Rainy Friday full of revisions...and soup. I always try and make a big soup at the beginning of the week, something with farmers market veggies, lots of cilantro, tomatoes, maybe a little hot sauce, all pureed and ready to go with a little parmesan and fresh pepper! Yum! It's fast, it's easy, and as I usually wait too long to realize that I am hungry and want to eat right away, it's necessary.

I must admit that after lunch I snuck off for a matinee. Finally got a chance to see THE FIGHTER and LOVED Christian Bale. I think he will definitely get the Oscar for it. And if you get a chance, listen to David O. Russell talk about the film on KCRW's podcast THE TREATMENT. Great interview!

Happy Oscar weekend everyone!


Deadline Mania

Apologies for a whole week to go by in between blog posts! I am swamped with deadlines. My novel revisions are due in two weeks, my script revisions are due, like yesterday, but I am going to get them in by the middle of March, and I break script on a new project this weekend. Add to that auditions, and callbacks, and I am knackered! My emails are piling up, my facebook is even woefully neglected, and I opened mail for the first time in weeks today! I got behind, or rather I got stuck in revisionland. I made a weeks worth of changes on my novel, and then decided that I didn't like them and had to start over. But a couple of days ago, I finally managed to crack a problem in my novel that has been troubling me, and now there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Today I am chaining myself to my desk, turning off the phone and finishing the rest of the macro revisions that I need to make. After a day off yesterday from writing, I am actually feeling excited about the mountain of work that is waiting for me. Let the revisions continue!!


Rosy Outlook

I am loving these gorgeous two tone roses from Trader Joes! I got them on Monday, and they are still going strong. And I love the price, $9.99 for a dozen. Not bad at all!

I also have another bunch of pale peach ones on my desk, and I must say they are an amazing distraction/break from my grueling revisions. I am struggling with this character detail that I never really meant to cause so much grief or draw so much attention, but it has, and it does, and I can't seem to lose it or fix it or make it work! I find myself wanting to scream, and then I make myself stop, take a deep breath, and yup...smell the roses.


Amazing Author: Jonathon Evison

Another Amazing Author interview, brought to you by the Amazing Author Caroline Leavitt!

Jonathan Evison talks about West of Here

I can't tell you how thrilled I am to be asking Jonathan Evison questions on my blog. First, you have to know that he's a knockout, genius writer who has written THE book of 2011. (Don't take my word for it, look at the starred advance reviews from PW, Booklist and Library Journal. Look at how Vanity Fair raves and he's the number one indie pick.) But even more importantly, you have to know what an incredibly funny, kind and truly generous guy he is. I personally would like to bottle him and sell him if I could. (How about, it Johnny, we could make a killing.) So thanks, Johnny, for both the incredible book and for the personality that goes along with it.

I read somewhere that you wrote this before All About Lulu? I loved Lulu but this book is so much larger in scope I’m trying to figure out how one evolved from the other. Why didn’t you publish this one first?

Nah, I was researching West of Here while I was writing Lulu. Lulu being a first-person voice novel, practically wrote itself. I knew with West of Here I really wanted to push myself as a craftsman. I wanted to use every tool in my belt and a few I didn't have. It's rather shocking to me--after the fact-- that the novel has enjoyed such a broad appeal. With 41 limited points-of-view, and a hundred odd years to cover, i was afraid I might lose a lot of readers.

You also told me that part of why you have such thick skin is that you wrote six novels before All About Lulu that no one wanted. I find this incredible, both that no one wanted them, and also that you were able to persevere and keep writing and remain incredibly cheerful. Was this out of need or belief in yourself or both?

If you'd read most of them, you see it wasn't so incredible that nobody wanted to publish them. The first three were all out stinkers. As far as what keeps me going, it's the process of writing itself. I need it to distill all the stuff life throws at me. Not that it's always a barrel of monkeys--writing West of Here probably took a couple of years off my life. And writing the book I just finished, literally broke my heart. But I always feel like I come out the other side a better person.

Where did the whole idea for West of Here come from and how did you manage to seemingly effortlessly juggle all the story and time lines?

Well, I wanted to bring the history of the Olympic Peninsula--the history of America, really--to life on the page. But I didn't want to write a historical novel, per se, rather a novel about history, about footprints, who makes them and who follows them, etc. And rather than employ a wide-angle lens to historicize the material, I wanted my lens to be a kaleidoscope of overlapping limited points-of-view, so that the living history which I sought to create, was democratic. In my experience, most "histories" only tell one side of the story. As far as juggling all those POV's, it wasn't effortless--it was a big fat pain in the ass, but in the end, exhilarating.

Gertie, one of my favorite characters in the book, says that a “person is made up of choices”, an idea which keeps playing out through the book. But how much real choice do you think we have in our own choices, especially when we are hurtling through the forces of history?

Well, for starters, you have the choice to complain or make lemonade, as it were. I think this fundamental choice in outlook has a far-reaching effect on any life, and also on all the lives that touch that life. Determination and optimism are choices, and from what I've observed, they can pay big dividends. Or not. Either way you feel better, and the people around you feel better.

The line “we are haunted by ourselves” links the past to the present (at least it does for me), Do you think it’s ever possible to escape our past, all that has come before us, or do you think it is coded into our DNA?

Absolutely it's possible to escape our past. It may be hard as fuck, but it's possible, and we all know folks who have done it. I don't think you can outrun your past, I don't think can hide from it, but I know for a fact you can turn around, look it in the face, accept it, and move on. That's what Port Bonita is trying to do, and that's what America ought to do. The world, really.

I deeply admired how the tone and the writing changed in the historic parts and present day. How difficult a hire wire act was this? Did you ever feel discombobulated?

To write these two epochs in American history in the same voice would have been a disservice to the narrative, I think. We don't speak the same language we did in the nineteenth century, figuratively or literally. Manifest destiny, for instance, is no longer a commonly accepted ethos. We know longer think anything is possible, not without without paying a few fiddlers, anyway. Cynicism is far more common these days. And the government's not giving away land to anyone with a shovel, anymore.

OK, tell me what’s coming up next for you besides richly deserved fame and glory and maybe some more rabbits?

Well, I'm done with my next novel, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, which will pub sometime in '12 or '13. Again, it's a departure from West of Here, which is a novel of big themes and ideas. The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is a novel of the heart. I think it is at once the saddest and funniest thing I've written. At present, I'm deep into a new novel, The Dreamlife of Huntington Sales, which is possibly a more ambitious narrative enterprise than West of Here. IF IF IF it works-- but the real joy, is finding out.


Happy Valentines Day!!

I celebrated Valentine's day with a super long walk with my sweetie, and a trip to the park with my girls. After a wonderful week of hanging with my sister who was visiting, I am taking it slow today. It was wonderful to have my sister here and the timing of her visit was perfect! Just at the end of her trip I got notes back on my latest revision of my novel, which were well received, and it looks like there are a few more things to polish and then I am going to go through the whole thing with fresh eyes and see how all these changes have come together. Seamlessly, I hope.

I feel like writing is a labor of love. A long and often solitary labor of love. And even when I am lucky enough to collaborate on a writing project, like I am now, there is a lot of love and patience involved for the work, for my fellow writer, for the entire process and the privilege that I feel getting to do what it is that I love to do.

I have a few weeks before our next guest arrives and I am going to spend it up to my eyeballs in novel revisions, script revisions, and finishing an outline on a new script that is based on adapted work. I LOVE that I can not wait to dive into all this writing. It will be like Valentine's day every day...except without all the chocolate. But I can have always have flowers!

Happy Valentine's day to all of you, and here's hoping that you love what you do too!


Amazing Author: Alice Hoffman

It's Tuesday! And that means another Amazing Author interview brought to us by Amazing Author, Caroline Leavitt!

Alice Hoffman talks about The Red Garden

Alice Hoffman really needs no introduction, but I want to give her one anyway. A bestselling author for adults and young adults, a screenwriter, and humanitarian (she does great, great work for breast cancer), she's also beloved by her legions of readers AND she knows and loves NYC's City Bakery, renowned for the best hot chocolate on the planet. I took the arc of The Red Garden with me everywhere, from the NYC subways to a book convention in Michigan. I'm thrilled Alice agreed to answer my questions. Thank you so much, Alice!

What I really loved, beside the shimmering language, was how strong and powerful the women were, something that kept being passed down through the generations. Could you comment on that?

The Red Garden is very much about survival – in the natural world, in the world of loss and love. The women in the book all have the will to survive, even in the most extraordinary circumstances, and I think there is a sense of knowledge and experience being passed down throughout the history of the town.

The Red Garden had so much of a magical fairy tale quality to it, but by that, I mean The Brothers Grimm—the real, dark fairy tales that haunt you, rather than the happier Disneyfied versions. Would you agree? And where did that love of fairy tales come from?

I grew up reading fairy tales, and always felt they were the stories that didn’t talk down to me as a child-reader. The darkness inherent in Grimm’s’ Tales, and the Russian fairy tales my grandmother told me, seemed “true”. I think children understand that fairy tales are often journeys that chart growth – growing up, finding oneself or one’s true love. Real fairy tales are often brutal, and beautiful as well.

The Red Garden, explores the threads that link people and places and memories together from the 1700s to the present. You’ve explored before, in Blackbird House, how a place can become a character and a catalyst, and how the natural world can influence or impact our choices. Do you feel that we can ever escape our pasts or our places—and should we?

In Blackbird House the focus was a house, and the ways in which an old house can contain many stories, many lives. In The Red Garden I think the complications are more complex --- it’s the story of a town, but also of the complicated relationships and personal histories of the residents. I made a “family tree” after the book was completed and was surprised to find how inter-related everyone was, and how many secrets were never discovered.

I loved reading about Johnny Appleseed in The Red Garden, and truly, the novel is filled with history. I was wondering how much research you did or if you let your imagination take over?

I did quite a lot of research, and I was surprised at how my vision of Johnny Appleseed was formed by Disney. He was a truly remarkable character – a precursor to the hippie movement, a true believer. For each story, I researched the time period and my characters grew out of the time periods in which they lived.

I’ve been reading your work since Property Of. It seems to me that your earlier works feel and read differently than your later ones, which isn’t to say they allaren’t terrific. I’m wondering how much of this is organic or conscious or a little of both? Do you feel that as you yourself change, so does your writing?

I think most writers have themes or obsessions, but I agree that a writer’s work changes with life and work experience. What you write at a very young age reflects who you are as a writer in a particular moment in time. It makes sense that as you experience the world your vision evolves. Hopefully, we get smarter and are more compassionate as time goes by.

People talk about how difficult it is to translate good books into good films. Obviously the forms are different. It’s funny, but Independence Day (a wonderful film that you wrote), feels like an Alice Hoffman movie, but Practical Magic, though enjoyable, did not. Maybe it’s that word “based on a novel by”, which changes the story for filmic purposes. Or maybe it’s simply because you didn’t write the script. So, I’m curious. Had you ever envisioned Independence Day to be a novel or was it always a script, and do you think that’s why it felt like such an intrinsically Alice Hoffmanesque film? Is there a way to solve this problem of better translating a book onto the screen?

I wrote the screenplay of Independence Day so it was “mine” in a deeper way – I wasn’t the screenwriter or involved in the production of any of the films made of novels. Independence Day was never envisioned as a novel; it was always meant to be a film. I think a novel can make for a great film, but it has to be a unified vision. The practice of having three or four writers on a film is a mystery to me – how could there be a voice or a vision?

What is obsessing you now?

For the past five years I’ve been working on and researching a novel set in the distant past in the Middle East. I’m currently obsessed with the time period – finding out everything from how cheese was made, to what sort of snakes lived in the wilderness, to the habits of leopards.



Today's lunch wasn't exactly at my desk, but it was on a paper plate! Jeff and I snuck out for lunch today at Lemonade, a great salad/soup/sandwich/crockpot lunch spot that I adore. In addition to the spaghetti squash, roasted brussel sprouts and farro and mushroom salad, (my faves) I tried, the mini pasta and mozzarella, root veggies and basil, and arugula salads. I'd add the arugula to the list, and try two new ones next time. Of course I can not pass up a mini red velvet cupcake for $1.00, which I shared with Jeff, along with a cucumber mint lemonade, that was just the right blend of sweet and refreshing! Lunch was 6 hours ago, and I am still full! And after a big week of writing, outlining, and getting notes on my script...it was nice to play hooky a little, and let someone else do the cooking!

Have a great weekend!


Amazing Author: Lily King

I meant to post this yesterday, but had an amazing writing day myself, working all day on the outline for a new screenplay. Alas, here it is, another Amazing Author interview, from Amazing Author Caroline Leavitt. Enjoy!

Lily King talks about Father of the Rain

As you can see from the rave reviews above, Father of the Rain is a knockout novel. And it's no surprise, really. Lily's first novel, The Pleasing Hour (1999) won the Barnes and Noble Discover Award and was a New York Times Notable Book and an alternate for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her second, The English Teacher, was a Publishers Weekly Top Ten Book of the Year, aChicago Tribune Best Book of the Year, and the winner of the Maine Fiction Award. Father of the Rain, her third novel, was published in July, 2010. Lily is the recipient of a MacDowell Fellowship and a Whiting Award. Her short fiction has appeared in literary magazines includingPloughshares and Glimmer Train, as well as in several anthologies.

I was really interested in the structure. You present her childhood with her father and then take great leaps forward in time. Other writers might have started in the present and woven in the backstory, but this particular structure gives the novel a shimmering kind of immediacy. Was this intentional, or was it just the way the novel played out as you wrote it?

As an idea, the novel really started from the point-of-view of Daley at 11. The rest grew slowly out of that. I didn't even know there was going to be a third section, a third leap in time, until I was nearly finished with the second section. It didn't occur to me to change the structure, but I did worry that these great jumps wouldn't work. I love it when novels do that, Disgrace and The Reader come to mind, but I'd never tried it before and I worried there was a trick to it I didn't know about.

Why do you think the things that happen in our teens have such continued and lasting impact on our lives as adults—even things that we should know better about?

I think it is very hard to break out of emotional patterns with a parent that were fixed in childhood. It's hard to see things afresh. It might be easy to know the relationship is unhealthy, but it's hard to know exactly why, and how to step out of the dance. It's also hard not to recreate the same patterns in other relationship, unless you really break free. Which is what the book is all about, Daley's struggle to unlock herself.

One of the rave reviews (and there are many, many, many) I read mentioned the primal loyalty Daley has to her incredibly dysfunctional father, and it’s that word, primal that interests me so much. Why do you think we are so attached to the people who can hurt us the most?

I think we are attached to the people who raised us, and it can take a long time to identify whether those people are healthy or unhealthy, comforting or menacing, safe or dangerous. there are many ways to be hurt, and some are less obvious than others. I really don't think it's a natural instinct to be drawn to people who hurt you, but the people you love always have the ability to hurt you the most, because you are most emotionally vulnerable with them. The trick is choosing to love people who choose not to exercise that ability, who derive no pleasure from it. I think Daley's father, among his other issues, was drawn to that kind of power over the people who loved him.

The psychological impulses in the novel are both shattering and profound. Daley’s struggle to do right by herself and her father are never quite what you expect them to be

She does not make great choices, does she? i think she makes the decisions of someone who feels perpetually guilty, and has a burning desire to change the past. So she plunges in, much to the detriment of her own life and future.

I’m always fascinated by process so can you tell me something about yours? Do you outline? Do you write by the seat of your pen? And is every book different?

I write every book more or less the same way, by hand with a pencil in lined spiral notebooks. A whole novel is really only 2 notebooks' worth of writing. I leave about 20 pages blank at the back of each notebook for notes, so that when I get ideas for something that might happen later, I put them in there. And if I take notes in the middle of the night or in the car or while I'm reading, I transcribe them into that back section of my notebook. With the first two books, I wrote a chapter by hand then typed it up, three-hole punched it and put it in a binder, but with this one I couldn't look back. Once I got the words on the page, I had to keep moving. It was an emotionally hard book to write and sometimes I had to take long breaks from it. So there was a point when I had to type up about 180 handwritten pages. I'm a really slow typist and it took months. But I love that step, because you are literally rewriting the book. You are writing it all over again and you hear it differently and it makes for a good revision step. Add it's so pleasurable, because the blank pages stage is over. This time I did eventually create an outline—it was more of timeline—when my notes got too unwieldy and I wasn't sure where I was going next. It wasn't at all extensive, just a line across a page with a series of markers and a few words below suggesting a possible scene.

What’s obsessing you now?

My new novel. I'm only in the research stage, but already passionate and terrified in turns.
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