I know most of you are reading the name Jennifer Traig and thinking, "Hey, wait! Isn't that..."
And yes, it is! The author of the Crafty Girl series of how-to books has written her first novel, Devil in the Details, out now on Little, Brown. You should really go read our full review here, but basically, her latest book is a memoir about growing-up with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder during a time when the illness wasn't as well-known as it is today. Despite the gravity of the subject, Jennifer manages to reflect and write about it with a sharp, snarky, comedic tone, just as delightful as she is in this interview:
Previous to this memoir, I've only known you for your Crafty Girl series of books. Was it hard for you to transition from writing†cute snippets and "how-to's" to writing a memoir?
It wasnít too bad, but yeah, it did mean switching gears, and I think thatís why I relied on the interstitials somewhat Ė thatís the kind of writing Iím used to. The tough part was learning to be expansive, when Iím so used to economizing words. The Crafty Girl books typically run about 10,000 words long, but for Devil in the Details I needed about 80,000. It was a little like being in high school again, trying to get the essay on to that last mandatory page.
So, what inspired you to write this memoir, especially since it deals with memories that might be embarrassing to yourself and your family?
Well, there are few things I enjoy more than embarrassing myself and my family, so that in itself was a great spur. But basically I had this story percolating in the back of my brain and it was keeping me from writing anything else, so I finally just decided to get it down on paper so I could move on.
Was it difficult to recall your childhood? Speaking from personal experiences, I know that my brain tends to bury any painful adolescent moments...did you have any old diaries or scrapbooks that helped to facilitate your memories?
I canít remember useful things like phone numbers or historical facts but humiliating memories, sadly, are seared into my memory. And yeah, I did dig up some materials. I found my junior high diary and a few other things that I thought would be really useful. In the end I barely used them at all. Wow, was I annoying when I was 12. I could scarcely stand to look at this stuff. It was just way too precious and self-conscious. I was afraid if I incorporated it, the book would be completely unreadable. I was REALLY annoying.
What was your family's reaction when you told them you were writing this memoir? Did you let them read the book before it was released?
I had them read it while we were all together over the holidays, in our isolated little vacation house, and immediately regretted it, because we were miles away from anywhere and I barely drive. If they didnít like it, wow I was screwed. But they were fine with it. Theyíve been great sports. I really have to get them some nice presents this year.
You mention in your book that during your childhood, OCD wasn't more commonly known. Do you remember when and how you first heard about OCD and related it to your own behavior?
I canít remember exactly when it was, but I think I was in college or grad school. I was watching Oprah. She had several obsessive-compulsive guests on, talking about things like driving around the block over and over to make sure they hadnít hit someone, and they were all things Iíd done myself. I had this instant light bulb moment: so thatís what it was.
I've read that if you have a parent or sibling with OCD, your chances of getting it are increased. Now that OCD is more well-known, do you think, in retrospect, that either of your parents had it? You mentioned in your book that your Mom was also crafty. Was this her way of keeping her OCD-tendencies at bay?
Oh, no, not at all. Itís true that OCD has a strong genetic component but I must have just gotten lucky with the recessives. My mother is more like my sister than me, pretty relaxed, and not compulsive at all. Sheís a little obsessed with Walker, Texas Ranger, but I think we can all agree thereís nothing pathological about that.
Hee! Conan O'Brien would most definitely agree! Do you still have bouts of OCD behavior? If not, what methods have been successful for you as an adult in keeping a relapse at bay?
Oh, yeah, I definitely have some obsessive-compulsive habits, though I didnít know it until I started doing research for this book. I thought they were just charming personality quirks. I always have to walk on the left side, and sometimes, like when Iím stressed, I do things like check the locks, look for my keys, etc. Not too much, and not enough to require medication. I try to just be conscious of what Iím doing, to make sure it doesnít get out of control again. But yeah, I still have a few little quirks. Iím hell to travel with.
Based on your own personal experience, what would you recommend for anyone else currently afflicted with OCD? Are there any books in particular that you would suggest for OCD sufferers?
Iíd definitely start with a call to the doctor. Thereís no shame in OCD Ė itís just a chemical thing, like diabetes, and like diabetes, it can be controlled with medication. There are fabulous meds available these days. Cognitive behavior therapy can work wonders, too. As for books, the classic is The Boy Who Couldnít Stop Washing. Itís certainly an absorbing read.
*SPOILER ALERT* Your book ends with you heading off to college and your OCD tendencies fading away. Will there be a follow-up novel covering your years in college? I have to admit that when I reached the last page of the book, I just wasn't ready for your story to end!!!
Oh, thanks! College was fairly uneventful, but man, did I do a lot of stupid things in grad school. Iím writing some essays about that.
On a completely different note, will there be any future editions in the "Crafty Girl" series?
Not that I know of Ė I think we finally ran out of surfaces to glue rhinestones to. But I am working on a couple other crafty projects. I did a kidsí knitting kit that will be out sometime next year, and Iím working on a few other things.
I was curious to get your opinion on the current D.I.Y. crafty revolution that's emerging from the underground! Since you come from a long line of crafters, what are your thoughts on this recent trend?
We definitely approve. It means that great supplies are much more readily available. Also, there are lots of great ideas we can steal. Our enthusiasm might wither if we start getting really crappy homemade presents instead of the high-ticket gift certificates we really want, but for now weíre totally on the bandwagon.
What are you working on now that we can look forward to in the future?
Iím trying to put together the next book or two as we speak Ė essays, humor, that sort of thing. In the meantime, my cousin Peter and I will continue solving our shut-in mysteries for McSweeneyís. And my sisterís very funny book Mini Mart ŗ la Carte will be out this spring. It is not to be missed.
We simply can't thank Jennifer enough for taking time to be interviewed, and *huge thanks* to Miriam at Time-Warner Books for hooking it up, yo! Get yourself down to the bookstore to buy yourself a copy, or visit any of the usual online bookstores (*COUGH*).