How could we resist reviewing a book with a title like OCD Love Story—and interviewing the author while we were at it? Fiorella Morzi, who enthused about the book’s portrayal of OCD in her review, talks to Corey Ann Haydu about the book and the challenges involved in writing her characters.
Fiorella Morzi: Firstly, can you describe the story for readers who have not yet read OCD Love Story?
Corey Ann Haydu: OCD Love Story is about two teenagers—Beck and Bea—who are both struggling with different types of obsessive compulsive disorder. They find themselves in group therapy together, and start falling for each other. It’s also a story about Bea’s work in understanding her mental health struggles and finding ways to cope with a diagnosis that feels scary to her.
Fiorella: This is your first novel. What inspired you to tell Bea’s story? (And how did you decide on the title? I remember being immediately curious about it before I had even started reading.)
Corey: I was inspired to tell Bea’s story because of my own struggles with anxiety. Although I cope with anxiety in different ways than Bea, I felt a real kinship and connection to people living with OCD. My own work on understanding my anxiety gave me a sense of all the very very many ways others cope with their anxiety. I wanted to show a real, honest picture of OCD and the tougher parts of anxiety disorders and hope that readers found compassion for something they didn’t know much about, or maybe had prejudices about.
As for the title, originally I had titled it OCD: A Love Story, which is similar but also quite different than what we landed on. I liked the idea that mental health struggles and romance are not mutually exclusive. I wanted to bring love and mental health together. Love doesn’t solve a mental health problem. But love is part of the human condition, and finding and nurturing and feeling deserving of love (romantic, platonic, familial, internal), is a huge part of our mental health. I wanted to find a space for both of those things—the beginning of a relationship and the beginning of coping with a mental health condition—and see how those two things play off each other. I like that the title has that all wrapped up in it.
Fiorella: What were the ways you prepared specifically for writing Bea’s character in particular and OCD in general?
Corey: I did quite a bit of research. I read a lot about how anxiety disorders in general work, and how OCD fits into the spectrum. I watched documentaries and memoirs to get a sense of what one individual experience could look like. And then I culled my own life and heart and struggles to come up with the specifics of Bea’s anxiety. I gave her a lot of the feelings I struggle with, but re-imagined new behaviors. It was a way to write about my anxiety without writing my particular experiences. Bea’s really a combination of research and personal experience.
Fiorella: For me, I resonated a lot with your writing style. I think it helped readers (including myself) enter Bea’s head in an authentic way, where so much is happening, spinning. How did you discover Bea’s voice?
Corey: Voice is one of those hard things to understand. It’s one of the more organic parts of writing, and one of the harder things to teach. I come from an acting background, so a lot of my character work comes from that part of my brain. I studied Meisner—an acting technique—and the foundation of the technique is the idea that acting is “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” I apply that same theory to writing. And I think voice comes from that authentic imagining of circumstances. I like to write characters that have complicated thoughts and feelings. I like the contrast between how someone acts in the world and how they speak inside their head. I like smart characters who are caught between confident and insecure. I try to capture a little of all of that in the voice. I’m so glad it resonates with some readers!
Fiorella: There are many different manifestations of OCD we are introduced to in the book. I loved that you were unafraid to write characters that challenge mainstream portrayals of OCD. With that said, were there any specific tropes you dodged or confronted while writing? What role did popular notions of OCD play in the writing of the book, if any?
Corey: I knew for sure I didn’t want Bea to have an OCD having to do with hygiene. I do feel that’s the compulsion that most people associate with OCD and although it certainly exists, it’s not the only way anxiety can manifest. I thought it would be truthful to have a character have that compulsion, but I wanted Bea to have a compulsion that might feel less familiar to readers. Since my anxiety tends to revolve around emotionally hurting people I care about, it felt natural to write a character who felt anxiety around the idea of physically hurting the people she cares about.
I wanted to show a really wide spectrum of OCD. Although that said it’s important to note that the characters in OCD Love Story represent kids pretty far along on the OCD spectrum. I felt this was accurate, given how rare it unfortunately is for teens to seek therapy. Teens in this particular group therapy would be far enough along in their struggles that the reality of it would be somewhat unavoidable. Many people deal with OCD without therapy and live with milder (thought still real and challenging) types of OCD.
Fiorella: What has the response to OCD Love Story been like?
Corey: I’ve been so pleased with the response to OCD Love Story. I’d say the most common emails I get are from people who have someone in their life struggling with anxiety. They’ve had trouble understanding their friend/family member in the past, and the book has helped them comprehend what’s going on in their mind, why things that seem simple feel difficult to a person struggling with OCD or any anxiety disorder. And that’s been so rewarding for me. I care a lot about compassion, and having readers experience compassion for Bea and then for others in their lives is such a beautiful thing.
There’s of course been some discomfort with Bea’s story, too. And I welcome that. I think if anxiety or OCD is unfamiliar to you, it could feel scary, at first glance. That’s okay. It’s been useful for me to see that discomfort in some readers—it helps me be more compassionate to them, and more understanding of why this read might feel difficult or unnerving. I hope they find one tiny moment that they can understand, and that someday that tiny bit of understanding blossoms into a bigger understanding and compassion, and less fear.