Tell me a bit about yourself, where were you born and where do you call home?
I’m from England UK, and have lived in America for the last six years. I am a research scientist and a writer, with a PhD in neuroscience from University College London. I also host a blog, Crazy in a Crazy World, that rages about the maddening and frustrating things in life that would drive even the sanest person crazy. Home right now is San Francisco.
What inspired you to write a contemporary fiction book that tackles two very serious subjects, OCD and sociopaths?
The story has been nagging me for years. I wanted to write a story from the point of view of people with distorted thinking, and liked the idea of the character who feels too much verses the one who feels nothing at all. Personally I relate to the one who feels too much.
As a neuroscientist, I’ve always been fascinated by mental illness, especially obsessive compulsive disorder. There are too many people suffering in silence, too frightened and embarrassed to seek help. A Life Lived Ridiculously shows them just how unusual and embarrassing OCD can be, and hopefully lets sufferers know that they are not alone.
Sociopaths are fascinating too, because they are everywhere (4% of the population). Whether a spouse, partner, colleague or relative, most people (whether they know it or not) have a sociopath in their life. I had one in my life and found him fascinating. The way they look you right in the eye and lie. The fact that they are capable of anything, because they are not limited by the same moral boundaries as the rest of us. Even the way they talk -- they have this amazing ability to monologue incessantly while actually revealing nothing. I wanted specifically to capture this trait in my sociopath’s voice.
OCD is a very real issue. Can you discuss what your feelings are on this matter?
I’m interested in OCD because it seems like such a willful condition yet the sufferer is completely at the mercy of the intrusive thoughts and cannot help performing the compulsions. Imagine having a song in your head (we've all experienced that), but it will not go away, ever. Not only that but the song is accompanied by the most terrifying sinking feeling of fear and dread that you've ever experienced. Then another thought pops into your head that if you just clean your house, check the oven or put everything in a certain order, the song and accompanying fear will vanish. But it doesn't vanish, it just gets worse...
People with OCD are neither weak nor stubborn. Their minds are literally hijacked by thoughts that they have no desire to entertain. Sufferers of OCD are as busy and determined to get on with their days as the rest of us, but they are constantly interrupted by thoughts that they cannot control and do not invite.
How would you characterize Maxine’s OCD? And how does it affect her relationships with family and friends?
Maxine is ashamed of her OCD, so she does her best to keep it a secret. It affects her relationship with her family, in that they know she’s not quite right in the head, but they don’t understand why. So they respond by disrespecting her and treating her like an incompetent child.
I’m sure most women can sympathize with Maxine. Let’s face it, ask any woman if she’s dated a sociopath and the answer is gonna be, “Oh honey, let me tell you!” But joking aside, what really makes an individual a sociopath?
Sociopaths feel no remorse, guilt, empathy, compassion or love. Their emotions are shallow, their relationships loveless and one-sided, and they have no interest in bonding emotionally with anyone. The causes of this sociopathic disorder are thought to involve abnormal growth mainly in the frontal lobe of the brain, which is responsible for self-control, planning, judgment, the balance of individual versus social needs, and many other essential functions underlying effective social response. (Martha Stout, The Sociopath Next Door)
Sam… what a character! Can you explain, in a nutshell, the dynamics between Sam and Maxine? What is it that makes Sam so charming and so alarming? (what will readers most likely love about him, and what will they despise about him?)
Sam is the only person that makes Maxine feel alive, in a world where her OCD consumes her every waking moment. When Maxine is with Sam, she forgets her OCD. Sam lures Maxine with his charm, intelligence and ability to make her feel special. And then he snatches it all away, leaving her wanting. Readers will probably love Sam’s apparent vulnerability and his intelligence. But most of all, readers will despise Sam, because he is manipulative, shrouded in secrecy, and oozes evil from the top of his hunched shoulders to the bottom of his stick thin legs.
What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about Sam?
There are a number of surprises about Sam, but if I tell you, I’d ruin the ending...
How has your environment and upbringing colored your writing?
A strong Jewish theme runs through the story, highlighted by the tight knit family, the neuroses and name calling, plus the pressure to find the right man. The reader gains insight into the London Jewish scene, as we watch Maxine trawl events in search of her mate, and ultimately herself. All of this was inspired by my own upbringing in London and my own family’s neuroses.
What was your favorite scene to write?
The scene where Maxine almost takes an overdose on her flight to New York. It was so farcical that I laughed the whole time I wrote it. I know overdosing isn't normally a funny subject, but in the context of this scene it is hilarious!
What was the hardest scene to write?
Any scenes in which the sociopath lies, manipulates and tells a tall tale. Writing from the point of view of a person with no emotions is hard when you have emotions. Fortunately (or not) I have encountered at least one sociopath in my life, so I evoked his voice in order to write those scenes.
What book are you reading now?
Social Q’s by Philip Galanes. My husband always reads the Social Q’s column of the New York Times to me every Sunday, it’s our Sunday ritual. Then he bought the book, and I stayed up all night reading it, and laughed so hard that neither of us got any sleep.
What is your favorite Quote?
Even when opportunity knocks, you must get off your seat to answer the door.
If you could teleport to any time period or event in history, what would it be and why?
To be honest, no period in the past is all that appealing, and I certainly wouldn’t want to live in a time before antibiotics or hair relaxer. Therefore I’d say the 1980s, when music was worth listening to and every story had not yet been written.
What are the best marketing tips/advice you want to pass along to authors, especially for those who are lost and don't know where to start?
The best advice I could give is to be a guest blogger on other people's blogs -- that way you are reaching an already established audience. Most bloggers welcome guest bloggers as it enriches their site. It's a win-win relationship.
What would you like readers to take away from A Life Lived Ridiculously?
Firstly I want readers to be entertained. Then I hope they will relate and feel less alone, whether they too suffer from some type of embarrassing mental illness or have been preyed upon in any way. We all have emotional pain, and I am just one person writing about it. But I hope that the way I write about it touches and speaks to people.
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