Photo by Deino Crown
Malcolm J. Brenner was born in Perth Amboy, N.J. in early May, 1951. His mother was a working-class Irish Catholic woman from Hull, England, the war bride of a U.S. Army Signal Corps lieutenant from a well-to-do Jewish family from New York City.
Yes, Malcolm is the middle of three children! He has an older sister and a younger brother. Both are (relatively) normal.
Hanging over Brenner's childhood was his parents' interest in the pseudo-scientific theories of Wilhelm Reich, the notorious post-Freudian psychiatrist. Reich claimed to have discovered "orgone energy," a primordial force that was the origin of the sex drive, gravity and the aurora borealis, among other things. All human problems, including mental and physical illness, social pathologies and even droughts, were attributable to blockages of orgone energy in the individual, the society and the environment.
This isolated, cultic mentality led to an upbringing which was quite strange by 1950's standards. At an early age, Brenner was sexually molested by an "orgonomist" (orgone energy doctor) trained and certified by Reich to work with children. He is one of a group of several adults who have found each other through the Web and are now correlating their independent memories of childhood abuse by this pedophile. He plans to document this terrifying experience in a forthcoming autobiography, Growing Up In The Orgone Box.
Brenner attended public schools in New Jersey. When his family moved to Radnor, Pennsylvania in 1960, he faced a clique of schoolyard bullies who hounded him through elementary school. He attributes his defensive attitude and his implacable hatred of all bullies to this near-constant harassment.
Although interested in science, Brenner nevertheless showed little aptitude for the required mathematics and little interest in the methodical approach to knowledge. Instead, he became fascinated by the cinematic special effects of filmmakers such as Ray Harryhausen. Early experiments with the family home movie camera led him to pursue filmmaking as a career.
Certain that the public school was letting her son down, Mrs. Brenner, now suffering a mysterious degenerative disease, sent him to an all-boys' private religious academy. Brenner describes his year-and-a-half there as "the worst period of my adolescence." That ended when his parents separated over his father's alleged infidelity. Mrs. Brenner took their sons and fled to Sarasota, Florida. The move destroyed Mr. Brenner's close relationship with his boys.
When Brenner graduated from Riverview High School (of which he has no fond memories) in 1969, he attended New College of Florida, where the events on which WET GODDESS is based took place. Brenner now describes his year of off-campus study at The Evergreen State College as "the worst decision of my life" because of its unforeseen consequences for his relationship with the dolphin. Brenner graduated from New College with a degree in communications in 1974.
Although he stridently opposed the Vietnam War (and he has the film to prove it), Brenner broke with the anti-war movement over its mistreatment of returning U.S. veterans. Brenner's opinion, that they were just as much victims of the war as the Vietnamese people, did not make him popular with his peers.
During this period, Brenner worked on a number of projects. He was director of photography on an ambitious feature film by two students at The Evergreen State College, one of whom rose to become a VP at Sony Imageworks. However, like many films Brenner worked on, it was never completed, leading to eventual disillusionment about his chosen career.
In 1978, Brenner returned to the Pacific Northwest to shoot an underwater documentary film about orcas (killer whales) in the Johnstone Strait with another pal from Evergreen. The experience left him less one pal and stranded in Seattle, where he spent the next eight years. He founded a small photo-lab, dabbled in filmmaking and freelance photography, married a Seattle woman and had a daughter with her.
His first wife also taught him Wicca, a reconstructed form of nature worship derived from accounts of ancient pagan practices. Brenner adopted Wicca as it did not presume to judge his experience with the dolphin on its form but on its content. He practiced Wicca for 20 years, publishing a tabloid, organizing a festival and producing a documentary video on witchcraft with his first wife.
Following sale of his photo-lab in 1986, Brenner spent a year in the San Francisco Bay area, trying unsuccessfully to break into the film business without moving to Los Angeles. The strain on his family was a major factor in the breakup of his first marriage.
In the early 1990's Brenner tried to sell cars at two dealerships in Portland, Oregon. Although unsuccessful, the attempt gave him valuable skills he would employ in his major career, journalism.
In 1992 Brenner moved to the small town of Shiprock, New Mexico, with a nurse who wanted to work for the Indian Health Service. Within a week he had a job with a local newspaper, and a week after that he ditched the nurse for snooping in his diary.
Brenner spent most of the next 10 years working as a reporter for border-town newspapers in New Mexico, covering the eastern half of the sprawling Navajo Nation, a tribal reservation the size of West Virginia with about 250,000 mostly Navajo residents.
His viewpoint as a covert neoPagan gave Brenner unique insights into Navajo culture and religion. At one point, he brought a famous television producer to a remote hogan on the Nation to attend a Native American Church peyote ceremony as background for an episode of a popular science-fiction series.
Brenner also covered such national news stories as the 1993 hantavirus outbreak, the resignation of Navajo Nation President Albert Hale and the crash of a top-secret USAF F117 Nighthawk "Stealth" attack aircraft on a remote mesa near Zuni Pueblo. His hard-hitting investigative reporting and columns won numerous regional press awards.
SECOND MARRIAGE, UFO INVOLVEMENT
While living in Shiprock, Brenner met, and later proposed to, a woman from Farmington, N.M. with two children. Two weeks before their wedding, he was shocked to learn from a chance remark that she had had a remarkable and protracted UFO 'encounter' in 1978. Recovering the suppressed memories of this event left her wracked with fear for her safety, and with questions about her own identitiy.
Torn between his feelings for his spouse and his inherent skepticism, Brenner took the investigation as far as he dared. At every decision fork, his wife's story was verified or corroborated by outside sources "in a position to know," some public, some private. The harrowing experience of investigating his wife's unbelievable story is the subject of The Jor-Dan Chronicle, Brenner's next novel.
As the children matured, unexpected and unwelcome rifts appeared in the family. After years of dodging his child-support payments, the prodigal biological father of Brenner's stepson and stepdaughter reappeared, begging forgiveness.
His re-emergence let loose a flood of emotions that eventually tore the family apart.
While his second family collapsed around him, Brenner voluntarily committed himself to a locked psychiatric ward in Gallup, N.M. for five days in late 1999 out of concern that he might lose self-control. He and his second wife divorced the next year.
After brief stints working public affairs for a state hospital and reporting for a weekly in Grants, N.M., Brenner returned to Florida in April, 2002 with two mongrel dogs. He was employed by the local daily newspaper just long enough to acquire an old trailer on a rural parcel of land outside Punta Gorda, Florida.
He now lives there with his housemate Cay, their two dogs and a family of anole lizards. Somehow the trailer survived 2004's Hurricane Charley intact! Both Brenner's writing and photos are frequently featured in local magazines, and he is seeking other outlets for his photography and writing.
If WET GODDESS proves popular, Brenner has a second volume of dolphin stories to tell. "It's the stuff I wrote for WET GODDESS that ended up on the cutting room floor because it drifted too far from the main theme, but I had to get it off my chest," he explained.
Of his work, Brenner said, "I'd rather write fiction, but I have absolutely no facility for plot. Nothing I can imagine is as weird or as unlikely as the things that have actually happened to me. So I just write honestly about my life, which simply reads like fiction."