Six questions: Interview with Heidi Ayarbe, Author of Compulsion

Hello, everyone! Another day, another author interview. This one is with Heidi Ayarbe, who wrote Compulsion, a multi-layered story of OCD in a young adult. From the blurb:

Today has to be perfect.
Magic.
I look at the clock.
10:14 AM.

Ten fourteen. One plus one is two plus four is six plus ten is sixteen minus one is fifteen minus two is thirteen. OK.

I turn from the clock and walk into the hallway. “Ready.”

Saturday will be the third state soccer champion­ship in a row for Jake Martin. Three. A good number. Prime. With Jake on the field, Carson City High can’t lose because Jake has the magic: a self-created protection generated by his obsession with prime numbers. It’s the magic that has every top soccer university recruiting Jake, the magic that keeps his family safe, and the magic that suppresses his anxiety attacks. But the magic is Jake’s prison, because sustaining it means his compulsions take over nearly every aspect of his life.

Jake’s convinced the magic will be permanent after Saturday, the perfect day, when every prime has converged. Once the game is over, he won’t have to rely on his sister to concoct excuses for his odd rituals. His dad will stop treating him like he is some freak. Maybe he’ll even make a friend other than Luc.

But what if the magic doesn’t stay?

What if the numbers never leave?

Acclaimed author Heidi Ayarbe has created an honest and riveting portrait of a teen struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder in this breathtaking and courageous novel.

1) Is your book based on personal experiences, and how did your life experiences inform your description of OCD?
I do not have OCD, though I do deal with anxiety. A friend of mine has severe anxiety and OCD. I spent a lot of time with her, sharing scenes, asking how she’d react in certain situations. Naturally, every person with anxiety doesn’t react the same. Having her as a sounding board and sensitivity reader made all the difference in this novel. The climactic scene, in which Jake physically can’t go help his sister, mirrors a similar situation in her life in which she couldn’t help her daughter. That is how crippling it is. And so often I’ve seen OCD and anxiety represented as a punchline for someone’s character in a story or TV show when it’s anything but funny. And so so hard to understand.
 
2) Your book deals with the mental and physical aspects of OCD. How difficult was it to describe what these felt like?
I think anybody who has experienced a panic attack can appreciate how out-of-body and uncontrolled you feel during that moment. It’s terrifying. And, yes, I really think it’s hard to describe that moment when everything feels electric and fuzzy at the same time. And the pre-moment, when you know it’s going to happen. It’s like a tidal wave taking over your body, and you just have to brace yourself for it. During those scenes, I just tried to express how I felt during a panic attack. I haven’t had many, but they leave an imprint on you.
 
3) How did you balance the need to make this book broadly appealing to an audience at large and a desire to make it speak specifically to those who have been affected by OCD?
Honestly, I only thought about Jake’s story and being true to him. Certainly, as an author, our job is to connect with readers. That said, I think telling our truth, and finding the truth in our characters, is primordial, or it can come off as contrived. So, honestly, I was only thinking about Jake’s story. It really was important to me. And by being honest and vulnerable, I hope that it appealed to readers.
 
4) In the book, you describe a character driving to the moment when the “magic” will stay and everything will be alright in Jake’s life – were you intentionally trying to use this concept to make the book more relatable to all readers? That’s how I read this aspect, but I could be wrong.
Anxiety disorders (specific phobias, social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, and OCD among others) don’t make sense in a “rational world.” So I tried to create a reasoning that Jake could hold onto to make sense of the disorder himself. If we think about anxiety disorders, and approaching them from an outside-looking-in, Jake, too, was trying to make sense of his own disorder. He used sports and “magic” to do so. So I used this idea more for Jake. How would he justify what was happening to him? Again, it’s his story.
 
5) Why prime numbers?
When I was researching OCD, so many different forms exist. Though the jury is out on whether anxiety disorders are hereditary or social, or, most likely, a combination of both, no two people deal with anxiety the same way. So they can be unrecognizable to each other. Like Jake’s mom suffers from scrupulosity. He definitely doesn’t see himself mirrored in her, at all. They don’t connect, though they both suffer. Most characters I’ve seen portrayed with OCD focus on germs, cleanliness, having everything perfectly organized etc. I guess it’s easier to address something like that visually. As novelists, though, we get to use the mind!  I was thinking about athletes and an athlete mentality. A friend of mine’s son used to count words. All of his sentences had to have an odd number of words. So I started to consider numbers, prime, and how Jake could relate them to sports. This seemed more natural to me. And I know some readers found it frustrating, even difficult, dealing with the constant adding, subtracting, searching through numbers in Jake’s mind. Imagine living that, though.
 
6) Can you talk a little about the impact this book had on readers? Did you hear from anyone who said that your writing helped them get help or recognize OCD in themselves/others?
This is one of those questions I’d love to say, “I simply don’t have time to address the endless e-mails that flood my inbox.” I get more of a desert drizzle of mails from readers (which means not many). That said, Compulsion was on Taysha’s list and received a lot of good reviews, even starred. Perhaps, by focusing so much on Jake I didn’t connect to readers as I’d hoped? I’m not sure. It’s a weird job. I love Jake. I love his story. And I tried my hardest to be honest. I think, as authors, that’s what we owe our readers (all five of them!) teehee!!
If you enjoy books about young adults and mental health, then I encourage you to check out my upcoming novel, Redemptionwhich will be out on June 5 but is available for pre-order at a discounted price today. Redemption is a young adult/sci-fi thriller about depression, anxiety and saving the world.

2 thoughts on “Six questions: Interview with Heidi Ayarbe, Author of Compulsion

  1. Reading your interviews with other authors who also write about characters whose lives include dealing with MH is so encouraging! I honestly believe these books can have a huge positive impact on young people. May I suggest that each of you consider donating copies of your books to the appropriate school libraries in your area?

    Like

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