Meredith And Her Straightjacket

Original author: Meredith Towbin
Drawing inspiration from sources as disparate as Steinbeck and Death Cab for Cutie, author Meredith Towbin creates the world of Straightjacket, in which two teenagers lost in a bleak landscape manage to find love. Here she relates her decision to finally start writing and what it takes to keep at it.

Young Adult: What made you decide to start writing?
Meredith Towbin: I always wanted to write a novel—specifically “the next great American novel” (no pressure, right?)—but I was too much of a scaredy cat. Writing articles for newspapers and magazines was easy because what I wrote didn’t really mean anything to me in a deeper sense. If I failed at it (someone didn’t like it), it didn’t matter.
One day I was talking to my mother-in-law about how I wanted to write a book but just couldn’t bring myself to take the leap. She said, “You’re a writer who doesn’t write.” Something clicked for me. I thought if I don’t do this now, I never will. The next day I sat down and started writing my first book.

YA: Tell us a little bit about your latest work. Is the universe of STRAIGHTJACKET a magical one?
MT: Caleb is a 19-year-old kid who thinks he’s an angel sent down to Earth on a mission. Anna just graduated from high school and threatens suicide to her abusive parents. Everyone thinks they’re both crazy and, as a result, they end up in a psychiatric hospital. They both feel completely isolated, misunderstood, and abandoned. Life is pretty much hopeless until they meet each other. And that’s when things get interesting.

Although the universe of STRAIGHTJACKET isn’t magical in the traditional sense of the word—I wouldn’t say mental institutions are very magical—I think that yes, it is. Anna and Caleb fall in love and create this life together that’s enchanted. It makes no difference where they’re physically located. As long as they’re together, they exist in this dreamlike fantasy world where nothing else matters.

YA: Take us through a typical writing day for you.
MT: When I first started writing, my kids were babies and a typical writing day was me scrambling to get a few hundred words down while they napped for an hour. Now that they’re in school, I can luxuriously write for hours at a time.

No, I’m totally kidding. I sit down and get some writing done in the morning after they get on the bus. Then I’m usually writing on and off throughout the day in between going grocery shopping, spending way too much at Target, volunteering at their school, and driving them back and forth to their bazillion activities. A lot of times I write while sitting in waiting rooms, sports practices, basically anywhere I have half an hour or more. After my kids go to sleep, I can usually sit down and get some significant work done if I don’t fall asleep first.

YA: What were your specific influences for this book? Films, literature, folklore, other stories?
MT: Music was a huge influence for me. The Death Cab for Cutie song “I Will Follow You into the Dark” basically summed up everything I wanted the book to be. In the song, the guy is singing to his girl about how someday she’ll die but he loves her so much that he’ll follow her “into the dark” so she won’t be alone. Man, that song does it for me every time. Both the lyrics and the emotions that song evokes get my juices flowing. Mumford & Sons, The Killers, and Vampire Weekend all do that for me.

The whole time I wrote STRAIGHTJACKET, I was reading books by John Steinbeck. I love everything about his writing and each of his books, especially EAST OF EDEN, kept me inspired.

YA: If you could cast the Dream Film Adaptation of your work, who would you cast?
MT: Wow. That’s a tough one. In the book I describe Caleb as “a dead ringer for the tortured lead singer of an indie rock band.” So I guess anyone who fits the bill there would work. Maybe a younger James Franco. Basically because he’s awesome. As for Anna, maybe Elizabeth Olsen or Elle Fanning. They can do that young, wounded look.

YA: If you hadn’t become an author, what path would your career have perhaps taken?
MT: I actually had a lot of careers before I was an author, so I probably would have just continued on one of those. I started out as a high school English teacher. Then I worked as an editor of a newspaper and, later, the editor of a trade magazine for salons and spas. I probably would have stayed there due to the crazy amounts of free shampoo and hair gel I could squirrel away. After that I copyedited for a medical journal.

YA: Besides the classic ‘never give up’, what advice would you give to young hopeful authors today?
MT: There is never the perfect time to sit down and start writing. I would always tell myself, “I’ll start writing when things aren’t so busy.” That time will never come. Believe me. If you don’t do it NOW, the years will pass you by.

And sometimes you have to FORCE yourself to write because it’s not always fun. Most of the time it’s ridiculously hard and kind of like torture. But it’s worth it in the end.


Eighteen-year-old Anna has lived her whole life in shame, losing herself in books to cope with crippling panic attacks triggered by her abusive parents. Forced into a psychiatric hospital, she can’t imagine a future that’s anything but bleak—until she meets Caleb, a gifted, 19-year-old artist who insists he’s an angel.
He swears his mission is to help Anna break free from her parents’ control and fulfill a destiny that she can only dream of. The doctors, however, are convinced that Caleb is delusional.
Anna doesn’t want to be that girl who’s in love with the crazy guy, but when she sees his stunning portraits of her and the way he risks everything to keep her safe, she can’t help but imagine a new future for both of them, filled with hope. But just when it seems they’ve created heaven on earth, Caleb’s past emerges full force, threatening to destroy their tiny, blissful world. And Anna has to decide if she should follow her heart, or if Caleb’s really as troubled as his doctors say


Meredith Towbin
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