Jo-Ann Mapson is a stellar author and also a friend and she's interviewing me, here! thank's Jo-Ann!
I’m turning the tables on Caroline Leavitt, the incredibly talented writer, inspiring teacher, who so generously blogs about everyone else’s writing.
Pictures of You is the story of two women, unhappy in their marriages, whose lives literally collide in a car accident. April dies, but Isabelle survives, with guilt is so enormous she feels compelled to become involved with April’s husband and young son. It’s a lot more complex than that, but I don’t want to spoil anyone’s reading experience.
When I began to gather questions to ask you, I picked up the book again—and read it all the way through. A book that stands up to and begs for multiple readings is a great book, in my humble opinion. It’s exciting that Pictures of You has gone into multiple printings before it’s pub date. There’s a real buzz about it, and I hope it leads to good things.
The characters in this story are so real. Some haven’t finished high school. Others have asthma. Overprotective fathers misinterpret things. Mothers we’d like to forget are driving forces.
Can you tell us about creating April, Sam, and Charlie? Where does your inspiration for them come from?
I started the book with just the image of a car crash, and a woman standing the wrong way in the road, with a little boy running off to the side. Originally April was much darker but I began to realize that it would be much more complex if she was more complicated, if there was a part of her that people could relate to or even feel for. Sam originally didn’t have asthma, but when it showed up, I didn’t want to write it. I had suffered through a terrible childhood with asthma (it’s very mild now), and the last thing I wanted to write about was the shame and grief and terror of that time. But it kept coming back, and in lavishing my attention on Sam, I seemed to have healed my own shame about my past!
Charlie, to me, was your basic good guy who comes to realize that he didn’t really know the woman he loved best in the world, and he gradually comes to also realize that it was his own fault. That he saw what he wanted to see. I found that so fascinating.
There’s also a sense of overlapping mysteries—April had a secret life, Charlie has her investigated. Sam is friends with the dangerously unsupervised Teddy. How did you use suspense techniques in this story?
It’s funny you asked that because this is actually my first book where I’ve really tried my hand at suspense. A lot of the time I just didn’t know what I was doing and some of it actually came about without my knowing it. (Just now when you asked about Teddy, I thought, “Oh, yes! I can see that!” But it wasn’t intentional.) But as I was writing, the idea, “What happened that day? What really happened?” kept beating like wings in my head, and that propelled my writing.
Talk about the role of parenthood/motherhood in this book.
I gave Sam three kinds of parents. April, his mother, yearns to be perfect and yet does some really dangerous things. When he’s sick in the hospital, she gives him peanut butter and enrages the nurses. Yet, she is determined to make him feel that even with asthma, his life can still be special and an adventure. Charlie also wants to be a perfect dad, but he’s overcautious. He doesn’t push communication, which causes a lot of mistakes. Isabelle is sort of the ideal. She respects Sam. She opens his world by teaching him photographer, and she’s very open about saying what she thinks and feels. She’s all about seeing what is really there, and going deeper and deeper until you do.
There’s a hornet inside Isabella’s car. Luke hides a picture of Isabelle and himself in a wall. Sam reads up on angels. Even Nelson the unsociable tortoise has personality. How do you find those details to make characters and setting so realistic and at the same time so human?
I wish I knew. Sometimes I think my mind is just a repository of details from my life or from the lives of my friends and I remember them at the right time. I’m afraid of hornets in the cars. My husband and I hid a photo of ourselves in a wall. I had a tortoise for many years who was also cranky as all hell. With Sam, it was just the vision of a little boy reading about this whole angel world.
This book is different from your others particularly in the time frame. We get to see characters in the future. Why was that important to the story?
That leap ahead just came out of nowhere, but as soon as it did, it felt like a gift. I had been floundering around, trying to figure out the right end, and suddenly, I felt this jump ahead was exactly the way to end the story. I always feel that I want novels to be “never ending stories.” You turn the page and you still feel the characters are living their lives, that things go on. It was important to me to see how Sam turns out, and I couldn’t do that unless he was also an adult at some point.
You could ask me, how can people find out where you are touring so they can come so you won’t have to read in front of three people? My website http://www.carolineleavitt.com has all the details. Also, does writing get any easier? The answer is no. Every book is different and in a way, it gets harder. Right now I’m working on a novel set in the late 50s and early 60s in suburban America, which is due to Algonquin in 2012.