What is the best thing I love about my work? I get to live many other lives. I love the feeling of being in the zone so deeply, that when I stop writing, I feel a little disoriented.
What is my idea of perfect happiness? Being with Jeff Tamarkin, my husband and our son Max, in Hawaii.
What is your greatest fear? That when you die, you just die. That there is no quantum physics’ other universe. That there are no explanations for anything. I usually think about this at four in the morning when I cannot sleep. Oh okay, sometimes I think about it during the day, too.
What is the trait that I most deplore in myself? I stress. (See above.) I worry constantly. I panic when I don’t have to.
What living persons in my profession do I most admire? Gail Godwin. Not only is she a renowned and genius writer, but she’s so gracious and open to all writers. And Ann Patchett because she’s Ann Patchett and because she has a bookstore that has dogs! Lots of dogs!
What is my greatest extravagance? Vacations! We like exotic, far flung places..Istanbul, Hong Kong.
On what occasion would I lie? To not hurt someone.
What is the thing I dislike the most in my work? It’s not dislike as much as terror. There is so much stress about finishing a novel, being so lost that you have no idea what you are doing, that sometimes going to dental school can seem like a viable alternative. I am always anxious to the point of nausea showing my novel to my beloved agent Gail Hochman. The next bit of terror is her showing the novel to my editor, Chuck Adams. Then, there is the panic about getting blurbs. Next comes stressing about pre-pub reviews. Then stressing about real reviews. Then stressing about sales. And then, finally, I can get back to what I love the most: the writing.
When and where was I happiest about my book? It is always when I am writing the first chapter, when everything is new and anything could happen, and I feel in control, and it is just me and the glorious blank page.
If I could, what would I change about myself? I’d love to get rid of the anxiety! And could I be taller than 5’ 3”?
What is my greatest achievement in work? I didn’t give up. I had fame with my first novel, Meeting Rozzy Halfway, and then fell into a black hole with books 2-8. My publishers went out of business or didn’t promote, or even refused my calls and emails. My 9th novel, Pictures of You, was rejected by my then publisher as being “not special enough.” I was sure I was finished, but I didn’t give up. When Algonquin wanted to buy the book, I told them, “Look, I don’t sell—“ and they said, “You will now.” And they turned that non-special book into a NYT Bestseller its first month out. I call them gods and goddeses. They gave me my career back.
Where would I most like to live? Jane Street in the West Village. Or right by Central Park, around 86 th Street. I do love all the brownstones in Hoboken, where we live. I love our 1865 home in Hoboken, which is 3 stories, with lots of wood and period details. We renovated it ourselves, taking down wood paneling to reveal fireplaces in every single room, tugging up orange shag carpeting that hid wide-plank wood floors, removing lowered ceilings covering up rosettes, and taking off the cheap black paint on solid brass chandeliers When we bought it, no one wanted to live in Hoboken, so it was very cheap. Now, of course, it’s gentrified because it’s a ten-minute subway ride to the heart of the Village. Studios here that were dirt cheap are now going for half a million now. Brownstones for millions. So much has changed!
What is my most treasured possession? Love. Having love. And as someone who has veered in and out of weird times of disease, it’s health, too.
What is my most marked characteristic? Although I write dark literary fiction, I am incredibly goofy.
What is my most inspirational location, in my city? Chelsea. I had fled Pittsburgh and a troubled marriage, and moved to Manhattan, and the first thing I saw was a guy with a branch strapped to his head, and he called to me, “Where’re you going? East Side! West Side! Uptown! Downtown!” and I laughed and knew I had found my place.
What is my favorite place to eat and drink in my city? Le Pain Q on 33rd street and Park Avenue. It’s big enough so you don’t feel crowded in. The food is simple and good, and there are lots of choices for a vegan like me. And I meet friends there a lot. I also love Pete’s Tavern on East 19th, home of O’Henry and a good glass of red wine.
What books influenced my life and how? A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara made me realize that there is no such thing as a book that is too dark, as long as it is true. When I was living in Pittsburgh, I carried around the novel Moving On by Larry McMurtry, which spurred me to do my own moving on.
Who are my favorite writers? John Irving. Hannah Yanagihara. Celeste Ng. And of course I have lots of writer friends and I love all their works, and because I’m afraid I will forget names, I won’t list them here. They’re all on my blog and on my Facebook pate.
You only die once. What music would I listen to on my last day? What? You only die once? It has to be the Beatles. Or God Only Knows by the Beach Boys. Or Mozart. Or actually, I’d love to listen to my actor son Max, singing at all stages of his life so far.
Who are my heroes and heroines in real life? Jen Pastiloff runs workshops for women to write from their hearts. She also runs this great website that showcases wonderful essays from amazing writers, The Manifest-Station. She’s deaf, but that doesn’t stop her from doing anything, and she virtually changed my life by helping me accept myself. I also love Lidia Yuknavitch, whose book and Ted Talk, The Misfit’s Manifest, spoke to me so deeply, I carry it around in my purse like a talisman. And I admire anyone who dares and dreams, despite the odds.
Which movie would I recommend anyone to see once in a lifetime? Blade Runner, the director’s cut. The original (NOT the dopey remake coming out this year) without the narrative that ties up loose ends. I love film that makes you unsettled, that acts, like the best novels, like a never-ending story, where you keep thinking about it weeks later.
What role does art play in my life and work? There’s no separation for me.
Who is my greatest fan, sponsor, partner in crime? Jeff, my husband.
Whom would I like to work with in 2017? I am already working with them: my genius agent Gail Hochman. My genius editor Chuck Adams at Algonquin. My screenwriting partner, the novelist Gina Sorell. Gina and I decided to write a pilot for a lark, and we now have a film agent who is sending it out! And always, Jeff, my husband.
Which people in my profession would I love to meet in 2017? I have a soft spot for John Irving because he said: If you don’t feel you are possibly on the edge of humiliating yourself, of losing control, then what you’re doing probably isn’t very vital. If you don’t feel that you are writing somewhat over your head, why do it?” I loved that quote so much, I tracked him down my mail and told him so. He wrote me a lovely handwritten letter saying that though this sounded like something he’d say, he can’t remember ever saying it!
What project in 2017 am I looking forward to work on? I’m working on it now. I’ve sold my 12th novel, which doesn’t have a title yet, to Algonquin Books. It’s about personality change, coma, quantum physics, loss, love and possibility.
Where can you see me or my work in 2017? I’m sort of all over the Internet, so you can just google me to read some of my work. And please, wander into your favorite indie and you can buy my novels there. Buy lots of other writers’ books there, too.
LINKS TO VIDEOS
I talk about my backlist:
What do the words “Passion Never Retires” mean to me? It means to never, ever give up.
Which creative heroines should Peter Invite to tell their story? Celeste Ng. Julia Fierro. Everyone I’ve interviewed on my blog, carolineleavitville.blogspot.com
How can you contact me?
Psst: Never ever phone. It always goes to voice mail.
Never ever drop by. If I’m in the writing zone, I’ll be discombobulated!