How We Spend Our Days: Caroline Leavitt

Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.” Today, please welcome writer Caroline Leavitt:

caroline leavittIt’s ten in the morning today when I stumble out of bed. I usually tell everyone that I hate to sleep, that it’s boring, or sleep troubles me with bad dreams that cling like a dryer sheet, or that sleeping is a waste of time, but this morning, it’s all I want to do. I am blessed with my husband Jeff, who lets me sleep in, who makes me laugh, and who is a writer, too. Best of all, Jeff waits for me for breakfast. I admit, breakfast today, like always is a problem, the same as sleep. I don’t like cereal. I hate yogurt. For a while, I was happy eating pasta and tomatoes, but that got old fast. Today, I reach for the last of the pumpkin pie that I made yesterday, while Jeff sighs and then ruffles my hair.  “Pie for breakfast,” he says. I need the fuel because, besides promoting my new novel, Is This Tomorrow, I’ve sold my next novel, Cruel Beautiful World, on the basis of an outline and first chapter, and now I need to write it. I make coffee from a Starbucks tube. I’ve only started drinking it a few years ago and am still astonished how it boosts my mood.

character imagesAfter breakfast, we head for our offices. It’s an easy commute! We live in an 1865 row house that we renovated, turning the whole third floor into our workspace. There’s a skylight and tin ceilings and my office has two big windows and a big wide desk, and two Mac computers. Everywhere I look delights me. There are rows of old beaded purses from the fifties hanging up. A painting of my tortoise by a high school friend. A framed Modern Love column I wrote about the tortoise, which not only reminds me of my pet but also reminds me not to give up. It took me six tries to get into Modern Love, and when I asked the editor what made him finally take this one, he said, “Because it was good.” Beside my desk, messily taped to the file cabinet, are images of what I think my characters look like. It makes them more real; it makes them haunt me. Coffee is never far from my grasp.

messy deskI go immediately to work, and stay at work for four hours. I blast Pandora so loudly, my husband sighs and shuts his door. Two o’clock is the tipping point. Either we break for lunch (and because we live in a city, we ramble down the block to have Thai Food, or Mexican, or Indian) or sometimes, we just say, screw it, and go to the movies, rewarding ourselves, knowing we’ll both be up until eleven working. Today, I keep working. I’m in the zone, and the characters are talking to me. Although I have two years to write this novel, I know that’s not such a long time. And I know I have to push myself, which is hard because I’m still on tour–where I have to switch gears from the private, focused writer to the jazzed-up writer I need to be in front of a crowd. Still, I feel this novel is possible!

familyAt four, our son arrives home. He’s sixteen and in high school, and the first thing I do is kiss him. He rolls his eyes but lets me kiss the top of his head. Because I’ve spent all day writing, I’m a little disorientated as I come back into the world. I feel my characters fading, which is okay, because I can’t fully engage with my husband and son if my characters are still whispering in my ears.

The weather is hot, sultry, so humid I feel myself wilting. And we did work through lunch. Dinner out, a movie—that’s what I want to do this evening. I need to be with my son, who will be zooming off to college in another year. I rub my husband’s back. This is a day I won’t get back, and I’ve given most of it to writing. Now I want to give the rest to the two people I love best in the world.

~

boots caroline leavitt

AND THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…

1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?

  • The Pink Hotel by Anna Stotherd and I didn’t choose it. It was sent to me for review.

2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?

  • Do. Not. Give. Up. Not when rejections pile up. Not when everyone else around you is winning prizes and you have not been able to get an editor to answer your email.

3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?

  • I always have to read the last page first, and I always have to know the last line of the novel I’m writing.

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By Caroline Leavitt:

Pictures of you is this tomorrow girls in troublecoming back to me 31IdLuqKkoL._AA160_ 21PD9AY3H5L._AA160_ 51EbM9QErLL._AA160_

Lifelines Jealousies Family

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— Other Writers in the Series

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11 thoughts on “How We Spend Our Days: Caroline Leavitt

  1. Great advice (needed this today): “Beside my desk, messily taped to the file cabinet, are images of what I think my characters look like. It makes them more real; it makes them haunt me.” Also enjoyed the way Caroline blends work and family. And I love her boots!

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  2. I remember when that essay came out about the tortoise in Modern Love. It was good! I find it fascinating that you need to know the last line of your novel. What an imagination! I had the great pleasure of meeting you in Brattleboro, Vermont in 2011 and my mother just had the opportunity of meeting you in Delaware a couple of weeks back. Now she, my sisters, and I will pass your books back and forth for our summer vacation reading.

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  3. The character photos were an idea of my beloved agent, and she was right. I am forever feeling my characters looking at me as I write and they become more and more real. And I am so happy you liked the Modern Love piece. I had been rejected so many times and I happened to be talking to Alice Hoffman on FB and I was talking about my tortoise and she said, “That’s a Modern Love.” I said, “No, it isn’t. They keep rejecting me.” And she said, “I’m right. Write it. They’ll take it.” So I did. And they did! I saw Alice at an Algonquin party and she said, “wasn’t I right? I’m always right about things like that!” And I hugged her.

    I love these comments. Thank you so much.

    Caroline Leavitt

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  4. Hello Caroline. This is a lovely interview, as always. Thanks to you and Cynthia. I love that you imagine the last line of your books- I am writing a play as I read your piece and the last line fell into place with the first, (during a midnight rage after dental surgery!) And those characters whispering in your ears.. oh yes…kissing heads is a good way out of the zone! Best to you, can’t wait to discover your books, Susanna

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  5. Your writing studio sounds just wonderful Caroline! I’m completely inspired by the idea of this sort of space.

    I loved the Modern Love piece too, and am so encouraged by your message to keep trying when you get rejected again and again.

    Just got deliciously lost in Pictures of You for two days! Finished it at 2am on a hot Spanish night while my son and in-laws slept.

    Thanks, as always, for this wonderful series Cynthia.

    Willow

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  6. I’m not sure my last comments posted so here they are again. Forgive me if I repeat myself! Thank you so much, Willow (wonderful name) for your comments about Pictures of You. I love the image of the hot Spanish night and your sleeping family. And the last line idea, Susanna (great name, too) came from John Irving. It’s like driving a car and you are totally lost but you KNOW you are headed for Denver. You can get very creative along the way. And thank you, too, Cynthia, for this amazing series.

    Caroline Leavitt

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  7. Pingback: Writing Weekly Roundup | Megan holland

  8. You have to be willing to be lost for a while. I had a struggle for two weeks with Chapter 5, and I thought everything was ruined. But then today, my subconscious seems to have come to my rescue!

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  9. Pingback: Writing Weekly Roundup - Megan Holland

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