Monday, February 08, 2010

Pro-File: Robert S. Levinson


1. Tell us about your current novel (or project).

I've been setting and getting ready to tackle a series of library and indie bookstore readings that kicks off mid-March and runs a month in support of my eighth book and fourth stand-alone, THE TRAITOR IN US ALL, shipping about now and, if you'll permit me a brief commercial break, goes something like this:

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, two teenage girls are brutally murdered and a third kidnapped in a quiet Southern California community. Jack Sothern, a discredited, down-on-his-luck journalist, connects the crimes to Dan Boone, the American "Turncoat Rebel" who found fame and fortune behind the Iron Curtain, and to a long-missing secret diary worth millions that was kept by Erich Mielke, sadistic head of East Germany's dreaded Stasi, the Ministry of State Security. Deals are struck, treachery substitutes for the truth and the body count rises in a non-stop series of revelations as Sothern races to locate the diary, rescue the kidnapped girl and redeem his honor.

The appearances serve the need to promote-promote-promote that's become increasingly important in sustaining anything remotely resembling a writing career in today's publishing world.

2. Can you give a sense of what you're working on now?

I've shipped off my ninth book, A RHUMBA IN WALTZ TIME, set in the 1930s "Golden Age of Hollywood," and am a couple hundred pages into a stand-alone that utilizes the same setting, but a different cast of characters and a lighter mood. Where TRAITOR was something of a departure for me, putting me in the thick of the dark and dangerous Cold War era, I'm more in my comfort zone with these two novels: historical show biz in a town full of landmarks that exist mostly in memory and, as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer once claimed in a slogan devised by Howard Dietz, "More stars than there are in heaven," (many of whom figure in the two stories).

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

Having one. This one. I've always been some kind of writer—newspapers, freelance journalism, public relations, television—but my hope, my dream, my goal over the decades was to get a novel written and published. The novel, THE ELVIS AND MARILYN AFFAIR, when it finally got done and sold, begat an altogether unexpected "career" that ultimately expanded to include short stories. Ten years later, I'm still excited to sit down at the computer every day, shut out the real world and create characters, settings and situations in worlds of my own making. (God complex, anyone?)

4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?

I've turned into something of a recluse since this gig became more than a one-shot, tough for someone who was a "people person" in earlier lives. The minute I sit down to write, that's it, over and out. I become a victim of single focus—on the writing. I don't hear the phone, anyone ringing the doorbell or knocking on the door, although a minor earthquake might get me to look up from the keyboard. (And has…) I used to do a lot of lunchtime socializing. Nowadays, it's a quickie at home and back to work. Does the penalty fit the crime(writing)? You bet, Ed. I don't have to like it, but, really, no complaints.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is

One piece? Hah! I'm struggling against launching a lecture here about publishing world marketing mistakes paralleling what I lived through during music industry world years that sent the record business on a downward spiral, and—hey, wait a minute! Those mistakes also caused the rebirth of indie labels (think small press publishers) and created new exposure and sales opportunities and success for both established and fledgling artists (think authors). So, maybe what I should be saying is, Keep those marketing mistakes coming, publishing world.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see
in print again?

That's a question more deservedly put to the Messrs. Gorman, Breen, Crider, Randisi, Collins, and other scholars of the genre. Most every writer I read before and after I got published is in print. What limited time I have for reading, I devote to the many marvelous story-tellers of the past decade or two, and long may they stay in print.

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget
that moment.

It's after eight or nine months of submissions and rejections for THE ELVIS AND MARILYN AFFAIR. My agent calls. "Didn't you say you're coming to New York?" "Yeah. Why?" "An editor is thinking seriously about acquiring the book. I think we can close the sale if she has a chance to meet you." "Done," I say, my pulse doing gymnastics. "Set it. I'm there."

In New York, I do three days of PR business and then must sit out a weekend and a Monday in front of a Tuesday lunch with the editor, three and a half days of nervous anticipation. I have a Monday lunch with a couple old friends at a budget-busting restaurant overlooking the Radio City ice rink. I explain what's keeping me in New York. I'm told, "Elvis? Marilyn? Don't worry, she'll buy the book." I worry anyway.

Tuesday. The editor and I lunch one-on-one at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill. We get along famously. Her nice words about the book precede questions about my show biz background. I flood her with anecdotes, including a few about Elvis (whom I knew casually) and Marilyn (whom I'd never met, only several friends in common). We part all smiles, no further reference to the book and its status with her; me, too polite to put her on the spot with the question; also, for fear of getting an answer I don't want to hear. Flying home, best I can do is hope for the best. The answer comes by phone a few days later. "Congratulations," my agent says. "We have a deal." So, you bet, Ed—definitely a moment impossible to forget.

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