I create worlds! I write novels. I write scripts and short stories and essays. Everything to me is a story! I’ve always made up stories. A few years ago, one of my novels Into Thin Air was optioned and I was so tired of books being optioned and nothing happening, that I told my agent that I wanted to write the script. “Have you ever written scripts before?” she asked and I lied. “Of course I have.”
That night the producer called me and we chatted and then he asked me to send him a script by Fed Ex. I panicked and ran out of my apartment to the bookstore down the block and bought six books on screenwriting. I stayed up all night and send something off in the morning. Two days later I heard from him. “You lied,” he said. “Why should I let you write the script?” I didn’t hesitate. “Because I’ll do it for free. Just teach me everything you know.”
And he did, and I found I loved it, and I was even good at it. Although a screenwriter friend read my last script and found it wanting, I sent it off to Sundance anyway—and I became a finalist!
Now, though my big love is novels, I write scripts as well, including a pilot I wrote with the novelist Gina Sorell.
Maybe I became a writer because I had to be one. I grew up a shy, asthmatic little girl in Waltham, a suburb of Boston. We were only the Jewish family on the block and I was mocked mercilessly for it. Lucky for me, there was the local library, where I could lose myself in books, and be a ballerina in Spain rather than a lonely little girl in Waltham. I began writing stories when I was in high school, often making up books that I would write book reports about, and never being caught until senior year when the teacher was so enamored of my report, she tried to find the book!
I’ve always been drawn to losing myself in art. I’ve always painted, and even got a scholarship to Mass College of Art in High School, but I didn’t love it the way I loved words.
In college, I was told by the famous writing teacher there that I would never make it. I got rejection slip after rejection slip, and none of them were kind. Finally, at 27, I entered a Young Writers contest, so sure that I would be rejected that when an envelope came for me, I ripped it up! Imagine my surprise when I saw the one word in that pile of scraps: congratulations! Soon after that, agents came to me, and soon I had a book deal. It seemed a miracle.
I never gave up. To me, that is the key in anything. For me, writing helps me answer the unanswerable questions that haunt me. How do you become part of a community that doesn’t want you? (Answer: You don’t. You form your own community and some of them will come to you. From Is This Tomorrow.) How do you fix someone who is desperately in trouble but doesn’t want your help? (Answer: Sometimes you can’t. All you can do is love them and step away. From Cruel Beautiful World.)
I know when you dig really deep into what haunts you, it will haunt others. There is always someone whispering to you, “oh, me, too, me, too. Thank you for writing this.”
I used to believe that the Muse came and sat on my shoulder and whispered to me. Ha. I would end up with 800-page books with no plot. Then about six years ago I discovered Story Structure and it changed my life—and my writing. I now carefully map out everything. Like John Irving, I have to know my ending as well as my beginning, the lynch pins to the novel. I have to know the moral choices, the reveals, the revelations, the pacing, the arcs. And contrary to that annoying dictum (“No surprises for the writer, no surprises for the reader”), there are TONS of surprises.
It’s a method so fantastic, that I teach it!
And as I said, I never give up. I thought my career was over when after 8 novels, no one really knew who I was. I didn’t have sales. My 9th novel, Pictures of You, was rejected by my then publisher as not being “special enough.” I was hysterical, but I kept going. And one of my friends took me to her editor at Algonquin who read my novel and made an offer a week later. I was astonished. “But I don’t sell books!” I wailed. She laughed. “You will now,” she told me. I watched that little “unspecial” book go into six printings six weeks before publication and become a New York Times Best seller its first month out.
But I know that it’s not about fame or fortune or prizes. It’s always about the work, about the ability to touch another person’s life by reaching deep into your own, by being as fearless as you can be. That’s how you do it.
Caroline Leavitt is the two-times New York Times Bestselling author, of Is This Tomorrow and Pictures of You, as well as the critically acclaimed author of 11 other novels. A book critic for People, The San Francisco Chronicle and the Boston Globe, she teaches novel writing online for Stanford and UCLA Writers Program Extension, and works with private clients. A recipient of the New York Foundation of the Arts Fellowship and a Goldenberg Fiction Prize winner, she is also a finalist in the Sundance Screenwriting Fellowships and the Nickelodeon Screenwriting Fellowships. Her stories and essays have appeared in the New York Times “Modern Love,” Salon, Real Simple, and many anthologies.
GIRLS IN TROUBLE
Indie Next Pick; The Detroit Free Press/Magic 105.1 May Book Club Selection; Mostly Fiction’s Top Fiction for 2004; Foreign Rights Sold to Sweden, England, Holland and China; Recommended for Book Clubs, The Chicago Sun-Times; top ten pick in the UK’s Mango Book Club!; Donna Karan New York “books to take on the road with you” pick; “Must Read” Bookclub selection in Working Mother Magazine; Bookclub selection for DearReader.com and Seventeen Magazine Book Club; More Magazine “Must Read”
IS THIS TOMORROW
A New York Times bestseller; USA Today Bestseller; Longlist Maine Readers’ Choice Award for Literary Fiction; May Indie Next Pick; WNBA 2103 Great Group Reads Selection; Jewish Book Council Bookclub Pick; San Francisco Chronicle Lit Pick, Editor’s Choice; Winner of Audiofile Earphones Award (audiobook narrated by Xe Sands)
“A seductive page-turner that ripples with an undercurrent of suspense and is fueled by the foibles of the human heart.”~ The Boston Globe, Karen Campbell
”Marvelous..captivating timely thriller.” ~The Los Angeles Times
PICTURES OF YOU
New York Times Bestseller; USA Today e-book Bestseller; Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2011; San Francisco Chronicle Best Books of 2011; Providence Journal Best Ten Books of 2011 List; Kirkus Reviews Best Five Books on Family and Love in 2011; Costco Pennie’s Pick; Bookmarks Magazine Best Books of 2011-Australian; New Zealand, United Kingdom, Serbian, Polish, Brazil, Russia, and large print rights
An emotionally wise novelist’s latest novel tosses neighbors into kaleidoscopic collision and then manages to make sense of their ensuring relationships and fates…” ~ Shirley Velasquez, Elle magazine, Hot Contents
“A white knuckle ride of love and longing…” ~Andrea Hoag, Minnesota Star Tribune
CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD
Cruel Beautiful World was an Indie Next List pick; BlogCritics Best Book of the Year; and the Best Book of the Year from the Pulpwood Queens, a 1000 plus community of bookclubs run by the amazing Kathy L. Patrick. Audiofile Earphones Award for Xe Sands reading the Cruel Beautiful World audiobood
”A seductive page-turner that ripples with an undercurrent of suspense and is fueled by the foibles of the human heart.” ~The Boston Globe, Karen Campbell
“Marvelous..captivating timely thriller.” ~The Los Angeles Times
“Races through several breathtaking leaps and turns involving –grief, love, redemption, everything goes into a popular zesty page-tuner.” ~The New York Times Book Review
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of the award-winning novel In the Context of Love, a story about one woman’s need to tell her truth without shame.
2017 New Apple Book Awards Official Selection
2016 Sarton Women’s Fiction Finalist
2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist
2016 Readers’ Favorite Finalist
2016 USA Book News Best Book Finalist
“…at once a love story, a cautionary tale, and an inspirational journey.” ~ Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of National Book Award Finalist, American Salvage