Three months ago, Harlequin MIRA published my debut novel, The Unfinished Garden. The hero of this love story about grief, fear, and dirt battled crippling obsessive-compulsive disorder as a child. He was in remission until something happened in his personal life and blam! The OCD came back. Full force. When I signed the contract for The Unfinished Garden, my son, who was diagnosed with OCD at a young age, had been free of the anxiety monster for three years. TUG launched into the world and blam! The OCD was back. Full force.
In the weeks that followed, I abandoned my promotional efforts and cast my book baby off into the literary ocean on a cobbled-together life raft. Hell, I never even learned how to tweet. Eventually, I asked for an extension on novel two, which my fabulous publisher granted. (Personal aside: I love being a Harlequin MIRA author.)
Thanks to my son’s mantra of OCD will never win and two heaven-sent mental health care professionals, my family has hit a turning point. And here I am. Staring down the deadline that must be met. And a house that must be decorated. And gifts that must be purchased and wrapped in either Hanukkah, birthday or Christmas paper (we’re a two-religion as well as a two-holiday-birthday house). Ho, ho, ho.
But a funny thing happened on the route through my son’s mental collapse. Writing, once again, became my escape and my therapy, and novel two is richer for it. NaNoWriMo was not widely productive for me in terms of whipping through the pages of my third draft. But what I did produce felt golden. I was mining the emotional depths of my story and excavating all kinds of connections I had missed in the second draft.
I don’t much care whether you shelve my novels in women’s fiction, literary commercial fiction, or romance, but I write emotional relationship stories. Voice and character are everything, and until OCD took my family hostage for a second time, I was struggling to connect with my new heroine. She’s a holistic vet, and we don’t even own a goldfish. But she’s also the mother of a suicide survivor.
One day after a crying jag on the bathroom floor, I decided to focus on my writing for a few hours—use it to block out my reality. And as I did, I met my heroine for the first time. On the surface, she was still the calm, spiritual, positive-thinker both the hero and I mistook her for. But in private, she was a terrified parent. And I understood her pain.
So, not really a miracle by It’s A Wonderful Life standards, but something huge happened to me this November. I rediscovered the joy of writing, and I am going to keep that joy through the season of chaos. And wish every reader and writer a December filled with escapism.
Barbara Claypole White is the author of TheUnfinished Garden, a love story about grief, OCD, and dirt (Harlequin MIRA, 2012)
“White … conveys the condition of OCD, and how it creates havoc in one’s life and the lives of loved ones, with style and grace, never underplaying the seriousness of the disorder.” Romantic Times 4*
“Filled with fascinating characters and a great deal of love for the natural world, White’s novel explores the untilled regions of the psyche, and we are richer for it.” Anne Barnhill, The Pilot Newspaper
Romance Junkies 5 Ribbons + Recommended Read for "unpredictable originality"