Welcome Arthur Levine, Author of “Johnny Oops” and “The Magic of Faith.”
Let’s get to know you a little. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Brooklyn, NY and grew up on Long Island, NY with everything my heart desired including my own horse, which I gave up as soon as I discovered girls in high school.
You currently live in New York City, are you married?
I’m married to my bride of almost fifty years and have three children and seven grandchildren. Don’t worry, I have a very young thinking mind, some say it’s underdeveloped, and my wife has been know to mention on occasion that I have the mind of a juvenile, but I think my mind is just about the right age for the wild imagination some of my friends say I have.
You are a self-confessed computer geek, when did your interest in all things computer begin?
The computer geek part of me is more on the order of what I imagine can happen then based on technological knowledge. This started for me when I was working with a firm that was trying to develop a disease prevention health care system for the masses, which we planned to administer on the Web. The process of software development and discovery opened my eyes to what was possible and from then on I was hooked.
What work do you do to earn a buck, besides writing of course?
I dabble in writing press releases and other forms of copywriting to help sustain myself as I wait for my writing career to take off. I think I’m great at catchy headlines such as Faith Seeker Stripped Naked In The Eyes of God, How to Send an Email to God, and Gold Found on Fire Island (a Long Island, NY beach Community). I have also been known to write a mean Sales Letter, but I abhor the long form—too boring.
You have a long history in the publishing industry, share that with my readers if you will.
I worked at Family Circle Magazine as Director of New Business. This was a wonderful place to be if you were looking for a job that would take you slowly and inextricably into your retirement years. My time there was spent on the business side looking for new profit centers for the Company. I wanted to be an entrepreneur, so I left to take over a controlled circulation beauty parlor magazine called Girl Talk, and try to turn it into a newsstand and subscription bonanza that I renamed Talk Magazine (my backers failed to trademark the name). Finally I had what I wanted: an opportunity to work eighteen hours a day, six days a week with a bunch of crazy complaining writers and editors. I loved my time there. I was exposed to the writing process and my latent writing talents were awakened. My backers pulled the financial plug the month we turned profitable, which was in less than a year, but to long for them. Slightly depressed, and licking my erstwhile literary wounds, I decided I could be as crazy as any of those writers and editors I had struggled with, so I started the long process of becoming a writer.
What other works have you written besides “Johnny Oops” and “The Magic of Faith”
I’ve written a comedy called The Magic Pill about a young New York advertising couple who buy a company in California named Last Chance Herbal and discover a magic pill that cures cancer. Then there is Futures Past about a small group of people who time travel from the past to the future by injection only to discover that we have evolved back to a primitive state. Home Grown Terrorist is unfortunately a product of my feeling that we will soon be exposed to bombings on buses and subways and in public places. Voyeur Bomb is another book about terrorists planning to attack our major tunnels and bridges in NYC. Wasn’t Man is about an insider-trading plot with a twist. Husband Hunting 123 is about a composite of virtual young ladies seeking advice on how to get husbands from an experienced husband—that’s me. I call it husband lite instead of chick lite. Then there is my latest called Sequin Boy and Cindy—a love story. The main character, Billy, has been so hurt by life that he has sequins sown on his face to keep from being socially acceptable and thus vulnerable to the outside world. Then he meets the love of his life, Cindy, on a subway platform, and all that changes. I think I’m half way through the book in less than three weeks—before editing. Fortunately I have no idea where this one is going. I don’t like getting the idea for the ending too soon because I have a tendency to race to the conclusion once I know where the story is going
How long did it take you to write Johnny Oops from word one…to final draft?
If I remember correctly, it took me less than two months to write Johnny Oops and four years to edit the book. I hate editing. The only outline I ever wrote was for The Magic Pill because an agent asked me for one. I wrote the outline after I wrote the book. I think the outline was funnier than the book. Sorry I’m off message. I can get an idea for a book when I wake up, go to bed or crossing the street. That was the case with Johnny Oops. Nearly killed myself crossing the street to get home to my computer to write the first chapter down. I don’t feel secure that I won’t lose the thought or concept until I get the first chapter down. From there I can let the characters dictate the action. They remember everything. After all, I’m not sure how I got the idea in the first place. Johnny Oops is the only book I’ve done in the first person and I feel that Johnny is most reflective of my voice.
Do you have a strict writing Schedule that you keep, or are you muse driven to write when and as the mood strikes you?
I have no writing schedule, but when the spirit moves me I can write for days, rarely coming up for air. My wife says it’s not worth trying to talk to me when I’m in this mood. She says I get this blank look on my face and the only thing I say in response to her questions is, “what?”
You clearly have a strong faith in God whatever you perceive God to be, share that with my readers.
I believe in a Supreme Being who has control of all our destinies. I don’t adhere to any particular religious organization, and think this is a matter for individual determination. What I have is faith, not religion. I am however, ethnically and instinctively Jewish. I wouldn’t last a week without my faith. I don’t understand or pretend to understand the meaning of life, but I have my beliefs and I have my inner feelings. I hope everyone has some kind of faith to hang on to in the difficult times in which we live. Sometimes it’s hard to believe in something we cannot see or understand, but what choice do we have? I believe in God because I want to and need to.
The virtual world is becoming more real to many folks that the real world in which they must live, do you agree that that is occurring?
I agree completely that the virtual world is becoming more real to many people, but I question their motives and mine too. Are we experiencing some form of escapism? Is the real world, assuming there is one, too real and difficult to contemplate? Are we looking to live in a dream state, or a virtual reality/alternate reality to feel more secure? Are we trying to create our own reality to escape fear or pain or mortality? So many questions, not even Johnny has all the answers, or does he? I think the more we learn, the more we question, the more we challenge our own concept of reality. It’s only natural. Advances in scientific development are leading us to reach new conclusions about reality that our current philosophical concepts of reality don’t sustain.
What if anything do you perceive as the danger in that?
The danger is that we use alternate realities or virtual realities as an opportunity to escape from the real world, assuming that’s where we live.
What message are you primarily hoping to share through your writing?
I’m hoping to share a message of hope in a divine presence that will guide and protect us, a message that there is more out there than we can possibly imagine and that we are going to be given an opportunity to perceive a dynamic and wonderful world that is currently beyond our comprehension—a new reality.
Have you had a favorable response to your work?
I’m not sure. I’ve gotten some “wow” and “unbelievable”, and I’ve done a virtual reading on Johnny Oops at an Amazon forum, which drew some very flattering comments including one that said I had a brilliant mind, but didn’t comment on my writing. I think the best comment I’ve had was from a, unfortunately for me, non-fiction agent who said I had an unbelievable imagination and he found the scenes with Alice very real. I have also had a few comments that my writing is “Way Out”, whatever that means. I’m not sure whether at this early stage I can really say I’ve had a totally favorable response to my work, but I get the feeling that readers find my writing very different, hopefully in a good way.
The spirituality of your work is woven with humor and honesty, have you found the need to use humor in your work to enable folks to feel comfortable?
No, I use humor in my work because this makes me feel comfortable, and I guess because this keeps me honest—well most of the time. I tend to use humor in all my interactions with other people although sometimes my wife says I’m not funny.
Do you feel concerned for younger folk isolating themselves more and more in the comfort of technology?
I am concerned about young people isolating themselves in the comfort of technology. I think this is a new form of security blanket. Many young people don’t take telephone calls any more, preferring to screen with voice mail, and use email and texting (not even in my spell check program yet) for communications. What happened to people talking to each other and catching the nuances that only a human voice and personal contact can exhibit? On the other hand new technological innovations like kindle are producing a younger generation that is reading more and learning more. In the long run I’m confident that the inherent nature of people to want to socialize and interact with one another will prevail no matter how advanced and isolating the state of technology becomes—witness the rise of social networks.
What are your thoughts on Artificial Intelligence.
I’m in love with the concept of artificial intelligence. The opportunity to have some impartial third party doing the thinking for me is both mind-boggling and disturbing. I first became aware of this new technology when we were developing our disease prevention program and I wanted to use a virtual nurse programmed with artificial intelligence and backed by an extensive health care database to answer people’s health care questions, thus solving the problems of economy of scale. Did you know that air force pilots can now fight battles with the instructions coming from their minds in specially constructed helmets without saying a word or physically touching their controls? The problem we still have with the science involves creating artificial intelligence with cognitive capabilities rather than just learned responses. I guess that’s where God comes in.
Where would you like to see yourself both personally and professionally in 2011?
I would like to find acceptance and a broad readership for my writing and to publish another one of my novels every four months. I find that I cannot differentiate between my personal and professional life, but on a personal level I want to continue enjoying my relationship with my wife and our family.
The publishing world is undergoing great change, with the introduction of Kindle and the like. Do you see this as a good thing for publishing as a whole?
I think the advent and acceptance of Kindle is a good thing for the publishing industry as a whole even if print houses have to be brought into the twenty first century kicking and screaming. Kindle and like inventions open up a bigger universe of readers to hitherto unknown writers. I believe there will, however, always be a place for print books that people can feel and smell and touch. The two forces will have to learn to live together and reinforce the sale of each other’s products positively. The cross marketing potential is fantastic.
Do you foresee a time when the paperback and hardcover book will be relegated to library shelves and not in book stores?
I don’t foresee a time when paperbacks and hardcover books are relegated to library shelves. I visualize the larger bookstores and their displays as a sort of show that people can come in and visit and interact with on a communal basis, and the smaller ones as places where readers can play out there fantasy as detectives searching for the next great find.
Many traditional publishing beliefs are needed to be altered for the infusion of Ebooks to be complete, do you think the larger houses will comply with this or fight it?
I think initially the bigger publishing houses will fight Ebooks, but eventually will accept the phenomena because they want to increase their bottom line and Kindle is a much more cost effective way of reaching the public. This calls for a younger generation running the show, which I believe is a good thing.
What do you have going at the moment? Any new works in progress?
I’m currently working on promoting and marketing my recently published Johnny Oops novel. I’m also writing Sequin Boy and Cindy as I mentioned. I won’t give away too much, but both Billy and Cindy suffer the loss of a limb during a war in the Mid East, which only makes their love for one another grow stronger. This novel is written with the aid of a narrator. I’m also editing for the sixth or seven time—I lose track, Home Grown terrorist. I think this will be the next book I publish because I’m afraid it’s going to be all too timely. The story opens with an explosion in a major discount store.
Thanks for joining me Arthur.
I really appreciate the opportunity you have provided me with to talk about my writing. I’ve discovered things about myself and how I feel that I didn’t consciously know. Thanks for the interview.
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