Monday, August 15, 2022

An Interview With Len Levinson

A big thanks to Gayne C. Young for sharing this interview he recently did with Len Levinson. The interview originally ran in two parts, in the July 27th and August 3rd issues of the Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post, a newspaper in Fredericksburg, Texas: 

Len Levinson is the author of 86 novels, most of which were considered “Pulp” and aimed at men starting in the 1970’s. I got the chance to visit with Mr. Levinson about his work, what it means to be a man, and his new autobiography, In The Pulp Fiction Trenches.  

I just finished your autobiography and really enjoyed it. It was a great read, very entertaining, informative and brutally honest. What prompted you to write it and why now? 

In the Pulp Fiction Trenches began as a series of articles I wrote at the request of Joe Kenney for his Glorious Trash blog. He asked me to comment on certain novels of mine that he was reviewing. After Joe published the articles, I decided to post them on Facebook. Several Facebook friends praised the articles and suggested I collect them into a book. A few publishers on my Facebook friend list expressed interest in such a book. How could I ignore interest from publishers? So, I gathered the articles into a book, added new articles about some of my other novels, and included material about the complicated life of the strange character who wrote 86 published novels. Why write such a book now? Because the chain of events led to now. It was my karma, man. 

Some of the honesty I’m referring to in your book is your telling of the very lows of being a professional writer, of troubles in your love life, and admitting yourself to a mental institution for suicidal thoughts. Why’d you decide to include stories such as these? 

While compiling articles for the book, I thought information about my background would deepen and broaden the narrative. I assumed readers would be curious about the person who wrote the novels, and how his adventures, misadventures, love life, triumphs, defeats and crises affected his novels. 

You researched a great number of your books by going to the library and reading book after book, article after article. Today, authors just go online. What are the upsides and downsides to the way you used to research versus the way it’s done today. 

I have not thoroughly advanced into the modern age, and never read an ebook or Kindle. I doubt that I ever will. I was living in Manhattan when writing nearly all my novels. I enjoyed going to libraries and reading old books that were long out of print, sometimes out of print over 100 years. My favorite research location was the Main Reading Room, also known as room 315 on the 3rd floor of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street. My second favorite was the New-York Historical Society on Central Park West at 76th Street, where I even became a member. I also schemed my way into libraries at Columbia University and New York University. I enjoy research because I have loved reading since childhood, and also love the pursuit of knowledge. Intellectual stimulation is a legal high for me. 

Thanks to streaming services and the internet, more writers are employed now than ever before yet it seems hardly anyone reads. What are your thoughts on this and what does it say about our society? 

I don’t think it’s true that “hardly anyone reads”. There always will be people who enjoy reading good fiction, no matter what twists and turns the world takes. Many people nowadays read ebooks, which I’m told sell better than paper books. 

Many people also read journalism and other writing on the internet. The internet is the raw bleeding psyche of humanity. Everything imaginable is on the internet, from the most vicious vituperation to the most noble and beautiful sentiments. There’s something for everyone on the internet, which is good and bad because people with bad intentions with have their hatred reinforced by the internet, and occasionally they become mall and school shooters. Law enforcement should monitor the internet and detain people who threaten violence. I can’t understand why this isn’t being done already. 

Shark Fighter is my favorite book of yours. The main character, Sam Taggart, is about as Un-PC as they get. He drinks, smokes, is violent, is a womanizer, and has a hell’uva lot of fun. Take him out of 1975 and drop him into 2022. What do you think Taggart would think of today’s society and of our ideas of what being a man means? 

Shark Fighter also is one of my favorites of all my novels. You understand of course that Taggart is partially me. But also partially not me. So what would Taggart think of today’s society? And what being a man means? 

My understanding of Taggart is that he wouldn’t even contemplate these issues. He’s so disillusioned with humanity that he’s escaped to a small Caribbean Island where he focuses on scuba diving, women, booze, drugs, and enjoying himself to the extent that he can, while coping with corrupt government and police, and local criminals. 

He understands that he has no political power, and no one cares about what he thinks. He knows what is a man and a woman, and doesn’t give the matter much thought analytically. Taggart is a live and let live kind of guy, just like me. The expression “society” has no real meaning for Taggart. He’s mainly interested in making the most of his little world, and to hell with society. 

Let’s pretend Hollywood comes calling and wants to adapt one of your books. Which book would you choose to adapt and why? 

I think that Cobra Woman is my best novel. It would make a fabulous movie starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, or Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler. The story is about a volatile insane multicultural love affair and marriage between a male gringo advertising copywriter, and immigrant Cuban former showgirl, based loosely on my dizzy first marriage, sort of like Lucy and Desi in reverse, but much more sophisticated and geared toward modern intelligent adults. The plot is set in New York City and Miami. I think Cobra Woman would make a hilarious blockbuster movie. 

I also think my The Last Buffoon would make a great movie. It is about the misadventures of a demented pulp fiction writer, also based loosely on me, and would be a great vehicle for an actor like Ben Affleck, Denzel Washington, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, etc. 

I also think Shark Fighter would be a phenomenal movie. Actually, to tell you the truth, I think ALL my books would make fabulous movies, but Hollywood has shown no great interest YET!!! 

What’s the nicest fan comment you ever received? 

Some people say they like my books. Others say they love my books. But one evening several years ago I received a phone call from a young lady who somehow had tracked down my land line number via methods not clear to me. 

She told me that she grew up in a house in a remote rural area in one of the Rocky Mountain states, and occasionally travelled with her family to the nearest big city, where often she stopped at bookstores. At the age of sixteen, in one of these bookstores, out of curiosity, she bought a lurid crime novel called Without Mercy by Leonard Jordan, who in real life is none other than me. 

She read this book and discovered a world that she never knew existed, which inspired an intense desire to move to New York City someday. And when she was old enough, she actually did relocate to New York City, lived the Manhattan life, walked the Manhattan walk, talked the Manhattan talk, had a few disastrous love affairs, got married and divorced, and finally moved back to her home state, an older and much wiser young lady. 

She said that I had changed her life forever, and referred to me as her “writer hero”. That was the nicest fan comment I ever received. I volunteered to drive out to the Rocky Mountains so that she could meet her writer hero in person, but she didn’t think that was a good idea, because she had become a very smart young lady and knew trouble when she heard it in the earpiece of her telephone. 

It all goes to prove that a novel can change a person’s life. It even happened to me. I read I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane when I was 16, and like the young lady who phoned me, it inspired in me a desire to live in New York City someday. So finally, I arrived there at age 26, worked in advertising and then entertainment publicity, became a novelist, married twice, had many highs and lows, left when I was 68, and now I live in a small Midwestern town population 3000, way out here on the Great American Prairie. 

Literature is not just words on a page. It can be very powerful, like an earthquake in the lives of readers.

The worst? 

Some think my books are trite, shallow, vulgar, juvenile and excessively violent. Recently I read a line by the once-famous critic Edmund Wilson: “No two people ever read the same book.” In other words, different people have different reactions to novels. Most people say they like or love my books, which makes me feel wonderful. 

As I stated earlier, you’re very open about all the ups and downs of being a professional writer. Given the chance, would you have changed anything about your choice in careers? 

I don’t know what I could have changed. I’ve had a compulsion to be a writer of fiction since the 5th grade. That compulsion never went away. I wish I’d had the compulsion to become an engineer, chemist or get an MBA, because I’d be better off financially today, but I could only play the cards dealt me. 

Sometimes I wish I’d joined the Air Force, become a pilot, retired after 20 years, and become an airline pilot. I think that would have suited my temperament perfectly. 

But I've always had that infernal compulsion to write stories, and could not deny or ignore it. Perhaps it is a neurotic compulsion. Or maybe I’m mentally disturbed. Or possibly I simply was born with the soul of a novelist. 

In the immortal words of the great Maria Callas: “Destiny is destiny, and there’s no way out.” 

About Gayne C. Young: If you mixed Ernest Hemingway, Robert Ruark, Hunter S. Thompson, and four shots of tequila in a blender, a "Gayne Young" is what you'd call the drink! 

Gayne C. Young is the author of the Red Frontier Series, Murder Hornets, the Primal Force series, The Troop, Sumatra, Bug Hunt, Teddy Roosevelt: Sasquatch Hunter, Vikings: The Bigfoot Saga, Editor-at-Large for Field Ethos Journal, former Editor-in-Chief of North American Hunter and North American Fisherman - both part of CBS Sports -and a columnist for and feature contributor to Outdoor Life and Sporting Classics magazines. His work has appeared in magazines such as Petersen’s Hunting, Texas Sporting Journal, Sports Afield, Gray’s Sporting Journal, Under Wild Skies, Hunter’s Horn, Spearfishing, and many others. 

In January 2011, Gayne C. Young became the first American outdoor writer to interview Russian Prime Minister, and former Russian President, Vladimir Putin. 

1 comment:

Johny Malone said...

Levinson reminds me of Robert Harmon in Love Streams (John Cassavetes, 1984), an almost accidental homage to pulp writers.