How did you become a writer?
I became a writer out of necessity. I was a sickly, asthmatic little girl and I had a lot of time to myself, so I read. But I didn't want to just read stories, I wanted to write them. The first time I had to read a story in front of my class, I was scared witless, because I was bullied. But when I started to read, the class got silent. And then they applauded, and I knew then and there that that was what I wanted to do.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
The teacher who made me get up in front of the class and read was a big influence. I had some negative influences which really worked out positively. When I was at Brandeis, I took this writing class from this guy who was friends with Norman Mailer. He used to tear apart my work in class and I would sit there, tears streaming down my face, but I wouldn't leave the class. At the end of class, he told me, "You'll never make it as a writer." Five years later, I published my first novel and mailed it, along with a rave NYT review to him. I sent him a note that said, "See? You were wrong." He wrote back and made up some lame excuse that he was just trying to get me angry enough to keep at it. But still.... Books are a huge influence for me, and so are other writers.
When and where do you write?
I am lucky enough to be a writer at home. I get up with my son and husband and around 9, hit my desk and try to write 4 to 6 hours. I can't seem to do anymore!
What are you working on now?
I just finished the copyedits on the novel that is coming out Spring 2013 from Algonquin called IS IT TOMORROW. It's set in the 1950s, during the age of paranoia about Communists, and it's about a divorced mother and her son, who are somehow targeted when a child vanishes in the neighborhood. I've also started a new novel, tentatively titled SHE'S NOT THERE, which is set in the 1970s and is based on a real murder that happened in my home town.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I've never had writer's block. I sit and dream and if I have a bad day writing, I rewrite something I've already written! It works!
What’s your advice to new writers?
New writers. NEVER EVER GIVE UP. Don't listen to all the no, no, nos that will be thrown out at you. Just because someone says they don't like your work, doesn't mean your work is not good. Pictures of You, which is a NYT bestseller and a USA Today ebook bestseller and which got on 5 different Best of 2011 lists, was REJECTED by my former publisher as not being "special enough." I was sure my career was over because I had never had any sales, though I had had good reviews. But then Algonquin bought the book and changed my career and my life. If it happened to me, it can happen to any of you. Do. Not. Give. Up. Ever.
Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You, which was a USA Today ebook bestseller, a Costco "Pennie's Pick," a San Francisco Chronicle "Lit Pick," and on the Best Books of 2011 Lists from the San Francisco Chronicle, The Providence Journal, Bookmarks Magazine and Kirkus Reviews. The author of 8 other novels, she is also an award-winning teacher at UCLA Writers Program online and she works with clients on their novels privately, as well. A book critic for People Magazine and The Boston Globe, she has her own book column at Dame Magazine and Shoptopia.com. She lives in Hoboken, NJ with her husband, the writer Jeff Tamarkin, and their son Max. She can be reached at carolineleavitt.com.