by Randy Rawls
Today, I'm honored to present my interview with Barbara Levinson. Barbara is a multi-published author who, as you will see, bounces from South to North to find locations. Here's hoping you enjoy the interview and will be inspired to rush out and buy Barbara's books. Her latest is Outrageous October.
Q — Who or what inspired you to start writing, and when did you start?
A — I have always loved to write. I started in elementary school writing stories to entertain my friends and plays for my class to perform. The inspiration for this was that the writings made me popular and “cool”.
Q — How do you categorize your writing? Genre? Mystery? Mainstream? Western? How?
A — The genre is mystery and/or romantic suspense.
Q — What tools and process do you use to “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?
A — The characters in the Mary Magruder Katz Mystery series are based on numerous personalities I’ve observed over the years. The protagonist, Mary, is the prototype of young women litigators I observed over the years that I sat as a judge. I was a litigator as well so I know the stress and angst that goes with the job. I can’t say that I use any tools. The characters have come to life over the books that I have written. They seem to speak to me. I read chapters aloud and if they don’t sound like real people talking, they are deleted and rewritten.
Q — How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
A — I don’t outline. I think about a book as a whole for a long time before I begin so that I know all of the main themes before I begin. I always say my best ideas have come to me while I am standing over my ironing board.
Q — In the age-old argument of character versus plot, which one do you think is more important and which one do you emphasize in your writing? Why?
A — Character and plot are both important, but mystery writing demands a coherent plot or there is no mystery. In a series, there is time for characters to evolve.
Q — What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
A — The biggest challenge is the allocation of time. Once a book is published, an author can be consumed with book promotion. Just answering e-mails and guest blogging can eat all available time. The next biggest challenge is keeping family and friends from encroaching on time. My motivation is selfish. I never feel as happy and fulfilled as when I am writing. There is something about seeing the words marching across the paper that is mesmerizing.
Q — What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?
A — Of course, everyone says the most exciting thing is when you see your book in print with your name on the cover. I think the continuing exciting happening is sitting in a restaurant and having a reader walk up to your table, ask if you are who she thinks you are and tells you how much fun she had reading one of your books.
Q — With more books being released each month, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?
A — It’s true that there are a glut of books on the market today. But every book is different because it came from a person whose experiences are unique. Especially in the mystery genre, how each author perceives a mystery and its solution differs. My plots encompass people charged with crimes and how the defense attorney arrives at a just solution. This involves the police, the courts, forensic evidence, digging for facts, finding witnesses. While all these things are percolating, there is a backdrop of family and romance through the eyes of the protagonist.
Q — What is your latest book and how are you promoting it? Give us a nibble to make it appetizing.
A — My last book, Outrageous October, had a change of venue from Miami to Vermont. Mary finds her hot Latin lover cheating on her and “runs away from home” to stay in a friend’s borrowed summer house. She finds the house was the scene of an unsolved murder. The reason I used this change of venue is that I spend summers in our second home in Vermont. Our many friends there asked when they would have a book reflecting their home territory. Promotion of this book was a little different. Although my regular readers were alerted to the book through e-mail blasts, and social media, the big push took place in Northern New England, through television, book signings, and book club appearances throughout the summer and fall of 2013.
Q — What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?
A — Social media is the most challenging to me. I have to force myself to use it. I like relating to people, but in today’s world, one has to “go with the flow.”
Q — Have you used a professional publicist? If so, is it working for you?
A — I have used a professional publicist. The main person who has been with me since my first book does a great job. I have used some peripheral people for particular projects and they have not been successful. The best way to find an honest publicist who is not just “blowing smoke” is by word of mouth. A recommendation from another author with good results works.
Q — What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day—or week—do you devote to writing?
A — I try to get everything out of the way during the morning; promotion, answering e-mails, household musts. The afternoon is for writing. I usually write four afternoons a week.
Q — Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?
A — The writing life is very different. I have been used to interacting with people, both as a judge and as a lawyer. Writing is so solitary that it almost seems unhealthy to be lost in one’s thoughts so many hours a day. Additionally, I never envisioned having to be consumed with publicizing my books.
Q — Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?
A — I would be more careful about contracts with publishers or agents, and that’s the advice I would give to a new author. Get the best legal advice. It’s money well spent.
Q — What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?
A — My next book is Neurotic November and I am trying to release the book after that simultaneously. That one is Daring December. I hope to take a sabbatical from the series and write some more general fiction that I actually do have in outline form with two chapters written.
Q — Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?
A — My website is barbaralevenson.com. I do love to speak to groups. I always learn from the questions posed by readers. When I’m not writing, I’m working with my German Shepherd. My husband and I bred and trained shepherds for twenty years as a hobby and finished eleven champions in the show ring. I also love hockey and attend the Florida Panthers games as often as I can. I attend all the women’s and men’s basketball games at the University of Miami. I am an alumna of the University of Miami School of Law and have donated a scholarship there which is awarded annually to a woman who is returning to law school after another career. It is a joy to meet these young women and follow their careers.
Thank you, Barbara. And here's wishing you much success in all you attempt.