Thursday, March 29, 2012

Interview - Andrea Kayne Kaufman - Oxford Messed Up

Oxford Messed Up
By Andrea Kayne Kaufman 
Andrea's Website
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ISBN-13: 978-0984675104

Who knew that life in one Oxford dorm, with a shared bathroom, would become the catalyst for self-examination and exploration not only of one’s soul, but ultimately of one’s soulmate? The lyrics of Van Morrisons music, the poetry of Sylvia Plath, and an old clawfoot bathtub provoke this unexpected journey where the exotic locale of Oxford University is an engaging backdrop for true learning as Gloria Zimmerman and Henry Young discover the loveliness in their own germs and each other.

Rhodes Scholar Gloria Zimmerman is an academic superstar, who has come to Oxford to study feminist poetry. Yet the rigors of the academy pale in comparison with the untreated Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder that she suffers, fueled by her overachieving Chicago parents, and manifested in a deathly aversion to germs and human contact. Her OCD has left her hands rubbed as raw as a burn victim’s and her psyche shattered and in thrall to a possessive and codependent externalized inner voice.

Her dormitory room neighbor (who is also, to her mortification, her loomate) is Henry Young, the appealing but underachieving musician son of an overbearing and disapproving Oxford don. Still mourning the death of his supportive mother while enduring the mockery of his disapproving and merciless father, Henry is haunted by the unexpectedly serious ramifications of a reckless and tragic youth.

Their relationship evolves from a shared obsession with Van Morrison’s music into a desire on the part of each to fill in the gaps in the life of the other. Henry seeks to enable Gloria to conquer her OCD and enter the world of intimacy, while Gloria will help Henry achieve academic success and earn the respect of his implacable father. Yet the constraints of a debilitating illness and the looming revelation of a catastrophic secret conspire to throw their worlds into upheaval, and threaten the possibilities of their unlikely, yet redemptive love.

Thank you Andrea for taking the time to tell our readers more about yourself and your work. We so appreciate having you as our guest here at Between The Pages.

1. What’s your creative fuel?
It’s a pretty simple formula. Caffeine & music, always has been. Any creative writing project has a soundtrack, each character usually has his or her own playlist, and all the drafts have coffee stains. I sometimes walk laps in my living room with a song on repeat trying to figure out what a character is trying to tell me. The music silences my own voice so my characters can talk more freely.

2. Do you have a ritual to start your writing? Always wear the same socks?
I do, but I change socks. On days devoted to writing I take a very, very long walk along Lake Michigan, same route every day. The familiarity lets me enjoy my surroundings while also letting my mind off its leash. Some days I even have to sit down to capture a character’s voice or epiphany on my iPhone recorder. Those wise Canadian geese at the nature boardwalk look at me as if I am very strange.

3. What’s surprised you about getting reader feedback?
Well, I like praise, but that’s not very surprising. And I promise I try to not get defensive if I disagree with someone. But the thing that’s always surprising me is that I still have so much to learn about characters that I know. Gloria, Henry, and I have been in group therapy together for years. When you finish a book and send your characters into the world you imagine they’re this finished, polished. But then savvy readers point out insights and nuances you never thought of but make so much sense and provide great resonance. The writing process is much more collaborative than I thought, even after publication.

4. Are you Gloria or Henry?
I’m not as neat or organized as Gloria but I’m not as messy as Henry, although, I’m always just a few minutes late. While I don’t suffer from OCD myself like one of my close family members, I definitely have an inner perfectionist who raises her critical voice quite regularly. Years of therapy, meditation, and listening to Van Morrison have enabled me to accept and sometimes even celebrate my imperfections. So, I like to think that I’m more comfortable with imperfection than Gloria and less comfortable with inertia than Henry. I love Van Morrison’s music as much as both of them. Perhaps I’m their love child?

5. Oliver. did the story need him? He’s so unlikable.
Ultimately, Oxford Messed Up is a love triangle between two people and the inner saboteurs (that, sorry to tell you, we all have). For Gloria, Oliver is her constant reminder of the expectations she puts on herself and the limits, too. He calls her out whenever she breaks from his oppressive routine. He warns her of things and people who might jeopardize the safety net she’s built. Oliver is necessary to show the true internal takeover and torture of OCD. So many media portrayals of OCD trivialize the quirky behavior at the expense of presenting the true suffering and internal struggle for control. Gloria’s relationship with Oliver is very, very complex. It’s both exhausting and comforting, which is part of why it so hard for her to deal with him. Oliver, then, is a crucial character in the story even if he’s so offensive. Seeing Gloria engage him, submit to him, challenge him, and ultimately defeat him is what Oxford Messed Up is really about.

6. What would you do if Van Morrison told you he liked the book?
Being anointed by my personal messiah? I’d flat out just die and go to heaven. This book is a love story for Gloria and Henry, sure, but it’s also very much my love letter to Van the Man (well, his music, because my husband is handsome and wonderful and is truly my messiah). The Belfast Cowboy’s music has been a pivotal player in my life, offering comfort and hope in very hard times. Van Morrison’s poetic genius is my soundtrack and sometimes my lifeline.

7. Moments after readers first meet Gloria she’s in a rather bad spot, desperate to pee and hours away from relief with a bathroom right in front of her. How is she able to win us over so profoundly and so quickly when most of us would just pee already?
She’s uptight and wound tight. And we like to think we’re more relaxed, like Henry, right? Well, she wins readers over because she is more than an illness. She’s a profoundly complicated young woman. She’s got interests and passions. She’s flawed and funny. She loves music and poetry. When a reader says they couldn’t put the book down, which pleases me to no end, they’ll sometimes comment that initially they weren’t sure if they were supposed to root for Gloria. Heck, Gloria’s not even sure if she’s allowed to root for herself! We all want to believe we’re more like laid-back, loo-singing Henry until we get to know him better a few chapters later and we learn that he’s quite the mess himself. Just like me, I think we’ve all got a bit of Gloria and Henry in us. So, ultimately by rooting for both of them, flaws and all, it’s their love we’re rooting for ourselves.


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