Featured Suspense Author 

 

An Interview with
Memphis Author
Bob Levy
by Robert L. Hall

  

I love to see a local author come out with a new, exciting book.  It is particularly refreshing to see him deluged with friends and fans alike that support his work on television and in the newspaper.  I saw both this week in the media.  Then, to clinch everything, I get a call from my sister, Debbie, who works in a library.

 

   Sis:   “Have you tried to contact Bob Levy yet?” 

   Me: “Uh, no.  I’ve been a little busy. . .” 

   Sis:  “Well, he’s out with a new book.  Isn’t that what you do?  Interview people     who have written new books?” 

  Me:  “Well, yeah – you know that.” 

   Sis:   “So, what’s the problem?”

   Me:  “I’m on that.” 

   Sis:   “Okay.  Bye!” (The phone slams down in my ear.) 

So, okay.  Here’s what I found out about Bob.

Bob Levy is a retailer with Oak Hall, specialty-clothing store founded by his great-great-grandfather in Memphis, Tennessee in 1859.  He graduated from the University of Virginia with a business degree.  He is also the author of From the Coin’s Point of View, a Roman history/short story collection.  He is at work on his second novel.  He is married, with two boys – one in college and one in junior high. 

Bob, how long have you been writing and how did you get started? 

Eleven years.  I wrote a series of ancient Roman historical short stories for the ancient history magazine, The Celator, from 1989 through 1992.  They were published in the monthly periodical at the rate of about three per year.  In 1992, the magazine editor inquired if I would like to see the articles compiled in hardcover.  I jumped at the chance.  I added lots of historical reference material and From the Coin’s Point of View was published in 1993 as a coffee table size hardcover, taking its name from my magazine column’s heading.  Just as the book was about to come out, I got an idea for a novel. . . 

My experiences with agents read like your average writer’s: rejection, rejection, rejection!  One in particular (a form letter of course) stood out. 

Dear Author,

We thank you but cannot answer personally.  Last year we received 4,300 queries.  Of those, we asked to see 12 manuscripts.  Of those 12, we signed 2 new writers.

Nothing like a cold dose of reality is there? 

I finally did land a good New York agent for Broken Hearts in January, 1999.  I had heard that after 3 weeks an agent would just as soon drop you if your novel hasn’t sold.  That wasn’t my case.  I lasted through eleven rejections before I was told it would be best if we “parted ways” seven months later in August, 1999.  Back to the drawing board!  I queried thirty small and mid-size publishers.  Two showed interest immediately.  I signed on within two weeks.  Best choice I ever made.  My publisher is a prince of a guy.

As a clothier in a long-time Memphis store, you must have some funny stories about some of the goings-on at the store.  Can you share an incident or two? 

At Oak Hall (the store’s name) about ten years ago, we had an old rustic, “Fall is Coming” scene with old wood and leaves on top of an eight-foot tall display top island.  One morning I noticed spider webs glistening from the ceiling to the top of the display with hundreds of baby spiders marching downward.  I picked up the piece of old wood, which evidently had housed the problem.  I wafted away the web and took the spiders en masse on the wood to be “executed” with a healthy dose of Raid outside.  When I went back outside to inspect the spider death camp, I slipped on the “Wet from Raid” sidewalk and broke a bone in my hand.  Not really a funny incident, but a memorable one.  At least I didn’t break my writing hand.  (I can’t type.  I use the Shelby Foote method – writing in yellow legal pads.)  

Why go to fiction instead of another non-fiction book?

Easy.  I had characters in my head that had to get out.

Give us the story line in your mystery (serial killer) book without giving too much of the plot away.  (You might want to sell them.)

The dust jacket on Broken Hearts says it all:

The man had killed ten women across Virginia and Tennessee and was electrocuted for his crimes back in the late fifties.  But he had left a cryptic message scratched on his death cell wall for his captor, detective Joe O’Riley, whose young wife had been the criminal’s final victim.         

Now, decades later, another string of murders are working their way across the same two states, taking place in the very same old movie theaters.  Expertly applied makeup leaves each victim resembling a different screen star from the fifties era.  This evolving trail of death both horrifies and intrigues the now-retired Memphis Chief of Police, O’Riley.  His investigative fire is rekindled just as his love life returns –dormant since the death of his wife those many years ago.   

The striking similarity of the crimes, along with clues left at the crime scenes, baffle the police, the medical examiner, and O’Riley.  Could this be a copycat?  Or is the perpetrator’s identity more sinister?  A cat-and-mouse game between police and killer quickly escalates as the murders continue and once again, the love of O’Riley’s life is planted firmly in the killer’s path.

Tell us some of the traits and/or forces at work on your main protagonist in the story.

Joe O’Riley is restless in retirement and has unresolved guilt over his first wife’s death.  He is generally old school in thought and action, kindhearted but gruff and realistic in his actions.  He is a man in his mid-sixties and unable to “leap tall buildings in a single bound.”  In his case, he is unable to apprehend criminals half his age without help from others.

What types of characters do you most like to write about, Bob?

I don’t go so much for traits as I do for one overriding factor: I want there to be some measure of love in my books.  Not like in a Romance Novel, but a genuine feeling of love between two people or a group of people.  Could be love between a man and woman, love between good friends, a mother or father’s love for their son or daughter or vice-versa.

Are you a plot outliner or a character-driven writer?

Plot outliner.  Not necessarily in order, but its got to be like a puzzle that slowly fits together somehow.

What about your style do you think makes you unique?

I’m clueless as to what my style is.  Writing, that is.  If I take that question from the standpoint of me as a clothier, I’d say my style of dress makes me fairly unique in the world of authors.  I enjoy wearing a coat and tie.  Braces, too.  You can say I’m unique as one of the best-dressed authors around.  I have to be!  It’s my daily business and I love it.

What authors have influenced you?  What type books do you read?

Some of my favorites are William Faulkner (The Reivers), Ernest Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea), Stephen King (The Shining), John Grisham ( A Time to Kill), Hunter S. Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), and Bruce Springsteen, (Every song of his is a short story to me.)

How does Memphis and the South influence your writing?

Write what you know.  I know Memphis, past and present.  I’ve lived here my whole life, other than four years in Charlottesville, Virginia while at the University of Virginia.  (That too is in the South and is part of Broken Hearts.)

What are your current book projects?

Another O’Riley tale (if he lives through Broken Hearts.)

What do you see yourself writing down the road in several years?

I would like to do a short literary novella that my regular readers probably won’t like, but Oprah would love!  Sometimes you just can’t win. . .


Bibliography

Broken Hearts, (fiction), Sunstone Press, hardback, 2000.

From the Coin’s Point of View, (non-fiction), Clio’s Cabinet publishers, hardback, 1993.

 


This article is by Robert L. Hall - raised in and currently living outside Memphis, TN., writes crime mysteries and tales of a youth with adventures in horsemanship. His books are Mid-South based. Mr. Hall also is a contributing writer for the on-line journal, When Falls the Coliseum , a self-described “Journal of American Culture(or the lack thereof)”at www.wfthecoliseum.com.

A trained musician with a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Memphis and Master of Music degree from Florida State University, he is staff pianist at Trinity Baptist Church in West Memphis and has taught music courses at three institutions of higher learning. 

© 2000 Robert L. Hall, All Rights Reserved