Let me first say, I’m honored to have the opportunity to interview such an accomplished author such as you. You’ve published twenty-five books to date in genres such as Mystery, Memoir, Historical Fiction, and Biography. You actively make author appearances and teach at Michigan State University as a guest assistant professor on the subjects of writing, popular literature, and Jewish-America literature. You have dozens of published essays, articles, and stories in an array of publications. I could write a book filled solely with your accolades. So, once again, thank you for taking the time chat with me and share your experiences with those who read this.
Thanks for inviting me!
Out of your twenty-five published books, do you have a favorite? Having looked at your many titles this could prove to be a difficult question. Perhaps tells us about your favorite fiction, and non-fiction books you’ve written.
That’s always a tough question, but I think I’ll stick with just one if that’s okay: no. 19, My Germany is a favorite for many reasons. It combines mystery, memoir and history so it represents my writing and publishing across genres. Then it’s a book that challenged me a lot because I wasn’t sure for a long time how to structure it, and it actually was a number of different books before it found its final form. I also have intense memories of doing research for it in Belgium and Germany.
Beyond that, it’s put more miles on me than any other books of mine in terms of book tours, including two sponsored by the U.S State Department that took me across Germany. And I even learned German so that I could travel intelligently there and eventually do some of my readings from the German translation—and that was mind-blowing! The book changed me in many ways, both in writing it and afterwards, and I met lots of fascinating people including my German BFF who’s promised she would meet me in any city in Europe when I visit. Last time it was London.
Finally, as the son of Holocaust survivors, I never expected to go to Germany or write a book about it. A long answer, but it’s a layered book.
Are you working on any new projects? Can you tell us about them?
I have at least half a dozen books in different genres started, which means I’ve got anywhere from a page or a vague outline to as much as 40 pages written, and some involve working through a shelve of research books before I start writing–but I’m taking a break right now because I’m a little burned out. Writing my suspense novel Assault With a Deadly Lie was tough. It’s about police militarization and it demanded something new from me. I’d been writing mysteries with these characters but I had to kick everything up a few notches from “Whodunit?” to “OMG–What the hell is going to happen next?” That demanded lots of planning and writing at a higher pitch. I also had to do new kinds of research about guns and go to a shooting range and go shooting with friends who are well-trained in firearms.
I’d ask if you have any advise for new writers starting out, but see you’ve written whole books on the subject. What’s one insight you’d like to pass on to the next generation of writers?
Be patient with yourself, and that covers a lot of territory. Take the time to learn your craft and learn the business and don’t be overwhelmed by other people’s success or envy or the latest publishing noise. We all have our own paths and some of them are wonkier than others. Learning your craft also means being as well-read as possible in any genre you choose to make your home. When you write, you’re joining a community of writers, and most of them are no longer living—don’t discount writers who aren’t contemporary, they might have a lot to teach you.
Are all your books self-published? Or did you go with traditional publishing houses on some? Would you recommend your method of publishing to others?
Most of my books are traditionally published, ranging from huge presses like Doubleday to boutique presses like Leapfrog. But the choices are wide open for everyone starting out now and there are so many guides to publishing, I think writers need to do research as to what the best plan would be for their specific project—for instance is it a hot enough property and do they have a platform that might interest an agent (in which case try agentquery.com). Every book is different, every writer is different, nothing is predictable.
I read that you have a background in theater. Can you tell us a bit about your experiences?
I double majored in English and Theater in college for a while and it helped me get over some shyness (even though I’m an extrovert). Acting in a wide variety of plays was tremendous preparation for all the hundreds of talks and readings I would end up doing down the road once my work started getting published and recognized. Here’s where patience is part of the arsenal. You can’t do a good reading unless you practice, you’re prepared, you choose your excerpt wisely, and you treat the event as what it is: a performance. Too many authors don’t take readings seriously enough. I love doing readings, and enjoy teaching people in workshops how to do them.
Have you ever been approached to have any of your stories made in to a movie or TV show? Choose one of your fiction books and tell us who you’d cast as the main characters.
Oh yes. I’ve had my work optioned and had people try to do plays from some of my stories and a movie from one of my books. Luckily nothing happened because the final results would have been, well, disappointing. The German Money is an intimate family drama about the children of a Holocaust survivor arguing once she’s died. Set mostly on the Upper West Side, it would be a perfect indie film and I’d cast Mark Ruffalo as the screwed-up brother, Laura Linney as the cold sister, Jason Isaacs as the older brother escaping his past, Carla Gugino as the woman he left behind, and Olympia Dukakis as the elderly neighbor.
Name a book you’ve read that you found notable. What about it grabbed your interest?
Here are some very recent reads. Midnight’s Furies is about the partition of India into India and Pakistan and gives you a rich history of that terrible, chaotic time, going much deeper than what most of us know. The French Intifada explore the dark history of France’s colonial rule in North fracas and helps explain what’s happening in France today with its Muslim population. Sinclair Lewis’s Kingsblood Royal is from the 1940s but it’s a surprisingly contemporary-feeling portrait of white racism in the north in the story of a man who discovers he’s actually black and his family has hidden this from him. The Blue Hour is an amazing biography of one of my favorite novelists Jean Rhys. All four books told great stories and were very well written—two absolute requirements for me no matter what I read. Oh, I also finally read Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, the only major novel of his I missed back in the day and was surprised at how funny it was, and how beautiful.
Other than writing, do you have any unique talents or hobbies?
I’m good at languages, speak French and German, picked up Flemish and Italian when I needed to, and am currently studying Swedish. I’m also taking voice lessons for the first time and my teacher says I have “a nice middle range” for a baritone.
How can readers find out more about you and you work?
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Lev-Raphael/e/B000AQ07HK
Readers can always contact me via my web site.
Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. It was a pleasure chatting with.