“Squinting, she tries to see more than a few feet ahead of her, but the fog’s enveloping her, making her increasingly uneasy. She flicks the parking lights on and off to try to slice through the darkness and then the fog moves again and she sees, almost like pieces of a torn photo, patches of what’s there.”
~from Pictures of You
You know that feeling. The fog is so dense you think your windows are dirty. You flick the windshield wipers onto the highest speed. They cut across and back, again and again, but your vision is still blurred. You use your sleeve to wipe off the inside of the window. Nothing. Then, you panic.
Caroline Leavitt’s first chapter in her bestselling novel, Pictures of You, evokes that same frantic emotion in the reader, from the opening sentence to the last few words. The quote above suggests that fog can be blamed for changing the courses of two families’ lives. But, that moment described, just before the accident, also becomes a metaphor for the rest of the story: how does one recover and reassemble the pieces of a life broken by one event or another?
The book trailer for Pictures of You is haunting like the novel, and I could rave about several fantastic moments in the story. But instead, I’ve invited Caroline to share about her novel, and about writing, and I’m offering a free copy of Pictures of You. Just leave a comment below, and your name will be entered into the drawing.
CC: The first line of Chapter One (“There’s a hornet in the car.”) set me on edge immediately. By the end of the chapter, I was deep into that breathless moment when cars collide and lives change. You’ve written an amazing first chapter! Are you a writer who fine tunes chapter one before moving on to the rest of the story? Or, do you plow through a draft and then return to the beginning?
CL: I fine tune chapter one. It’s my lifeline. If I have a good first chapter, then I know, when I get to the middle of the novel and I feel like chucking it all and going back to school to be a dentist, that that first chapter will call to me. It will say, “You can’t give up. What about me?” The first chapter is always proof to me that I can do this, that I have to push on. It’s like an act of faith to me. Plus, the first chapter really has the seeds of everything that follows.
CC: One of my favorite scenes in PICTURES OF YOU is when Luke returns home to care for Isabelle after the accident, despite her insistence that he leave her alone. You never once write about how either character feels, but the emotion presents itself through strong, natural dialogue and simple, yet powerful, descriptions. That scene cut right through me. Is there a certain scene or chapter in your novel that was your favorite to write?
CL: Ah, that comes from studying screenwriting, where everything is shown or expressed through dialogue, and not spelled out. And thank you, so much. (It also comes through 16 drafts!) I loved writing the last chapter, that leap ahead in time. I was so relieved to get everyone out of that time period, and I was so curious to see what everyone would be like so many years in the future. Plus, it was something I’d never done before and I was really happy that it seemed to be working for me. As soon as I made Sam in his thirties, I stopped worrying so hard about him, too, which was quite a relief for me!
CC: On the Reading Group Choices blog, you talk with Heidi Durrow about audience and say, “…if I think about an audience at all, it smothers the work somehow. Readers respond when you’re able to show the dark or hidden places that maybe they have been afraid or unable or unwilling to.” PICTURES OF YOU touches on several core conflicts found in life and in relationships. Has your audience responded to or connected with your story in ways that you anticipated or were surprising to you?
CL: Another great question.It’s always surprising to hear what readers say. I’ve found that people connect depending on what’s going on in their own lives. There were a lot of people who were upset at the way the book ended. They had an idea in their mind of how it should go. Some people were furious with April–I happened to love and understand her, though I certainly wouldn’t want her as a close friend.
CC: What are you reading these days?
CL: Everything I can get my hands on. I really loved Tayari Jone’s Silver Sparrow. I review for People and the Boston Globe, so there are always books coming into the house and I’m always, always reading.
CC: Do you have any advice for writers on the rise?
CL: Yes. Never give up. Pictures of You is my 9th novel, and before this one, I never had any sales to speak of, and it was rejected by my old publisher as not being special enough. With Algonquin, it went on to become a NYT bestseller, a NAIBA bestseller, and it’s now in 4 printings and sold to six countries! You have to sit down and write everyday, and always help other writers. We’re all in this together!
Caroline Leavitt has a host of amazing credits to her name (including nine novels and essays or articles in places like New York Magazine and The Washington Post!), all of which you can learn about by perusing her website here. You can also follow her on Twitter or look her up on Facebook.
Don’t forget to leave a comment, so that you’re entered into the book giveaway. Random.org chooses the winner on Tuesday, June 14th.