My guest today is Howard Levine whose explosive political thriller has had fantastic reviews.
Hello, Howard – lovely to see you in the coffee shop today. What can I get you?
Hello Katy – I’d like a mango lassi if you have one.
I have mangos, cardamom pods and yoghurt so I can certainly rustle one up. Might have to raid the recipe books though. Here’s one from Jamie Oliver that looks delicious! https://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/fruit-recipes/mango-lassi/
I’ve been looking at your book Last Gasp and am so intrigued. What’s the story behind the story?
Last Gasp centers around a “terrorist” attack staged by a right-wing US government, which then lays the blame on Islamic jihadists. The main characters are two formerly estranged brothers, one an NYPD detective whose daughter has died in the attack. They are seeking to bring out the truth, in the face of scorn and danger to their own lives. My inspiration was simply an idea that came up: what if a US government staged a terrorist attack with its own political aims in mind? It’s likely that the idea came up as a result of the Bush administration using falsehoods to start a disastrous war In Iraq, among other instances of governmental deception. More recently, with Trump and his cohorts in power, lying has become the rule rather than the exception.
Why did you choose to write in this genre?
Last Gasp is a thriller, one with political overtones. I chose to write in that genre because I had a compelling idea for a novel that would fall into that category, if it was done well. It’s the only thriller that I’ve written. I enjoyed working on it because the twists and turns of the plot seemed to present themselves as I went along. Other novels I’ve written, including Leaving This Life Behind, my first published work, do not be fall into the thriller category. If anything, most of them would be considered cross-genre. My main consideration in writing a novel is that it’s engaging.
If your story was made into a film or television series, who would you cast as the main character?
I’d cast Tom Hanks, because he’s capable of projecting both “masculinity” and vulnerability. Frank Tedeschi, the main character in Last Gasp, is placed in a situation which requires of him both courage and the ability to empathize.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m more of a pantser, I guess. I would love to be able to outline a novel from beginning to end, but thus far haven’t managed to do so with any of the novels that I’ve written. Generally, I start out with a central idea and plan ahead as much as I can. But as with Last Gasp, ideas for the direction of the plot, and the evolution of the characters, develop as I go along. A lot of rewriting is often necessitated as the work progresses.
When did you start writing and what got you started?
I started writing in college, simply because I felt drawn to the process of creating fiction, and also because I wanted to express certain understandings about life—connected to my practice of Transcendental Meditation–in a fictional context. I learned that I had a long way to go before I could consider myself a capable writer. Also, I learned that honest, objective feedback is very necessary. It’s difficult to see one’s own work clearly.
I agree – early feedback is so helpful. How do you deal with rejection?
In the days before the publication of my first novel, rejections from editors at publishing houses or literary agents often came with constructive criticism. Much of that proved valuable, even if initially frustrating. I’m hoping that handling rejections is now a thing of the past. In any case, the best way to deal with them is to just keep on keeping on, and do what you can to maximize the quality of what you write.
Great advice! Thanks so much for coming along today, Howard and best of luck with the book.
Frank Tedeschi’s niece is dead, one of thousands of victims of a terrorist attack, which has been laid at the feet of “Islamic radicals” by a right-wing US government. Frank, based on a chance encounter, is one of the very few people who question the government’s explanation. He is a Vietnam veteran who wants nothing more than to live without further controversy or conflict. Can he and his grieving brother Rob, a detective with the NYPD, obtain the necessary evidence to uncover the truth, in the face of scorn and incredulity? Can they overcome their long-term estrangement to work together, given that they are putting their lives in danger?
In LAST GASP—a novel that resonates with today’s politics—the answers to these questions unfold in a way that mingles personal and societal issues and intertwines the past and present while moving relentlessly forward.
Read an excerpt/ buy it here:
More about Howard
Howard Levine is the author of one previously published novel, Leaving This Life Behind. He is a retired teacher of special education and English as a second language. Before his first public school teaching position—at a high school in the Bronx, NY—he taught Transcendental Meditation, which he still practices regularly. Howard now lives in suburban Washington DC, where he hikes, bikes, and writes. He and his wife volunteer at a soup kitchen and a senior citizens center.
11 thoughts on “Author visit: Howard Levine”
Having read, enjoyed, and reviewed Last Gasp, other readers’ praise for its high quality in storytelling and craftsmanship is no surprise to me. It’s a timely thriller anchored in the connections between families and communities.
Candice: Thanks much. I hope all is well.
Congratulations on your novel, Howard. The various layers of plotting are intriguing–VietNam, estrangement of brothers, terrorism, political positioning. You’ve got high drama-potential, for sure!
Saralyn: Thanks very much. I hope all is well.
I heartily agree with Howard Levine’s response to rejection: Just keep on writing. But absorb the criticisms as well. That’s what he did. Do know that on the average, a novice author receives about 100 rejections before that acceptance. So be patient while believing in yourself and your unique voice.
I agree, June – criticism can be hard to hear but it’s well worth listening to if it helps improve our work
Those rejections are hard to take. So many of mine were form letters (back in the day when e-submissions weren’t so common). For more than one book, and most of the manuscripts became books later on. When an agent or acquisitions editor rejects, it’s just her or his personal opinion. Most of the time they haven’t even read your summary, let alone the MS. Knee-jerk reactions…and rejections.
BTW, I NEVER received anything constructive…just the rejection. Here’s my motto: ” I simply kept my goal in mind and persisted. Perseverance is a large part of writing.”—N. Scott Momaday. Thanks, Professor Momaday.
We just have to keep truckin’.
What an interesting premise for your story. It has me intrigued. I also enjoyed the peek into your writing.
Thanks, Daniella. Hope you enjoyed the book launch at Mysterious Boookshop.
Great interview, Katy and Howard. I read and reviewed this book. Great thriller too. I hope Howard keeps writing them.
Thanks, Steve. If I had half as much writing energy as you do…seriously, I’m well into my next project. The engagement in writing is probably worth the rest of it–rejections, the need to promote before and after a book comes out, etc.