June 8th, 2016 was the day of the “Summit Conference,” as Len Levinson called it; my wife and I happened to be in Chicago for a convention she had to attend, and since Len lives not too far away he hopped a train and met me at my hotel for a day of walking around the city and talking.
In fact we walked a helluva lot that day (17,000 steps, according to the pedometer on my phone), which is why I look so worn out in the photo above. (Len meanwhile probably could’ve kept right on walking!) We covered a couple miles as Len walked with me to my favorite record store, Dusty Groove. I’d ordered countless LPs from their website over the past 15 or so years but had never been to the actual brick and mortar store; unfortunately, it was a smallish place, and everything in the store was already listed online! I was hoping for like a store-only discount bin.
It was great to meet Len in person after so many years of exchanging emails, not to mention reading his books. And we really discussed his work; when I first saw him down in the lobby, he was busy doing some copyediting on the new edition of Shark Fighter, put out by Destroyer Books. Throughout the day Len even made periodic references to The Amazing Frapkin, which I enjoyed.
In person Len is just as funny, insightful, and good-natured as he is in his emails and writing, and also he gave me a lot of fun backstories about the unusual assortment of people he’s known in his life. In particular I really enjoyed hearing about somewhat-famous fantasy author Lin Carter, whom Len first met in the early ‘60s, where the two were employed writing jacket copy for various how-to books at Prentice-Hall Books. In addition to providing Len with a lot of inspiration to get started in his own writing, Lin Carter himself almost seemed to have walked out of one of Len’s actual novels. Len’s stories about him nearly had me wanting to check out one of Carter’s many novels, something I’d never considered before. And in one of those instances of synchronicity, just a few days later I happened to come across one of his Thongor books.
Len also patiently waited for me while I flipped through the countless boxes of LPs at Dusty Groove, where I spent way too much money on obscure jazz-funk albums. He was a perfect guide to the city, having visited Chicago many times over the years; it was the first I’d ever been there, and the longer we walked the more I kept wondering if we’d maybe taken a wrong turn. I should’ve known better than to ask, though, as Len was correct – the store was just a lot farther from my hotel than I’d thought!
But this gave us ample time to discuss practically every subject. Ironically, one of those subjects was the obscure novel The Horrors Of Love, which I’d recommended to Len a few years ago and which he enjoyed. I say “ironically” because The Horrors Of Love is a novel that is entirely about two guys walking around a city while discussing practically every subject.
We talked about Len’s old novels and the ones he’s currently working on, and we also discussed politics in great detail. We also had some Frapkin-quality commentary on the lovely ladies of Chicago. And speaking of which, Len got to meet my wife, who found us in the lobby in the evening when she returned from her convention, still engaged in deep conversation. She snapped this photo, with us holding my just-signed copy of Without Mercy (which Len informed me was actually a Canadian edition).
Anyway, I really enjoyed meeting Len, and I couldn’t have had a more enjoyable day out.
I envy you. I'd like to meet Len myself one day.
I just started SHARK FIGHTER. They don't write them like that anymore!
What a great piece! Thanks to you and the sadly missed Ed Gorman, many of us have become acquainted with Len Levinson again, a true giant in the genre! I hope we will keep hearing from him in the future, in spite of Ed's sad departure.
Lucky bastard. Sounds like a great day.
A wonderful post. If you're ever in Tucson.....
Awesome — sounds like a blast!
Thanks for the comments, everyone! Len emailed to tell me he'd also tried to add a comment, but was unable to, so he asked me to post it for him:
"Yes, it was a great day. Joe and I are kindred spirits because we both read a lot. I hope we can do it again someday. And his wife was absolutely delightful."
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