The Divining Wand

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Caroline Leavitt and Pictures of You

January 31, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


As a writer Caroline Leavtitt is known for her essays, short stories, and book reviews for the Boston Globe and People, as an award-wining author she is known for eight previous novels including — Girls in Trouble, Coming Back to Me, the rest in Bibliography) — , yet it is as a storyteller of her latest book, Pictures of You, that may prove the most enduring/endearing role to readers.

First consider this critical praise:

“An expert storyteller….Leavitt teases suspense out of the greatest mystery of all — the workings of the human heart.” Booklist

And then realize that a major reason for the author’s success is writing about obsession — beginning with her own and turning it into the character’s. Basing Pictures of You on her phobia for driving, she wanted to write about the fear of causing a car crash and killing someone. Could becoming fixated on that car crash and how it affects the people involved cure her?

Although it did not, the idea turned into a novel with its primary theme asking the questions: How well do we really know the ones we love, and how much — or how little — do we choose to see what is going on in our lives?

How appropriate that the life-changing car crash literally takes place in a fog. Here is the synopsis for Pictures of You:

Two women running away from their marriages 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?

There was enough Early Praise to have the publisher (Algonquin) order a second printing before releasing the book a month early.

And, by reading the Excerpt of the first two chapters, you’re certain to be praising its immediate intrigue too.

Fascinating in its depth, Pictures of You is a seemingly “easy read” about how complicated individuals’ lives become when they intersect over a tragic mistake. The author — without “dropping a stitch” on her characters’ insight, behavior, guilt, and grief — offers a multi-layered, complex storyline that never suggests heavy handed, intimidating literature. Instead what she creates is simple, but how?

Caroline laughs at the idea that it’s simple and explains:

“The writer Jonathan Evison told me “‘Easy read means hard writing.’” And he’s right. I wrote about 16 drafts (I’m not kidding~!) of Pictures of You. In every draft, I made charts, outlines, I read things out loud, I tried different fonts. It was a never ending battle to get things right, to try to cut to the core. And it took me four years to do it.”

However, after four years, the novel is eloquent and universally appealing, both literary and commercial.

Of course it fell on the characters to make it so and the authors tells that Isabelle came to her first:

“I knew she was going to enact my deepest fear–getting in a car crash and killing someone. But then I thought, well who was she going to kill? I couldn’t bring myself to have her kill a child, because if I did that, I could never continue to live myself, and I couldn’t have it be her mistake because that also seemed too awful to me, so I had it not be her mistake. Suddenly, I had this image. A woman standing in the middle of the road, her car turned around. A child running into the woods. I wanted to why and how, and I just started writing.”

Aha, the mysterious ways of creativity become the mysteries of the novel and Caroline Leavitt takes readers on an emotional journey of discovering why, how, and then what? While the aftermath of the accident suggests the need for forgiveness, healing, and closure, the truth is that life’s much too complicated for such a straightforward resolution. For, by sorting through the details of “how well do we know the ones we love?” another question arises of “how well do we know ourselves?” If we lie, mislead, or keep secrets from each other, consider how blurred individual perspectives are. Memories, images, and even pictures cannot reveal the entire past.

Then add the ripple effect that spreads into and affects a small town community for years. Well-meaning sentiments, kindness, gossip, finger-pointing, and even bullying mix together to create a chaos theory. Because, as the author agrees, “when something happens in a blink, your whole life changes. And when your whole life changes, it impacts the lives around you.”

Yet as mysterious and thought-provoking as Pictures of You reads, its most compelling aspect is the author’s portrayal of a family torn apart by the loss of a mother/wife. The husband who only saw what he wanted to see in his wife lives in pain, once realizing he did not know her. The young asthmatic son who almost physically cannot survive the guilt and grief he feels for his mother’s death, let alone how much he misses her. And the other woman — the surviving photographer — who tries to sort out her own truths, even though she feels certain it was her mistake that tore apart a happy family portrait.

Caroline Leavitt’s Pictures of You is captivatingly honest and heartfelt. Her storytelling will entertain as well as possibly cause readers to wonder about what they know is true and such truth makes this book a “must read.” Enjoy!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Caroline Leavitt’s Pictures of You in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Guest Caroline Leavitt on
Torn between Two Lovers:
Promoting One Book While Writing the Next

January 25, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Last spring or early summer The Divining Wand asked its authors, "how do you say goodbye to your characters?" In today's guest post, Caroline Leavtitt (Girls in Trouble, Coming Back to Me, the rest in Bibliography) details how it feels to promote/love her latest novel Pictures of You and still move on to write yet another novel.]

Torn between two lovers: promoting one book while writing the next

Six months before its publication, I started promoting my new novel, Pictures of You. It’s a truly heady thing, to be flown to new cities, to talk to booksellers (I love, love booksellers), to meet readers (I love, love, love readers), and to speak in front of audiences that genuinely want to hear you.) I admit I love it all. I can’t wait to go on tour across the country, and I’m thrilled to talk on radio and read in stores. Part of this is because after the four years it took me to write this book, I know the characters as well as I know anyone in my life. I care about them, I worry about them. I still hear their voices whispering in my head. Want to ask me any questions about them? I’m thrilled to spill their beans and push them into the limelight.

But wait! While all this is going on, what about that other novel? The one I sold to Algonquin on the basis of a detailed synopsis and 70 pages, the one that’s due by 2012? The one that right now is called The Missing One, but most likely will get a new title? I’m like that old song, “torn between two lovers,” because the honest truth is I love both of these novels with a passion, and while Pictures of You is like an old, wonderful marriage, this new novel is like the first heady flush of romance.

Dealing with two novels at once means I have become an expert juggler. I sit at my desk four to five hours a day and do nothing but write, especially since I know that come the end of January, I’m going to be on the road and carving out the time I need won’t be so easy. I have learned that I have to turn off all social network and all email accounts, because otherwise I keep waiting to hear what’s happening with Pictures of You, now. What did I miss? What do I need to do? I’ve also discovered—me, who has never had a cup of coffee in her life—the wonders of coffee. To my surprise, not only does it boost my mood into the stratosphere, it hones my concentration, and zooms up my energy. Why didn’t anyone ever tell me this before?

I know how important it is to keep love alive, especially a new one, so I have started carrying a notebook with me everywhere (I’ve never been the notebook type) so I can fan the flames of my new novel. I’m always thinking of my new novel, like any besotted person, and I write notes, or scenes when and where I can, just to make sure our relationship is still viable and growing. Sometimes, I feel like the universe is sending me signs, like when I read something about the 1950s, where my novel is set, in today’s New York Times, and that sparks me even more.

There’s always a moment, in writing a next novel, when it begins to be so powerful, it shuts out the old ones. The old characters begin to fade and the new ones become so powerful, they are all you can think about. It’s bittersweet, this goodbye, but it’s also quite wonderful. And hey, it means that after I finish this next one, I can move on to another.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Linda Gray Sexton’s Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Linda Gray Sexton and Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

The Revealing of Caroline Leavitt

January 19, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

This month, the ever popular and prolific Caroline Leavtitt (Girls in Trouble, Coming Back to Me, the rest in Bibliography) returns with her 9th novel, Pictures of You, which — by all accounts — is another hit! Actually scheduled to be released on January 25th, the book went into its third printing, based on Pre-order sales, and can be purchased now….anywhere!

Consider the novel’s intriguingly mysterious set-up and cast of characters:

A mysterious car crash on a deserted, foggy road brings three people together in a collision of their own:

A photographer fleeing her philandering husband and consumed with guilt.

An asthmatic boy with a terrible secret.
A husband who realizes that he never really knew his wife.

And there is the praise from both literary and popular reviewers:

“A touching story of loss and discovery. Leavitt explores the depths of grief and the sticky spots sorrow pushes people into, and …her near bottomless reserve of compassion for her imperfect characters will endear them to readers.” 
Publisher’s Weekly

“Caroline Leavitt plumbs the depths of grief and forgiveness in the lovely Pictures Of You.” 
Vanity Fair, Hot Type

“Suspenseful…gripping. Leavitt is superb at revealing the secrecy inside many marriages and the way children grieve; several moving scenes involve Sam, who has come to imagine Isabelle as a crash scene “angel” who will take him to his mother. 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.” 
Jane Ciabattari, O, the Oprah Magazine

Although you need not wait to read the post to read the book, The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of Pictures of You for Monday, January 31, 2011. Right now, however, let’s meet the author through her “official” bio:

Caroline Leavitt is the award-winning author of eight previous novels. Her essays and stories have been included in New York magazine, Psychology Today, More, Parenting, Redbook, and Salon. She’s a columnist for the Boston Globe, a book reviewer for People, and a writing instructor at UCLA online. Caroline Leavitt lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, New York City’s unofficial sixth borough, with her husband, the writer Jeff Tamarkin, and their teenage son Max.

Creative, productive, and successful, let’s discover more about Caroline in what she reveals:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Chaotic, happy, obsessed, compulsive, silly, adventurous, love, family

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: Anything is possible, and that includes eating vast quantities of chocolate without getting sick.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: Ah, I’m with Freud on this one–I think you need people you love and work you love.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Unfriendly alien invasion. Hey, it could happen.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: In Rome, in a cafe, eating pasta with my husband and son.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: Cleopatra! She wielded great power and she had great love in her life.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: It’s a group actually, stem cell researchers. I feel they hold the key to conquering so many terrible diseases.

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: I’m guilty of “you know” peppered in my sentences. I also am horrified that I do use “like” a whole lot, too.

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: I wish I could drive. I’m completely phobic and I can’t. I’d also love to be able to sing, something I used to be able to do!

Q; What is your greatest achievement?
A: My son–14, smart, funny, creative and kind. But I can’t take all the credit. I have to share it with Jeff, my husband.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: I’m obsessive-compulsive and I over worry about everything, making myself and those around me crazy.

Q; What’s your best quality?
A: I’m really kind and generous (I help a lot of writers!) and I’m funny, which makes the hard times easier.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: Not being bolder when I was younger–I was so shy back then and missed so many opportunities for mischief because of it!

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: I’d like to be the ruler of the universe, but just for one day. Just so I could straighten things out a bit, tie up loose ends, and make sure peace, love and understanding was all over the Earth. And oh yes, I want everyone to read. A lot.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: My big wild mop of long curly hair and my pale, pale skin. I also have this raspy voice that is pretty distinctive.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Jay Gatsby in the Great Gatsby–a romantic if there ever was one.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Hannibal Lector!

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: I think you can argue that dancers are athletes. I’d love to meet Baryshnikov and I’d ask him to take a look at my plie and tell me what I’m doing wrong.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A:People who throw their cigarette butts on the sidewalk. They aren’t biodegradable, folks!

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: Reading or going to see films (I’m a movieholic.)

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: I’d love to be a ballet dancer. I studied when I was in my twenties and was the worst dancer on the planet.

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Kindness, funnybone in good working order, ability to love.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Pasta! I eat it for breakfast sometimes, which grosses out my husband.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: There is a Light That Never Goes out by the Smiths
Don’t Dream it’s Over by Crowded House
For the Roses by Elvis Costello
I Will by the Beatles
Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Wuthering Heights
Room by Emma Donughue
Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon
Mrs. Bridge by Evan Connell

Warm, engaging, and full of surprises, stay up-to-date with Caroline Leavitt by following her on Twitter, becoming a friend/fan on Facebook, and reading her blog, CAROLINELEAVITTVILLE.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Presenting Debutante Eleanor Brown and The Weird Sisters. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in tomorrow’s post. If you enter, please return tomorrow to see if you’re a winner.