Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Today, I interview Chelsea Lowe, author of "The Everything Health Guide to OCD." Chelsea talks about being an expert on a condition she also has - and writing about it, her first book contract and the books she loves to read.

Tell us about yourself.
Everyone's favorite question--and one of the hardest to answer! Well...let's see: I've been writing pretty much all my life. Not just self-help: personal essays, verse, fiction, features and songs. I grew up in two families—my mother's and my father's. I live in the Northeast with my fella and am older than most "Chelsea"s.

Tell us about your book, The Everything Health Guide to OCD.
It's a self-help title and includes a lot of stuff you don't necessarily see in other books on this subject. It's got a lot of information.

Is this a formulated book, like the "Idiots" or "Dummies"
series? If so, how did you land a contract for it?
Yes; it's part of the "Everything Health" series from Adams Media.

Tell us how you came up with the idea and found your agent/publisher?
Actually, at the time, I was tired of writing about OCD! But I'm a big one for tossing my hat into the ring. I heard, through the American Society of Journalists and Authors, that Adams Media was looking for an author for a guide to adult OCD. The person who posted the listing was kind enough to put me in touch with her agent. I told the agent I did a lot of mental-health writing and had numerous clips about OCD. After submitting the clips, I had to provide several versions of a table of contents and a five-thousand-word sample chapter before getting the go-ahead.

The reason I had so many clips in the first place was the TV show "Monk"! "Monk" came out shortly after I was diagnosed with OCD. (I'd had it for years, but believed I was simply phobic. I thought OCD meant you had to count ceiling tiles or cracks in the sidewalk. Which can be true, but is by no means an inclusive definition!) All of a sudden, there was a character who, in many ways, was almost my double. The next best thing to shouting from the rooftops was writing about "Monk" for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the New York Daily News and TV Guide.

How did you turn a subject that could be dry into fascinating reading?

Well, I don't know if I made it fascinating! But if so, there are a few reasons:

1) OCD doesn't need a book to make it interesting! It's intriguing all by itself. It's a neurological condition (not, as once believed, a neurosis) that can make otherwise "normal" people behave--and, certainly, think--in very strange ways.

2) The book has as much humor as the publisher felt comfortable including. (They didn't want to be seen as taking a serious subject lightly.) People who have this condition often are bright and creative (she said modestly!), and able to see their own peculiarities quite clearly, even if it's sometimes hard to do anything about them.

3) I also included material I haven't seen in other books on this subject, such as a chapter on physical health problems that can go along with OCD. For instance, if you over wash, you could be at higher risk for eczema. Nothing scary, though. I wouldn't do that to my fellow worriers!

There are sections for health professionals, employers and friends and family members who do not necessarily have OCD, but care about someone who does. I included material about work and travel, kids and seniors. There's also information for couples. In some cases, only one member has the condition—but, surprisingly often, both do.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book?
Definitely writing 85,000 words (304 pages) in about ten weeks! It was over the Thanksgiving-to-New Year's holidays, too.
Also, negotiating the contract. It was my first experience with a book contract, of course, and I wanted the job. But I also wanted to feel good about what I was doing.

What worked for you on this project?
Having a technical reviewer. Because I didn't have a lot of time to complete the actual writing, having a very knowledgeable person giving my work the once-over reassured me a lot. She gave me some really good suggestions, too.
Also: asking smart, knowledgeable people for ideas. My friend Mark Maynard, who also has OCD, came up with "What Can This Condition Be Good For?" That became a chapter. My fella, Dave, gave me some good ones, as well, especially about living with a person who has OCD.
And, as a person who has OCD, I knew a lot of things another writer might not. For example, that in-person support groups can be problematic because, often, they meet in hospitals or churches--two sites that can cause anxiety, even for people who don't have OCD, but especially for some people who do.
Finally: not procrastinating! (I wouldn't have had the time, anyway.) Asking myself, whenever I got stuck, What do you want to tell your readers about OCD?

How did you conduct your research?
I had some wonderful, wonderful books to read. This was not uncharted territory. I was also able to draw on my own experiences, and found a lot of terrific material online—things like users groups, blogs, online support organizations.

What types of books do you like to read?
For enjoyment, I read mostly books by older or expired authors. I'm too jealous of the young ones!
My favorites are:

Home Country, by Ernie Pyle
The Devil's Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce
and, strange as this may sound, How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. He was an awesome writer!
I also like reading Andy Rooney. And--again, I know this is totally weird—looking through the dictionary.

My favorite novels are:

Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis
Ordinary People, by Judith Guest
Marjorie Morningstar, by Herman Wouk
How Green Was My Valley, by Richard Llewellyn
David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens
The Long Goodbye, by Raymond Chandler
Bright Lights, Big City, by Jay McInerny
The Accidental Tourist (and others), by Ann Tyler
Being There, by Jerzy Kosinsky
Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

I know I've included a few authors who are alive and not very old. But when I discovered them, they must have seemed so!

Where can readers find your book? What's next for you?
Amazon.com and Target. Barnes & Noble, I assume. Also Powells and other used booksellers. Or, type the title or my name into any search engine. (I like Goodsearch.com, because you can support charities of your choice with every search. I am not affiliated with Goodsearch.)
Next, I'd like to write more books. I've discovered that I love doing this!


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