Welcome to the ninety-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with children’s, YA and mystery author Marilyn Levinson. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello Marilyn. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Marilyn: I was born in Brooklyn, NY, and moved to Long Island when I was 14½. I went to Syracuse University, became a Spanish teacher, studied in Mexico and Spain, and ended up living on Long Island, where most of my books are set. I was an avid reader from the moment I learned how to read, and started writing stories in the second or third grade.
Morgen: 14½, I like that… very Adrian Mole. And so young, I’m so many years behind you. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Marilyn: For many years I wrote books for kids and YA. More recently, I’ve been writing mysteries.
Morgen: Ooh, I love mysteries. What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Marilyn: My first mystery, A MURDERER AMONG US, came out this June with Wings ePress in ebook and paper format. I’ve published five books for children and Young Adults. AND DON’T BRING JEREMY came out in 1987. I was thrilled to see a review of it along with one of the illustrations in Publishers Weekly. And finding it in a store was a thrill as well.
Morgen: I bet… that’s the thing about me going the eBook route – little chance of the bookstore spot. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Marilyn: I did no PR for my children’s books other than school and library visits. But that was some time ago. For my mystery, I’ve been getting my title and my name out to readers via guest blogs, reviews, tweeting and Facebook. I’m still not certain what my brand is.
Morgen: I’d say “school and library visits” are a great way to go for children’s books. There’s a local children’s author I know and he’s written animal fantasy novels for children but not been to schools yet – I suggested it so I hope he does. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Marilyn: I would imagine competitions do help, though I still haven’t sold my mystery that was a finalist for the 2010 Malice Domestic competition.
Morgen: Oh dear… never say never. It sounds like you’ve been writing for long enough to hone it so maybe it’s just not landed on the right desk yet.
Marilyn: My children’s book, RUFUS AND MAGIC RUN AMOK was selected by the International Reading Association and the Children’s Book Council for “Children’s Choices for 2002.”
Morgen: Yay! Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Marilyn: I have an agent for my children’s books. These days I don’t think an agent is essential for an author’s success because writers are tackling so many aspects of publishing themselves.
Morgen: Let’s hope your agent isn’t reading this. No, I agree. It’s much easier to go it alone these days (I’m hoping so anyway). Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Marilyn: A MURDERER AMONG US is available as an ebook. The publishing process was basically a good experience. I had an excellent editor and input into my cover. Once my book was accepted by Wings ePress, it was published very quickly.
Morgen: What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Marilyn: My first acceptance was AND DON’T BRING JEREMY. Yes, each book that’s accepted is wonderful!!
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Marilyn: I’ve had many rejections. I get sad, discouraged, then I perk up and move on — get back to my WIP, to sending out mss, to whatever needs to be done re my writing career.
Morgen: That’s the only way to be. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Marilyn: Right now I’m busy doing PR for one book, and I’m about to get some of my out-of-print children’s books into print. For the first time in years, I’m not in the middle of a book.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Marilyn: I usually write every day. I can’t remember the most I’ve written in one day. I try to write 2 pages a day.
Morgen: I’d say that’s about 1000 words so that’s fantastic. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Marilyn: Rejections and no sales can give any writer writer’s block. I’ve been down that road, but soon snap out of it and get back to writing. Other than writer’s block, I’ll occasionally get stuck working out a plot problem. When this happens, I email a group of fellow writers about the scene in question. My own solution to the problem usually comes to me simply by having written about it, though I value my fellow writers’ input.
Morgen: I know I’m biased because I run two groups and belong to two others but so do I. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Marilyn: I plot my stories, but leave plenty of space for twists and turns that surprise me.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Marilyn: My characters become more solid and real to me as I write. I spend time coming up with their names and occasionally change them if they don’t suit the person or if two names are too similar. Since my characters are believable to me, they’re believable to my readers. They’re three-dimensional, with problems, quirks, a set of ethics, and backgrounds that influence how they think and interact with one another.
Morgen: They sound great. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Marilyn: I don’t have a first reader. I do have a critique group. When we meet, we read a chapter of our WIP aloud, which we then critique. We don’t meet often enough for them to hear my entire novel. If I’ve a problem with a section of my book, I’ll ask one or two writing friends to read it.
Morgen: I find the same (we meet fortnightly but there are 8-9 of us and I like everyone to get a turn) so I have an editor who has everything I’ve done about 3-4 edits on. If I’m not happy with it, it doesn’t go to her. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Marilyn: I write, and the following day edit what I’ve written the day before, then move ahead. When the book is finished, I go over it again.
Morgen: What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Marilyn: I try to sit down with an idea of where I’m heading in the book. If I’m having difficulty moving on, I go over the previous day’s pages. More often than not, I’ll check email, send posts when I should be writing. I find I the words start to fly late in the afternoon — between five and six, or even later — when I’m supposed to be preparing dinner.
Morgen: Me too except you can add Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to that list – although of course I could hit the little red cross in the left-hand corner (I have a Mac) but it seems to final. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Marilyn: I write on the computer. My handwriting is awful.
Morgen: My writing’s not too bad, it’s just a lot slower although I use paper when I’m out and find I then edit as I type it up. What sort of music do you listen to when you write?
Marilyn: I don’t listen to music.
Morgen: A lot of interviewees are saying that, I was quite surprised (that said I’m not listening to any now… just switch on the… ah, there we go). What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Marilyn: I like first and third. No, I’ve never tried second.
Morgen: Oh you should, it’s great (but then I’m biased; I write it at every opportunity and love it). You could try continuing one of the second persons at https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/sentence-starts. Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Marilyn: I think I once used an epilogue. I don’t use prologues and epilogues. I think they have a place in some books.
Morgen: I never used to read them but then put a prologue (although that’s not cast in stone) in one of mine so am more sympathetic. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Marilyn: Probably my first novel. It’s not bad, but a bit simplistic. And dated.
Morgen: But you could go back at ‘treat’ it? What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Marilyn: My favorite part of writing is the feeling I get after a day’s good work. And hearing from a reader how much he or she enjoyed my book. My least favorite is getting rejections, and the long wait of hearing from editors and agents.
Morgen: Part of the process unfortunately but then you can submit the rejections elsewhere (pot, kettle, black – I’m rubbish at sending things out) – of course making any changes if suggested, which rarely it is / they are – and do that while you’re waiting to hear. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Marilyn: I’m surprised and thrilled by how much readers are enjoying A MURDERER AMONG US. The book is #1 of the Wings ePress books on http://fictionwise.com.
Morgen: Oh great and I love the cover… very Agatha Christie… and Agatha Raisin. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Marilyn: Writing is a process and a way of life. Be prepared for the long haul. Keep at it. Try not to let rejections get you down. Know when to listen to criticism and when to follow your own path.
Morgen: Absolutely, I’ll keep going ’til… well, I’ll just keep going. If it’s what you want to do, you just do don’t you? What do you like to read?
Marilyn: I read fiction. Novels. Mysteries.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Marilyn: Books I like are IMMEDIATE FICTION by Jerry Cleaver; Stephen King’s ON WRITING, and BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott. I’ve read these books some years ago and found them wonderful.
Morgen: There’s Stephen King again – if I had a pound for every time… but the other two are new to me, thank you. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Marilyn: The United States. Everyone’s work is “out there” on the web.
Morgen: It is. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Marilyn: I belong to many writing groups, among them Sisters in Crime, the Guppies, the Long Island Sisters in Crime which I cofounded and of which I’m the president, and others. They all have listsevs. I’m also on Facebook and Twitter.
Morgen: Me too (too often). Where can we find out about you and your work?
Marilyn: amazon.com and my website: http://www.marilynlevinson.com.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Marilyn: With the advent of ereaders and self-publishing, more doors are open to writers than ever before.
Morgen: Isn’t that great? Thank you Marilyn.
Marilyn Levinson’s debut mystery, A MURDERER AMONG US, came out with Wings ePress in June of this year. Her ghost mystery, GIVING UP THE GHOST, will be out next spring with Uncial Press. Her novel, MURDER A LA CHRISTIE, was a 2010 Malice Domestic finalist. Marilyn is the author of several novels for children and young adults. Her first, AND DON’T BRING JEREMY, was a nominee for six state book awards. RUFUS AND MAGIC RUN AMOK was selected by the International Reading Association and the Children’s Book Council for “Children’s Choices for 2002.” Marilyn is cofounder and current president of the Long Island chapter of Sisters in Crime. She also belongs to the Authors Guild, MWA, RWA, and the Guppies. She was a Spanish teacher many years ago. She lives on Long Island with her husband, Bernie, and their cat, Sammy.
Update from Marilyn June 2012: So much has happened in the past year! For one thing, Suspense Magazine awarded A MURDERER AMONG US a Best Indie of 2011. And I was featured in the magazine this past April—a big thrill.
Another thrill was taking part in my first web radio interview.
In February, I self-published Murder in the Air, the sequel to A Murderer Among Us, and put up my out-of-print children’s books, RUFUS AND MAGIC RUN AMOK and NO BOYS ALLOWED as ebooks.
In April, Uncial Press brought out my ghost mystery, GIVING UP THE GHOST in eformat. I was thrilled when reviewer Zee Bell gave it a five star review and declared I was her favorite mystery writer “hands down.” Recently, my short story romance, “I’m Getting Married,” came out with Untreed Reads.
Now I’m halfway finished writing a sequel to RUFUS called THE WITCH’S SLAVE. The book takes place in the Cote d’Azur, where Rufus and his friends must save a young girl from an evil witch.
Marilyn’s latest mystery, Murder a la Christie, is out with Oak Tree Press. Untreed Reads has brought out a new e-edition of her first Twin Lakes mystery, A Murderer Among Us–a Suspense Magazine Best Indie–and will bring out a new e-edition of the sequel, Murder in the Air, in April. Her ghost mystery, Giving Up the Ghost, and her romantic suspense, Dangerous Relations, are out with Uncial Press.
All of her mysteries take place on Long Island, where she lives. Her books for young readers include No Boys Allowed; Rufus and Magic Run Amok, which was awarded a Children’s Choice; Getting Back to Normal, & And Don’t Bring Jeremy. Marilyn loves traveling, reading, knitting, doing Sudoku, and visiting with her granddaughter, Olivia, on FaceTime. She is co-founder and past president of the Long Island chapter of Sisters in Crime. Her website is: www.marilynlevinson.com.
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