A Conversation With Well-Known Author Paul Levinson
Today, Norm Goldman Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com is honoured to have as our guest, Paul Levinson. Paul has been interviewed over 500 times on many local, national and international television and radio shows.
Paul also has taught in several universities and he is presently Chair of the Department of Communications and Media Studies at Fordham University. In addition, Paul has authored five science fiction novels (some with fantasy and mystery elements), as well as nine non-fiction books pertaining to media, history and other topics.
Prior to his academic career, Paul was a songwriter and record producer in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Good day Paul and thanks for participating in our interview.
When did your passion for writing begin? What keeps you going?
My passion for writing began when I first started reading – I was just a little kid – and, even then, the act of reading made me think about writing. For me, to read was to enter a realm in which writing seemed natural and irresistible. I began publishing as a nonfiction writer in 1971, when a letter I wrote to the Village Voice was published as an article, and I was paid $75. I began writing science fiction a few years later, but didn’t get published until the 1990s. What keeps me going as a writer is life itself – for me, writing is as intrinsic a part of my life as breathing, thinking, loving, eating, working.
How do you come up with ideas for what you write? What methods do you use to flesh out your idea to determine if it’s salable?
Ideas come from the world around me – including everything I see, here, and experience. An idea could come from a newspaper headline, from something I see on the web, or hear on the radio. Ideas often come to me from real life experiences – I might be stuck in a traffic jam, and realize this is good material for a character in a story. I flesh out my ideas – water them, so the grow – by thinking about them. No special process, just bouncing the ideas around in my mind.
Do you feel that writers, regardless of genre owe something to readers, if not, why not, if so, why and what would that be?
There are (at least) two parts of what writers owe. First, writers owe something to themselves – to write something that they themselves find enjoyable, even love. There’s no point in writing if you don’t have that. Then, second, writers owe both themselves and their readers their best efforts to get their work out to the public. A writer who fails to work to market his (or her) work is not only failing himself, but his readers – including his millions of potential readers.
What do you think of the new Internet market for writers? How and how much time do you devote promoting yourself on the Internet? How effective has it been and which sites do you prefer and why?
I think the Internet is an extraordinarily important marketplace for all writers. It is so much easier to find out about a book online, and read part of it, and buy it, then going out to the book store or a library. I spend hours every day promoting myself on the Internet. It has certainly resulted in sales of many of my science fiction novels and nonfiction books, but it is difficult to tell exactly how many. I can see, of course, if someone buys a book on Amazon.
Both sites have links to reviews, and to Amazon. I have 4500 friends on MySpace, and I very much enjoy my position as an author in that community. Recently, I’ve opened a virtual book shop in Second Life – it’s at http://tinyurl.com/2xb2wm - and it has copies of all of my books, along with other goodies.
I’ll be launching a series of readings at the book shop – everyone is welcome. The first reading will be from my current novel, The Plot to Save Socrates – and I will actually be reading from the first chapter – people who attend the reading will hear my voice. (I will post an announcement about the day and time of the reading on my MySpace blog.) What I like about Second Life is you really feel as if you’re part of this virtual world, and the book shop and the books on display are real – which they are, since you can click on a link and buy them on Amazon.
What's the most difficult thing for you about being a writer? How do you approach the work of writing?
The most difficult thing about being a writer – for me – is not letting the non-writer things I do in life take too much time away from my writing. I’m always ready to cancel a lunch meeting, break an appointment, do what it takes to have enough time to write. I write all the time, I don’t have a fixed schedule. I love unexpectedly pulling some time out of a day to write – whether it’s five minutes or five hours. I don’t like outlines. Whether fiction or nonfiction, I create what I write, build the narrative, as I go along. I love that adventure.
Please briefly tell our readers about your recent novel The Plot To Save Socrates.
I never bought the story in the Crito that Socrates turned down a chance to escape the hemlock – I know I certainly would’ve hopped on that ship that Crito offered Socrates and said bye bye Athens. The Plot to Save Socrates is a time travel story which tells what, at least in part, might have really happened back then.
The heroine, Sierra Waters, is a grad student in the 2040s in New York City, and one of my favorite characters. Many of the characters – in addition to Socrates – are real. They include Plato, Alcibiades (Socrates’ students), Heron of Alexandria(great inventor) and William Henry Appleton (19th century publisher). I had lots of fun writing them. Locales include ancient and future Athens, New York City at various times (including the secretive Millennium Club), London in Roman times, and ancient Alexandria. The novel has everything from complex time travel paradoxes to reasonably hot sex. Entertainment Weekly called it “challenging fun.”
Could you tell our readers something about your career as a songwriter and record producer in the 1960s and 1970s?
I started singing in doo-wap groups in the late 1950s, when I was 12 years old. By the mid-1960s, I’d become a songwriter and folk-rock singer. One of my songs was recorded by the Vogues. In the early 1970s, I created my own record label, HappySad Records, and released my album Twice Upon A Rhyme. It sold just a few copies back then, but became a cult-classic.
I’m writing the sequel to The Plot to Save Socrates, and two new nonfiction books: New New Media (about blogging, podcasting, YouTube, MySpace, Wikipedia, etc) and The Flouting of the First Amendment (about how Congress and the Supreme Court has have systematically taken away the rights given to Americans in the First Amendment).
Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered and how can our readers find out more about Paul Levinson?
I think people spend too much time thinking about doing things, and not enough time doing them. If you have an idea for a story, a book, sure, think about it – but make sure you write it, or at least write part of it, or something of it. That’s my advice to myself and to all other writers, actual and would-be.
I also have four podcasts – http://lightonlightthrough.com is a good place to start, if you like books and popular culture (by the time this interview is published, you’ll find my interview with science fiction editor Stan Schmidt on that podcast). You can find reviews, videos, podcasts, and other materials related to all of my books at http://theplottosavesocrates.com - from time to time, I have contests in which I give away free copies of my books, and I also offer ways that people can get autographed copies of my books at no additional charge. Just e-mail me at Levinson.firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
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Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.
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Good day Paul and thank you for accepting Bookpleasures' invitation to be interviewed:
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