What made you want to write There are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes?
I wanted to write a novel that mattered.
Before I wrote this novel I’d been reading about why novelists choose the subject matter for their books. Something I read by one writer struck me: the most important subjects are life and death. Nothing else matters, because everything else follows from that. So I wanted to write a novel of consequence.
Literature allows us to have human experiences that we might not have. It can be exhilarating, it can be dangerous. I wanted to write something that could alter a person’s worldview.
How did you go about researching what it was like to experience a mental health issue and life inside a psychiatric hospital?
I knew people who’d been hospitalized, I did some research on my own online, and I made some phone calls to institutions and gathered what I could to include for certain elements of the story. I’ve suffered from serious bouts of depression myself, so I tried to make that aspect of the novel as realistic as possible, too.
Do you see yourself in any of the characters?
Saying “Richard” would be too easy, because the novel is lived through his mind, his eyes. As I’ve gotten older (I started writing the novel in 2001), I’ve come to see more of myself in the caretakers, the doctor, the nurses, and the parents.
What is the character you find most interesting and why?
Eugene. He’s the patient with schizophrenia. As I was writing him he became more interesting to me than most any other character, including Richard. (Small Spoiler Warning.) I liked his character so much and wanted to explore it in more settings later on in the book, so I wrote him to become Richard’s roommate. Then I gave all four boys a “day out” together, just to see what would happen.
I think I found Eugene most interesting because he more than any other character pushes the boundary of “normal”. Eugene just is, though; he has no pretensions; he sees the world as he sees the world. He wants to fit in somewhere, but he’s feeling the system work against him, not for him. Still, he cracks jokes, he can poke fun at himself, and even when he’s suffering his hallucinations, he’s just rolling along with it, taking things as they come, trying to make the best of it. I like that kind of attitude toward oneself and towards life. It’s the attitude: no matter what, I am who I am, and I’m going to be true to that.
I read in another interview you gave that writing certain parts of this novel was difficult. How did you cope in those moments?
That’s a really good question. And it’s an important question. Because when I was writing difficult parts of the novel it felt as if some part of me was going through this experience. These were frightening and harrowing moments.
I knew that I was writing a novel, of course, but I was writing it in such a way (close third person point of view) that I wanted to expose absolutely what this single character was thinking and doing, constantly. At times it became very claustrophobic, and unhealthy.
So I had to pull away from it, just walk away from it. Sometimes I worked on other portions of the book that were not so traumatic for me. Sometimes I set the book aside for a day or two or more to give my mind a rest. And, I had (and still have) an extremely understanding partner who, when I exhausted myself on writing, I could go to and rest with. Her support and comfort was the gift of allowing me to be me, and I’ve learned over time that that can be a very rare and special gift indeed.
Another way I coped, in the novel, was with humor. When things got too heavy for me, I lightened things with humor.
Did you learn anything important from those moments?
I learned I never want to experience them again. I learned how horrible it is for anyone to live with those excruciating feelings and thoughts.
But, those moments were crucial to the story. I had to capture them so that others could feel the moments, too, to help them understand what someone suffering depression experiences.
My sense of it was (and still is) that empathy can help. If we can’t understand how and what another person is feeling, how can we hope to engage with them fully?
Is there anything else you want to share about Noah?
My novel touches on a wide range of mental health issues (besides suicide and depression): defining what it means to be “mentally ill” and “mentally healthy”, diagnoses, treatment plans, living in an inpatient unit, family relations after a suicide attempt, relationship to self and others, and so on.
It is a novel, it is fiction, and I would tell readers to read it as a story, of human interactions, with self and with others, not as “statements” about this or that issue. I didn’t want to use my book as a soapbox for any single mental health issue; I wanted to write a novel about life and death and love and hope.
As a person who has suffered from sporadic bouts of depression going back many years, I can say this: Actions (and inactions) have consequences, and although you may feel bounced around by life, you do, ultimately, have choices to make.
To borrow a phrase from my novel: “Your life is in your hands.”
Robert has also offered to have a book giveaway of ‘There are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes’! I do recommend this book to my readers! Here’s how to enter!
Author’s Goodreads page, blog, and book reviews:
Contact the author for interviews, book club events, appearances, etc. at robert-jacoby.com[link to www.robert-jacoby.com].