Sunday, November 4, 2007

Down the Shore with...Caroline Leavitt

This week's installment of "Down the Shore with" takes us to Ocean City with Caroline Leavitt. Not only is Caroline a big OC fan (of the town, not the TV show), but she's also a fantastic writer, counting eight novels, like Girls in Trouble and Coming Back to Me, to her byline, as well as numerous essays and articles in magazines you know and love.

Writers, listen up (or read up). She gives great advice to us ink stained wretches and aspiring authors.

1. What do you consider your shore town? Why?
Ocean City! Neither my husband Jeff nor I are really beach people (I didn't own a bathing suit until we started to go! I have parchment pale skin so I always burn, too, which makes the beach less fun) but when we had our son, we realized we couldn't deny him the experience of the beach. We chose Ocean City because we heard it was a family-friendly place, and because we heard it had a boardwalk! (One of our first dates was on the boardwalk of Atlantic City. We both love kitsch and ended up spending way too much money on figurines and snow domes!) We have both come to love Ocean City and go every year. I even buy new bathing suits and go in the surf and slather on sun block with a SPF of about two thousand! Every year we also hit the arcades and get one of those photo booth shots of all of us making silly faces. We have about ten of them framed at home to remind us how much fun we have at Ocean City.

I just love everything about it--the salty air, the arcade, the boardwalk, the food, the ocean. We're still not major beach people (we only stay four days and we usually limit our beach time to an hour and a half every day), but anyone who knows us always thinks it remarkable that we can't wait to come here.

2. A lot of people go to the shore just to eat. What's your favorite Ocean City hot spot?
Bashful Banana is FABULOUS. It's right on the boardwalk. They make incredible (and healthy) sandwiches, wraps, hot stuff, and even better is their banana whip, which is a frozen banana that they somehow puree with honey so it becomes this extraordinary dessert. Plus, the waitstaff is always really, really friendly.

3. Which do you prefer? Wonderland or Playland?
This is a question for my 11-year-old, since just looking at rides makes my head swim! He adores Wonderland and would rent an apartment in there if he could. However, I admit I love the LOOK of the place, especially at night when everything is all bright and shiny with lights, and we have taken a zillion photographs of it.

4. When did you start writing fiction?
As soon as I could hold a pencil. I made up books for book reports, I wrote stories instead of reports and I always knew I wanted to be a writer. Nothing seemed more fun than making up whole worlds! I didn't get really serious about sending things out until after I graduated college, though!

5. This blog is read by a lot of writers -- what advice would you give to aspiring fiction writers?
1. Never, ever give up. No doesn't always mean no when you approach agents or editors--and even if it sometimes does, remember a "no" is just one person's opinion.
2. Write every day if you can, or at least five days a week. Don't wait for inspiration. Instead train your subconscious to help you.
3. This one is the most important, next to number 1. Write what obsesses you, what you are most passionate about. Don't write for the market! That's a huge mistake because the market always changes and because if you just write what you think might sell instead of what you really care about, the work will be dry and flat.
4. Befriend other writers whenever you can because writing can be a lonely business and it helps to have the support of others who know what you are going through.
5. Read everything. Pay attention to how other writers solve problems about character or plot.
6. I repeat, NEVER GIVE UP!

6. Tell us a little bit about your Boston Globe column.
I started out writing part of their "A Reading Life" column, where I could talk about three books around a theme--for example, three first novels all about sky diving, or three books that all look at betrayal! I did that until they had a budget cut and then I simply reviewed for them. Recently they offered me a new column--about self-help books, but they told me I could write about the smarter, quirkier ones, such as titles by Annie Lamott or Peggy Orenstein or that wonderful book, EAT, PRAY, LOVE. I'm out to transform the genre! It's every other month, and so much fun. I'm originally from Boston, which makes the job all the more fun, plus it's truly a wonderful place to work. I also review books for Dame Magazine and People, teach writing through UCLA online, mentor writers, write novels AND I'm a professional namer! (I just named a brand of potato chips!)

7. What writers do YOU like to read?
I love Dan Chaon, Alice Hoffman, Robb Foreman Dew, Maggie O'Farrell is wonderful. Leora Skolkin-Smith, Rochelle Shapiro, Elizabeth Strout. I have a soft spot for new writers (Dean Bakopoulos' Please Don't Come Back From The Moon is astonishingly good) and I also love nonfiction about history and science.

8. What's next?
I just turned in my 9th novel, Traveling Angels, to my beloved agent and immediately started a new novel. It's set in 1950s suburbia so I am doing some research and in that dreamy stage, which is bliss. I am working with Leora Skolkin-Smith and a producer and director to adapt her novel Edges to the screen and am hoping to sell two other scripts I completed (both just got into the quarter finals of the Writers Network Screenplay competition, so my fingers are crossed so tightly, circulation is about to be cut off.) And I am trying to learn to knit socks so they come out properly!

Check out Caroline's blog at

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