BARBARA CLAYPOLE WHITE: THE PROMISE BETWEEN US

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Sometimes I really wish I had a teleportation device . . . and February 7, 2018 was one of those times. That night, The Regulator Bookshop (where I used to work, lo these many years ago), hosted an event that I would’ve adored to attend: Crazy Love—Writing Love and Mental Illness, with Katie Rose Guest Pryal, Katharine Ashe, and Barbara Claypole White. Alas, I live about 150 miles away . . . so I did the next best thing: I scored interviews with two of the authors for my blog. (Thanks, Katie, for the introduction!) Today, I’m so excited to chat with superstar Barbara Claypole White about her newest novel, THE PROMISE BETWEEN US.

Welcome to the blog, Barbara! Tell us about your newest book, THE PROMISE BETWEEN US. What’s it all about, and what made you decide to return to writing about OCD?

Thanks for hosting me! THE PROMISE BETWEEN US asks: Can you be a good mother if you abandon your baby? It’s the story of Katie Mack, a metal artist in Durham, North Carolina, who is hiding a dark secret: ten years earlier, trapped in the horror of unwanted, repetitive, obsessive images of harming her baby, she ran away—convinced she was a monster. What Katie didn’t know then, but knows now, is that her intrusive thoughts came from postpartum OCD. She’s never found peace with her decision to leave her family, but firmly believes she acted in her daughter’s best interests … until their paths cross accidentally, and Katie realizes Maisie is also struggling with horrific thoughts of bad things happening to people she loves.

I’ve been itching to return to OCD since I created James Nealy, the hero of THE UNFINISHED GARDEN. I had so much more to say about this chronic and much misunderstood illness, but I couldn’t find the right story. Then a teacher in the OCD community posted in a private support group about her struggles with unwanted images of harming kids. Her comments were leaked to her employer and she was fired. That got me thinking about variations of OCD that still carry unbearable shame, which led me to postpartum OCD.

Most people assume OCD is about compulsive behaviors such as handwashing, but for many sufferers, it’s purely mental. We all have unwanted thoughts, but the OCD brain gets stuck on those thoughts. Like a broken early warning system, it blasts out never-ending alerts. And OCD, that sick bastard, goes after whatever matters to you most. For a new parent or grandparent, that would be something bad happening to the baby, but OCD takes it one step further to whisper, “But what if you’re the threat, the danger?”

Your son—formerly known as The Beloved Delinquent, now re-dubbed The Artist in Residence—was the inspiration for you to rewrite your first novel, DOGWOOD DAYS, starring an entrepreneur who has OCD. Can you share a bit about your son’s story and how it influenced the trajectory of your writing journey?

My debut evolved out of events surrounding my father’s death. I was several drafts in when my son was diagnosed with OCD, and I stopped writing to guide him through exposure therapy (you expose yourself to irrational fears, which sounds a helluva lot easier than it is). One day James Nealy appeared in my mind and refused to leave. He came from my darkest fear as a mother: What if, when my young son grew up, no one could see beyond his anxiety and obsessions to love him for the incredible person he is? James’s greatest fear was dirt, and my heroine owned a wholesale plant nursery. How’s that for romantic conflict?

I ended up taking the manuscript apart to rewrite it with James as my hero, and when it sold, I was naïve enough to believe we had vanquished OCD. For three years, we had, but it returned like an out-of-season hurricane.

Life has been a roller coaster with OCD ever since, and my son’s victories and defeats have hardened my resolve to keep writing stories that find light and hope in the shadows of mental illness. I see tremendous courage every day, and that spills into my characters. They are survivors, not victims, and they always embody my son’s favorite phrase, “You are not your disorder.”

However, it was really James who influenced the trajectory of my writing. James was a revelation to me from day one, since I discovered the joy of writing damaged characters. James led directly to Felix in THE PERFECT SON, and then to the most challenging character I’ve written: Marianne in ECHOES OF FAMILY. (Marianne is a successful, sexy, three-times suicide survivor who struggles with bipolar disorder.) Does that sound bizarre, to say a fictitious character inspired me? (My husband thinks I have a thing for James …)

Of all of the books you’ve written, which is your favorite—and why?

Nooo—you can’t make me answer! 🙂 Each novel represents a moment in my life when I was wrestling with something dark: tragedy, medical crises, life in the trenches with mental illness, or the stress of dealing with aging parents (one across the pond). The drama of my life gets folded into my fiction, which somehow becomes a form of therapy.

PROMISE, for example, was my constant companion through an intense year: my husband beat a major health scare, my son’s OCD spiked as the end of college loomed, my 102-year-old father-in-law and 88-year-old mother fell numerous times, and the son of dear friends died at 29. I can open that novel, point to any sentence or paragraph and say, “I wrote that when…”

My son, however, has a favorite: THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR. He describes it as a quiet novel that screams, and our local bookseller, Sharon Wheeler of Purple Crow Books, agrees. My husband votes for ECHOES OF FAMILY, my sister has settled on THE PROMISE BETWEEN US, and my mother keeps changing her mind. (Last time we talked, her favorite was THE PERFECT SON.) I think my beta reader’s favorite is THE UNFINISHED GARDEN. 

The common theme between all your books is “hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness,” or “love stories about damaged people.” Why are these types of stories so important to tell—and what do you think your writing career might’ve looked like if your son hadn’t been diagnosed with OCD?

Popular culture is littered with misrepresentations and clichés of mental illness. How many TV shows, for example, throw OCD into a killer’s backstory? The stigma is real, and many people suffer in silence and isolation because mental illness is not perceived the same way as physical illness. But sharing information is empowering. That information can come through fiction.

Fiction can educate, entertain, and provide a sense of community. I’ve received many emails that started, “I’ve never told anyone this before, but…” I’ve even received messages about THE PROMISE BETWEEN US that say, “This novel changed my life.”

Even without OCD, I think my fiction would have pulled toward darker, more emotional subject matter. Grief, for example, is something I return to again and again, and I’m fascinated by the theme that what happens to you in life isn’t as important as how you deal with it.

While your son was growing up, you educated yourself about OCD and became an incredible advocate for him . . . though you had to learn to let go when he went away to college. What are some of the most significant lessons you can share with someone who’s parenting a child with an invisible disability? (I’ll admit to having a vested interest in this question; my son falls into this category, and right now he’s just in the 7th grade…we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go!)

Wow, you make it sound as if I know what I’m doing. 🙂 Through my own screw-ups, I’ve learned to back off on days when my son needs to retreat. I used to think retreat was failure; it’s not. Even professional soldiers know when to withdraw and regroup. Constant battle is exhausting.

I’ve also found acceptance. OCD is an allergy to life that demands constant management. Treatment is hard and painful, and relapses are common. Intrusive thoughts don’t magically disappear. You have to learn how to reprocess them, while constantly staying vigilant for new triggers. As I said earlier, OCD is a chronic illness, and I never stop educating myself about it.

The other two most important lessons I’ve learned are that attitude is everything, and it’s okay to walk away. When I get angry at a situation that OCD has caused, I’m no good to the family.  And hey, I get mental health days, too. Guilt is the natural default for most mothers, but looking after ourselves is more important.

Also, laugh often and hard. Nothing is better for the soul.

What didn’t I ask that I should’ve? Whatever it is, please answer it here!

Want to know what makes me ridiculously happy right now? I’ve just found my way back to audiobooks! I stopped listening to them after my car stereo died and my son went off to college (I used to drive 100-150 miles a day to and from his small, private school). But I just listened to my first audiobook on my iPhone, while gardening—Marisa de Los Santos I’LL BE YOUR BLUE SKY—and life has new meaning. Of course, part of the joy of gardening is to lose myself in the moment with nature, especially when the hawks are calling, or hummingbirds are dive bombing empty feeders, but now I can enjoy my two favorite hobbies at the same time: gardening and reading. That makes life pretty good.

BACK COVER COPY

Metal artist Katie Mack is living a lie. Nine years ago she ran away from her family, consumed by the irrational fear that she would harm Maisie, her newborn daughter. Over time she’s come to grips with the mental illness that nearly destroyed her, and now funnels her pain into her art. Despite longing for Maisie, Katie honors an agreement with the husband she left behind—to change her name and never return.

But when she and Maisie accidentally reunite, Katie can’t ignore the familiarity of her child’s compulsive behavior. Worse, Maisie worries obsessively about bad things happening to her pregnant stepmom. Katie has the power to help, but can she reconnect with the family she abandoned?

To protect Maisie, Katie must face the fears that drove her from home, accept the possibilities of love, and risk exposing her heart-wrenching secret.

BIO

Bestselling author Barbara Claypole White creates hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness. Originally from England, she writes and gardens in the forests of North Carolina, where she lives with her beloved OCD menfolk. Her novels include The Unfinished Garden, The In-Between Hour, The Perfect Son, and Echoes of Family.  The Promise Between Us, which shines a light on postpartum OCD, released in January, 2018. She is also an OCD Advocate for the A2A Alliance, a nonprofit group that promotes advocacy over adversity. To connect with Barbara, please visit www.barbaraclaypolewhite.com, or follow her on Facebook. She’s always on Facebook.

https://www.facebook.com/BarbaraClaypoleWhite

https://twitter.com/bclaypolewhite

https://www.instagram.com/bclaypolewhite/?hl=en

Sometimes I really wish I had a teleportation device . . . and February 7, 2018 was one of those times. That night, The Regulator Bookshop (where I used to work, lo these many years ago), hosted an event that I would’ve adored to attend: Crazy Love—Writing Love and Mental Illness, with Katie Rose Guest Pryal, Katharine Ashe, and Barbara Claypole White. Alas, I live about 150 miles away . . . so I did the next best thing: I scored interviews with two of the authors for my blog. (Thanks, Katie, for the introduction!) Today, I’m so excited to chat with superstar Barbara Claypole White about her newest novel, THE PROMISE BETWEEN US.

Welcome to the blog, Barbara! Tell us about your newest book, THE PROMISE BETWEEN US. What’s it all about, and what made you decide to return to writing about OCD?

Thanks for hosting me! THE PROMISE BETWEEN US asks: Can you be a good mother if you abandon your baby? It’s the story of Katie Mack, a metal artist in Durham, North Carolina, who is hiding a dark secret: ten years earlier, trapped in the horror of unwanted, repetitive, obsessive images of harming her baby, she ran away—convinced she was a monster. What Katie didn’t know then, but knows now, is that her intrusive thoughts came from postpartum OCD. She’s never found peace with her decision to leave her family, but firmly believes she acted in her daughter’s best interests … until their paths cross accidentally, and Katie realizes Maisie is also struggling with horrific thoughts of bad things happening to people she loves.

I’ve been itching to return to OCD since I created James Nealy, the hero of THE UNFINISHED GARDEN. I had so much more to say about this chronic and much misunderstood illness, but I couldn’t find the right story. Then a teacher in the OCD community posted in a private support group about her struggles with unwanted images of harming kids. Her comments were leaked to her employer and she was fired. That got me thinking about variations of OCD that still carry unbearable shame, which led me to postpartum OCD.

Most people assume OCD is about compulsive behaviors such as handwashing, but for many sufferers, it’s purely mental. We all have unwanted thoughts, but the OCD brain gets stuck on those thoughts. Like a broken early warning system, it blasts out never-ending alerts. And OCD, that sick bastard, goes after whatever matters to you most. For a new parent or grandparent, that would be something bad happening to the baby, but OCD takes it one step further to whisper, “But what if you’re the threat, the danger?”

Your son—formerly known as The Beloved Delinquent, now re-dubbed The Artist in Residence—was the inspiration for you to rewrite your first novel, DOGWOOD DAYS, starring an entrepreneur who has OCD. Can you share a bit about your son’s story and how it influenced the trajectory of your writing journey?

My debut evolved out of events surrounding my father’s death. I was several drafts in when my son was diagnosed with OCD, and I stopped writing to guide him through exposure therapy (you expose yourself to irrational fears, which sounds a helluva lot easier than it is). One day James Nealy appeared in my mind and refused to leave. He came from my darkest fear as a mother: What if, when my young son grew up, no one could see beyond his anxiety and obsessions to love him for the incredible person he is? James’s greatest fear was dirt, and my heroine owned a wholesale plant nursery. How’s that for romantic conflict?

I ended up taking the manuscript apart to rewrite it with James as my hero, and when it sold, I was naïve enough to believe we had vanquished OCD. For three years, we had, but it returned like an out-of-season hurricane.

Life has been a roller coaster with OCD ever since, and my son’s victories and defeats have hardened my resolve to keep writing stories that find light and hope in the shadows of mental illness. I see tremendous courage every day, and that spills into my characters. They are survivors, not victims, and they always embody my son’s favorite phrase, “You are not your disorder.”

However, it was really James who influenced the trajectory of my writing. James was a revelation to me from day one, since I discovered the joy of writing damaged characters. James led directly to Felix in THE PERFECT SON, and then to the most challenging character I’ve written: Marianne in ECHOES OF FAMILY. (Marianne is a successful, sexy, three-times suicide survivor who struggles with bipolar disorder.) Does that sound bizarre, to say a fictitious character inspired me? (My husband thinks I have a thing for James …)

Of all of the books you’ve written, which is your favorite—and why?

Nooo—you can’t make me answer! 🙂 Each novel represents a moment in my life when I was wrestling with something dark: tragedy, medical crises, life in the trenches with mental illness, or the stress of dealing with aging parents (one across the pond). The drama of my life gets folded into my fiction, which somehow becomes a form of therapy.

PROMISE, for example, was my constant companion through an intense year: my husband beat a major health scare, my son’s OCD spiked as the end of college loomed, my 102-year-old father-in-law and 88-year-old mother fell numerous times, and the son of dear friends died at 29. I can open that novel, point to any sentence or paragraph and say, “I wrote that when…”

My son, however, has a favorite: THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR. He describes it as a quiet novel that screams, and our local bookseller, Sharon Wheeler of Purple Crow Books, agrees. My husband votes for ECHOES OF FAMILY, my sister has settled on THE PROMISE BETWEEN US, and my mother keeps changing her mind. (Last time we talked, her favorite was THE PERFECT SON.) I think my beta reader’s favorite is THE UNFINISHED GARDEN. 

The common theme between all your books is “hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness,” or “love stories about damaged people.” Why are these types of stories so important to tell—and what do you think your writing career might’ve looked like if your son hadn’t been diagnosed with OCD?

Popular culture is littered with misrepresentations and clichés of mental illness. How many TV shows, for example, throw OCD into a killer’s backstory? The stigma is real, and many people suffer in silence and isolation because mental illness is not perceived the same way as physical illness. But sharing information is empowering. That information can come through fiction.

Fiction can educate, entertain, and provide a sense of community. I’ve received many emails that started, “I’ve never told anyone this before, but…” I’ve even received messages about THE PROMISE BETWEEN US that say, “This novel changed my life.”

Even without OCD, I think my fiction would have pulled toward darker, more emotional subject matter. Grief, for example, is something I return to again and again, and I’m fascinated by the theme that what happens to you in life isn’t as important as how you deal with it.

While your son was growing up, you educated yourself about OCD and became an incredible advocate for him . . . though you had to learn to let go when he went away to college. What are some of the most significant lessons you can share with someone who’s parenting a child with an invisible disability? (I’ll admit to having a vested interest in this question; my son falls into this category, and right now he’s just in the 7th grade…we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go!)

Wow, you make it sound as if I know what I’m doing. 🙂 Through my own screw-ups, I’ve learned to back off on days when my son needs to retreat. I used to think retreat was failure; it’s not. Even professional soldiers know when to withdraw and regroup. Constant battle is exhausting.

I’ve also found acceptance. OCD is an allergy to life that demands constant management. Treatment is hard and painful, and relapses are common. Intrusive thoughts don’t magically disappear. You have to learn how to reprocess them, while constantly staying vigilant for new triggers. As I said earlier, OCD is a chronic illness, and I never stop educating myself about it.

The other two most important lessons I’ve learned are that attitude is everything, and it’s okay to walk away. When I get angry at a situation that OCD has caused, I’m no good to the family.  And hey, I get mental health days, too. Guilt is the natural default for most mothers, but looking after ourselves is more important.

Also, laugh often and hard. Nothing is better for the soul.

What didn’t I ask that I should’ve? Whatever it is, please answer it here!

Want to know what makes me ridiculously happy right now? I’ve just found my way back to audiobooks! I stopped listening to them after my car stereo died and my son went off to college (I used to drive 100-150 miles a day to and from his small, private school). But I just listened to my first audiobook on my iPhone, while gardening—Marisa de Los Santos I’LL BE YOUR BLUE SKY—and life has new meaning. Of course, part of the joy of gardening is to lose myself in the moment with nature, especially when the hawks are calling, or hummingbirds are dive bombing empty feeders, but now I can enjoy my two favorite hobbies at the same time: gardening and reading. That makes life pretty good.

BACK COVER COPY

Metal artist Katie Mack is living a lie. Nine years ago she ran away from her family, consumed by the irrational fear that she would harm Maisie, her newborn daughter. Over time she’s come to grips with the mental illness that nearly destroyed her, and now funnels her pain into her art. Despite longing for Maisie, Katie honors an agreement with the husband she left behind—to change her name and never return.

But when she and Maisie accidentally reunite, Katie can’t ignore the familiarity of her child’s compulsive behavior. Worse, Maisie worries obsessively about bad things happening to her pregnant stepmom. Katie has the power to help, but can she reconnect with the family she abandoned?

To protect Maisie, Katie must face the fears that drove her from home, accept the possibilities of love, and risk exposing her heart-wrenching secret.

BIO

Bestselling author Barbara Claypole White creates hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness. Originally from England, she writes and gardens in the forests of North Carolina, where she lives with her beloved OCD menfolk. Her novels include The Unfinished Garden, The In-Between Hour, The Perfect Son, and Echoes of Family.  The Promise Between Us, which shines a light on postpartum OCD, released in January, 2018. She is also an OCD Advocate for the A2A Alliance, a nonprofit group that promotes advocacy over adversity. To connect with Barbara, please visit www.barbaraclaypolewhite.com, or follow her on Facebook. She’s always on Facebook.

https://www.facebook.com/BarbaraClaypoleWhite

https://twitter.com/bclaypolewhite

https://www.instagram.com/bclaypolewhite/?hl=en

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