Sunday, March 24, 2013

Author Interview with Meredith Towbin (STRAIGHT JACKET)

1) You wrote STRAIGHT JACKET with such vivid detail (the doors click-clanking shut in the psych ward gave me chills). Where did you find inspiration to write a book about teens experiencing mental illness?

My ideas for my writing always start with a setting first. The characters come later. For some reason, one day I just started thinking about psychiatric hospitals and what it was like to live in one. I’ve always been fascinated by psychology and sociology – in college I took enough psych classes to have myself an unofficial minor. There was always something about psychiatric hospitals that seemed so, I don’t know, weird and scary and interesting to me all at the same time.

I kept that setting in mind. In terms of my characters, I wanted to create people that were not only imprisoned by the hospital, but also confined in their lives outside of the hospital. Teens are perfect for that – they want to be independent and free, but they still live under the rules and restrictions of their parents.

It all just came together – mental illness and teens! Voila!

2) What was your research process like?

I did quite a bit of research for the book. I’ve never actually been in a psychiatric hospital, so my first goal was to try to get inside of one to take a tour. I have to admit the prospect of this freaked me out a bit, but it didn’t matter because in the end no one would let me in to see one. I got totally shut down.

Thank goodness for the Internet. I scoured all these websites of different hospitals, took the photo tours, read every single item that was posted. I also Googled lots of things, like what it’s like to be in a catatonic state, and read people’s first-hand experiences of life in a psych ward.

As I was writing the book, I realized that I really needed to speak to someone who was an expert in catatonia. I emailed maybe 20 different psychiatrists who published in the field. None of them responded – except one! I spent an hour here and there with him on the phone and picked his brain. He answered everything from what pills (and their dosages) would a patient with catatonia take to what the dining room in a high-end psychiatric hospital looks like. He even diagnosed Caleb for me and told me how he would treat him in therapy. It was amazing.

3) Anna's journey is just beginning. Will readers see her again in a book of yours?

I hadn’t intended on writing a sequel to STRAIGHTJACKET, but most people’s responses so far are that they want to see one! I don’t know what the future holds, but I definitely will keep the possibility of a sequel on the table.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

My 2 cents:

Ivan is The One and Only Ivan, a 400-pound gorilla, who lives at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall off I-95. Ivan can paint and draw, and he tells the story of his life at Exit 8 with his friends, Stella, Bob, Julia and Ruby. Ruby and Stella are elephants. Bob is a dog. And, Julia is the compassionate child who comes to the Big Top every night to hang out with the animals, draw and do her homework, while her father cleans the mall.

A poignant story, The One and Only Ivan is also triumphant in the end, a magical tale of hope and solidarity among kindred spirits, whether they be animal or human. By Katherine Applegate, this YA novel won the prestigious Newbery Medal Award for 2013, and was inspired by a true story. It will make readers of all ages think hard about animal habitats, especially ones built by human hands.

Length: 300 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes, especially for ages 10 and up. Advisory: there are some scenes with animal cruelty.

Bonus: If you've ever traveled to Zoo Atlanta, you may have seen Willie B., the famous Silverback gorilla and, possibly, Applegate's real-life inspiration.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Straight Jacket by Meredith Towbin

My 2 cents:

Meredith Towbin's new YA novel, Straight Jacket, is sit-on-the-edge-of -your-seat, double-take good. So well written, it is almost impossible to believe this is Towbin's first novel.

Straight Jacket takes us straight to a hospital psychiatric unit where readers meet Anna, a lovely eighteen-year-old only child, who experiences crippling panic attacks and is severely abused by her picture-perfect parents; and Caleb, a young artist who believes he is an angel sent to earth to help Anna heal. The brilliant thing about Towbin is that she steps back, and lets her characters take over.

Readers are given the rare opportunity to make up their own minds about Caleb and Anna, and what's real and not real. A beautiful story, Straight Jacket is funny, poignant, eye-opening, tender and deeply provocative.

Length: 264 pages

Worth Your Time? So worth your time! For you and your teen. This book will have you thinking and talking long after you've read the last page.

Bonus: Annie Melton's artsy cover. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

DYLAN'S SONG by P.M. Terrell and Author Interview

My 2 cents:

Dylan's Song by P. M. Terrell is the fourth book in her Black Swamp Mysteries Series. It takes place in Terrell's own Lumberton, NC and Ireland. Full of mystery, intrigue and rich Irish atmosphere, Dylan's Song weaves a tale around a trio of CIA operatives, reunited sisters, an Irish Catholist priest, peat bogs, an ancient castle and a prisoner who needs to be rescued. Dylan Maguire and Vicki Boyd (who has paranormal psychological powers) live in Lumberton, NC and raise angel fish, while waiting word on their next mission. They don't have to wait long, as their skills and experience are in high demand, and lives, a world away, are hanging in the balance.

Length: 277 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes. This book is classified as Adult Fiction, Mystery/Suspense. The author is a founder of the annual Book 'Em Literary Event held each February in Lumberton, NC.

Bonus: Read below for an enlightening author/interview with P. M. Terrell.

 Q: This is the fourth book in your Black Swamp Mysteries Series. How does
 DYLAN'S SONG differ from the first three?
The first three books in the series take place entirely in
southeastern North Carolina. The same main characters appear in this
book - Dylan Maguire, Vicki Boyd, Brenda Carnegie and Sam. But in this
book, Dylan, Vicki and Brenda journey to Ireland to locate and extract
a missing CIA operative. So while the book begins in North Carolina,
it quickly moves to the backdrop of Ireland.

 Q: Where did the inspiration for Ireland come from?
Dylan Maguire made his first appearance in Vicki's Key, the second
book of the series. He had recently arrived from Ireland to care for
an aging Laurel Maguire, who had suffered a stroke. But his past
remained largely a mystery; all we really knew in the first two books
is he'd left his native Ireland behind for a new start in America. I
knew at some point, he would have to return to Ireland and face his

 Q: I found the parts about Ireland's peat bogs and ancient castles very
 interesting. Can you tell our readers a little about that?
I loved writing about the Irish bogs and ancient castles, and I plan
to do more where Dylan and Vicki return to the village where he was
raised. The bogs are actually the Bog of Allen, which covers 370
square miles in Ireland. It was formed when lakes and ponds began to
fill up with vegetation, but they are quite spongy and sometimes
dangerous. The peat that grows along the top of the bogs is harvested
for fuel but Ireland is now researching wind farms in the region.

The bogs have swallowed up whole ancient forests and homes. Artifacts
dating back centuries have been found, including ancient weapons and
even portions of castles, which inspired the dungeons that Vicki and
Dylan locate--and where they find the missing operative.

 Q: How does your background in computers add intrigue to your stories?
I was very fortunate to have been in the computer industry during the
infancy of personal computers. My specialty was computer crime and
computer intelligence - working on the right side of the law, versus
one of the main characters in this series, Brenda, who prefers the
dark side. I know what is possible with computers, how the law could
be broken or how law enforcement could catch criminals using new
technology. I enjoy weaving those elements throughout the series.

 Q: How did you get from Washington to Lumberton?
I was born in Washington, DC and spent most of my life there. I met my
husband there when he was serving in the military and stationed in the
DC area. When he retired from the military, his parents were elderly
(they have since passed away) and he wanted to be closer to them
during their last years. When a flying opportunity arose in Lumberton
(he is a pilot), we moved here. He has since gone back to working for
the military as a contractor and is assigned to Afghanistan. But I
have fallen in love with this area and the people in Lumberton have
been very friendly and very good to me. I enjoy the small town

Thanks, Patricia!