It is a commonly-known fact amongst elite literary circles that no book-loving individual could ever, ever have too much shelf space devoted to supernatural romance. Nope! Not possible! You'll pry this vampire werewolf zombie ghost abominable snowman love story out of our cold, dead hands! And latest on our list of must-read novels in which the central romance isn't entirely of this world is Meredith Towbin's "Straightjacket," in which Anna, an 18 year-old, anxiety-ridden resident of a psychiatric ward, finds herself falling in love with another patient: a gifted painter who's either a) an angel sent to save her life, or b) the craziest dude in Crazytown. Want to learn more? Check it: We spent some time with the author herself to get the skinny on angels, asylum tours and the hazards of commitment—in both definitions of the word.
Hollywood Crush: "Straightjacket" is a pretty screen-ready romance. Can you sum up your book in three sentences, movie tagline-style, beginning with "Boy meets girl"?
Meredith Towbin: Boy meets girl. Girl isn’t sure if boy (who says he’s an angel) is crazy because, well, they meet in a psych ward. Girl doesn’t care and runs away with boy to live happily ever after...until something goes terribly, terribly wrong. Duh duh DUUUHH!
Your book involves asylums and art and angels. Any experience with one of these things (or all three)?
Weirdly enough, not really. I’ve never been in an asylum, although I have read "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest" and was thoroughly freaked out by it. I was briefly obsessed with the movie "Date with an Angel" in the mid-80s, so there’s that. And I can appreciate good art. But no, I haven’t had any personal experiences with any of them. I guess you don’t always write about what you know.
What went into the research for "Straightjacket"?
I did have to do quite a bit of research. I googled my little heart out, looking for everything having to do with psychiatric hospitals and catatonia (a disorder that puts Caleb, one of my main characters, into a stupor in which he doesn’t move or talk for hours at a time). I even called a couple of hospitals and asked if I could take a tour of their psych wards. They politely declined.
I went on to email dozens of psychiatrists who were experts in catatonia. After a few months of an empty inbox, I heard back from one doctor who agreed to be interviewed. He let me pick his brain. I learned everything from what he would diagnose Caleb with to what the dining room in a fancy schmancy psychiatric hospital looks like to what it actually feels like to be in a catatonic stupor.
What drew you to writing YA?
I didn’t really choose YA. It kind of chose me. I wanted to write this particular story, and the characters popped into my head fully formed as teenagers. I’m drawn to writing about people who don’t have much control over their lives, people who feel very deeply and fully a wide range of emotions. To me, teenagers fit that bill perfectly.
What are you reading right now?
I’m almost finished with the fourth book in the "Game of Thrones" series. It’s not my usual cup of tea—I’m not real keen on torture and such—but for some reason I got completely hooked. I so want to watch the TV series, but honestly I’m too scared. I guess I can handle reading about beheadings and being mauled by a pack of wolves, but I can’t watch it being played out in front of me.
We can't help noticing that tormented emo angels are the new sparkly vampires when it comes to YA fiction. What type of supernatural boyfriend will be the next big trend? (Sea monsters? Werepigeons?)
I really couldn’t even guess. Whatever he is, the next supernatural boyfriend will probably be brooding and tortured and seven kinds of messed up. Because really, what cute boy with issues ISN’T the bee's knees?
Indeed! So, is "Straightjacket" on your list of must-reads?