Colleen Oakley is the author of the new novel Close Enough to Touch. She also has written the novel Before I Go, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and Ladies' Home Journal. She is based in Atlanta.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Close Enough to Touch?
A: As a health journalist, I wrote a few articles about the astronomic rise in allergies the past 20 years— and I was fascinated by the fact that experts and researchers, while they have their theories, really have no idea what’s caused it.
As a novelist, I knew there was a lot there to explore, but I, of course, wanted to take it one step further— what if you were allergic to other people? How would that affect someone, emotionally, to not ever be able to be hugged by their mother as a child, or to hold hands with their first love? Could you even fall in love?
Q: You write the book from the alternating viewpoints of your characters Jubilee and Eric. Did you always plan to do that, or did you originally think of telling it from only one perspective?
When I started I was only planning to write it from Jubilee’s perspective, but I kept hearing Eric’s voice! So I decided to write a chapter from his POV, thinking maybe it would just help me get to know his character better, and that it probably wouldn’t make it into the final book. But I enjoyed writing his chapter so much that I kept going, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Q: What kind of research did you do on allergies, and did anything especially surprise you?
A: I read everything I could on allergies and also interviewed experts who helped me come up with the theoretical cause behind Jubilee’s condition. What surprised me the most is how many truly bizarre allergies are out there!...It made my fictional “allergy to human touch” not seem so strange anymore.
Q: How was the book's title chosen?
A: I have the hardest time with titles! I went through at least 30 different ones before "Close Enough to Touch" came to me when I was in the shower, of all places. But then, it’s never a guarantee that everyone at the publishing house will like it and that it will become the final title. I was happy that this one stuck.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A book about dream telepathy, based on a study I came across a few years ago. I’m exploring the idea of soul mates and if true love is a choice or fate.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I Skype or FaceTime into book clubs! I love chatting with readers and answering their questions. I’m also happy to help aspiring writers and dole out any advice I can to help them on their career path. Come find me on Facebook or here.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb