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.

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