It’s finally here – the day I get to share my interview with Lauren Roedy Vaughn, author of OCD, The Dude, and Me! I can’t tell you how excited I’ve been for this interview, as I’m a big fan of Lauren both as a writer and a person. Not only is she an excellent author – I awarded OCD, The Dude, and Me a rare 5 out of 5 stars when I reviewed it back in September – but she’s also spent the past 20 years teaching English to high school students with language-based learning disabilities and currently serves on the Board of The International Dyslexia Association’s Los Angeles branch. Today, Lauren shares how her students inspired the idea for OCD, The Dude, and Me as well as some of the lessons that they’ve taught her.
About OCD, The Dude, and Me
With frizzy orange hair, a plus-sized body, sarcastic demeanor, and “unique learning profile,” Danielle Levine doesn’t fit in even at her alternative high school. While navigating her doomed social life, she writes scathing, self-aware, and sometimes downright raunchy essays for English class. As a result of her unfiltered writing style, she is forced to see the school psychologist and enroll in a “social skills” class. But when she meets Daniel, another social misfit who is obsessed with the cult classic film The Big Lebowski, Danielle’s resolve to keep everyone at arm’s length starts to crumble.
Interview with Lauren Roedy Vaughn
Welcome to Angela’s Library, Lauren! Tell us a little bit about yourself. What should readers know about you?
I laugh a lot. I cry a lot. I feel things really deeply. Now that I’m a full-fledged adult—I’m 47—I’m more accepting of the way I am, which is one of the great things about getting older. I live in Los Angeles with my husband and am blessed with great family and friends.
Summarize OCD, The Dude, and Me in one sentence.
It is a story about a girl who reminds us that you can’t escape your secrets, your challenges, or yourself…no matter how nice your neighborhood.
Where did the inspiration for this story come from?
The inspiration came from my students. It is a fictionalized version of their world, their gifts, and their struggles.
The protagonist, Danielle, is one of the quirkiest, most charming, and most memorable characters I’ve read all year. She battles Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and has endless idiosyncrasies, including a tendency to hide under piles of laundry and write missives to the imaginary Commitment Hearing Committee “so they know what was the beginning of the end of any piece of sanity I had left in high school.” What were the rewards and challenges of writing such an unforgettable character?
You are a most-kind interviewer, thank you. First, I find writing in general to be challenging. So, well, there’s that. But, in terms of the character of Danielle, it was challenging to show her life through her writing. I didn’t set out to write an epistolary novel; the story came to me in that format, so I tried my best to work within that construct. I had many conversations with Danielle in my mind in order to find out her story. After “listening” to her, I tried my best to craft the story in a way that honored her voice. It was clear to me from the beginning that she had certain struggles that kept her stuck, but it took me a lot of writing before I knew exactly what they were. I enjoyed the process of figuring out the people and situations that were necessary to help her heal. It was a reminder to me that we all need support in our lives and each of us needs that support in ways that are unique to our circumstances.
Do you see any of yourself in Danielle? What about in the other characters?
I think parts of me leaked out and filled each of the characters; although, I’m not sure I’m fully conscious of all the ways that is so. Definitely, I have insecurities like Danielle does, and I love Rumi the way Justine does.
One of the things that stands out to me about this book is how it can make me laugh uproariously one moment and fill me with sadness the next. Was it hard to strike a balance between humor and the tough stuff in Danielle’s life?
I personally find life to be equal parts hilarious and devastating. Maybe because I experience life that way, Danielle rose in my imagination embodying that perspective. I understand that humor is subjective (I’m glad you saw the humor in there), so not everyone will see the humor the same way. I honestly tried to “listen” to Danielle as I wrote. Eventually, she took over, and I would write things down that I “heard” her say, so it was really that voice that struck the balance. I loved her quirks. I tend to like people’s idiosyncrasies and oddities.
In Danielle’s case, I think those qualities saved her. That was one of the messages I hoped young people took away from this story: However you are, whatever package you came to this life in contains within it the tools for you to thrive. Despite how difficult it may be to deal with or to see, there are gifts in the muck. (That is a good reminder for me.) Danielle’s obsessiveness and inattention protected her, contained her, in a way, and allowed her some control—even if that was just a façade—until she was ready to confront the truth about herself. I think it is important to note that OCD and ADHD manifest themselves differently in each person. Danielle is not representative of all people with those disorders; she is simply one. In being exactly who she is, she gave others an opportunity to help her—which is a gift, too—and through the support, she was able to grow.
Danielle has a great support system of teachers, counselors, and family members. One of these family members is her Aunt Joyce, who comforts Danielle when she’s hurting, reminds her she is beautiful and loved, and helps her learn to accept herself as she is. Did you have an “Aunt Joyce” who helped you through hard times in your life?
I have a huge extended family, and I have an actual Aunt Joyce. I chose one of my aunt’s names to represent the supportive energy of all of them. I also have fabulous uncles, by the way. As I was getting to know Danielle and her struggles, I wanted her to have someone who was staunchly in her corner—thus, Aunt Joyce. I want everyone to have an Aunt Joyce.
OCD, The Dude, and Me is filled with great wisdom and advice, including this gem: “In pain there are wondrous buried treasures if you are brave enough to dig.” What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
My favorite advice of the moment comes from Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh who wrote, “While washing the dishes, one should only be washing the dishes.” This is another way of reminding us to be present and focus on the task at hand. It is so simple, but it is not easy (at least not for me). My mind jumps all over the place from past problems to future worries to all kinds of “shoulds.” I need reminders to stay in the moment and enjoy right now.
You have a master’s degree in special education and an illustrious 20-year career teaching English. How have your experiences in the classroom contributed to the success of OCD, The Dude, and Me?
I have deep respect for teachers. It is a difficult, exhausting, complicated, sometimes demoralizing/sometimes exhilarating, yet always impactful occupation. I tried the best I could to use my classroom experiences in my writing to demonstrate the beautiful mess that is the learning process and to reflect the fact that learning doesn’t happen in a straight line.
Mrs. Harrison, Danielle’s English teacher, says of Danielle, “Minds that learn differently teach others to see things differently.” What have your students helped you to see differently?
Students are not widgets. They don’t readily conform to standards, prescribed expectations or predetermined outcomes. My students have taught me to meet them where they are, not where the world or I might think they should be.
What’s the most important lesson you try to impart to your students? What is the most important lesson your students have taught you?
I try to help my students see they are fine as is. Acceptance is a powerful strategy. If I can help students accept themselves in any given moment, ironically, that energy creates space for them to move forward and grow. It’s an amazing paradox. Being fine with who you are now doesn’t mean you’ll always be this way. You are going to change. Also, I know we can’t escape struggle in this life. I want to help students have lives of purposeful struggle rather than painful struggle. My students have taught me that a little love goes a very long way.
What inspires you as a writer? As a person?
My connections with other people.
Danielle has an extensive collection of snowglobes and hats. Do you collect anything? If so, what do you collect and why?
I don’t have any collections, but I do have a lot of shoes.
OCD, The Dude, and Me is your first book. What can readers expect to see from you next?
I’m working on another book about high drama at an elite private school.
Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share?
Thank you for hosting this interview. I’m grateful for bloggers, librarians, readers and writers, and all the people who populate the book community. Books help people understand themselves and others; they foster compassion, and we need more of that in the world.
Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Lauren! We really appreciate it!
Win a Copy of OCD, The Dude, and Me!
Lauren has graciously provided autographed copies of OCD, The Dude, and Me to be given away to two lucky readers! All you have to do for a chance to win is fill out the Rafflecopter below. This contest is open to all U.S. and Canadian citizens ages 13 and up. The winner will be announced on my Facebook page as soon as the contest ends.