I am so excited to kick off my weekly interview series for 2018 with the very talented Barbara Claypole White, whom I've known since we were both part of the now defunct Girlfriend's Book Club Blog. Barbara writes hopeful family drama and along with writing bestselling novels is one of the founding members of the Reader's Coffeehouse Group on Facebook. Her new novel, The Promise Between Us is getting rave reviews and should definitely be on your radar if not your bedside table. Leave a comment below or email me at EllynOaksmith@gmail.com to be in the running to win a paperback copy of Barbara's fabulous new release, The Promise Between Us.
First of all, tell us a bit about your new book. How was it inspired?
THE PROMISE BETWEEN US is the story of good people trapped in bad decisions made after my heroine misinterpreted postpartum OCD as psychosis … and ran away to protect her family.
OCD frames my world as a mother. My gifted poet-writer-musician son has battled this chronic illness for most of his life, and my first hero, James Nealy, came from my darkest fear: What if, when my young son grew up, no one could see beyond his anxious behavior and obsessive thoughts to love him for the incredible person he is? Since creating James, I’ve wanted to delve deeper into the impact of OCD on relationships, but it was an incident within the OCD community that finally propelled me to action.
A teacher had posted in one of our private—supposedly confidential—online support groups about her battles with intrusive, unwanted, repetitive, obsessive, horrific thoughts of harming children. (Harm OCD is a name often given to postpartum OCD, which tends to manifest as disturbing images of hurting your baby.) Her comments were leaked to her employer, and she was fired. It was a terrible reminder to me of how much OCD is still misunderstood, and why many people continue to suffer in silence and shame. OCD is an anxiety disorder that creates irrational fear in the absence of true threat. You know the fear is irrational—you would never hurt your baby—but the crippling anxiety you experience as a result of the relentless what-if of OCD is real. OCD demands constant management, like diabetes. The difference, of course, is that no one cracks jokes about insulin shots.
Shortly after news leaked of this woman’s situation, my agent requested story ideas for novel five. I showed my son some outlines I’d cobbled together, and he ripped apart everything except one sentence. It was the premise for THE PROMISE BETWEEN US: Can you be a good mother if you abandon your baby? I put that together with postpartum OCD, and my publisher loved it. Bingo!
What is your writing routine like? Where do you write?
I’m a morning writer, seven days a week, and I write in a small bedroom I claimed as an office years ago. It still has a bed, which I’ve turned into an extremely useful table.
Every weekday, my alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m. Sometimes I lie in the dark for a few minutes and think about the scene I’m going to work on, but after grabbing coffee and getting washed, I’m at my desk by 6:30 a.m. The first thing I do is boot up my computer and manually turn off the Internet. The next two hours, while the house and phone are quiet, is my favorite time of the day and my most productive. Then I stop to get breakfast, check email, and do a flyby on Facebook before turning the Internet back off. I write until lunchtime, when I shower and chat to my son before he leaves for his day job (the afternoon/evening shift at our local, indie bookstore). In the afternoons I write or research, and I push the business of being an author into the evenings. I don’t set my alarm on the weekends, but I still write for a few hours first thing. If anything messes with my morning routine, I turn nasty. (I’m already huffing and puffing about tomorrow’s 9:00 a.m. dentist appointment.)
Of course, this is the ideal routine in the ideal universe. As part of the sandwich generation, my life is full of the unexpected. Thankfully, I learned to write as a mom-on-the-go. Provided I have a fully charged iPod and my laptop, I can even write anywhere—even on the plane home from my bi-annual trips across the pond to see my mother.
What are your favorite things about writing and least favorite things?
Easy answer! My favorite thing is rewriting. I love the editing process, because each new draft takes me down another layer into the emotional lives of my characters and the heart of the story. My least favorite thing is a first draft, followed closely by the second draft. I don’t hit my groove until the third draft. I know, I know, in my next life I will write clean.
When did you know that you wanted to write? Was it an "aha" moment or something that slowly dawned on you?
I’ve always wanted to write. At five years old, I dreamed of being the next Beatrix Potter; by twelve, I had a romantic notion of being a modern-day Bronte sister (without the alcoholic, drug-addicted brother), but creative writing wasn’t encouraged in my traditional education. As a teenager, I set my sights on fashion journalism, which doesn’t explain why I went off to university in York, England and studied Medieval history. After graduating, I became a publicist in the London fashion industry and got my writing fix by composing—and yes, endlessly rewriting—press releases. Then I married my American professor, moved to the Midwest, and started my first novel. It would take twenty-three years and a better story to snag a pub. deal, but during that time I learned persistence and gratitude for my husband’s unflinching support.
How do you come up with your ideas? Are they real life inspirations, dreamed up or perhaps a little bit of both?
My stories evolve from pieces of my life and strong instinct—anything that gets my writer senses tingling. I found a major component of THE PROMISE BETWEEN US—that my heroine is a metal artist—while admiring a piece of metal art at the hairdresser’s. And the opening chapter of THE PERFECT SON came from a weird personal experience. I was flying home from a conference in Ireland when a man collapsed three rows in front of me. All the passengers were rubbernecking, but I was the only one making notes. Bad, bad Barbara.
The key for fleshing out my plots, however, is the one-on-one interview. I reach out to people who are living the experiences I want to write about and ask them to share their stories. My research and the first draft seem to have a symbiotic relationship, and gradually I create the story’s frame.
Do you have another book you're working on now and if so can you tell us a little bit about it?
Why, yes, I do. It’s about addiction, cyber bullying, and the idea that we learn more from failure than from success. Here’s the pitch: A reformed addict, on an impossible mission to earn her mother’s forgiveness, discovers that her long history of failure has the power to save lives, including her own.
Someone asked me this and I hated the specificity but then found it was interesting. One book. You can pick one single book as your favorite. Go
No hesitation: JANE EYRE. It’s been my favorite novel since I was twelve.
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 family. Her novels include The Unfinished Garden, The In-Between Hour, The Perfect Son, andEchoes of Family. Her new release, The Promise Between Us, shines a light on postpartum OCD. 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.
How do I find ideas?
They find me. We date for a while & if things work out, we marry. For one year. Best books for writers? Stephen King On Writing Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.