplugged very much—excellent descriptive writing. Hope it sells, sells, sells!
Seven-time Emmy-Award-winning actor and progressive activist Ed Asner
The frank, unadorned tone of the writing delivers an effective slap in the face for those expecting an over-cheesed, condescending depiction of teen issues. The refreshing lack of grandiosity makes this novel grittily identifiable. The concept of finding one’s self by abandoning everything familiar and discovering a new basic resolve toward life is inherent in this story and is easily recognizable for anyone who has recovered from depression. This novel strikes home with hard-hitting truths and emotions — without all the extra fluff often accompanying such plots. In short, this story does not try to explain itself. It just is.
Dayna Clay is a masterful act of portraiture. McComas never lets the reader forget that Dayna is a bisexual woman, yet her humanity and her universal struggle to recover her damaged spirit make her a character to whom anyone can relate. The character-driven Unplugged stands as a frank personal contemplation as well as a timely reflection on youth culture in the post-grunge world.
School of the Art Institute of Chicago student monthly
McComas combines with two other performers to present a visceral live version of his work. He does a marvelous job of evoking the mood of chaos and adoration that marks a rock concert, but does even better at getting inside Dayna Clay’s head. As a reading, Unplugged works extremely well. There is enough of a taste of the material to pique your interest in the book. As a theatrical piece, the show is solid. Chicago actress Heather Mell inhabits Dayna, bringing out both the pain and the hope that make up the character. I give credit to McComas for presenting Dayna’s “hit” songs; they fit the material well. It’s always a minefield trying to create your own history of rock’n'roll. For every high like “Velvet Goldmine,” there is a more than shuddering low, like “The Life of Christopher Gaines.” Unplugged works because, in the end, it isn’t about rock’n'roll, but about personal demons and learning to deal with those demons. And that makes Dayna Clay’s story worth exploring.
Door County (WI) Advocate
McComas writes about depression without bringing down the reader. He writes about spirituality and the healing power of nature, and it is magical and real, not boring and detached. And he writes about sexuality — bisexuality — without it being a gimmick or heavy-handed….This is not a typical recovery story with support groups, self-help books, emotional therapy sessions and an embrace of victimization. Instead, Dayna finds her way through by sheer will, through the kindness of strangers and by connecting to the grace and tenacity of life itself. In this time of militant identity politics, it’s delightfully surprising that a heterosexual man wrote such a strong bisexual female character….Drawing on his performance-art roots, McComas has also turned the book into a cool and compelling performance piece.
Chicago Free Press
Rainbow Media Group
Paul McComas has brought acclaim to Evanston through this book, Unplugged; through his coast-to-coast performance tour; through his work with numerous mental-health organizations; and through his message. Listen to his words: that out of diversity can come hope, the path to healing.
Hon. Lorraine F. Morton
Mayor, City of Evanston, IL
An original, passionate, witty work that confronts the conundrums of transformation….The earnest, principled Unplugged bridges the gap between stripped-down rock music and theatrical storytelling.
In his debut novel, Unplugged, author Paul McComas delights the reader’s senses, “strutting his stuff” right alongside his fictional leading lady–bisexual rock-n-roll star Dayna Clay — allowing the music of his prose to strum its way into our hearts….McComas’s writing is visceral. The Badlands become interesting, even beautiful. We see and feel the dirt hills which turn to slippery mud after rain but are still effortlessly navigated by the indigenous, protected bighorns. McComas is as capable of conveying emotional intensity as he is humor, and so he keeps us turning the pages. Men and women alike will fall in love with Dayna and will be sorry when the story ends.”
Book of the Month
Rapid River Literary Journal
McComas goes far beyond the conventional reading and book signing: he acts out the scenes he describes, using props, gymnastic agility, and the easygoing charm of a street performer…I must admit that the idea of a lesbian sex scene written by a straight man brought up an automatic gag reflex. But Paul McComas either avoided or was immune to the several flavors of weird that straight men can project onto lesbians, and the romantic parts of the book could well pass as woman-written…A really cool protagonist, Dayna Clay could well provide a role model for troubled young women, and Unplugged certainly beats The Well of Loneliness in that department…McComas’ well-crafted novel offers young Queers hope and second chances. He would love to see Unplugged brought to the screen. If the producers don’t chicken out on the most interesting parts, it would sure be something to see.
Out in the Mountains (LGBT monthly)
After Kurt Cobain killed himself in 1994, Chicago writer Paul McComas devoted himself to suicide prevention. His first novel, Unplugged, imagines a Cobain-like musician who gets an unexpected second chance…McComas’ writing is intensely emotional, and in this case there’s something to be said for having your heart in the right place.
The Rake (Twin Cities)
Chicago rocker Dayna Clay’s high-stakes struggle with depression and abuse leads not to suicide but to a journey of self-discovery. A tale of healing and hope, Unplugged is getting the word out that there is help in the fight against depression.
McComas chronicles depression without depressing the reader, and he shows a deep understanding of the way alienated young adults can feel marginalized by the church and far from God…Dayna Clay’s journey to recovery and faith is absorbing, and her growing ability to confront and deal with her illness is admirable. Learning to trust and accept both her strengths and her weaknesses, she returns from the wilderness – literally and figuratively – ready to embrace life again.
“Books of the Year”
Very well written, Unplugged is also a darned good tale: enjoyable, uplifting and inspiring. One of the best [novels] of the year.
Educational TV-20 (S. Florida)
Unplugged is unexpectedly poignant and engaging. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth and true-to-life nature of the writing; it doesn’t call attention to itself at any point — instead, the flow is easy to get into and easier to get caught up in. The dialogue is simple and effective, and the tone is hard-hitting and to the point. The author demonstrates immense familiarity with and knowledge of the Badlands and the surrounding area. The book also parallels traditional Lakota beliefs: Dayna begins to experience nature as a living creature that’s conscious of her presence. Her growing connection to the land and its healing power — evident in every chapter, and told in a realistic, believable manner — echoes the religious reverence surrounding this sacred region. The novel strikes home with hard-hitting emotions, yet without the extra fluff of introspection. This book doesn’t attempt to explain itself; it lets the reader come to his or her own conclusions. It’s up-lifting without seeming cheesy, and the issues explored — depression, suicide, bisexuality, child abuse, religion — are discussed so frankly that anyone of any orientation, nationality or background can find something in common with Dayna. The characters are so well-developed and realistic that at no time did I have to humor them by thinking, “Well, it’s a book; I’ll have to let that go.” I’ve tried to find something I could criticize about this novel, but it is a book of singular rightness.
The Lakota Journal
weekly newspaper of the Lakota Sioux tribal nation
McComas is an author/musician/performer extraordinaire with two published books under his belt and a tattoo of a bighorn sheep on his hip.
Lawrence University Lawrentian
A fabulous story, beautifully and intricately written, that will appeal to those who value taking the time in their lives not only to read, but to read through to the underlying message.
WNN-AM 1470 (South Florida)
Unplugged is the gripping story of a suicidal young rock star who learns to use nature to help herself heal. One can’t help feeling as if protagonist Dayna Clay is a real person. Paul McComas has much to offer: music, drama — and a book that has ‘screenplay’ written all over it.
I read Unplugged with excitement and appreciation. This profound story of personal transformation touched me throughout, from its rich images and affirmations of God to its heartfelt critique of rigidity in the guise of religion — to its depiction [via the character "Drake"] of the strength of a geezer like me!
C. Joseph Sprague
United Methodist Church Bishop
author of Affirmations of A Dissenter
This superbly crafted novel offers an unusual contemporary protagonist and a plot that’s anything but canned. Unplugged tells of a rocker who departs from the music world, setting out for parts unknown and ending up in South Dakota. Her search for solitude and healing may unexpectedly lead to a career she can’t shake in this moving story.
Midwest Book Review
It’s a sad truth that there are too many teens and twentysomethings who suffer from mental illness, which makes this a book they need to read. In fact, it should be required reading for all senior high school students, though some frank writing about bisexuality may put off more conservative learning institutions. Unplugged is the dramatic story of Dayna Clay, a jaded alternative musician who escapes to the Badlands after an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Once there, away from the world that adores her, she changes her identity, attempts to cure her depression and tries to make a new life for herself, though her old personality is still shadowing her every move. She quickly finds that these changes may be just what the doctor ordered, but they may not be enough to help her deal with the fastballs fate is about to throw her way. Paul McComas has a good grip on issues of sexuality, sexual abuse and mental illness, and he refuses to pull any punches. His story not only serves as an inspiration to those dealing with the same problems as Dayna, but it may also change the way other people think of them. Combine that with a remarkably realistic plot, and you have a book well worth reading.
Unplugged is tender, courageous and real. The interview with Dayna [Chapter 8] is brilliant…Author Paul McComas knows the story he tells, giving it a reality that can’t be dismissed as fiction.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
columnist Bill Janz
Paul McComas writes as all good fiction writers should: straight from the heart. His prose navigates the dark crevices of clinical depression as deftly as his heroine masters her newly chosen terrain. Inspired by a personal battle, the author transforms his own experiences into a work of fiction that provides hope for anyone who has been affected by depression.
Pioneer Press (Chicago suburbs)
As Dayna Clay’s relationship with the Badlands deepens and she learns to respect and revere nature, her understanding of herself and her life become more profound as well. Away from the spotlight she is able to reflect on her childhood of abuse, her unhealthy relationships, and her misguided fear and anger. In Unplugged, McComas captures the volatile internal struggle to come to terms with the past, to understand the present and to accept that the future cannot be predicted or held at bay.
Unplugged moves you forcibly through its heroine’s emotional quagmire, pulling no punches and abstaining from armchair diagnosis. This story screams truth through a megawatt amplifier.
UR Chicago Magazine
Unplugged is an amazing debut novel. McComas delves, scalpel-deep, into the mind and heart of his troubled rock-star protagonist, Dayna Clay. His style is visceral and muscular — and the novel’s rugged background, the Badlands of Dakota, is so vividly rendered that it becomes a character as sharply etched as Dayna herself. A story of revival, of love, of spiritual regeneration, told with a hard-edged emotional intensity that will grip the reader from first page to last.
William F. Nolan
author of Logan’s Run
Paul McComas has addressed difficult issues through his initially depressed and suicidal heroine, Dayna Clay, a bisexual rock musician — and he has managed to do so with intelligence and a tender heart.
Bev Cobain, RN
author of When Nothing Matters Anymore: A Survival Guide for Depressed Teens
Unplugged is the story of a young woman in the teeth of transformation. Written with great insight and compassion, it is a deep, unpredictable read that flows like a river. Enjoy the ride.
author of Going Nowhere Sideways
Unplugged is a story I can’t seem to get enough of — an exciting, messy, whole human woman’s story that leads us on an exciting, messy, whole human woman’s journey toward her true self. I fell in love with Dayna; it was easy to get inside her heart and her life and follow her anywhere she went, discovering with her how the earth mirrors and reveals us when we shed our skin and let love in. Brave, vulnerable, sexy, sensual and believable, Unplugged inspired me to keep writing and living my own story. And there is no greater gift than that.
cin salach, poet
author of Looking for A Soft Place to Land
A wonderful reading experience. McComas creates a character of strength and determination, using humor, empathy, and knowledge as building blocks for her successful journey through darkness to the light. He displays a deep understanding of the psyche and its relationship to behavior, to the land, and to art. The lyrical text, the foundation of love as a generating force for spiritual discovery, and the gentle narrative voice foster meaningful images in this story of personal revelation.
Professor Emeritus of Art Therapy and Art Education
School of the Art Institute of Chicago,
author of Mind Over Matter
Unplugged is an uplifting story in which a burned-out, suicidal young woman finds healing through nature, modern pharmacology and, not least, love. Author Paul McComas puts you inside the head of the clinically depressed and sheds needed light on a little-understood phenomenon. With his words he paints stark, lovely vistas of the Dakota Badlands that make the medicine glide down.
Tim W. Brown
author of Deconstruction Acres
and Left of the Loop
With consummate skill, Paul McComas weaves together the interior wilds of protagonist Dayna Clay and the exterior wilds of the South Dakota Badlands. The reader cheers Dayna on her spiritual and sexual quest, eager to see what she’ll discover as she leaves the ups and downs of the music industry for the zig zag terrain of the Badlands and her own psyche. McComas writes of women, depression, and bisexuality as if he has “been there.”
editor of Open Hands
author of Coming Out as Sacrament
While reading Unplugged, not only did I share in Dayna Clay’s journey; I found myself wantin to be her. For despite her many setbacks, the cosmos gives Dayna signals along the way, highlighting the connections between all living things and acting as her friend. In time, Dayna does something each of us should strive to do: she takes the person she grew up to become, searches for and finds her deeper, spiritual self andthen melds them into one. Unplugged is an adventure, an inspiration and a call to action.”
recording artist, Suncat Muse, planetclaire.com