by Barbara Claypole White
August 28th 2012 is a date I’ll never forget. Yes, it’s my first blog for Girlfriends Book Club (yippee!), but it’s also the day I transition from daydreaming about becoming a published author to being, well, a published author.
In celebration, I’m giving away a signed copy of my debut novel, The Unfinished Garden. To enter, please leave your email address in the comment section, and a winner will be picked at random after 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, August 29th.
So. Big day. Swear to God, I want to enjoy it, want to imagine driving across rural North Carolina with my sunroof open, screaming, “I did it!” Everyone tells me I must be thrilled. And I am. In a terrified can-I-throw-up-and-crawl-into-my-writing-cave kind of way.
Here’s my problem—I’m focused on the doubts that could turn my inaugural reading into disaster. Will my legs shake so much that I’ll trip in my high heels and nosedive onto the podium? Will I open my mouth and talk rubbish? Halfway through, will I need the potty?
|Harlequin MIRA, 2012|
This is awfulizing, a word I've learned through years of helping my son navigate obsessive-compulsive disorder. I’m not obsessive-compulsive—although, as a Virgo, I’m the next best thing. My son, however, has bravely battled the anxiety monster for most of his life. He’s brilliant, compassionate, and a published, award-winning poet. He’s also someone who, because of his OCD, struggles with transitions. OCD is all about control; OCD hates change. And this is senior year of high school.
Mom’s book launch + college apps + OCD = the perfect triumvirate of transition hell. But as Sir Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” And he should know, since he was simultaneously fending off depression and the Nazis.
Me? I’m fighting back with a pledge. Today, I will focus on the book and nothing but the book. After all, public readings are really tiara moments for my love story about grief, OCD, and dirt. Yes, there’s a little of my life in The Unfinished Garden.
The story seed came from two separate what ifs—both dark and morbid. I know, what is my problem? The first what if came from helping my mother retreat into her garden after my father died, and in the weeks that followed, watching her change from a wife to a widow. I kept thinking, “Suppose that were me?”
I’m a Brit married to an American professor. When my dad died, I was a stay-at-home parent with no income and no citizenship of the country I called home. My mind stuck on a horrid dilemma: What would I do if something happened to my husband? That thought led to my heroine, Tilly. And it still entertains my husband, who loves to tell people I killed him off in the backstory.
The second what if came several years later. James was not my original hero, but as I sought escape from the hell of sharing our home with OCD, my mind veered off on another sick tangent: What if, once my son grew up, no one could deal with his quirky behavior? What if no one could ever love him the way I loved my husband? There’s a reason James is estranged from his family: OCD destroys relationships.
I didn’t set out to make a statement about OCD. I just wanted to create a believable character. Popular culture is littered with stereotypes of obsessive-compulsives. I love Criminal Minds, but the words obsessive or compulsive often creep into the show’s profiles of serial killers. And then there’s Monk, the television detective with the wipes-carrying assistant. Did anyone see the episode when school kids were laughing at him? Man, that one kicked me in the gut.
Imagine your worst fears. Now imagine living with them every moment of every day. In stereo surround sound. That’s OCD. To force back the worry demands incredible courage, and James is the bravest person Tilly knows. He isn’t a victim or a psycho. He’s a successful entrepreneur who happens to be terrified of everything…except snakes. Which gives him one up on Indiana Jones.
I have no control over what happens as my book launches into the world, but James and Tilly will always be my first hero and heroine. And I’m so proud of them. I think I might get in my car, open the sunshine roof, and throw out one “Yay for The Unfinished Garden.”
When she’s not gardening, Barbara Claypole White writes love stories about damaged people and blogs through the highs and lows of OCD at easytolovebut.com. To browse The Unfinished Garden, go to barbaraclaypolewhite.com or amazon.