I love taking the office outside. Normally tied to my desk, I have been taking advantage of the gorgeous weather, by heading over to a local coffee shop. There is something about hitting a cafe early, and finding camaraderie amongst the handful of sleepy headed under caffeinated writers like myself, who wake up with lattes and laptops, dappled sunlight on our faces and the sounds of birds in the background. Early, before the chatter starts, before all the delightful ways of avoiding writing take over, and the day still seems long, the time for writing unlimited, the promise of new and many pages laid out before us.
Writing is something that I need a lot of time to do. I need time around it, in it, and after it. I ease into my writing and then I like to get lost in thought and words and for hours, and when I call it a day, I like the luxury of letting those thoughts and characters linger. The problem is that there is so much to get done in a day these days and my calendar isn't always completely clear to write and do nothing else, and just knowing this makes me anxious. So to make the days seem longer, I am getting up earlier, and it seems to be working. I can't shut the world out and just write all the time, but I can do my best to get there before the rest of the world gets going. And there is something magical about doing that outside. Not to mention, it reminds me to be grateful that this is what my winters now look like!
Today is the day that my beloved friend and brilliant author Caroline Leavitt's 9th book, PICTURES OF YOU, hits the book shelves. Why do I talk about Caroline so much? Well, she brings us fabulous Amazing Author interviews every Tuesday, but more than that, is the fact that she is truly one of the most gifted and amazingly kind and generous writers I know. Meeting Caroline changed my life as a writer. Reading her work, changed my life as a reader. And as a fellow author, she raises the bar for all of us and inspires us to be better!Support a fantastic author, and read this incredible book! And read Caroline's great interview with fellow author Jennifer Gilmore below, as originally posted on the Algonquin Books Blog.
Today is the official publication day for Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt–and to celebrate, we’re giving away two copies. Just leave a comment on our blog here or on our Facebook page to enter. And see at bottom of this post to read an excerpt from the book.
Pictures of You is a story about two women running away from their marriages who collide on a foggy highway, killing one of them. The survivor, Isabelle, is left to pick up the pieces, not only of her own life, but of the lives of the devastated husband and fragile son that the other woman, April, has left behind. Together, they try to solve the mystery of where April was running to, and why. As these three lives intersect, the book asks, How well do we really know those we love—and how do we forgive the unforgivable?
PRAISE FOR PICTURES OF YOU:
“Reminiscent of early-career Alice Munro … Most satisfying of all, with Leavitt’s careful steering, even the wildest coincidences in this brooding, beautiful novel sparkle with all the haphazard brilliance of broken glass upon the concrete.”—Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Caroline Leavitt plumbs the depths of grief and forgiveness in the lovely Pictures of You.” —Vanity Fair
“Leavitt is superb at revealing the secrecy inside many marriages and the way children grieve … most impressive is how Leavitt deals head-on with well-meaning people who come to realize, too late, that even an imperfect life is irreplaceable.” —O: The Oprah Magazine
“This thoughtful novel brings up a problem all of us have to deal with in the course of our lives, unless we’re lucky enough to sneak through existence without encountering misfortune of any kind … This is a novel that invites us to look at our own imperfections, not the dramatic crimes, but the niggling little sins of omission that so often render our lives tragically undernourished and small.”—Washington Post
“Leavitt’s ambitious narrative examines the various kinds of love—uxorious, romantic, paternal—that can arise from or be transformed by unspeakable grief. These survivors bravely gather the fragments of their lives, which once seemed so safely wrapped up in habits and, it turns out, illusions. Their trials and triumphs remind us that however firmly we seek to root our perceptions in reality, some truths will always elude us in love.”—ELLE
The lovely and amazing writers Caroline Leavitt (author of Pictures of You) and Jennifer Gilmore (author of Something Red) will read and discuss their latest novels in NYC at McNally Jackson on Tuesday, January 25, at 7:00pm. Today, as a sneak preview, Caroline and Jennifer have a mini-discussion about the writing process.
Caroline: I’m so happy to have this email chat with you, Jennifer! What I would love to ask you, since I’m suffering with this now, is how do you make the leap from the initial honeymoon stage when you start a new novel to the state you need to be in to get through the sloggy middle? For me, this is when you’re in too deep to give it all up, no matter how messy it seems, and the idea still is obsessing you, but you are at a loss how to push on.
The other thing on my mind of late is how you leave the novel you just finished to really fully immerse yourself in the new one–which is hard when you’re promoting the first!
Jennifer: I would love to be in the honeymoon stage of a novel! I’ve had a lot of false starts with this third book. It’s funny, but I have a honeymoon thought process about a book, but it wears off very soon. I love the sloggy middle as I know the characters are real, they’re moving, and there is some plot forming, I have the confidence to keep moving forward, but I don’t yet have to think about how I’ll revise. For me, I write a draft fairly quickly–in relation to how long a book takes me–and I spend the most time revising, often restructuring. The middle is a safe place for me.
So tell me: You are one of the most prolific writers I know. How DO you go from one project to the next so quickly? How are you able to just throw yourself into it again and again. I feel that I am far more gun shy!
Caroline: I’m totally obsessive-compulsive. I know I won’t be happy unless I am working on something new (and by not being happy, I mean cranky, peevish and impossible to be around), so I always try to have some idea in the future that is obsessing me, sort of like a carrot tugging me forward. It’s strange now to give my new novel the attention I really want to give it while I am promoting Pictures of You, and thanks to the amazing and incredible Algonquin, there is so much promotion to do! I have to say this time around is worlds different for me. It’s my 9th novel and the 1st novel, outside of my very first novel, where I had real and amazing support and attention from a publisher, and it’s made all the difference. It’s like I discovered Santa Claus is real (and he’s everyone at Algonquin!)
So, I want to ask you, how do you deal with reviews? You’ve received stunningly good ones, and you’re always on the top ten lists, but do you read and take your reviews to heart? My early reviews have been–and I am so, so grateful–tremendous, but a few mentioned that not all of my characters were likable, which surprised me. I never think you have to like all your characters; you just have to understand them. Would you agree? What do you think about this? Isn’t the notion of a strong character a really complex or even a difficult one?
Jennifer: I do feel lucky that my books have been reviewed seriously. I read all my reviews. And frankly anyone who says they don’t read any, well, I don’t know if I believe her. I think that’s one of the more interesting parts of being a fiction writer, when your book goes out into the world and readers–should we be lucky enough to find them (there’s that word again: luck, we use it so much in regards to being writers, don’t we?)–ask questions that I, as the writer, had not consciously thought about. In this way they teach me. I’m so happy your book is making its way so surely into the world.
But this likable character issues troubles me. The characters in my last novel, Something Red, are not always making good choices. In fact, they often make bad choices. While it’s a book about many things, at its heart, its about losing a grip on your dreams, or failing to live up to what you thought you’d be. And your characters are making very human choices. They are ruled by their hearts. The point is, as a reader, I don’t care if I like the characters; I just want to know them. I want to understand them. Some of the greatest characters in literature are not terribly moral humans. That said, I was on a plane last night and two women were talking about reading, which delighted me. And then they were saying: there was not one likable character in the novel. I had to put it down. I stopped myself from interjecting, but I did think to myself: what does that even mean? Because as soon as a character gets complex, certain negative qualities are sure to come through.
And while we’re talking about characters, can we talk for a minute about setting? I’m thinking of your book and the landscape of the Cape. And mine too: Washington DC is a character itself. I’m wondering how landscape plays a role in illuminating your characters, in setting your readers staunchly in the mood of a place?
Caroline: Landscape is definitely important–and so is the time period. Your last novel Something Red was so firmly rooted in the late 70s and in place–I was at Brandeis then and you got every detail so achingly right. The Cape was an area I hated as a child. The whole family went there every summer for two weeks and I always wanted to leave as soon as I got there, so I wanted to use that feeling of being caught, trapped, in a world of summer people–a place I surely didn’t belong.
Thanks so much for this conversation, Jennifer, and—here comes my shameless plug!– I so look forward to reading with you at McNally Jackson in NYC on January 25th at 7:00pm. I hope everyone will come—and bring friends!
Lately, I am seeing stripes everywhere! On the cover of the J.Crew catalogue, in Anthropologie, on great design blogs...my beloved stripes are tempting me, cheering me up with their nautical nattiness!
There was a time when I wouldn't wear stripes, when I was convinced that the horizontal direction of the lines made me look wider than I was. That time was a long time ago, long before I started living in comfy jeans and wide legged trousers, and striped t-shirts, my favorite writer's uniform. Even though I have a home office, I still get up, get dressed, powder my nose, and swipe some mascara and lip gloss on, to sit down at my desk. I've written about it before here, but I treat my home office like a real office, a place I go to 'work', meaning no pajamas after breakfast. Writing is hard and unstructured, and demanding, and isolating and anything that can help me to feel grounded, anything that can provide some sort of structure or stabilizing ritual, is really important to me. Like a uniform. A happy, stripey nautical uniform.
What about you? You do have a special kind of uniform for the work that you do?
It's Amazing Author Day! Thanks to Caroline Leavitt for another amazing author interview!!
Summer Pierre talks about Great Gals: Inspired Ideas for Living a Kick-Ass Life
Summer Pierre's first book, The Artist in the Office (how could you not adore that title) addressed how to stay creative while paying the bills. Great Gals is a compendium of of famous women who are down right inspirational, and best of all, they have Summer's quirky, wonderful illustrations.
What I love so much about this book (and your last one, about being an artist in an office environment) is the quirky spin you put on things. Instead of giving us inspirational women to emulate, you tell us we're already there. That we are those women. Can you elaborate?
We all (men and women) have a story about famous people that says they are special, so that’s what makes them great. This does two things—it makes us want to be them, and paradoxically it discourages us when we our lives don’t seem to match up to this specialness. The truth is, even “famous” people are regular people. The poet Nikki Giovanni, who many would consider fearless and gutsy, started out self-published because she was afraid to try to be published elsewhere. I can relate to that. Susan Sontag sometimes would go see 3 movies a day. Because she is “Susan Sontag” people chalk that up to a voracious appetite for culture, which is part true, but she also did it on occasion for escapism. I can relate to that too. I am more interested in those human aspects than the glory of these lives because it makes me realize that I am in the same world with the same struggles, and I can STILL do what I dream of doing. So many people discount their own efforts and experiences in the shadow of what they consider “greatness” in the media and in history. We get inspired by people, but don’t ACT on that inspiration and leave it to the “experts” to live it for us. Screw that! Let’s all live it! A way to do that is to acknowledge that the lives we have right this second—not in the future, not in some mystical idea of accomplishment, fame, or otherwise—matter.
I'm curious how you went about writing this book, the whole process. I loved the quotes and was wondering how you decided which ones to choose. Could you talk about it?
For 6 years I created an illustrated calendar of great women. Many of the portraits in the book are from various years of that calendar. I have always collected stories and quotes of these great women and it was through that lens that I wanted to make an interactive book based on these stories. I wanted to include quotes that reflected themes that I found in these women’s lives, but also quotes that spoke to me directly, and that lit up the page. I love that Ingrid Bergman said that she had a wonderful life. I love that Lucille Ball likens her humor to bravery. Phyllis Diller’s inspirational spirit is also a punch line. It’s great! I also am a great experimenter of ideas and how to think of new perspectives—so almost all the exercises come from my own journals and questions I have worked through myself.
Why did you make this book just for women, rather than including men? (I know the answer, but I'm curious at the response.)
I think women are tribal people, who often look to other women to relate to, to talk to, to compare notes with, to work their own identities with. I see this book as part of a larger tribe’s conversation. I also try to make things that I would want to find—and as a woman, I would love a book like this that helps me feel grounded in the life I am living now. I hope that women come away with a sense of their own lives being of significance and that they also feel part of a larger tribe of women through history and the present. We’re all in this together.
Why do you think women don't follow their gut instincts? And what can they do to make this happen?
I think it’s because we are natural multi-taskers and that goes for emotions too. We are constantly multi-tasking emotionally—meaning that we are always negotiating how we feel and what we need with what others feel and need. But like all great skills—and this is a definite skill women have—it has a drawback. That drawback is that often we don’t immediately trust our first instincts in favor of trusting perhaps the second instinct to negotiate. I think this is something we can work on by practicing to trust ourselves. If we trust our abilities and our ideas we can use our negotiating skills for better uses, like tending to doubt and fear (ours or somebody else’s).
What's obsessing you now?
Mondo Guerra from Project Runway, how in the heck to make a thriving and extravagant living in the arts, the sad disappearance of bookstores, pie making, and my son’s neck chub.
What question should I be mortified I forgot to ask?
“How’d you get so cool?” Just kidding.
But delays happen, and as much as I know that to be a fact, it left me feeling a bit prickly. And a prickly writer is not a happy one to be around. Thankfully the one thing that always cheers me up is flowers! I love flowers and could fill our entire place with them! And thanks to Trader Joe's and Farmers Markets, you can get pretty great deals on them too.
I really love a good deal, in fact, I am one of those people that if you compliment me on something that I am wearing and I got it on sale, I will tell you how little I paid! A friend of mine told me I MUST stop doing this, I must let people think it cost a fortune, but I'd rather let them know how much I saved. For those of you who also love a good deal there are a couple of really great sites that I love. One is www.blackboardeats.com and another is www.livingsocial.com.
Just the other day, I got a 'spend $30.00 and get $60.00' at Lou's Wine bar, and another for Street. Street I adore! And Lou is a place that I have been meaning to go, for a really long time. A good deal, especially at the start of the year after all that holiday shopping is a wonderful thing. It makes me feel even better about rewarding myself after a long week of writing!
Check them out!
Everything seems to be coming in two's this year...I was approached and worked up proposals for two naming jobs, I am working on two different scripts and I just handed in book number two for, what I hope are final revisions.
My two white fluffy gorgeous monkeys are following me everywhere, both wanting to always snuggle with me at the same time, I am now doing two dance classes a week, 2 days of pilates, and 2 power walks! It's double the work and double the fun around here!
One of my projects, is the adaptation of a literary work into a screenplay. This is the first time, that I have ever tackled such a project and I am really loving it. Lucky for me and my writing partner on this one (two writers!), have complete license and full blessings from the author to change the original text in any way we like. It is a fascinating way to work; creating something completely new while having a story to draw on when desired, kinda like working from a fictional memory, albeit one that belongs to someone else.
I have to say that I like doing double duty, it keeps both projects fresh, and if I get frustrated or hit a wall, I can switch to the other, and return with new perspective.
Now...double sales, and double rewards....that would be great too!
I find I need the light, sunshine, or otherwise to really keep my spirits up and keep me focused on getting my work done. Although nothing is better than an overcast day for writing, I still need to be able to see what it is that I am writing, and my lovely Le Klint craigslist score only went to 60 watts. This baby goes to 150!
I wonder if that means that my productivity will more than double as well...hmmmmmm.
70 minutes later, soaking wet, and on a hip hop-salsa-cha-cha high, I felt my old self back. This is great news to me, because my old self has to finish the latest round of revisions, get a haircut, revise a script and start a new one in two weeks!
But first another dance class!
Hope you New Year got off to a high kicking start!!