The survivors in writing are often more interesting to me than the stars who flame out and disappear.
William R. Cox the pulp writer died at ninety two at his typewriter. He'd never been a big star but he'd written pulps and paperback novels for sixty-some years. Ryerson Johnson graduated from the pulps into paperback originals and worked for almost fifty years. Margret Millar had never been a big seller but she finished two novels in the last four years of her life after beating lung cancer and being declared legally blind. Survivors.
Last year or so I became aware of a writer named Len Levinson. I'd seen his name on various blogs but not until I discovered Joe Kenny's truly unique and amazing blog Glorious Trash did I begin to learn about Len. Talk about a survivor. He's been working steadily since 1971 without getting either the promotion or recognition he deserves. Joe convinced Len to write about some of his books and in so doing Len has given us a finest record of the free lance fiction writer I've ever read. And not just because of the ups and downs of his writing career but also the ups and downs of his personal life.
First I should provide context. I quit my PR job in 1971 to become a writer. I then wrote a novel which took about a year, and got rejected everywhere. I was running out of money and needed a part-time job that would permit me to continue writing.
So I became a cabdriver on the cruel streets of New York City back when cabdrivers were murdered fairly regularly. Some drove during the day because they couldn’t handle the dangers of the night. Others drove during the night because they couldn’t handle daytime traffic. I drove on the night shift for the Metropolitan Garage located in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, a ten minute walk from my apartment.
All sorts of people sat in the back seat of my taxicabs, from Wall Street brokers to prostitutes, movie stars, working people, cops, criminals, alcoholics, drug addicts, even my former PR boss Lee Solters got into my cab one night, astonished to see me behind the wheel. While driving them around, I felt inspired to write a novel about a cabdriver who didn’t have all his marbles, and who in many (but not all) ways was me.
I drove on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays nights. My shifts began at 4pm and ended at 4am. When I wasn’t driving, I was home writing the novel that became Cabby. I had virtually no social life during this period and sank into a very strange, isolated frame of mind which became reflected in the novel.
When Joe Kenney asked me to write something about Cabby, I thought I should reread it, because I hadn’t read it for around 42 years, and still remembered it as The Great American Taxicab Novel.