I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to be doing this interview. I think I first met A. S. King at a Backspace conference and we just hit it off. I'm rabid about her work, too, and every time I run into her, the world just seems brighter. In fact, a month ago, I was in the ladies room at the Tucson Book Festival for a 1000-person dinner and I hear "CAROLINE LEAVITT!" and there she was. Just read her responses here and you'll immediately fall in love with her, too.
And as for her latest, Ask The Passengers, take a look at this list of honors: 2012 Los Angeles Book Prize winner, 2013 Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices pick, A 2012 Lambda Literary Award Finalist, A 2013 Capitol Choices book, An ALA GLBTRT Rainbow List Top Ten pick, A Kirkus Best Book of 2012, A School Library Journal Best Book of 2012, A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2012, A Library Journal Best Books 2012: Young Adult Literature for Adults book, Six starred trade reviews, A Fall 2012 Junior Library Guild Selection, A Fall 2012 Indie Next List Pick, A YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults pick, 2014 Rhode Island Teen Book Award nominee, a Carolyn Field Award nominee. About a young girl who sends her love to the only people who might want it--passengers in a plane, Ask the Passengers shifts the way you see the world. Which, of course, is what the best books always do.
Thank you so much, and a big hug from me, Amy.
Your work is "intense," "compelling," and it's won just about every honor and prize I can think of. Ask The Passengers has a knockout, eerie premise: a troubled girl caught in a smalltown, sends her love to the passengers in the planes above, hoping they'll appreciate it. Where did the idea for this spark?
I’ve been sending love to random passengers in airplanes since I was a little girl. I can’t remember how young I started—maybe six or seven. I don’t know why I started except I might have been bored in my back yard surrounded by a huge cornfield with little to do but use my imagination. I still do it when I see an airplane. Every time. I still imagine that it’s helping someone. Every time.
When I sat down to write Ask the Passengers, I set out to write about love. I found myself asking How can I write about love in a setting full of small-minded hate? I remembered all those random people who I’d sent love to over the years and I knew I wanted to write about their journeys as receivers-of-love as well as my own, as the sender-of-love.
The metaphor arose: If we love randomly and freely, it is a lot harder to hate people for who they love and it’s a lot harder to judge other people and be critical and small-minded. With that, the spark…sparked.
So many of your books target people on the edge, or the disenfranchised--but to me, you make those people the ones who are NOT to be dismissed, the ones we NEED to know. How do you such alchemy?
You know, I think my characters are a lot more common in our world than people want to see. In fact, that’s the problem, isn’t it? We know the stats. We know 1 in three women are beaten or raped in her lifetime. We know that 1 in four people suffer from some sort of mental illness. We know about 1 in six children are sexually abused. Etc. Etc. We feel hugely uncomfortable talking about or tackling these issues. And yet not one of us is untouched in our family or friend circles by one of those stats. So, even though we do not talk about it, in reality, characters who are dealing with these very common issues are universal because we all have them…or we are them.
In the case of Ask the Passengers, Astrid is simply falling in love with a girl. She is confused because society has given us so many labels and she feels uncomfortable affixing one to what she’s feeling. Labels are permanent and so…limiting. I don’t see life that way and neither does Astrid. This is why it was so helpful to bring Socrates into the story and have him question everything around him, as was his habit. In my mind, it’s a habit I wish more people would get into. So many people stick themselves in confining boxes and stay there for their very short lifetimes. It seems a waste not to grow throughout the entire journey.
Tell us about your new book, Reality Boy? And about Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future?
Reality Boy is about Gerald Faust—a boy who was once a five-year-old reality TV “star”…if you call being a mess on TV stardom. Now that Gerald is a teenager, he’s suffered a lifetime of being recognized everywhere in his town, being teased and bullied by his teachers, peers, and even his family. He is beyond angry about everything that was once aired on TV…and especially the things that weren’t aired on TV. He’s very close to snapping. Until he meets the girl who works at register #1 while he works register #7 at the food stand at the local ice hockey arena. She’s the first person who treats him with any sort of respect and he’s not quite sure what to do with it. The book releases October 22, 2013 and ARCs are floating around now.
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future is about…um…I’m revising it and it’s giving me an eye twitch at the moment, so let’s just use the PW announcement for that one…which reads: A graduating senior struggles with growing apart from her two best friends as all three of them begin having strange and powerful visions of divergent futures. That’s slated for fall 2014.
I have to ask: you've won so many accolades, such praise, such prizes, and yet you remain the most down-to-earth, warm, generous author I know, which is probably why you are so beloved. How do you not let it all go to your head?
Thank you so much for saying this. You are very kind. I’m not sure how to answer. I mean…the publishing business won’t let it go to my head, really. I still drive a 1997 Dodge Neon with no air conditioning and I eat soup for dinner some nights. Accolades and awards don’t buy food. That’s part of it, I bet. Although, if I made money in this business, I’m not sure my head would inflate, either.
So…I’m guessing that I’m just like this. I’m the youngest of three daughters and a born mediator. I’m a Pisces. I love and hug freely. I still volunteer inside my community. I get to hang out with very level-headed teenagers in their schools a lot and they remind me to stay open-minded, non-judgmental and groovy. Life is short. Why would I want to go around with a big head, you know?
What's your writing life like? How do you make time for all that you have to do?
Caroline, things are about to get crazy for me. For 20 years I’ve managed to write novels between jobs, little children, volunteer things and most recently, a lot of travel for school visits. I have no idea how I did that. But I’ve just landed a fantastic faculty position at a low-residency MFA program and that is about to change the whole game.
The short answer to this question is: I work a lot. I don’t watch TV.
What's obsessing you now?
I am in love with the book I am writing for 2015. In. Love. I can’t tell you what it’s about, really, but I am learning a lot about helicopters and reading a lot of contemporary surrealist fiction.
What question didn't I ask that I should have?
Here are the answers: I like Jameson whiskey, my shoe size is 11, and I love roller skating with my kids more than anything in the whole world
Causes Caroline Leavitt Supports
The Writers' Strike Writers Against the War PETA