Welcome to the blog tour for Tamara Ireland Stone's Every Last Word! The FYA book report will be posted later today. Until then, here's the official word on the book:
If you could read my mind, you wouldn't be smiling.
Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can't turn off.
Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn't help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she'd be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam's weekly visits to her psychiatrist.
Caroline introduces Sam to Poet's Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more "normal" than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.
Tamara's joining us at the FYA lockers today to talk about how personal ties shaped the main character of Every Last Word. Take it away, Tamara!
An Inspiring Mind: On Writing a Positive Character with OCD
by Tamara Ireland Stone
Four years ago, a close family friend was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Because OCD tends to bring friends to the party, it showed up with Anxiety Disorder and Depression as well. She was twelve years old at the time.
I call her C.
I’d been following what was going on in her life—years of debilitating insomnia, fights with her girlfriends that occasionally led to full-scale panic attacks, and troubling thoughts that came out of nowhere and took up residence in her mind. I’d been struggling with insomnia myself, and I certainly remembered dealing with complicated friendships when I was young, but this was different.
At the time, I knew very little about OCD outside the stereotypical symptoms, like compulsive hand washing, repeated lock checking, or an obsession with neatness and order. But she didn’t have any of those external signs. The disorder played out entirely in her mind.
After some initial research, I learned that there’s a term for this. It’s called “Purely Obsessional OCD”, or “Pure-O” for short. It’s the “O” for obsessive without any of the “C” for compulsive.* People who struggle with Pure-O, for example, might be obsessively worried about germs, but they don’t feel a compulsive need to wash their hands over and over again.
Can you imagine being afraid of your own mind? Always on guard, never knowing if you’re going to be able to react in time to stop a thought from taking over and sending you into an anxiety attack? I couldn’t imagine what that must be like.
In the years that followed, I watched her family support her unconditionally. They worked in lock step with her psychiatrist, who prescribed medication that helped her sleep at night and quieted her mind during the day. They interviewed therapists until they landed on one C felt she could trust and confide in. And over time, she learned strategies to help her take control of her disorder.
C and her family have been inspiring to watch.
I tend to write stories about people who are keeping big secrets, and a popular teen girl keeping her Pure-O OCD from her lifelong best friends felt like a pretty compelling idea. And because of C, I knew it would be the kind of book I wanted to write: Not a story about a sick girl, but a positive and ultimately uplifting look at a mind that works differently.
When I asked her and her family if I could write this novel and draw upon some of their experiences, they agreed immediately and wholeheartedly.
Research, Research, Research
From the very beginning, it was important to me to get the OCD piece of this story as close to accurate as I could. I wanted to write Every Last Word from the main character’s point of view to give readers a sense of what it’s like to live inside Sam’s overly active, occasionally frightening mind, and that meant a great deal of homework.
My journalism background came in handy. For the first few months, I did nothing but research. I interviewed C and read everything I could get my hands on—from medical journals to blogs written by teens—in an effort to understand all the nuances of this disorder.
I also worked closely with four mental health professionals along the way to be sure I was portraying OCD accurately and respectfully. Because Sam’s therapist plays a big role in the story, working with them helped me craft a relationship that I hope feels genuine and empowering.
My discussions with these four individuals shaped many things about this story, and I’m so grateful to each one of them. Throughout this process, I've gained a whole new level of respect for psychologists and psychiatrists, especially those who work closely with teens.
Power in Threes
One of the common threads in OCD is an obsession with numbers and counting. I repeatedly heard people say that if they didn’t do something a specific number of times it “just didn’t feel right.” I found that fascinating. While it’s technically a compulsion, I saw counting fairly consistently from people with both Pure-O and traditional OCD. It’s easy to hide.
Sam finds peace when she does things in threes. She has to click a mechanical pencil three times. She scratches the back of her neck three times, over and over again. She needs to park her car with the last number of the odometer resting on three (which, as you can imagine, makes parking your car especially challenging!).
And because she also has an obsession with music and lyrics, she likes those words in sets of threes too. She creates playlists, and when she’s done, she finds three words within a song that summarize the mood of the playlist—and that becomes its title.
In her honor, you’ll find words in groups of threes throughout the novel, starting with the title: Every Last Word. And each chapter begins with three words taken directly from its content. I think Sam would like that.
Words from C
In real life, C doesn’t keep her OCD a secret. She accepts it as part of who she is, and bravely talks about it. I applaud her for that. But her family and I decided to keep her identity under wraps, because if her name is publicly connected with this novel, she no longer has the power to decide who knows and who doesn’t. It should always be her choice.
But I asked her to tell me what she hoped readers would take away from Every Last Word. Here’s what she said:
I want people to understand what it's like to live with mental illness. That it doesn't mean you're crazy or always trying to make excuses. And I want people with mental illnesses to understand that they're not crazy. That they can live fulfilling lives even with all the struggling they have to endure.
Well said, C.
Sam’s friends, The Crazy Eights, unknowingly make her life a lot harder. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about my own experience with friendships, fitting in and finding my tribe.
* After further research, I learned that many mental health professionals consider “Pure-O” to be a bit of a misnomer. All OCD starts with obsessive thoughts and sometimes there are also compulsions—they don’t distinguish between the two. But I spent a great deal of time reading blogs and talking with people who use “Pure-O” to describe their unique experience with the disorder. I continue to use the term because it means something to them, and I want to honor that.
About the Author:
Tamara Ireland Stone is the author of Time After Time and Time Between Us, which Melissa Marr praised as a "beautifully written, unique love story," and has been published in over twenty countries. A former Silicon Valley marketing executive, Tamara enjoys skiing, hiking, and spending time with her husband and two children. She lives just outside of San Francisco.
Thanks for stopping by, Tamara! You can visit her on:
Follow along with the Every Last Word blog tour for more guest posts from Tamara!
June 15: Alice Marvels – Introducing the tour and Every Last Word
June 16: Forever Young Adult – An Inspiring Mind: On Writing a Positive Character with OCD
June 17: Fangirlish – Words, Walls and Wonderment: Welcome to Poet’s Corner
June 18: The Daily Quirk – Friends vs. Tribes: A Look Back at High School
June 19: Hypable – Exclusive Excerpt: Every Last Word Chapter 2
June 20: Gone with the Words – The Final Every Last Word Playlist: “In The Deep”
In honour of Every Last Word, we're giving away a Celebrate Your Unique Selves prize pack! One lucky winner will receive:
• Two copies of Every Last Word for you and a friend
• A $50 Visa gift card to enjoy a day out celebrating your friendship!
To enter, simply leave a comment with three words that describe your friendship with the person you'd share this prize with. A winner will be randomly chosen on Tuesday, June 23rd. (U.S. only -- sorry, everyone else!) (contest closed)
Every Last Word is available now.