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Metal artist Katie Mack is living a lie.
Nine years ago she ran away from her family, consumed by the irrational fear that she would harm Maisie, her newborn daughter. Over time she’s come to grips with the mental illness that nearly destroyed her and now funnels her pain into her art. Despite longing for Maisie, Katie honors an agreement with the husband she left behind—to change her name and never return.
But when she and Maisie accidentally reunite, Katie can’t ignore the familiarity of her child’s compulsive behavior. Worse, Maisie worries obsessively about bad things happening to her pregnant stepmom. Katie has the power to help, but can she reconnect with the family she abandoned?
To protect Maisie, Katie must face the fears that drove her from home, accept the possibilities of love, and risk exposing her heart-wrenching secret.
"A challenging and important story about the difficulties of living with mental illness.”—Kirkus Review.
“If you leave your newborn child because you have unstoppable thoughts of harming her, are you a good mother or a terrible one? This dilemma is at the heart of Barbara Claypole White’s novel, a wrenching story of how one woman’s OCD has a ripple effect on those around her, including the people she tried hardest to protect. This is an eye-opening and realistic exploration of mental illness—a topic that greatly deserves to be front and center.” - Jodi Picoult, NYT bestselling author of SMALL GREAT THINGS
"Barbara Claypole White does not merely write about people with mental illness—she inhabits them. This brilliant novel about obsessive-compulsive disorder is compulsively readable.” –Lee Smith, NYT bestselling author of The Last Girls
"THE PROMISE BETWEEN US has something for everyone: suspense, romance, and even a hint of mystery. A fast-paced read that captivates from the first word until the last." Kerry Lonsdale, Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon Kindle Bestselling Author of EVERYTHING WE KEEP.
“THE PROMISE BETWEEN US redefines motherhood and sacrifice, delivering a heartfelt story with a powerful message.” –Laura Spinella, bestselling author of UNSTRUNG.
Some Q & A with Barbara ~
Do you have a ‘day job’ as well?
Nope. I hang out with my imaginary friends seven days a week, and despite the chaos it brings to the family, my menfolk support me 100%. However, family always comes first, which is the reason I’ve had several pub. date extensions. J
Where do you get your ideas?
Life. Anything around me is fair game. I was flying home from a conference when some poor guy collapsed three rows in front of me, and I was the terrible person taking notes. (My heroine in THE PERFECT SON has a heart attack on a plane.)
When my BFF had squirrels in her linen closet, they also went in THE PERFECT SON. When my mother broke her ankle, chasing after her mad springer spaniel, that went in THE UNFINISHED GARDEN. I fell in love with a piece of metal art at the hairdressers, and Katie Mack, the heroine of THE PROMISE BETWEEN US, became a girlie welder. On it goes…
Is there a particular author or book that influenced or inspired your writing or decision to write?
When I was five I wanted to be Beatrix Potter. At twelve, I wanted to be Charlotte Bronte, but it wasn’t until I read Denyse Devlin’s THE CATALPA TREE in my early thirties that I thought, “This is how I want to write.”
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
How long do you have? I spent ten years on that puppy, and it went through many transformations before James Nealy strolled into my head and insisted on becoming my hero. James grew out of my darkest fear as a mother: What if, when my young son grew up, no one could see beyond his OCD to love him for the incredible person he is? James set me on the path to writing stories that find hope in the darkness of mental illness, but that subject matter is not an easy sell. Oh, no.
After working with a freelance editor for a year, I started querying and got nothing but rejections. I queried slowly—49 queries over three years—and randomly stopped to rewrite the manuscript. Finally, I submitted the opening pages to a handful of contests, and became a finalist. I had a breakthrough when the story placed second in the Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards, and several weeks later, I received a devastating rejection. An A-list agent informed me that the book would never get published because James was too dark to be a romantic hero. This contradiction—between the competition win and the rejection—was a precursor for the way readers respond to my work. They become diehard fans or clearly think I’m off my rocker.
After one more rewrite—in which I went darker with James, since I figured I had nothing to lose—I received requests for partials and quickly landed my agent: Nalini Akolekar. Nalini understands how I write, why I write, and what I write. She’s the best. When the book went on submission there were several editors who didn’t ‘get’ James and one freaked out over a snake in the opening scene, but three months later Nalini landed me a two-book deal with MIRA Books. Yay!
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you’d change?
For my new release, THE PROMISE BETWEEN US? Not one thing. I adore my editorial team at Lake Union, and I’m super proud of my characters and the portrayal of OCD. I have no idea how the book will perform in the big wide world (January 16th, y’all!) but the advance reviews have touched my heart. If my imaginary friends help chip away at the stereotypes, stigma, and myths surrounding OCD, then I’ll have contributed something huge to the Universe.
Is anything in your new book based on real-life experiences?
Hell, yeah. Since THE UNFINISHED GARDEN, I’ve wanted to tunnel deeper into the impact of OCD on relationships. Obsessive-compulsive disorder frames my life as a wife and a mother, and every day I battle misconceptions about this chronic illness.
Most people assume OCD equals compulsive behaviors like hand washing, but for many sufferers, it’s purely mental. Irrespective of how it manifests, OCD is an allergy to life—an anxiety disorder that creates irrational fear in the absence of true threat. It’s like having a broken smoke detector in your brain, one that floods your mind with intrusive, unwanted, repetitive thoughts of danger. It digs deeper and deeper, asking, “What if, what if?” until it finds your worst fear. Then it goes for the jugular.
For new parents or grandparents, an intrusive thought would be something bad happening to the baby, right? But OCD doesn’t let you off the ride with that fear. It keeps going until it says, “Aha! What if the threat to the baby is you?” And then your brain plays a private horror movie over and over with you in the starring role—you hurting your baby. This is the living breathing hell of postpartum OCD, and it’s slowly killing Katie in the prologue of the book.
Here’s the true story behind Katie’s fictitious one: a teacher posted in one of our private online support groups about her battles with intrusive, unwanted thoughts and images of harming kids. Her comments were leaked to her employer, and she was fired. Shortly afterward, someone sent me a joke with a punchline, “I wish I had OCD so I could better organize my closets.” I would never wish OCD on anyone.
My son is incredibly brave and incredibly successful at life, but OCD rarely leaves him—or me—alone. In the month before the manuscript was due, we were back in exposure therapy, which means I had to torture him with his fears (to take away their power). Trust me, that is counterintuitive to every mothering instinct, but it does work. Eventually. Exposure therapy is hard and emotionally painful, as Katie will show you in THE PROMISE BETWEEN US.
Do you have a favorite scene?
I have several, but they’re full of plot spoilers. I do love a certain scene that unfolds at the UNC botanical gardens, and there’s a scene with drunken dancing that leads to… Yeah, I’ll stop there.
How do you market your work?
I treat myself as a marketing tool. That sounds egomaniacal, but to me it’s authentic. I want to participate in discussions about mental illness—how we treat it, how we provide collective support, how we educate ourselves and others. Engaging with readers is my way of becoming part of a public conversation. Information is power, and too many people suffer in isolation. To quote Jake, one my characters in THE PROMISE BETWEEN US, I want to break down walls.
As an author, I also believe in the power of networking, and I try hard to support booksellers and other authors by going to events, buying books at those events, posting pics to social media, etc. All of that is within my comfort zone. Bashing people to death with ‘buy my books’ isn’t. J
What are you working on now?
The story of Maggie King—clean and sober for ten years—who’s on an impossible mission to earn her mother’s forgiveness…until she discovers that her spectacular history of failure has the power to save lives. Including her own. It touches on addiction—obviously—cyberbullying, dementia, mental abuse, the role of celebrity in our lives, and how our greatest successes can rise from our failures. The story seed grew out of events surrounding Chester Bennington’s suicide, which had a huge impact on my son—and me. The working title, inspired by a Linkin Park song, is THE SHADOW OF THE DAY. Oh, and it has a toxic mother/daughter relationship, which is so much fun to write!
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Keep writing—every day if you can. Publishing is a brutal industry. It doesn’t always treat authors or books well, and the rejection never ends. The only way to survive is to let writing be the cure. Escape into your stories, follow your passion, believe in your characters, and keep working on your craft. Write, write, write.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers and fans?
Your support, encouragement, and enthusiasm remind me why I do this. Thank you. <3
To connect with Barbara ~
To connect with Barbara ~
Book trailer: https://www.youtube.