Hoboken mother, wife, teacher and fearless fictionista Caroline Leavitt cracked the NYT Bestseller List with her ninth novel, Pictures of You. Leavitt never runs from the truth when discussing this probing novel about two runaway wives praised by Jodi Picoult as “heartbreakingly honest.”
TA: How old were you when you came out of the closet as a writer?
CL: As soon as I could hold a pen, I wrote stories. They were always about a ten year old girl named Jo whose millionaire parents were always away so poor Jo was at a boarding school with a mean headmistress. I got into those stories and my older sister would often write them with me, and we’d decide on plot. Once we decided the headmistress was going to die, and I cried and cried and couldn’t stop, and my sister finally said, “Okay! Okay! She doesn’t have to die!”
TA: What did you like to read as a kid? As a young adult?
CL: I loved the Oz books and fairy tales and the All-of-a-Kind Family books. As a young adult, I loved A High Wind in Jamaica. My sister’s boyfriend gave me a real reading education: hee brought me Richard Price’s The Wanderers, A Clockwork Orange, J. D. Salinger, and more.
TA: What was the first dirty passage you read in a book?
CL: I found my mother’s copy of Fanny Hill when I was ten and promptly told all my friends! I didn’t quite believe any of what I was reading.
TA: Every one always wants to know: How long did it take to write this novel?
CL: Four years. About 20 drafts. Seriously.
I wrote ten drafts, showed it to friends and they all had comments. When I finally gave it to my agent, she said, “I love it! Now let’s get to revising it.” She had me revise five times. Then Algonquin bought it and they said, “We love it! Now let’s revise.” But I never minded because each rewrite made the book sharper, deeper, richer. It was work I absolutely loved.
I have a deadline now: two years. I’ve been working much harder and been more panicked about meeting the deadline, too. But it forces you to work smarter, to really look at the novel as a whole.
TA: Rate on a 1-10 scale how much of your writing is done with an eye to earning money (versus for The sake of The Art or for its own sake)?
CL: Well, you’re talking to someone who never made real money on her novels up until this one! I’ve always had extraordinary reviews and sort of terrible sales, but being a NYT bestseller hasn’t really changed anything internally. I’m still the same writer grappling with a new work and having the same worries and insecurities and terrors over it.
So I’ve learned that it is the writing itself that is the reward, the drug, the great pleasure. Now that Pictures of You is a bestseller, you’d think that would change, but actually, it’s still the writing that really matters to me. [Read more…]