Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Today's Mystery Author Guest: Marilyn Levinson

As promised yesterday, fellow mystery author Marilyn Levinson is visiting my blog today. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post.The cover art of her latest mystery release, Giving Up the Ghost, appears above.

In the book, Gabbie Meyerson moves to the sleepy town of Chrissom Harbor, Long Island, after her divorce to teach English at the local high school. She settles into her rental cottage above the Long Island Sound and discovers she has a housemate--the ghost of Cameron Leeds, who used to live in the cottage. Cam insists his death was no accident and implores Gabbie to find out who murdered him eight months ago. After she recovers from her initial shock, Gabbie agrees to investigate.

Sounds like a fascinating read to me! Below are Marilyn's answers to my interview questions.

1. Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?

As soon as I learned how to read in first grade, I began to read voraciously. I think all the Nancy Drews, Cherry Ames and other books I devoured inspired me to write rather than any one person or author. I started writing short stories in the third grade. In fact, I still have the spiral notebook with those stories.

2. What tools and process do you use to “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?

I get to know my characters as I write. Rather than compile a list of their favorite colors, sports, history, etc. I get to know them through their actions, how they respond to situations, relate to other characters, and deal with problems. This is probably why I count on a writer friend and critique partner to point out where my novel should begin. I need to write about the situation and my characters, even if I know those pages will be cut.

3. How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?

I start out with an outline. When writing a mystery, I like to know the setting, the victims, and the murderer. I find that’s important in order to insert red herrings, clues, incidents and reveal secrets along the way. But writing strictly from an outline is boring. Where’s the fun? The surprise? As if my characters would allow me to write strictly from an outline! New plot twists and complications come to mind as the story unfolds. The trick is to stay on target and not let these side trips deviate too much from the main plot.

4. In the age-old question of character versus plot, which one do you think is most important in a murder mystery and which one do you emphasize in your writing? Why?

My characters are dear to me, especially my sleuths. And especially when they’re featured in a series. I see them as fully-developed, three-dimensional people. Newly-widowed Lydia Krause, my sleuth in A Murderer Among Us, has recently retired and is starting a new life in an over-55 gated community. As she goes about solving the murders in Twin Lakes, she must also deal with her grown daughters’ problems. In Murder in the Air, Lydia’s sleuthing puts her at odds with her lover, Detective Sol Molina.

Lexie Driscoll, the sleuth in my soon-to-be-released mystery, Murder a la Christie, is a free spirit who finds herself out of her element housesitting in the upscale village of Old Cadfield. She employs Miss Marple’s knowledge of human nature and Hercule Poirot’s cunning to solve the murders of her book club members. I think readers remember our characters better than they remember our plots. But a mystery’s plot is the motor that drives the story. Since I write traditional mysteries, I’d say my books are 60-40, with the larger percentage devoted to character development and interaction.

5. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?

I’ve been writing novels for many years now. I used to regard rejections as the biggest challenge. Now that my mysteries, romantic suspense, and children’s books are available to readers, I find myself challenged by the constant need to promote and market. I wish I sold more copies of my books. But hearing from readers who love my books and want more of them keeps me motivated.

6. What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?

Write. Take a course or two in fiction writing, if that’s what you write, and in the genre you write. Write. Read, especially in the genre you’re writing in. Write. Join writing groups. Write. Join a good critique group. Write. Send out your book or story when you feel it’s polished. Write. Don’t let rejections get you down. Write.

7. Now here’s a zinger. Tell us something about yourself that you have not revealed in another interview yet. Something as simple as your favorite TV show or food will do.

Recently I find I’m watching TV most evenings. No big surprise that I like murder mystery and suspense shows like “Castle,” “The Mentalist,” and “Hawaii Five-O.” But I also enjoy “The Good Wife,” and “The Big Bang Theory.”

8. What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?

Right now I’m in the editing stage of three books I’ve written and then plan to send out to editors: a YA horror, a romantic suspense, and a sequel to my children’s book, Rufus and Magic Run Amok called Rufus and the Witch’s Slave. After that, I’d like to write another series or write another mystery in one of my three series.

9. Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?

Please visit my website. I blog the first and third Monday of every month on the Make Mine Mystery blog, and I’m available to talk to book clubs.

Thanks, Marilyn! Now, who has a comment or question for Marilyn Levinson?


Joe Perrone Jr. said...

Very nice interview. I'm with you on the importance of characters.


I enjoyed the interview and finding out more about you, Marilyn. The story sounds very intriguing!

Marilyn Levinson said...

Joe and Linda,
Thanks so much for stopping by.

Marja said...

Great interview, and I really enjoy your writing. I'm glad to hear you have so much in the works.
Marja McGraw

Melissa Bowersock said...

Sounds like a good book; I'll have to check it out, especially since I just finished my own ghost story, to be launched next month. Thanks for sharing.

Marilyn Levinson said...

I am delighted that you enjoy my writing. I only wish everything didn't take me so long. Or that there were more hours in the day.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Cam, the ghost in Giving Up the Ghost is one of my favorite characters. He's such a rascal. I must write a sequel one of these days.
Good luck with your ghost novel.

Evelyn Cullet said...

Great post, Marilyn, I've enjoyed several of your novels. They were very entertaining, and I'm still waiting for the sequel to Giving Up The Ghost.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Thanks for stopping by. I really must write a sequel to Giving Up the Ghost.