INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT S. LEVINSON

AUTHOR'S WEBSITE:  http://www.rslevinson.com/

             JULY 2, 2002

From all the books you have written, do you have a favorite?

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 you"?

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 mystery movie?

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?

What other authors do you enjoy reading?

In the 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 mine...

Do you normally do a lot of research when writing a book?

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.

With the 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 had?

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 days.

Do you attend conventions and signings?

Yes and 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.

Is there 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 mysteries?

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 books?

Sometimes. Suffice it to say, I tend to agree with all the raves ; )

How would you like to be remembered?

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?

Getting published. Doing what I'm loving doing and getting paid for it.

Do you write on a fixed schedule or do you wait until thoughts come to you?

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 plots?

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?

Never.

What are your hobbies and interests?

Movies, music, art, pleasure reading, big game hunting,

How do you spend your free time?

With the family.

Do you have a message you would like to give to all the readers out there?

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 me in...

BOOKS AVAILABLE BY ROBERT  S. LEVINSON - LOOK FOR HOT PAINT SCHEDULED FOR RELEASE IN AUGUST, 2002

                                  HOT PAINT

THIS BOOK IS SCHEDULED TO BE RELEASED IN AUGUST, 2002.  YOU MAY ORDER IT NOW AND IT WILL BE SHIPPED TO YOU WHEN IT ARRIVES.

Hot Paint: A Neil Gulliver and Stevie...

                                            ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robert S. Levinson's fourth novel in the Neil Gulliver and Stevie Marriner series of mystery-thriller bestsellers, HOT PAINT, will be published by Forge Books in late August, the same month the mass market paperback edition of last year's best-selling THE JOHN LENNON AFFAIR appears.   
     
THE JOHN LENNON AFFAIR landed on the
Los Angeles Times Bestseller list with almost the same speed as Levinson's previous THE JAMES DEAN AFFAIR, which opened at the #1 spot barely three weeks after its appearance--on top of being chosen the MSNBC Book Club selection for that month. Both novels, as well as Levinson's debut novel, THE ELVIS AND MARILYN AFFAIR, have consistently appeared to rave trade and consumer reviews.
         
The new novel, HOT PAINT, is a fast-paced thriller that moves LA newspaper columnist Neil Gulliver and his actress ex-wife Stevie Marriner, the one time "Sex Queen of the Soaps," into the complex world of fine art. It's a world the author knows from his years as an art columnist and critic, as well as he knows the show business worlds he traveled in for dozens of years as a major public relations executive and television writer-producer.
   
HOT PAINT begins with a gangster's gift to Neil and Stevie of an unusual suite of signed, limited edition prints by Andy Warhol. The gift leads them into the underground world of secret collectors, sinful truths, and stolen masterpieces--priceless treasures that people are prepared to kill for--and a nerve-bending series of startling discoveries that endanger their lives every step of the way.
                 
Levinson was a newspaperman (Riverside, CA,
Press Enterprise, Los Angeles Times) before entering the field of public relations, where he represented a diverse roster of major corporate, industrial and financial accounts, as well as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His company,  Levinson Associates, created and pioneered "independent PR support services" in the music industry and at one time was the largest rock-contemporary music PR firm in the world. Through Levinson Entertainment Ventures, Inc., formed in 1982, Levinson developed, wrote and produced some 40 comedy, musical, variety and awards specials for the world marketplace, among them the Annual Soap Opera Awards.
   
Any catalog of Levinson Associates clients--comprising more than 700 major star names--would include Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Fleetwood Mac, The Who, Three Dog Night, Grand Funk Railroad, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Jimmy Buffett, The Osmonds, Olivia Newton-John, Ike & Tina Turner, Bee Gees,  KC
and the Sunshine Band, Tanya Tucker, Bread, and Tom Petty, along with the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Academy of Country Music, Billboard Magazine, and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI). Also: the Actors Studio, 20th Century Fox Film Corp., Columbia Pictures Corp., Arnold Kopelson Productions, Dick Clark Productions; Richard Harris, Suzanne Somers, Marcel Marceau; MGM Grand Hotel, Las Vegas; Tropicana Hotel, Las Vegas; the Friars Club.

Levinson is serving in 2002 as president of the Mystery Writers of America, Southern California chapter, following three years on the chapter's board of directors, as well as on the MWA's national board.

He was co-emcee of this year's MWA Edgar Awards ceremonies in New York and next year will produce the Edgar Awards for the organization.

Levinson also is a member of the Writers Guild of America, west, (past board of directors member), Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Country Music Association (former board member), Public Communicators of Los Angeles (past president and Life Member), and the Hollywood Radio & Television Society. He is past chairperson of the editorial board of the WGAw's monthly magazine,
Written By, and served six terms as president of the Hollywood Press Club.

His public relations company made
Esquire Magazine's first "Hot 100" rock and roll list and he was the first to be honored by Billboard Magazine as "Publicist of the Year," for international campaigns involving Fleetwood Mac and others.   

Levinson's freelance writing over the years included four years as art columnist and critic for
Coast Magazine, where he wrote the first major consumer cover story dealing with Andy Warhol, a feature that anticipated Warhol's significant role in art history.  He wrote for publications such as the Los Angeles Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Westways, Los Angeles Free Press, Written By Magazine, and Los Angeles Magazine. References to him appear in more than a dozen books dealing with the art world, the music business, and the entertainment industry in general. 

Levinson, presently at work on a new novel, resides with his wife, Sandra,  in Los Angeles. He welcomes contact via www.robertslevinson.com.