Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You. Her new novel IS THIS TOMORROW will be published in May by Algonquin Books. She can be reached at www.carolineleavitt.com
It's very strange that you started out as my student, writing about Apron, and
from the first line, I knew the novel had something special. When did you know?
First of all, thank you for saying that. And second of all, when you told me it did!
In the middle of that first novel class with you, you sent me a note that said, “Your
characters are breathing off the page.” I jumped up and down and cried a little.
And then I did something really smart; I asked if I could work privately with you.
As my mentor, you were my traffic cop. This subplot? Too long. That scene? Not
enough conflict. You treated me like a “real” writer way before I did.
When did you first become a writer, and when did you first feel as if you could
call yourself a writer, and why?
When I was seven years old I was brushing my teeth one day, minding my
own business, when this girl in the mirror pointed at me and said, You’re going
to be a writer. Nope, I said. Writers wore huge glasses, had really frizzy hair and
weren’t famous (it was the 70’s). Plus, I already had big plans to be a singer. But
then in Fourth grade the headmaster of my school read a poem I had written to
the entire student body. That was when I realized it was true; I was doomed to be
a writer. Now I prefer to call it “destined” but back then it was definitely “doomed.”
It took me two years to write Girl Unmoored and eight more to get it
published. I didn’t tell anyone but my family and a few close friends that I was
writing, so when the book came out I had some explaining to do. And that was
when I first allowed myself to be called a writer.
What's your working life as a writer like? Do you plan things out or just follow
The blank page is my mortal enemy. We can’t even be in the same
room together. So we’ve worked out a deal: Four pages and I’m out. I’m really
competitive so there’s no way I’m going to let that blank page win. I write when
my kids are in school, which isn’t as many hours as I wish it was. Some days
our oldest one goes to school at 10:00 am and the youngest gets out at 1:30.
On those days it means keeping my laptop close and sneaking in more work at
a daughter’s dance practice or while dinner is cooking. It makes me a little crazy
truthfully but I don’t know how else to do it.
As for the way I write, that makes me crazy too. After I get the blank pages
out of the way, I rewrite and cut, rewrite and cut, rewrite and cut until it’s worthy
of being read by outside eyes. And then I do it all over again for the second draft!
Your road to publishing with Fiction Studio Books is really fascinating. Can you
talk about that process? And what has it been like working with the Fiction Studio
For eight years my book was rejected by just about every credible editor
in New York. A few times it got so close that my husband sent me congratulatory
flowers… but then in the last second for one reason or another it didn’t happen.
So when I sent my book to FSB and a week later the publisher contacted me
with a contract, it was a whole lot of awesomeness all at once. Fiction Studio
Books is a small press so there are unique gifts and challenges that come with it.
I had a big say in my cover art, for instance, but marketing was virtually all up to
me. So I did two things: I hired BooksparksPR and entered my book into every
awards contest I could find. Crystal and Kim at BooksparksPR have done
magical things for me (Entertainment Weekly to name but one) and I have been
floored and so honored by the successes I’ve had with the book awards.
I have also been utterly amazed by the dedicated and insightful book
bloggers out there. For authors who publish with small presses, these bloggers
give us the review opportunities that traditional magazines usually don’t. Megan
at http://writemeg.com, Mandy at http://www.wellreadwife.com and of course
Jenny (to name but a few) have been so incredibly supportive of me. They tweet,
they review and they give me opportunities like this to be interviewed by you, all
for nothing in return but an advanced copy. Book bloggers are doing God’s work
as Grandma Bramhall would say, and an author like me owes them a debt of
If you had three pieces of advice to give to writers, what would you tell them?
1. Promise your characters you will tell their story. The truth is that not too
many people really care if you ever finish that novel (unless you’re paying
their salaries/mortgage with it.) And it’s bending-a-spoon-with-your-mind
hard to write a book, so there are a bazillion reasons never to do it. But
by promising your character(s) that you will tell their story you have no
excuse not to. You promised.
2. Give yourself permission to write the worst first draft in the history of the
world. Because even if it is so horrible that you wouldn’t read it to a deaf
dust mite, there is still a tiny fragment of a good idea in there somewhere
and you’ll find it in the second draft.
3. Show up at the page. If you don’t show up how do you expect your
What's obsessing you now and why?
Right now I’m writing the worst first draft in the history of the world (see above)
and it’s so hard not to hurl my computer through the window. But I made that
dang promise (see above) so I have to. Arrgh.
What are you working on now?
A fairy(ish) tale. Which means that while I’m writing it I’m in a place far, far away
and snapping myself back into reality tends to make my head explode. Dinner?
carpools? bills? None of these exist in my land far away.
What question didn't I ask that I should have?
What does Caroline Leavitt want for Christmas?