Author, author Life-threatening ailment provides inspiration

Five years ago, the Hoboken author Caroline Leavitt entered New York University Medical Center to deliver her first and only son, Max. What was a comfortable pregnancy and an easy labor quickly turned rancid when Leavitt developed an extremely rare blood disorder called Factor VIII Inhibitor. (Most commonly diagnosed in elderly patients but occasionally found in women postpartum, Factor VIII Inhibitor is marked by the spontaneous development of autoantibodies, which can cause life-threatening bleeding.) Max was fine, but it would be two months, three death-dodges and five emergency operations before Caroline could join Max and her husband in their Hoboken home.

Between the morphine and the memory blockers, Leavitt has little memory of her stay in the hospital.

“If you’re in a trauma, and you don’t remember it, it’s hard to process it and get passed it,” she explained last week from the safety of her brownstone. “I had to create memories for myself so I could begin to heal.”

Leavitt, who was already the author of six novels, decided the best way to exorcise the episode was to write about it. The result is her seventh novel, Coming Back to Me, the story of New Jersey newlyweds Gary and Molly, who find themselves in a similar situation. But while the story is based on her infirmity, Leavitt is adamant that the book is not a memoir. Written from the husband’s point of view, she uses her life-threatening illness as launching pad for a fictional tale.

“[My novels] always starts with a character or an image,” Leavitt said. “I’ll see someone driving down a highway, and I’ll wonder, ‘Why are they driving? Where are they going?”

During her recuperation, Leavitt began to wonder what it must have been like for her husband, who was not only a new father, but also a freelance writer without a job, resources or his wife. Coming Back To Me was conceived with this image in mind, Leavitt explained.

“The rest I just made up,” she said. “And Gary is not my husband, though they certainly share a lot of the same characteristics. I wanted to make sure that these characters were not us. So I changed the way they looked and what they liked and disliked.”

Caroline Leavitt, who lists Alice Hoffman, Anne Tyler and John Irving among her favorite writers, was born and raised in Boston. In 1992, after 15 years living in Manhattan, Leavitt moved to Hoboken with her husband, the writer Jeff Tamarkin.

“I’ve been writing since I could hold a pen,” she said. “When I was in grade school and I had to write book reports, sometimes I would make up a book. I always loved stories. But I didn’t get disciplined until I got out of college.”

Since then, she has been extremely focused. Along with Coming Back To Me, which is being published by St. Martin’s Press, Leavitt’s novels include Meeting Rozzy Halfway (Seaview Books, 1980); Lifelines (Seaview Books, 1982); Jealousies (Seaview/Putnam’s 1983); Family (Arbor House, 1987); Into Thin Air (Warner Books, 1993); and Living Other Lives (Warner Books, 1995). Her non-fiction essays can be found in magazines like McCall’s, Redbook, Salon and Mademoiselle. “Writing is the best, most amazing job in the world, and it’s also the worst,” she said. “It’s the best job when ideas are coming. But it’s the worst when I’m sitting at my desk for six hours wishing I had gone to school to be a dentist, or anything else other than a writer.”

Caroline Leavitt will read and sign copies of Coming Back To Me at Barnes & Noble on Wednesday, April 18 at 7:30 p.m. For more information call 653-1165.


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