This blog originally appeared on Literary Carrie: A Glimpse Into the Life of a Literary Agent
This Wednesday is the pub day for Dean A. Haycock’s new book, CHARACTERS ON THE COUCH: EXPLORING PSYCHOLOGY THROUGH LITERATURE AND FILM! I’m so excited to introduce you all to the book with Dean’s interview below…enjoy and be sure to pick up a copy of the book on the 31st!
For everyone who doesn’t know, tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to start writing?
I’m a science and medical writer who believes the subjects he writes about are much more interesting than he is. My goal is to make interesting scientific material easier to understand without oversimplifying or misrepresenting it. When I graduated from college, I wrote for two weeks straight. When I evaluated what I’d written, I found only one good paragraph. I put aside the idea of making a living writing and took other jobs, like many writers have. In my case, I was an animal care technician, a laboratory technician, a graduate student/teaching assistant, a post-doctoral fellow and a research scientist. But I kept writing. When a pharmaceutical company I worked for wanted me to move out of state to a city and away from my country home, I choose to quit and finally try writing full time once again.
What lead to the concept of this book?
In my previous book, Murderous Minds, I explored the criminal psychopathic mind and brain. I explained how scientists are investigating people who lack empathy, emotional depth and a conscience. I explained how and what we know about the biological origins of this fascinating type of person. All of the subjects discussed in that book are real, both the scientists and the psychopathic prisoners they studied. During my research, I became interested in how psychopathy was portrayed, both accurately and inaccurately, in novels and in movies. That was the start of my next book, Characters on the Couch, Exploring Psychology Through Literature and Film. I expanded the subject material to include many different types of mental disorders as well as characters with positive psychological traits and strengths.
What was it like writing and researching this book? Did you come upon anything unexpected that surprised you?
I was surprised to learn how often medical schools, as well as psychiatric and psychological training programs, use fictional characters to help train future psychiatrists and psychologists, to teach them about the features of mental disorders. For example, scholarly journal articles discuss the features of mental disorders in Star Wars characters and several have explored the evolution of psychopathic characters in the history of film. It was a confirmation that the topics in Characters on the Cough were worth writing about.
My second surprise was due to my naivete. I underestimated how much work it would be to discuss 101 different literary and film characters and their psychological traits or illnesses. It was much harder than I thought it would be. I’m sure my blood pressure went up as my final deadline approached but I am very happy with the final result.
This was offset by how much fun it was to read so many novels, novellas, short stories and poems, and to watch so many movies, while researching the book.
How was working on this book different from your previous book, MURDEROUS MINDS?
Although I seriously considered majoring in American literature in college, I ended up studying biology and then neuroscience. For most of my writing career, I have read nonfiction books. Taking the time to get back to reading lots of fiction for this book was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the last year and a half.
What do you hope readers take away from CHARACTERS ON THE COUCH?
Besides hoping the book increases readers’ enjoyment and understanding of the fictional characters they encounter, I hope it encourages them to think more about the psychology behind the behavior of both fictional and real people. Anything we can do to increase understanding of mental health will hopefully help reduce prejudice against mental illness.
Anything that other nonfiction writers can learn from your experiences?
It’s obvious but always worth saying: as much as you possibly can, write about topics that fascinate you. And carefully evaluate the time and effort a new project will require.
What’s a fun fact about yourself?
I was once stopped on a back road in Bulgaria by two communist soldiers carrying machine guns while somewhere nearby, a public address system blared at maximum volume Tom Jones singing “Daughter of Darkness.” As I listened to the music and looked at the machine guns, I was simultaneously struck by the knowledge of what the automatic weapons could do to me and the surreal soundtrack playing during the interrogation.