Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Interview with Caroline Leavitt, Author of Cruel Beautiful World + Giveaway (US only)

I'd like to welcome Caroline Leavitt to the blog today to celebrate the exciting release of Cruel Beautiful World from Algonquin Books!

Welcome to Books à la Mode, Caroline! Let's get this interview started.

Will you please share a brief introduction with us?

Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Indie Next Pick, Cruel Beautiful World, Is This Tomorrow, Pictures of You, Girls In Trouble, Coming Back To Me, Living Other Lives, Into Thin Air, Family, Jealousies, Lifelines, and Meeting Rozzy Halfway.

Cruel Beautiful World was a Best Book of the Year from Blog Critics and from the Pulpwood Queens, and was a bookclub selection for Booksparks, Reading With Robin, and was selected to be part of Reading Group Month by the Women’s National Book Association.

Her many essays, stories, book reviews and articles have appeared in Salon, Psychology Today, The New York Times Sunday Book Review, The New York Times Modern Love, Publisher's Weekly, People, Real Simple, New York Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and numerous anthologies. She won First Prize in Redbook Magazine's Young Writers Contest for her short story, "Meeting Rozzy Halfway," which grew into the novel. The recipient of a 1990 New York Foundation of the Arts Award for Fiction for Into Thin Air, she was also a National Magazine Award nominee for personal essay, and she was awarded a 2005 honorable mention, Goldenberg Prize for Fiction from the Bellevue Literary Review, for "Breathe," a portion of Pictures of You. As a screenwriter, Caroline was a 2003 Nickelodeon Screenwriting Fellow Finalist, and is a recent first-round finalist in the Sundance Screenwriting Lab competition for her script of Is This Tomorrow.

It's amazing to get to feature you today! Readers, here's a bit about the book, which just came out in paperback:

Sixteen-year-old Lucy Gold is about to run away with a much older man to live off the grid in rural Pennsylvania, a rash act that will have vicious repercussions for both her and her older sister, Charlotte. As Lucy’s default parent for most of their lives, Charlotte has seen her youth marked by the burden of responsibility, but never more so than when Lucy’s dream of a rural paradise turns into a nightmare.

Cruel Beautiful World examines the intricate, infinitesimal distance between seduction and love, loyalty and duty, chaos and control, as it explores what happens when you’re responsible for things you cannot make right.

Set against a backdrop of peace, love, and the Manson murders, the novel is a reflection of the era: exuberant, defiant, and precarious all at once. And Caroline Leavitt is at her mesmerizing best in this haunting, nuanced portrait of love, sisters, and the impossible legacy of family.

Describe Cruel Beautiful World in six words.

Young love, dangerous love, last love.

What was your inspiration for the book?

I was 17 and sitting behind a girl in study hall who was engaged to a 30-year-old controlling man. I thought that was strange. When I graduated, I heard the news. She had tried to break up with him, and he had stabbed her 47 times and vanished. I was haunted! I kept wanting to write about it, but I couldn’t understand how she had stayed with a guy like that, or how her friends and family had let her.

Not until ten years later.

My fiancé had died suddenly, and I was cataclysmic with grief. After 4 months, I couldn’t bear it anymore, and I got the bright idea that if I threw myself fin a new relationship, at least I’d be busy. I found this guy who seemed kind, nice, etc. and always spoke in a low, loving tone. But then he began to be manipulative. He told me I didn’t need to eat dinner (I was 95 pounds at the time). He monitored my friends, saying they were crazy. He monitored my clothes. He would wake me repeatedly in the middle of the night, whispering, marry me, marry me—and he wouldn’t let me sleep unless I said okay. Because he talked so kindly to me, I began to think he was right about me. But after two years, I reached a breaking point when he went into my computer and deleted a chapter, replacing it with one he had written, complete with Groucho Marx jokes. When I asked him, “Did you do this?” He said yes, and it was better. “That was mine!” I cried and he got very close to me and said very quietly. “Listen to me. There is no you. There is no me. There is only us.”

That’s when I was able to leave, able to understand my friend, and write about her.

That is seriously creepy, but has certainly evolved into a chilling story! Tell us about your road to publication, such as how you first queried, unexpected challenges, and things you picked up along the way. 

I am the poster girl for never giving up. I never queried agents or did anything but collect rejection slips from the many magazines I sent my short stories to. My first novel came out of a short story and it won First Prize in the Young Writers’ Contest. Then suddenly, I had a book deal! My first novel, Meeting Rozzy Halfway was a huge success, but then I had 8 failures. Publishers went out of business. Editors left. The publicity department did nothing. My 9th novel was actually rejected from my then publisher (I have had 5) for “not being special.” I cried and cried and cried to my friends and one of them suggested I contact her editor at Algonquin. I knew they wouldn’t want me—what publisher would take on someone who had no sales, no name, no anything? But they did, and they took that “non-special” book and put it into 6 printings before publication, and it made the New York Times Bestseller List its first month out!

Since then I’ve done 4 other novels with Algonquin, and I hope to always have them as my publisher! I’ve learned that you never know what is going to happen and your job is simply to write the best book you can and be open to surprises.

Be kind to everyone. Thank people who help you. Never compare yourself to anyone else. All those things are important.

Are the characters from your book based off anyone you know in real life?

Oh yes, Iris, the woman who falls in love for the first time is based on my mom. My mom had a terrible love life all her life. Jilted at the altar, marrying my father, a brute, on the rebound, and then reluctantly having to go into an independent living place at 90. And within a month, she fell in love. “For the first time,” she told us. Walter, her boyfriend was wonderful. They were like teenagers, together all the time for four years. And the blessing was that my mother got dementia days after Walter fell and died. She believes he is still very much alive, and we encourage that because it makes her so, so happy.

A lot of time, I am trying to figure out some issue I have in my novels (I call it my paper psychiatrist) so people I know do factor in my work, but I’m always careful to change their names, their appearances, their jobs, etc. I don’t want to get sued!

Which character from Cruel Beautiful World was most difficult to write?

Definitely William, the controlling boyfriend of young Lucy. I didn’t want him to be cardboard. I made him a man who is desperate to do the right thing, to do good in the world, and he just can’t. He loves Lucy—he truly does—and I had to make him a little ambiguous. And I realized, since most villains do not think they are villains, that I had to let him speak at the end, and tell his version of the story. And that was what was so difficult. It was a version. I never knew when I was writing it if William believed what he was saying, if he knew he was lying, or if he was telling the truth. I kept worrying, are readers going to understand that this is a deeply troubled, flawed human being who is desperate for absolution?

Readers, click "Read more" to find out Caroline's advice to aspiring writers, the message she wants readers to grasp, and how she reacts to harsh reviews. We're also hosting a giveaway for finished copies of Cruel Beautiful Wrold, so you don't want to miss that either!

How do you react to a negative or harsh review to your books?

At first, I cried. I was so ashamed. I stayed in my apartment, but then I became a book critic for various newspapers and I realized that a reviewer, I would respond to and love some books that many other critics had loathed—and vice versa. I now realize that a) there is so little review space that just to get a review has meaning, no matter what it says and b) people most often look to a review for the plot, not the praise!

I had so, so many raves for Cruel Beautiful World and I had a mixed review from the Sunday New York Times Book Review. Did I weep? Oh, maybe a tiny bit. But then I realized that the NYTBR only reviews 1 percent of all books that come their way, so it is an amazing feat just to be reviewed there. And because I read that review carefully, and when the reviewer said something outrageous i.e. that I was promoting child molesters—and there are no child molesters in my novel—I knew the review would not matter because she had gotten the novel totally wrong.

When I review, I am never cruel. I critique and point out things that didn’t work, but I am always, always kind.

Give aspiring writers a piece of advice you wish you had known before getting published.

Never. Ever. Give. Up. No doesn’t always mean No. It can mean Not Yet. Or Not Now. Sometimes an editor or agent is just the wrong editor or agent for you. Believe in yourself. Remember that it is a career, a long distance run and not a sprint.

What is the message in Cruel Beautiful World that you want readers to grasp?

Charlotte, Lucy’s older sister in the novel, spends the novel desperate to find and fix and care for Lucy. She thinks she can fix anything. But sometimes you can’t fix things—or people. Sometimes you just have to let life wash over you and realize that sometimes doing the best you can may not be enough. But it has to be.

Where can you be found on the web?

Before we conclude this interview, is there anything you'd like to ask our readers?

Was there ever a time in your life that you tried to fix a situation and realized that you could not? What was it, how did you try to fix it, and then what happened?

It was a pleasure to be able to get to know you better today, Caroline! Thank you again for dropping by, and best of luck with future endeavors!


Books à la Mode is giving away three print copies of Cruel Beautiful World—woohoo! To enter, all you have to do is answer Caroline's question in the comments below:
Was there ever a time in your life that you tried to fix a situation and realized that you could not? What was it, how did you try to fix it, and then what happened?
Please make your comment MEANINGFUL. Comments solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry. Caroline and I really want to hear your thoughts! :)
Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the publisher—a huge thank you to the lovely Caroline Leavitt!
Giveaway ends August 23rd at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US residents only. Sorry, everyone else! Please check my sidebar on the right for a list of currently running giveaways that are open worldwide—there are plenty to choose from!
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!