ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview with Rachel M. Wilson, Author of DON’T TOUCH

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Today we welcome OneFour KidLit author Rachel M. Wilson, whose YA debut, DON’T TOUCH, releases September 2nd!


About DON’T TOUCH:

Caddie has a history of magical thinking—of playing games in her head to cope with her surroundings—but it’s never been this bad before.

When her parents split up, don’t touch becomes Caddie’s mantra. Maybe if she keeps from touching another person’s skin, Dad will come home. She knows it doesn’t make sense, but her games have never been logical. Soon, despite Alabama’s humidity, she’s covering every inch of skin and wearing evening gloves to school.

And that’s where things get tricky. Even though Caddie’s the new girl, it’s hard to play off her compulsions as artistic quirks. Friends notice things. Her drama class is all about interacting with her scene partners, especially Peter, who’s auditioning for the role of Hamlet. Caddie desperately wants to play Ophelia, but if she does, she’ll have to touch Peter…and kiss him. Part of Caddie would love nothing more than to kiss Peter—but the other part isn’t sure she’s brave enough to let herself fall.

From rising star Rachel M. Wilson comes a powerful, moving debut novel of the friendship and love that are there for us, if only we’ll let them in.

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LG: Congratulations on the release of DON’T TOUCH! It’s a powerful, tough story that’s told beautifully. What inspired you to write it?

RMW: Thank you so much! I was inspired in part by my own experience with OCD and anxiety, and in part by those more ordinary fears that can keep up from the life we want to be leading. It’s possible to waste so much time with fear, to become completely paralyzed at the thought of change, and that’s something I wanted to explore. I also wanted to get into stigma—both from the outside and the inside—the fear of being seen as strange or off-balance and all the complications that can bring to relationships. In a way, I think I was writing to my younger self, wanting to say, “yes, I see how bad this can be, but it also won’t be the end of your world.”

I gave an interview at Disability in Kidlit that goes into more depth about OCD for anyone who’s particularly interested in that.
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LG: How much research when into creating Caddie’s anxiety, and Caddie herself?

RMW: Well, even though I experienced OCD and anxiety myself, Caddie’s symptoms and life circumstances are different from my own, so I still did a bunch of reading about OCD and other anxiety disorders. At one point, I tried focusing on a touch phobia as opposed to OCD, but I found that the magical thinking I’d built into the story belonged more properly in the OCD world. I think I was scared of writing too close to myself, or of misrepresenting something I ought to know well in the process of making fiction. But ultimately, I decided I’d given a healthy amount of attention to those fears and it was time to put them aside. I consulted with a couple of psychiatrist friends to ensure that Caddie’s symptoms rang true for them. And while writing my author’s note, I checked in with a couple of counselor friends who work with youth to make sure I wasn’t unintentionally saying anything harmful.

In terms of Caddie’s character, I used a lot of the character creation techniques I learned while studying acting – playing with metaphors, free-writing, interviewing her. I also created a Pandora station of music that suited Caddie to get myself in her headspace.

LG: Theatre plays a large aspect within the book. Why did you find theatre important for Caddie’s story, aside from the fact that it’ll force her to touch Peter? And why Hamlet?

RMW: She’s always acting, always putting on a show that everything’s okay. One of the titles I considered for this book was Cadence Finn Is Fine—but that sounds a lot like a chapter book. Even before theater was a part of the story, I knew I wanted that element of performing for others to be in Caddie’s character. Out of all the scenes in the book, some version of that first lunch scene has survived from the very beginning, and it was always about that, trying to pretend like nothing bothers you when inside you’re falling apart. I was using acting as a metaphor before it became a concrete part of the storyline. In an earlier draft, Caddie was a ballerina—as with OCD, I think I was afraid of writing Caddie too close to myself. It helped me to write Caddie’s story with those degrees of remove and then bring the ingredients that I knew well back into the story. Not the most efficient process, but hey, it made a novel.

Hamlet came into the picture fairly late in the game as well. Early drafts used The Glass Menagerie, but I wanted to use lots of text from the play and worried about securing permission for that. Plus, that play introduced resonances that didn’t match up with Caddie and Peter’s relationship. A mentor suggested Hamlet after seeing how many scenes involved water imagery or swimming pools; I’d been thinking about that myself, so I reread the play, and was like, “Yeah, that’s right.” There’s so much language about fear and doubt, and Hamlet’s the classic character who’s always acting but afraid to take action. Ophelia was the obvious foil for Caddie, but I became equally interested in how Hamlet relates to Caddie’s character.

LG: What was the hardest part of writing your story? And what was your favorite part?

RMW: The hardest part was probably finding that external storyline—as may have been suggested above, I tried several. I really wrote two or three potential books in tandem, so at some point, I had to perform major surgery and sever the one that survives from all the other possibilities.

My favorite part was drafting those scenes that seemed to come out of the aether. Many of these went through major revision later on, but while writing, I’d get that feeling, this, this is my story . . . this will be a part of my book no matter what. Because I wrote so much that was exploratory and fumbling, writing those scenes I felt confident would stick was a huge boost.

LG: In general, when did you figure out you wanted to be writer, and what inspired you to become one?

RMW: I didn’t figure that out until my senior year of college, and my inspiration came out of theater. I’d been studying acting, but as an actor, you’re always a player in someone else’s story—the playwright’s, the director’s. I needed a creative outlet where I had total control. *laughs maniacally* My acting teacher required us to freewrite every morning, and out of that came a desire to write fiction. I was already very into the adaptation of literature for the stage. Writing adaptations was a kind of stepping stone to writing original fiction because it forced me to take apart and study all the elements of a text. Eventually, I started creating original characters and stories, and I ran with that.

LG: Last, as this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you are afraid of and something you are not afraid of.

RMW: As will probably be clear to readers of DON’T TOUCH, I’m afraid of change, but I’m more afraid of stasis. I have a recurring nightmare about being in a house full of other people’s junk that I don’t know how to get rid of, and I think that comes from a fear of being stuck in the past or tied down by old stuff. I’ve rarely met a horror movie I didn’t like, but I could never make it through an episode of Hoarders.

I’m not at all afraid of heights, or at least, it’s a fear I enjoy–that thrill of standing on the edge of something. The fear’s natural, and it’s fun to stand there in spite of it.
596343About Rachel M. Wilson:

Rachel M. Wilson studied theater at Northwestern University and received her MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Originally from Alabama, Rachel currently writes, acts, and teaches in Chicago, IL. DON’T TOUCH is her first novel. Rachel can best be found on her blogTumblr, or Twitter.

lauren gibaldi squaredLauren Gibaldi is an author and public librarian who lives in Orlando, FL with her husband and overflowing collection of books. She likes dinosaurs, musicals, and the circus (two of which she’s participated in. Hint: It’s not being a dinosaur). Her debut YA novel, THE NIGHT WE SAID YES, will be released summer 2015 with HarperTeen/HarperCollins.
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