Wednesday, May 16, 2012

'I feel free to write wildly and to fail flamboyantly': An interview with writer Jackie Sommers

Today I’m pleased to post an interview with Jackie Sommers, a writer who blogs about obsessive-compulsive disorder, among other things, at Lights All Around.
I met Jackie through blogging, and when she announced she had finished writing her first novel, in which the main character has OCD, I knew I wanted to find out more.
Be sure to visit Jackie’s blog, where she reflects on life and where she has posted chapters from her novel.

Jackie Sommers

Tell us about yourself, Jackie.
I’m an obsessive-compulsive writer from Minnesota, where we like our Os long and our disagreements passive-aggressive. (Ha!)
I work at Northwestern College, the most wonderful school in the world, of which I am also an alumnus (so yes, I am a teensy bit biased!). I spend my days recruiting students to Northwestern and my evenings at my laptop, working away at whatever happens to be my current writing project.

What has been your experience with obsessive-compulsive disorder?
I have had OCD since I was seven years old; it was the result of strep throat gone awry (Google “PANDAS”).
I’m a pure obsessional (usually called Pure-O), which is a misnomer because there are still compulsions involved. My compulsions were harder to see than Hollywood’s stereotypical obsessive-compulsive who washes her hands repeatedly; my compulsions were repetitive prayer in my mind, warding off blasphemous intrusive thoughts, and seeking reassurance, to ward off feelings of guilt—about anything and everything.
I struggled with OCD for about fifteen years before it was finally diagnosed, and then it was another five or so years before I was on the right medication and underwent cognitive-behavioral therapy, a very intense 12-week therapy that was what God used to set me free.

Why did you decide to write a novel with a character that has OCD?
I started my first novel Lights All Around while I was still in the thick of OCD, hoping that it would be a companion to other obsessive-compulsive readers (the way Kissing Doorknobs by Terri Spencer Hesser was to me). It was interesting to watch the novel evolve over the next four years as I experienced CBT and subsequent remission. Writing the novel helped me make sense of my own experience with OCD, CBT, and God.

What is your novel about?
Here’s my novel’s blurb:

How do you choose between hell and, well, hell?
In the novel LIGHTS ALL AROUND, Neely Jane Richter, a neurotic and endearing young poet, is at her own personal crossroads: continue life in the clutches of OCD or battle the disorder head-on with an exacting therapist who doesn’t find Neely amusing in the least.
It’s a choice that will force her to embrace uncertainty—in her writing, in her spirituality, and in her relationships both with Matt Coty, the man she loves, and Gabe Reed, her attractive but wayward new friend who wants to take Matt’s place.  At her end of her strength, Neely—supported by quirky friends and neighbors—clumsily tackles life, love, and healing.

Where are you in the journey to getting published?
I have been crazy about stories since I was a child, and it has long been one of my goals to be published.
Even in the rise of self-publication, I continue to desire to go the traditional route. Early this year, I sent out about 40-50 query letters to various literary agents, looking for someone who would want to champion my novel and sell it to a publisher.
One agent did read the whole manuscript, suggested some edits and asked me to send her my revised manuscript when I was finished.
I agreed with her suggestions and have recently begun the work of a major revision. After that, I’ll have her re-read it and then see what she thinks!
I understand that it is a very risky story for an agent to take on because it discusses Christian faith (alienating many secular readers) but it does not shy away from harsh language and profanity (alienating very conservative readers). I’m well aware of this, but this story was a labor of love; in many ways it is my story, and I had to tell the truth in it, regardless of what anyone else (reader, agent, editor, publisher) would think.

Why do you write?
  Writing gives me great joy. Or maybe it would be better to say that God gives me great joy through the act of writing. I love words, images, and stories—they all make me happy—and when I am in the act of creating, I feel very close to God and as if I am doing what I was meant to do.

What is your writing routine?
  I work a fulltime job, maybe 45-50 hours each week, so my evenings and weekends are my time to write.
  I like to go to coffee shops where I can be around people without needing to entertain them. Some of my best friends will join me to write or do homework, and I love that—being with someone while we each engage in our own productive tasks.
  If I can, I try to write every day, even just a little bit, as I find that taking a day or two off really makes me rusty quite quickly.
  If I know that I am going to a have a writing-heavy weekend, I try to write a couple days in advance just to “prime the pump” and get my creative juices flowing.
  Once a month I meet with a group of other writers, and we critique one another’s work. This is so critical to me—constructive feedback is like gasoline to my projects.

How does having OCD affect your writing?
  That is a really interesting question.  When I was in the throes of OCD, in the days when it throttled me, it really stifled my writing. I was so fearful—even of putting things down on paper. And my perfectionism was through the roof.
  I studied creative writing in college, but I have grown so much as a writer since then—because of excellent literature I have read and because OCD is not my captor any longer. I feel free to write wildly and to fail flamboyantly.

What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?
I always want to make people think—especially about things they have never before considered.  I want my writing to give people hope. I am a Christian, and I want my writing to introduce people to spiritual ideas and to thinking differently about God than maybe they have before.

What are you working on now?
  Right now I am writing my first young adult novel! I am so excited about it, because YA lit is probably my favorite to read.
  My story is about three teenagers who are learning larger-than-life lessons the summer before their senior year of high school.
  When twins Silas and Laurel move to Minnesota, they meet Westlin, the pastor’s daughter, who is bored with faith but drawn to the twins’ deep contemplation of life, reality, and eternity.
  As philosophical Laurel struggles with a dissociative disorder, Silas and West take it upon themselves to rescue her—with unexpected results.

How can readers find out more about you and your writing?
  Please visit my blog at! I post chapters from my OCD novel every Sunday, and I blog daily about writing, OCD, and spirituality.


  1. Jackie, your a peach! Good luck to you!

    1. Aww, thanks Jodi! You're so sweet! :-)

  2. Sounds fascinating! I'll add the novel to my reading list! Great interview.

    1. Thanks Nadine! I hope you'll check out my novel on my blog; I post chapters every Sunday!

  3. Replies
    1. Jackie, I'm curious. If you don't mind sharing, what does your remission look like? Are you completely free of obsessions and compulsions or is it just significantly better than before? Thanks!

    2. Hi Sunny! I very rarely struggle with obsessions OR compulsions anymore ... how incredible is that? In fact, I went obsession- and compulsion- free for almost a year after I completed 12 weeks of CBT. I do encounter both from time to time, and when I do, I use the skills I learned in behavior therapy to counter things. I have not had any huge relapses in the two years since CBT. PRAISE GOD FOR CBT!

    3. WOW - that IS incredible! I'm so happy for you. I agree - praise God for CBT!

  4. Very interesting!!! Going to the Blog :)

    Thank you Tina :)

  5. Tina, it's so wild to read about Truest in its early stages in this post! I'd forgotten about this interview, but today I noticed that someone jumped to my blog from yours, so I revisited this interview. :-)


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