From all the
books you have written, do you have a
Not really. Each
one has a different significance for me. THE ELVIS AND MARILYN
AFFAIR, the first novel in what turned into a series about Neil
Gulliver and Stevie Marriner, made me a published author. THE JAMES
DEAN AFFAIR catapulted onto the Los Angeles Times bestseller list at
#1 its first week, something rare and wonderful for even most of the
big high-profile authors, and I relish that accomplishment to this
day. THE JOHN LENNON AFFAIR, also a bestselling novel, gave me an
opportunity to revisit my years in the music business. In HOT PAINT,
which Forge has coming out in late August, I get to let me deal with
another passion of mine, the world of fine art.
At what point in time did you
realize that writing was "the thing for
I've always been a
writer of something, Nancy...I was the neighborhood kid, who at nine
or ten could already type and was pumping out multiple copies of a
one-page "newspaper" which I delivered to neighbors. (Then, I
retrieved the copies and delivered them to the next set of
neighbors...) I was editor of my junior high newspaper, the high
school newspaper, a sportswriting organization sponsored by the late
Los Angeles Examiner, etc., etc. Upon graduation, I became a
newspaperman. Several years later, I moved into public relations.
More than several years after that, I switched to writing for
television. All of it got pretty much pushed aside when I decided to
finally pursue something I'd hoped to do from the time I was a
teenager, write a novel.
What advice would you give to someone
interested in becoming a writer?
Interest alone won't make it happen. Sitting down and
writing will. Unless you're prepared to do that, the rest is
wishful thinking. Once you commit to the process it'd be a good idea
to read a few books on writing that relate to the type of writing
you want to do. It's a practical idea even if you think you know
everything there is to know about putting one word after another on
the computer screen (formerly known as paper). Read current books by
authors who've developed a successful reputation for writing the
kind of story you're thinking about. (Not to "borrow" that author's
style, but to get more perspective on technique and the type work
that's being published nowadays.) Most important of all, finish what
you start. Set a schedule for your writing and a minimum daily goal,
even if it's only a paragraph or a page. One page a day and, after a
year, you have a book...Until then, don't clutter your mind with
concerns about finding an agent or getting published. The first
person you have to satisfy is yourself.
What is the name of your favorite
That's a toughie, if
you mean a real "mystery" movie, a whodunnit, not a crime story or a
thriller. One that's always on my list is the first version of
Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None," whose cast included
Louis Hayward, Walter Huston, Barry Fitzgerald, Mischa Auer, and a
load of other
great names from that long-ago era..."Anatomy of a
Murder," as sensational on film as it was as a book...I was always a
sucker for the Charlie Chan movies; still watch them whenever
they're on television...Ditto the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce Holmes
and Watson films...Ditto "The Thin Man" and its sequels...At the top
of the broadened list (what else?): "The Godfathers I and II...A
cult classic for anyone who saw it in its original form: Sergio
Leone's "Once Upon a Time in America"....Almost anything with a
twist ending I wasn't expecting...On and on and on...Wait! How could
I forget "The Maltese Falcon"? "Farewell, My Lovely," with Robert
Mitchum, or its earlier incarnation as "Murder, My Sweet," with Dick
Powell..."In the Heat of the Night," does that count?
authors do you enjoy reading?
mystery-thriller category, a bunch...I have old favorites I look
forward to reading every time a new title appears and am always
looking to work in novels by authors I'm just coming across, usually
recommended by friends with tastes similar to
you normally do a lot of research when writing a
Yes, especially when I
stray into unfamiliar territory. When the story deals with areas I
know from past personal experience, like the music industry or
public relations or some of the real-life people I dealt with in my
other lives, I compulsively check my facts. It's all the fault of
that old newspaper guy who still lives inside me.
new book, HOT PAINT, I spent time researching historical details
relating to the wholesale theft of art masterpieces by the Nazis
during the second world war and efforts made since to recover these
works and restore them to their rightful owners.
What other types of jobs have you
I pretty much covered
that already, didn't I, except maybe for mentioning that I did a lot
of producing as well as writing during my TV years. Looking way, way
(way) back I could add: selling newspapers on the street corner (a
lost art), making cloth buttons in a button factory, soda jerking,
working behind the counter in a drug store. I tried to get a job as
a box boy in a supermarket when I was about sixteen or seventeen,
but got turned down. I may give it another shot one of these
attend conventions and signings?
yes, Nancy, and I have a great time doing both. Conventions such as
Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime have given me a chance to introduce
myself to mystery buffs and to meet a lot of fine authors I'd only
known by their work. With the in-store visits, I add booksellers to
the list and hopefully pick up a few new readers along the way. I
love being "out there." I love sharing my fun and enjoyment with
folks I otherwise might never have met. I love telling stories about
how the books came to be written and fielding questions. I spent so
many years in the shadow of celebrities and VIPs, pushing them into
the spotlight and keeping them there, that it still amazes me when
I'm in that light or being asked to autograph a book.
anyone, in particular, who influenced you?
The list would have to start with my father, a writer when he
wasn't driving a cab, who went into hock for a typewriter and taught
me how to type before I was a teenager...My junior high and high
school journalism teachers, Winnie Yeakey and Mary Turner...A guy
named Ira Walsh at the old Los Angeles Examiner, who opened
the door to the career I wanted more than any other:
newspaperman...On and on and, if "influence" includes
"inspiration"--my wife has led the list from the day we met. All my
books are dedicated to her.
What led you to write
My agent suggested it
as the best way to crack the publishing world. I had to go out and
research the genre, see what a "mystery" was nowadays. I hadn't read
one for years and my knowledge was pretty much limited to Sherlock
Holmes, Mickey Spillane and Ed McBain.
Do you read reviews of your
Sometimes. Suffice it
to say, I tend to agree with all the raves ; )
How would you like to be
As a nice guy who got
lucky a few times over, had a great time of it, and realized several
of his dreams.
What do you believe is the highlight of your writing
career so far?
Doing what I'm loving doing and getting paid for
write on a fixed schedule or do you wait until thoughts come to
Every day, seven days
a week. I start about six-thirty in the morning, break for lunch,
then keep pumping until the well runs dry...I
How do you come up with
I mentally play with
an assortment ideas over a period of time, until one starts to stand
out...The stand-alone I'm working on now took longer to develop,
because I didn't have my series characters, Neil Gulliver and Stevie
Marriner, to begin with and I was going for something other than an
icon (Elvis, Marilyn, James Dean, John Lennon, Andy Warhol in HOT
PAINT) as the springboard...When I finally do start the writing, I
have a fix on most of the key characters and an idea where and how
the story will end...
Did you take any classes on how to write?
A number of years ago I took a basic course in writing comedy
for television from Danny Simon, Neil Simon's older brother,
one-time writing partner, and the inspiration behind "The Odd
Couple." Danny stressed that he couldn't make anyone funny, only
show them what to do with whatever funny they had in them. Or
something like that. Or, maybe, nothing like that.
Do you ever
get writer's block?
your hobbies and interests?
Movies, music, art,
pleasure reading, big game hunting,
How do you spend your free
you have a message you would like to give to all the readers out
If you made it this
far into the interview, thanks. If you've been reading my books,
thanks, and know you're appreciated. If you haven't, maybe you'll
try one, maybe the new one, HOT PAINT, with my thanks and
appreciation in advance. Questions, comments, or whatever? I'd love
to hear from you and can be reached via my web site:
robertslevinson.com. And, of course, thank you, Nancy, for inviting