Interviews – A few weeks ago I read and then wrote a review of the science fiction novel “Arabella the Traitor of Mars”. Afterward, I was able to contact the author, David D. Levine, and interview him.
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Myself: First, I wanted to thank you, David, for taking the time for this interview. Before we get started, I have to ask about the photo that you provided. You look like you are really enjoying your weightless experience. What was your flight aboard a “vomit comet” like?
Levine: It was amazing, a once-in-a-lifetime out-of-this-world experience. I didn’t have any nausea at all (I might have if the flight had been longer… they don’t fly nearly as long as the astronauts who nicknamed it the “Vomit Comet” did). The most interesting thing I learned was that getting around in zero-G isn’t nearly as easy or straightforward as I thought it would be.
Myself: That sounds like quite the experience. When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer?
Levine: Like a lot of people, I wrote SF stories when I was a kid, and continued to do so all the way through college. But when I graduated, I got a job as a technical writer and I stopped writing fiction because it was too much like work. I changed jobs in 1997 and by 1998 I was writing fiction again. That’s when I decided to attend Clarion West [A non-profit literary organization based in Seattle, Washington, with a mission to improve speculative fiction by providing high-quality education to writers at the start of their careers], and the rest is history.
Myself: What is the first piece that you remember writing?
Levine: I hand-wrote an SF novel in two spiral notebooks in fourth grade. I still have it. It’s not bad, considering.
Myself: That is an impressive start. I doubt that many authors can claim to have attempted writing a novel in grade school. What is your academic and work background?
Levine: I was a theatre geek in high school, and when I went to college I intended to major in technical theatre. But during the summer after my freshman year, I realized that if I kept working in theatre I’d never have another date on Friday or Saturday night, so I changed majors to Architecture. I got my BA in Architecture but then couldn’t find a job in the field, so fell into technical writing because I was interested in computers and have always been able to write easily and well. The money in high tech was good, so I stayed in the field, eventually becoming a software engineer and then a user interface designer. I retired in 2007 and have been writing SF since then (though not full time, and not making a living off it).
Myself: What part of the world do you currently live in?
Levine: Portland, Oregon. I came here for a job right after college, fell in love with it, and have never wanted to live anywhere else since then.
Myself: Do you think that living there has affected your writing?
Levine: I think that a writer’s hometown can’t help but influence their choice of settings and themes. It’s also true that Portland is a very literary town and I’ve found a lot of writer friends and organizations here, which help to support my life as a writer.
Myself: How do you relax? What are your hobbies?
Levine: I love to travel, I love live theatre and movies, and my main hobbies are science fiction fandom and gay square dancing (both of which give me plenty of excuses to travel). And, of course, I love to read, though I don’t do nearly as much of it as I used to.
Myself: What else would you like to share about yourself?
Levine: I love cats, but between the amount of time I spend on the road and the fact that I’m allergic, I can’t have one in the house. But I hang out with cats whenever I can.
Myself: What’s the earliest book you remember reading for yourself?
Levine: “Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars” by Ellen MacGregor, or possibly “The Runaway Robot” by Lester del Rey. I’ve been a science fiction fan since I was very little.
Myself: Did you read much growing up?
Myself: What book that you read as a child stands out in your memory?
Levine: I was a huge fan of the “Matthew Looney” books by Jerome Beatty Jr (illustrated by Gahan Wilson!)
Myself: What have you read recently?
Levine: I’m right now reading “The Fated Sky”, the second Lady Astronaut novel by Mary Robinette Kowal, and I’m loving it.
Myself: I like that image of story ideas. What is your favorite genre? book? character? author?
Levine: Science fiction, by far. Favorite book, character, author? You say that as if it were possible to pick just one of each. But I do keep coming back to “Use of Weapons” by Iain M. Banks, and its main characters Cheradenine Zakalwe and the drone Skaffen-Amtiskaw.
Myself: Where is your favorite place to read?
Levine: I have a very comfy chair in the living room.
Myself: Do you prefer paper or eBooks?
Levine: I much prefer paper to ebooks. I can’t really say why.
Myself: What books do you recommend to others? Give as gifts?
Levine: I’ve given several copies of “The Fifth Season” by N. K. Jemisin as gifts because it’s brilliant. I also give people my own books. 🙂
Myself: What makes you sit down and want to share your stories?
Levine: The feeling that I have something unique to say.
Myself: What are your ambitions for your writing career?
Levine: Honestly, I’ve already achieved so much, what with all the publications and the awards and all. Right now my unrealized writing goals include: being writer guest of honor at a science fiction convention, winning a Nebula (the Andre Norton Award is close, but not quite), seeing a stranger reading a book of mine in public, seeing someone do cosplay from one of my works, and having one of my works adapted into a movie or TV show.
Myself: Certainly having won an Andre Norton Award, a Hugo Award and the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest are significant achievements. Is there anyone who has influenced your writing?
Levine: I’d say Iain M. Banks is my biggest inspiration because he did so much to stretch the form. China Mieville is also someone whose craft I admire. Jay Lake was a big career push and pull — we were a mutual support society and also had a bit of a friendly rivalry. And my instructors at Clarion West — John Crowley, Paul Park, Geoff Ryman, Candas Jane Dorsey, Pat Murphy, David Hartwell, and Carol Emshwiller — deserve special mention.
Myself: How did you pick the genres for your stories?
Levine: Every idea carries its own genre, man.
Myself: Where do your story ideas come from?
Levine: I like to say that story ideas are like neutrinos — they come sleeting down from space constantly, and all you have to do is be dense enough to stop one. Seriously, the ideas are the easy part. Just keep your eyes open as you move through the day and you’ll get three or four an hour. It’s actually putting the words in order that’s hard.
Myself: That concept, that “story ideas are like neutrinos — they come sleeting down from space constantly, and all you have to do is be dense enough to stop one” is a perspective that I won’t soon forget. Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just to see where an idea takes you?
Levine: I started out as a very strong outliner, but I’m becoming more and more of a seat-of-the-pants writer. Basically, I can go longer and longer stretches between outline points, and can sometimes pants an entire short story now. I think that planners become more like pantsers and pantsers become more like planners as they get more experienced.
Myself: Where do you do your writing? Why there?
Levine: I like to write in coffee shops because I need to get away from my house with its many distractions. Ideally, I work in the company of other writers, because having them there makes it harder to goof off on Facebook or Twitter.
Myself: What is your schedule like when you are writing?
Levine: I shoot for a two-hour solid writing stint each day. I don’t usually manage it.
Myself: About how long does it take you to complete the first draft? How long do your revisions take?
Levine: Generally I can draft a short story in a week or two. A novel usually takes me two years, but “Arabella the Traitor of Mars” was written in seven months and revised in three weeks because of life circumstances.
Myself: You did set an aggressive schedule for yourself with “Arabella the Traitor of Mars”. How much research do you put into a novel?
Levine: Depends on the novel. The Arabella books required tons of historical research. Hard SF, paradoxically, doesn’t take much because I know a lot about real science and know enough to make up plausible fake science.
Myself: What tools (software?) do you use in your writing?
Levine: I use Scrivener for novels and Word for short fiction. A good thesaurus — the one built into MacOS is a pretty good one — is also a very important tool for me.
Myself: What are the hardest and easiest things about writing?
Levine: The hardest part is making myself sit down and work. The easiest part is coming up with story ideas.
Myself: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Levine: Read a lot! Write a lot! Get feedback on your writing, and focus on applying what you learn from the feedback thoughtfully to new work rather than iterating over and over on the current story in an attempt to fix all its problems. Hang out with other writers whenever you can, online or in person.
Myself: What novels/works have you published?
Levine: Novels “Arabella of Mars”, “Arabella and the Battle of Venus”, and “Arabella the Traitor of Mars”, and over fifty SF and fantasy stories, some of which are collected in my, um, collection, “Space Magic”. See https://daviddlevine.com/fiction/bibliography/ for a complete bibliography, including links to much free fiction in text and audio form.
Myself: I will have to add some of your short stories to my To Be Read list. What are you currently working on?
Levine: A “space opera caper picture” novel with the working title “Breakout”. It’s a Firefly/Leverage/Expanse mashup with an ensemble cast and it is taking forever to come together.
Myself: What else would you like to share?
Levine: I really love to read my own work and I’m told I do a good job of it. I do voices, I sing and dance, and sometimes I even wear costumes. Please come to my readings if you get a chance! This video [above] is an example of what I can do.
Myself: How should your fans follow you or get in touch?
Levine: I’m on Twitter (@daviddlevine), Facebook (David D. Levine), and Instagram (daviddlevine) and you can probably find me as “daviddlevine” on any new social media platform that comes along. My website is daviddlevine.com and if you go to the lower right corner of that page you can sign up for a newsletter, which I send out extremely occasionally (usually only when I have a new book coming out).