Caroline Leavitt, DAYS OF WONDER

Caroline Leavitt, DAYS OF WONDER

New York Times bestselling author Caroline Leavitt joins Zibby to discuss DAYS OF WONDER, a gripping drama about mothers and daughters, guilt and innocence, and the lengths we go for love. Caroline delves into her novel’s intricate storyline, which follows the afterlives of two young lovers torn apart by a crime, inspired by a real-life experience she had with a friend with a secretive past. She also discusses the themes of forgiveness, identity, and the search for truth. Finally, she shares personal anecdotes about her interactions with the Upper East Side elite, her struggles with adoption, the loss of a child, and her platform for supporting fellow authors, The Mighty Blaze.


Zibby: Welcome, Caroline. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss Days of Wonder. Thank you so much. Most anticipated sticker that you put on here.

Caroline: Yes! I'm going to tattoo that on my forehead. 

Zibby: Okay. Can you please tell listeners what Days of Wonder is about? 

Caroline: Okay. The front story is that Days of Wonder is about the afterlives of two 15 year old kids who are madly in love. who were trying to be separated by the boy's father, and they were both accused of an attempted murder.

And the only problem is neither one of them remembers what really happened that night. So the boy goes free, and the girl gets 25 years, and she's early released from a technicality. And when she's early released, she's desperate to find out what happened to her boyfriend who vanished, what happened to the child she had when she first got into prison, and what really happened that night.

So there's a kind of interesting backstory, which is I was sitting having lunch with a friend of mine, this woman that all my friends have told me, Oh, you have to know this woman. She's so great. She's so wonderful. I thought, great. I love women friends. So I met this woman. And after we'd known each other for two years, she said, I have to tell you something.

And I said, okay, what? And I was hoping, Oh, please don't be an illness. And she said, she committed a murder when she was 15. She actually did it. She knew it was wrong. She was 16. She was a car without brakes and she went to prison for it. She was in prison for five years and when she got out, she changed her identity and she was determined to become a good person.

And she did. She's like, she's so beloved. She got a job. She educated herself. She, um, the only thing she couldn't get over was that she felt she had this secret that she couldn't tell people. She felt she couldn't be forgiven for it. So she was fine. And so she was 40 years old when somebody found out. And they outed her and she lost friends.

She lost jobs. She lost just the actual woman, the actual woman. They outed her. Oh my gosh. Okay. So she was just like devastated. She said, okay, I'm going to have to do this again. And she did it again. She took on a new identity. Persona or whatever and she was just very guarded. She never had a close relationship after that with you know a sexual partner.

She just kept her women friends close and after she told me I just said you know I love who you are now and who you were is not who you are now and she was you could see like the relief was I so I wanted to write about that but I wanted to keep her privacy so I vowed that I would never mention her name.

And I never have. And then I would change the story. So I took her story and first I made an attempt in murder instead of a murder. Then I made it, I still had like two young kids, but I made it more of a Romeo and Juliet story because I'm a sap for those kinds of stories. And as I was writing it, I started like, Putting in other stuff, you know, my mother's story started coming up and, um, I just, by the time I was done, it had almost, the only thing that it had of my friend was, you know, that longing to be forgiven and that attempt to try to live a different life.

Zibby: Wow. And that was it. Oh my gosh. Amazing. Well, there's so much in the story. Not only, when you say the Romeo and Juliet thing, you have this great scene where Jude meets Red, as we'll call her, you know, her nickname before Ella changes her hair and all of that after prison is, you know, to change her identity, but, uh, as a, as a native I love that.

Upper East Side or myself, I found this quite amusing. So can I just read like a little section you know, the Dalton party, you know, I did not go there. 

Caroline: I had a Dalton boyfriend. 

Zibby: You did? Oh my gosh. Okay. Um, I'll just start from the beginning of Story. Chapter. So this is, you have a dual timeline here, and this is what actually happens from in the back.

Ella held her breath, tugged up her skirt to shorten it, and then, along with her two best friends, Suze and Christina, walked toward the high rise on East 76th. She looked up at the ornate carvings on the limestone building and felt dizzy. Everything in the Upper East Side seemed so clean and empty compared to other areas of the city, particularly Queens.

The sidewalks looked bleached. Every tree was surrounded with bright flowers and gated with wrought iron. People here were so dressed up they looked polished, wearing fancy fabrics and walking fancy dogs who sometimes had jeweled collars and even little rubber boots over their paws. Ella had no idea what to think of all this.

And then the next paragraph, she had no idea what to think of this event either. Billy, Suze's cousin, had told Suze that his parents were in Tahiti all weekend. He was throwing a party, putting it on his dad's card, and he wanted her to come. Bring your friends, he said.

Caroline: I do want to say that the Upper West Side is, is, is pretty gentrified too, that a lot of New York is like that now. But I just had to sort of boost it up a little. 

Zibby: Yeah. It's also not that clean right now, but that's okay. There's like garbage everywhere. It's fine. No, but this whole lifestyle and someone sort of from the outside looking in and her right feeling like so out of place and of course we've all felt so out of place and yeah, I mean I can't imagine anyone who hasn't had that feeling.

I know I have. Where you go into an environment and you feel like the odd one out and then all of a sudden she gets like. recognized by this guy and they feel this connection and she can't even really believe it. So tell me about that and was that what it was like with your Dalton boyfriend? 

Caroline: It was like that for me.

We actually, I was a little older than Ella and we actually moved into this fabulous apartment. It was on the Upper West Side though. He did go to, he had gone to and it was, it had, you know, I was living in a crummy little one. bedroom, not one bedroom, it was just a studio, uh, that has sloping floor and mice and stuff, and all of a sudden I was living in a four bedroom apartment overlooking the park at night, and we had two doormen, and they knew me by name, and I was just sort of astonished, and his parents were extremely wealthy, and my parents were not, I was sort of a working class girl growing up, and I was kind of I was kind of dazzled and I didn't know how to, I didn't know exactly how to, how to act a lot of times.

And I remember his mother took me aside once and said, I have to take you shopping. You're not dressing well. And I mean, that might've been like, I don't want to make a blanket statement that there's like all people who went to Dalton, but it was like that specific moment. And I just, I just never forgot it.

It was strange. And when we broke up, I was really sad to leave the apartment, not because it was so big and beautiful and was like right by the park, which certainly mattered, but because I really liked the doormen. I mean, they were my friends. They would, you know, I would like come in crying from a fight or something and they would be really nice and say, sit down.

I won't open the doors until you've calmed yourself down. And I thought that was really lovely. And I miss that. I miss that. 

Zibby: It's so funny because two other books that I am interviewing authors for this week, there's one book called Welcome Home, Caroline Klein, and in it is a scene which almost could have been from your life where she's dating the wealthy young guy from New York and envisioning these like amazing vacations and this lifestyle and he breaks up with her and she's like, Okay, like now, now I'm on my friend's couch in Queens and like, this is not exactly what I thought my life was going to be.

Caroline: I know it's, it's very weird and I'll tell you, I, this guy also, he was, um, he wanted to finance and so he had a whole lot of money. He used to say, you know, you're a writer and I'm going to be a writer when I have enough money. And I said, well, you work on Wall Street. What's enough money? And he said, well, I have to have like 5 million in the bank.

And I who had 2, 000 in the bank at the time thought, Oh, okay. And the funny thing was that I met my husband, Jeff, after him. And I really, really liked Jeffrey on the spot. And when I told him that I met somebody, he said, well, what does he do? And I said, well, he's a rock and roll journalist. And he said, And there was this look on this guy's face and he said, you're leaving me for a rock and roll journalist.

And I said, yeah, I think I am. And the thing was, I ended up fixing up with another friend of mine and you know, they were happy and they were fine, but he never could get, he kept bringing that up. Like you left me, do you know what you could have had? And I said, well. Yeah, and I do think about it sometimes, but it's not everything.

It's not everything. Wait, what happened to that guy now? Do you have any idea? Yes, I actually got an email from him a few years ago and he said, he said, why don't we meet for a drink? I know the mixologist. That was the word he used. I know the mixologist at the, I forget what hotel it was with some fancy hotel and we can talk and I just, I thought about it and then I thought, you know what, I didn't really want to meet him.

So I told him no, and he was fine about it. He's, he's married to a socialite. No, I think. And he has a bunch of kids and, um, you know, he's an, he was an interesting guy because he actually came from no money and he built himself up. So that's why I'm. Those kinds of things were so important to him, I think.

Zibby: Wow. 

Caroline: A good sort, just not my sort. 

Zibby: Yeah. Oh my gosh. Wow. Well, this is like the movie version of your teenage years here, coming back, or whatever, early 20s. 

Caroline: Yeah. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. Okay. Well, Ella takes a totally different turn in life and does not, you know, Um, just happily wander off with a rock and roll journalist, but instead does try to get a new identity and a new job as a writer, but doing the advice column, which is really interesting.

How did you think of that, by the way, as a plot device?

Caroline: Well, you know, I needed a job that someone could do that. Couldn't do anything else and I have a lot. I know a lot of people who do advice columns and they're wonderful I mean i'm friendly with eugene carroll and she's just hilarious and rick moody does these wonderful Advice columns where he used to through a magazine And I thought this would be really fun To write and so I wrote a few of them and actually my editor hated the ones I originally You wrote and he said, these are very good.

This isn't very good advice. Can't you do better? And I thought, so I went back and I tried to do better and I had to rewrite them a couple times through because it's hard to give good revise because you have to sound smart and you have to do this. And I thought that was the perfect. odd thing for someone who had been in prison to give advice, and she ended up giving decent advice.

Zibby: I found her relationship with her mom to be just very poignant, right? The mom obviously has been her crusader while she was in prison, just patiently waiting and doing what she could, and then finally she gets out. out of prison and she's like ready to start their lives together. But meanwhile, Ella is an adult and is like, okay, bye.

Right. It's different. Oh my gosh. And that scene, you have her mom, you know, crying at night in the other room. It broke my heart. 

Caroline: Oh, just, you know, my, my son is 27 and when he left for college, I just, you want them to go out in the world. You want them to be happy, but you also want them to always be cuddling with you.

And it's, it's, it's absolutely a heartbreaking. thing because it's like you knew them when they were kids and now they're adults and you don't know them that much. And I wanted to write about that in a sympathetic way because, you know, that's what it is to be a, to be a mother. Your kids are all still home, right?

Zibby: Well, I have two who go to boarding school, so I know it's not the same, but it's not this. 

Caroline: Yeah. But it's still like. You know, it's, it's hard. It's hard because when they're young, they're with you all the time, all the time. And also, Ella's mother was really my mom. And, you know, I used to tell my mom's stories.

And my mother was like that. She was incredibly loving. But she always thought I was too independent, which I wasn't. I wasn't independent at all. Because she wanted her, she wanted her daughters, you know, to be girlfriends, you know, to be with her all the time. And I just I just couldn't do that. So, and it's hard when you love somebody, like I love my mom, and you couldn't give them what they wanted.

But that's part of life. 

Zibby: How did you make that okay? Like, how did you not feel the guilt? Or did you feel the guilt? Or like, how much did therapy did this take? 

Caroline: I felt really guilty, of course. But what I did is, you know, we, I could always talk to my mom and I sat her down and I said, look, you know, I really love you.

You're a wonderful mother. I said, but I, I don't really need a mother right now. And We can, we can have a close relationship and I'd really like you to be my friend. And she said, I'm not your friend. I'm your mother, which was really difficult. So I had to sort of set boundaries. I mean, because she was. She was like calling 50 times a day.

And I used to, I just would preface things by saying, I really love you, but I can't talk about, I have to run out and do an interview or I have to, I have a meeting here. I have to do something else. And after a while she kind of grudgingly accepted it, though she never liked it. She never liked it. So I wanted, how I wanted Ella's mom to accept a little bit more in hopes that that relationship would, no expand and I think it will. 

Zibby: So when you're writing, do you, for this, like, for saying that Helen is really your mom, did you know that going into this book that you were going to have a character who is similar to your mom? Or did your subconscious just kind of take over and you're like, oh, I just wrote my mom as a character in this book?

Caroline: The subconscious took over and it was so surprising because I thought, oh my god, I'm writing about my mom. And I write about her a lot and it's always my subconscious and I think it's because my mom died a few years ago and this is my way of having her still alive. I mean, I just keep thinking she would love this if she were alive.

She would be so proud and she would tell everybody and say like, that's me and da da da. And I, I just feel it's like an homage to her. And, but it was totally self conscious, subconscious on my part. And then once I got into it, I thought, okay, I might as well like. Dive in and make it even more. So, so I did.

Zibby: Wow. So, so funny what our brains do, right? 

Caroline: Yeah. Does that happen to you? 

Zibby: Well, I was literally just, I did an event with Danny Shapiro earlier today and she was saying the same thing that, you know, it's just the characters take over and that's how it's supposed to be though. That means you're doing. You're doing it right.

Caroline: Right. 

Zibby: So another element of the story, which is also heartbreaking, is that Ella gave up her, we learned this early. I don't think this is a spoiler, but that Ella had to give up. That's not a spoiler. Right. Ella gave up her, her daughter and didn't, somehow the press, by the way, does, does Did not get a hold of this while she was in prison, which is a remarkable feat.

And she, you know, searches and finds out the adoption agency and they will not tell her, but she, you know, sneaks a peek and realizes they're in Ann Arbor and so off she goes. But yet, even though she wanted, it's like, you can't really believe when you're reading the book that a decision like that, For some piece of your flesh and blood that you could sign any sort of paper to prevent you from seeing them for the rest of your lives.

I mean, it's almost, it's, it's almost inconceivable. I know that's a convention. I know adoption is a thing, you know, I'm not silly, but, but it's crazy really, right? When you think about it. 

Caroline: It's horrible. It's horrible. I mean, after, after we had my son, I couldn't have any more kids and we wanted more kids.

So we were going to, we tried to adopt and we tried open adoption, domestic, and we tried international adoption and the international adoption just didn't work. So we decided to do domestic. And what happened that just made me crazy is I would talk to all of the birth mothers and they were really upset.

They said, well, you're never going to love my child as much as your biological child. And I kept saying, but that's not true. If I thought that was true, I wouldn't be attempting to do that. And I remember we finally got a match with this wonderful woman in Montana. She was a nurse. She was educated. She really liked me.

She really liked Jeff. We had all these conversations and she said, you know what? I think you're going to be parents of my daughter. And as soon as she said that I started loving. And we were waiting a week because we were supposed to fly out and when you're, when you're working through an adoption agency, you can't, they contact you through an 800 number.

You cannot contact them. She never called us. She just never, never called us. And I called the adoption agency and said, What happened to her? And they said, they said, we don't know. Sometimes this happens. It happens a lot. And I said, well, why does it happen? Did she change her mind? Can I talk to her? Did she, and the adoption agency said, sometimes it's a scam and sometimes it's not.

And I was so upset and I was mourning that child so much that I didn't even know that I thought was going to be mine. I can't do this. Let's just count our blessings. We have one gorgeous son and we'll be fine. And I never looked back and still to this day, I think about that kid and I can't, you know, I never saw the, I never saw the baby, but, so I wanted to write about that.

And that was another thing. I didn't realize I was writing about it until I got into it. Cause I was thinking, well, how do you deal with why she'd feel this way? And how the biological, I don't know how the adoptive mom would feel. And all those feelings just rushed back. And I thought. Oh, you know, when you think that the baby is going to be yours, no matter whose it is, it's yours.

Only it isn't. So that way, that was tough. That was tough for me to write. 

Zibby: Do you feel like you've made some sort of peace with it? Having written it? 

Caroline: Yeah, I have. I have. And I also, you know, there's a lot of things. I mean, I, I lost a child. Four months into a pregnancy also, which was just, you know, they always tell you like at three months, that's the safe mark, right?

Where you can like go and tell everybody. So I was so happy and I told everybody and I bought all these clothes and I went in for my fourth mark. fourth month checkup and the doctor said I'm really sorry there's no there's no heartbeat and I kept saying it's it's four months it's four months and I remember from that loss like people say all sorts of things because they don't know what to say I mean some people would say well at least you could get pregnant so you can get pregnant again or people would say well you know you didn't really know the baby or all kinds of things that they're trying to be nice and the only person who got it was my friend.

Joe Fisher, who I've known for 8 million years. And she said, look, I knew you're always going to consider that baby your first child. And when she said that, I thought that's exactly right. I do consider that. Baby, my first child. And I always think about that child and, you know, wish it well and it's just sort of something you deal with.

And then, you know, Max was born a year after that and that helped a lot, but it's, it's sort of like, I always felt, well, he had a, he had a sibling, they just never got to meet. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. Well, I'm sorry. And I know last time on the podcast, or was it just when we were talking, I don't know, story of the trauma of the childbirth and all of the, oh my gosh, you've been through a lot, Caroline.

Oh my gosh. 

Caroline: But I stay happy. I know, it's good. It's just, you know. You have to, you have to. I mean, that's what life is. It's, you know, you, you can take two directions when something awful happens. You can get bitter and lock yourself away or you can say, okay, how can I proceed from this? And I prefer to do the, how can I proceed from this fruit. 

Zibby: Wow. The only way, what is it? The only way through is through, I don't know, the only way out is through. Yeah, the only way through is through. Talk for two minutes about your work with The Mighty Blaze and founding that and all your author advocacy and helping and expansion and, you know, tell everybody about that.

Caroline: Well, the day the pandemic hit, I was supposed to fly on the start of a new tour for With or Without You to talk to 100 librarians, and Algonquin called me up and said, no, your whole tour is cancelled. Everything is cancelled, it's locked down. And when I got off the phone, I said, nothing is cancelled, nothing is cancelled.

And I had practiced this speech with hand movements. So I made a video of it and sent it to Algonquin. They said, this is really good. We're going to send it to the libraries. And I thought, okay, what can I do to help my friends? Cause everybody was freaking out. So I posted on Facebook, look, I'm starting the nothingness cancel book tour.

If you're an author and you want to promote your book, all you have to do is make me a short video, call out another author and show their book and call it an indie bookstore. And I thought I would have like, Four and I had 200 after three days. So all I was doing was like processing these videos and, you know, posting about them.

And then Ron Charles from the Washington post called me and said, Caroline, what are you doing? And I said, I have no idea. And he said, well, keep doing it. So I kept doing it. And the next week it got worse than it was like 400 people. And then Jenna Blum, who I sort of knew called me up and said, do you need help?

Cause I'm really good at. This kind of stuff. And I said, Oh my God, yes, please, please. So we banded together and Jenna was right. Jenna, Jenna was, she's really, really great at scheduling stuff and managing stuff. And so we put together a mighty blaze. And it was her name and we made her the CEO and I was the co founder and we started reaching out to authors saying, would you like to come on?

We're starting the Mighty Blaze and blah, blah, blah. And we reached out to newspapers and you know, nobody was doing anything back then. So they were, except for you, and they were, you know, the Washington Post, New York Times, Publishers Weekly, all these other places wanted to interview us and promote the stuff.

And. I was just overwhelmed because I'm really a shy person and it was hard for me to get out and do this, but I started contacting every writer I had ever done something for. I mean, I had, I once wrote a letter to John Irving six years ago where I asked him for nothing and just saying how much he meant to me.

And he actually wrote me back saying, you know, I read your letter three times. You didn't ask for anything. So I'm writing you back. And I wrote him back and I've been Wrote him and said, look, now I'm asking you for something. Please. We've come on a mighty blaze. And he said, yes. So, you know, I got to talk to my hero.

And once I did that, it was easier to reach out to people. And I just aimed high and said, look, we're doing this because of the pandemic. We're just, we don't know how long it's going to last. And it started to grow. And all of a sudden we had 30. volunteers working for us and then all of a sudden we had all these different shows and then Jenna started doing these book festivals and now we're doing a book review show and it's, it's like, it's our fourth year now and I don't go to any of the meetings anymore, do any of the strategy anymore because I, what's so great about this job is Jenna said, well, what do you want to do?

I said, I just want to talk to writers and she said, okay, that's all you have to do. So that's all I have to do. And it's, it's, it's worked out great. And there's something, as you know, because I call you the North Star of all writers, which you are, when you do stuff like this for other people, it always somehow comes through.

back to you and makes you feel Good, it's like you get this golden halo around you. I love being part of the writer's community I love talking to writers and I like helping them and You know, i've i've actually used you as a model a lot of times because no because you're so You are so generous. And also, I don't know if you realize this or not, you could be, you could be the most, you know, conceited person on the planet.

And you're so real. You are so real. I love it when I talk to you and you will say, I'm really exhausted. Or I'm worried about that. And I think that's totally genuine. And also, I just want to say that the people around you are that way too. When I went to your new year, new chapter. It was astonishing. It was like, there must have been like 300, 400 people there, and the vibe was like, everyone was radiating joy.

Everyone. And it was not funny. It was not that weird competitiveness. There was none of that. And I thought, oh my god. That's the kind of community I want to be a part of and I want to promote. So thank you. 

Zibby: Oh, that's a lovely thing to say. My insecurity, I'm like, why would I be conceited? But okay, thanks.

You know, but anyway, I appreciate it. Um, look, we all have different ways that life could go. You know, we all take different paths in life with what we're, you know, given and, you know, you know, I, I think you and I share the same love of, I mean, I know that you and I share the same love of authors and literature and book and helping others.

And it, it, it is for other people, but it feels good to us to help. 

Caroline: So it's good to us to help. Thank you so much. This is just wonderful. And, uh, I really appreciate it. And anything I can do for you, you just give a holler. 

Zibby: Okay. Bye. 

Caroline: Bye.

Caroline Leavitt, DAYS OF WONDER

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