As a freshman, Abby is the star quarterback of her small town’s high school football team. When she finds out her family is moving to the big city and leaving behind everything she knows, Abby’s latent anxiety becomes a problem that she can no longer ignore. To be successful both on and off the field, she must face stigma and her own fears before her nervous symptoms become crippling.
Twenty years later, Abby has become a successful professor of psychology. Although her nervous symptoms are well under control, when she is thrown into the limelight, Abby experiences a new wave of anxiety. With the insight she has gained over the years, she works through her symptoms, reflects back on her path since high school, and finds that she still has a lot to learn.
Where have the past twenty years taken Abby? Will her insight help her make a new path forward? To investigate the paths in Abby’s life, I’ve been joined by Emily Bouch, author of Moving the Chains today. Emily, looking back to the early days of this book, do you remember how you came across Abby’s path?
This book began as my senior thesis in college. At that point, I had been thinking about the book for about five years. As someone with anxiety, I had thought a lot about how people talk about and think about mental health. I had been collecting images of what it feels like to live with an average mental illness for years, trying to make the experience understandable. The idea of being out of place, like a girl on a football team, really stood out to me, and I developed the plot around that idea.
Would it be fair to say that many of the images that you collected over the years were from your life and that your experiences strongly influenced how this story developed?
Yes, this book was strongly influenced by my own experience of anxiety and depression and by the conversations I’ve had with dozens of people. Most of one side of my family has anxiety, depression, and OCD, and I am a group leader of the mental health organization Recovery International. Although this is fiction, I’ve drawn inspiration from real life experiences.
Do you tend to think about your these real-life experiences to make sure that your story sounds right?
I like to “live” in the world of my characters. I imagine what is going on all around my characters, what they are thinking and feeling, and how their backstories influence their actions. A lot of this doesn’t make it into the actual book, but I like to imagine all the details.
I love that you spend so much time in the background exploring the ins and outs of your characters. Do you find that little snips of information, like your hand dominance eek into the tale? What is your preference by the way?
I’m right handed but my identical twin sister is left-handed. We are mirror images!
*Laughs* That’s totally awesome! And I hope that you’ve added a little dash of awesome like that into Abby’s tale. I’m sure that hand dominance, while interesting, isn’t the main details that you focus on about your characters. Do you ever find that the intense nature of these investigations into the quirks of your characters is exhausting, or does the thrill of exploring keep you energised?
A little bit of both. I feel energized while writing but when I finish I’m always tired.
But it’s that good tired you get when you’ve done awesome work, so we know that it’s worth it! As you kept writing towards this good tired, do you feel that you’ve seen your writing improve?
I wrote the first draft of this book 8 years ago, and it sat for 7 years, untouched. When I came back to edit, I realized that I had become much more positive and hopeful when talking about mental health. A lot of the negativity and anger was scrapped in favor of a hopeful view of living with mental illness. Characters were fleshed out and dialogue was trimmed to make it sound more natural. As my experiences broadened, so did my writing!
I love that your experiences have changed both your own views and in turn your writing. Once you revisited and re-edited this story, what did you find was the main message you wanted to share?
I want people to come away with an understanding of average mental health conditions. The media portrays serious manifestations of mental illness – suicide, violent and erratic behavior, multiple personalities, etc.- as the norm, but of the 1 in 5 Americans who experience mental health conditions, most have a much different experience. With this book, I want to tell the story of that majority of nervous people.
I love that you’ve taken the time to develop and share the story of the majority of nervous people, who may not be able to find others be in real life or fiction that who are going through the same thing. Emily, thanks so much for sharing an insight into this world, and I can’t wait to see where it takes you next!
Excited to read the book we discussed today? Find it here on Amazon: ‘Moving the Chains ( ASIN: B07BZ11WKP )‘.
Want to find out more about Emily Bouch? Connect here!