Welcome to the four hundred and tenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with prolific multi-genre author Lev Raphael. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Lev. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Lev: I’ve been in love with storytelling of all kinds since I was in second grade when I discovered science fiction and The Three Musketeers. I live in Michigan, though I grew up in New York City, which means I never hanker for big city life.
Morgen: Me neither (sort of), I started in a small town and moved to a larger one. I’ve spent enough time in London to appreciate not being there all the time. I described you as ‘multi-genre’, what does that cover?
Lev: I’ve published historical fiction, mysteries, psychology, biography, self-help, memoir, essay collections, short fiction, novels and am about to publish my first vampyre novella and a guide for writers.
Morgen: Wow, what a mixture. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Lev: There are twenty-two of my books out there, many available on Kindle and Nook. I write under my own name. It’s euphonious enough, don’t you think?
Morgen: I certainly do, it’s great. If you’re self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Lev: I went indie after publishing nineteen books with publishers of all sizes. I wanted more control over my covers and also, frankly, to make more money off my e-books. Writing is an art, but we’re foolish if we forget it’s a business, too.
Morgen: Absolutely. I gave up my job in March and have certainly become more conscious of that. Your books are available as eBooks, do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Lev: They are, yes. I read in both formats. If I want a book quickly, I download it. I love having the choice.
Morgen: Isn’t it great, and having so many with you when you go out. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Lev: I’d like Michael Fassbender to play any character of mine he wants. I hope he’s reading this interview.
Morgen: I’d love it if he was. He played a great baddy in the recent X-Men film. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Lev: Covers are absolutely vital, more so even than titles. I’ve had great input, but input isn’t the same as making your own decisions, and I don’t think a publisher would have come up with as lovely I cover as I did for my Gilded Age novel Rosedale in Love. The artwork is original to the period, and I own it.
Morgen: It is lovely. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Lev: Packing for a reading from Rosedale in Love–in Florence. And writing another mystery, plus a vampyre short story, and a memoir.
Morgen: Maybe you could do a guest blog on your trip. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Lev: Writer’s block is bunk, and I recently blogged on that for The Huffington Post.
I do write every day, one way or another.
Morgen: ‘bunk’, I love that. Mark Billingham said the same thing (well, different word but felt the same about it). Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Lev: Plot and story underline everything I write in one way or another, though the mysteries need more attention to the structure. That being said, I wrote the first part of my new mystery knowing only what I wanted to set up in those pages, and what I wanted to point to.
Morgen: And I’m sure it goes along on it’s own accord to a certain degree either way. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Lev: I troll the title credits of movies for intriguing first and last names and combine wildly different ones, like for my character Juno Dromgoole, who is a foul-mouthed professor in my mystery series.
Morgen: She sounds like fun. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Lev: I edit constantly. I edit as I go along, re-edit, edit again, and never stop editing until I’m ready to let go. Even a 500-word blog deserves that kind of attention.
Morgen: It does indeed. I strive to put out quality and quantity. Do you have to do much research?
Lev: It depends on the book. For Rosedale in Love, I read for about two years, especially books written in the period. I wanted to hear the voices of the time, not just hear about them.
Morgen: Two years, wow, that’s perseverance. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Lev: I think Bright Lights, Big City is such a triumph of voice, I’d never want to try second person. Otherwise, I use whichever person or style feels right for the project in question. I’m writing my new memoir in present tense, something I don’t usually do.
Morgen: I have the book and am part-way through (despite it being a small novella). I love second person and found Jay’s book really gritty. I should pick it up again. Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Lev: I used to write poetry when I hung out with a poet. We even did a reading together. And then we split up and that was the end of my poetry career.
Morgen: Oh dear. I dabble but prose is where my heart is, as I guess is yours. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Lev: Michigan State University bought my literary papers, present and future, for their archives and there are plenty of unfinished novels and stories in there.
Morgen: I watched a film (The Five-Year Anniversary) at the cinema yesterday where the main female protagonist worked at the MSU… what a coincidence. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Lev: Hundreds. I went five years between publishing my first and second short stories. I was in despair and more than once contemplated giving up writing as a career. But I’m stubborn, and have good friends and a loving spouse, so I kept at it.
Morgen: I’m just as stubborn, although I like to think determined (but probably more the latter) and am rubbish at submitting but loved the eBook process. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Lev: I’ve had seven, and not one advanced my career any further than I could have on my own. The business has changed so much, I don’t know if they’re vital or not. They certainly haven’t had any impact on my success.
Morgen: It’s funny (well, not funny but…), you’re one of a string of authors who have said that, and it seems to be the way it’s going, with some becoming publishers. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Lev: For my memoir My Germany, I spent weeks contacting places where I might be invited to speak and ended up with sixty invitations, a Jewish Book Council tour, and two tours in Germany. My publisher helped, but I led the way. You have to.
Morgen: We certainly do and with the wonderful social networks available it’s easier (although more of us doing the same) than ever before. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Lev: Reviews by people who utterly miss the point of your book, or haven’t read it accurately. I’m a reviewer myself, so I can tell when people are faking it.
The biggest surprises have been getting invited to speak in places I’d never imagined visiting: Vienna, Oxford University, The Library of Congress. My competition that afternoon at the latter was a talk by President Obama—yet thirty-five people came to hear me. I was delighted.
Morgen: Republicans perhaps? I like Obama but given the choice I would have been one of the thirty-five. I live and breathe writing as you can probably tell from this blog. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Lev: Be patient with yourself; read, read, read; work hard; get used to luck not always working in your favour—and have a full rich life outside of your writing. And make sure you have plenty of friends who are not writers.
Morgen: “full rich life outside of your writing” oops. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Lev: I’d love to dine with Edith Wharton, Henry James, and Teddy Roosevelt. They’d all do the talking, and I could just bask in their intelligence and wit. I would cater a meal like that!
Morgen: Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Lev: I love Anita Brookner’s pet word “rebarbative”, but have never felt I could use it with aplomb. And here I’ve done it! Many thanks.
Morgen: You’re very welcome, at your service. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Morgen: How lovely. I’d love to be invited to talk, although I did recently do a 2-hour on eBooks at one of my local writing groups which was really fun, and I am doing a talk (on blogging and eBooks) at a new literature festival here in Northampton in September which I’m really looking forward to. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Lev: I work out, walk the dogs, listen to music of all kinds, from Fatboy Slim to Gregorian chant, cook, travel, read, read about places I’d love to travel to. I used to know a big chunk of the Canterbury Tales in Middle English, but I’m rusty. It usually only impressed former English majors.
Morgen: I’m sure it would impress a lot of my fellow Brits. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Lev: I love Behlerblog, seeing publishing from a publisher’s POV.
Morgen: I’ve interviewed a handful of publishers here (more welcome if any are reading this) and, as you say, I love the fact that we get what it’s like from the other side of the table. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Lev: I’m on Dorothyl and find the discussions of mysteries and thrillers sometimes intriguing. Facebook seems to bring me a lot of fans, and sometimes interviews.
Morgen: I love mysteries and have some of her (Dorothy L Sayers) short stories. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Lev: In the words of “Six Degrees of Separation”: “Chaos, control, chaos, control.”
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Lev: I have four grandchildren, a fifth on the way, and am the proud companion of two West Highland White Terriers.
Morgen: Cute (I have a Jack Russell / Cairn-cross). Thank you very much, Lev.
I then invited Lev to include a synopsis of his latest book…
In the glittering world of money-mad 1905 New York City, Jewish financier Simon Rosedale plans to force his way into high society through marriage and has his eye on Lily Bart. One of the most beautiful women in the city, Lily is a down-at-heels aristocrat plagued by gossip and might be vulnerable to his proposal. With his money and her style and connections, he can rise to the top—but will she lower herself to marry a Jew? Could such a marriage heal Rosedale’s secret shame, and will Florence Goodhart, the cousin who adores Rosedale, help or hinder his plans? Written in a period voice, Rosedale in Love audaciously revisions Edith Wharton’s beloved classic The House of Mirth, offering readers a timeless story of greed, envy, scandal, love and revenge.
He’s been a radio talk show host, a newspaper columnist, and an academic. Widely anthologized in the U.S. and England, he’s done hundreds of talks and readings from his work on three continents.
His writing is taught at colleges and universities across North America, which means he’s become homework. He grew up in New York, but got over it and has made Michigan his home for more than half his life.
November 2012: I invited Lev to provide an update to this interview and he said, “It’s now 24 books, and I’ve launched into a new genre for me, supernatural: http://www.levraphael.com/vampyre.html“. Wow! Thank you and congratulations, Lev.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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