Thursday, February 19, 2009

Today's Featured Author: Barbara Levenson

Welcome's Writers' Wednesday on Thursday this week! Today I have the pleasure of interviewing mystery writer Barbara Levenson, whose novel Fatal February just released. At the end of this interview, Barbara will be sharing how and where you can win a signed copy of her book, so pay close attention. And enjoy the chat!

Barbara, thanks so much for being here today. Can you tell us a little about your background?

I began my legal career as a prosecutor in the office of the Miami-Dade State Attorney. My first boss was Janet Reno, who later became the Attorney General in the Clinton administration. This was in the wild 1980’s, the era of the “cocaine cowboys.” I was promoted rather quickly to the narcotics division. We were facing well known criminal defense attorneys, so I learned to litigate under fire.

After a few years, I opened my own law office, specializing in criminal defense and civil rights litigation. I had many interesting clients including representing several people who had their boats confiscated under the “Zero Tolerance” policy of the Reagan administration. Guys out for a Sunday fishing outing were hauled over and told miniscule seeds of marijuana were found on the deck, and the boat was then seized. These cases became famous enough to land me an interview on Night Line and several NPR reports.

One day my husband looked at me and said, “Why don’t you run for a judgeship?” I thought he was crazy. There were only a few women serving as judges at the time, and the election campaign would involve the entire Dade County which is larger than the state of Delaware. But we like a challenge in our family. I served on the bench for twelve years and now still sit occasionally as a senior judge.

Wow, sounds like an exciting time! But when did you first begin writing? Was there an event that triggered a desire to write?

I began writing in elementary school. I wrote stories to entertain my friends. It was in junior high school that I realized that my humorous stories made my peers smile and the scary ones made them plead for more. I was hooked.

What are your latest writing projects?

Fatal February has just been published. It is the first in a mystery series whose protagonist is Mary Magruder Katz, a Miami criminal defense attorney. She is the epitome of the real Miami. She is half Jewish and half Southern Baptist. Her hot Latin boyfriend is half Cuban and half Argentine. The real Miami’s melting pot usually begins in the wedding chapel. This series of books takes readers into the way life is lived in Miami; not the usual South Beach tourist picture. The second book in the series, Justice in June, will be published in June, 2010. (Oceanview Publishing). I am also working on a book for middle school boys who seem to be left out of the mystery genre.

I think the idea of targeting middle school boys is a terrific one! Now, what advice would you give to new writers just starting out?

The first piece of advice is one a writing teacher gave to me. If you want to write, sit your behind in the chair and write. Do not stop in the middle of your book because you don’t know how to finish it, or you are bored. Don’t be one of those people who tell you, “I was writing a book but I didn’t have time to finish it, or I have too many other commitments now, but I’ll do it later.”

My second piece of advice is to write about things you know about or have thoroughly researched, and write what you like to read. Then you will find your own authentic voice. Finally, go to seminars, conferences, and join organizations where you will network with authors, publishers, book sellers. Learn everything you can about the publishing industry. For me, writing a book is the easy part. Knowing how to sell it is much harder.

Describe your writing space.

I live in two houses. Miami is home base for the last 33 years, and the Miami house is the house we have lived in for 33 years. Now that our children are grown, I have a small study on the second floor. I always have my computer (I always write on a computer) facing a window. What I see from the house in Miami is a landscape of trees, with something in bloom all the time, birds including wild parrots that scream to each other in their own language, and the South Florida sky that is a blue that cannot be duplicated.

Now that I am not confined to full-time judging, in the summer and fall, we retreat to a house in Vermont. The house is built on a hillside. My writing space is in the lowest level where I look out of two sets of sliding doors. Here I can see woodlands and mountains in the distance. One day a family of wild turkeys trotted down our walkway and peered at me through the glass. They were a great audience as I read aloud from the scene I was working on. They didn’t offer one criticism.

Miami and Vermont - what a great combination! What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

My husband and I bred and showed German Shepherd dogs for many years. We still have two German Shepherds. We did all the training and traveling with them and finished eleven champions in the show ring. Now, with only the two aging dogs, I like to just have fun with them. Fatal February has a German Shepherd named Sam who is based on my male dog, Ned. Sam is Mary’s constant companion and stress-reliever.

My other passion is ice hockey. We have a National Hockey League in South Florida and we go to as many home games as possible. You can’t think about any problem when you are totally into the fast action of a good hockey game. I am also involved in many activities at the University of Miami where I went to law school. We live near the campus. I have become acquainted with the members of the women’s basketball team and have them all over for dinner once each season, for some home cooked food and home cooked conversation. Some of them are very far from home for the first time. This year one is from Alaska, and one from Eastern Europe.

Barbara, thanks so much for sharing your story with us today! OK readers, here's the skinny on how to win her book:

Barbara Levenson is giving away a signed copy of her book, Fatal February, to one lucky tour visitor. Go to Barbara’s book tour page,, and enter your name, e-mail address, and this PIN, 8181, for your chance to win. Entries from Allie's Musings will be accepted until 12:00 Noon (PT) tomorrow. No purchase is required to enter or to win. The winner (first name only) will be announced on Barbara’s book tour page next week.

Thanks for joining us...and have a great day!


misterreereeder said...

Great interview!!! It was full of interesting questions (and answers). "Better to know you - Barbara."

Anonymous said...

Glad to get a better idea of who you are. And you are writing more books - not just this one series? Great. If you ever come to the Dallas Tx area hope to meet you.

Mary Ricksen said...

I also have raised German Shepherds and put them in my books too.
But the thing you said that hit me the most is, that writing is the easy part, selling is what's hard.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Allie, for inviting me to visit your website, on my virtual book tour. Thank you also for your interesting questions. And thanks to the readers who posted comments. I'd love to come to Dallas one day. I will be signing books in Houston on March 28th at Murder By The Book.
Mary, I read your profile. We have much in common (Vermont and South Fla.) I wil be up your way tonight at Murder On The Beach in Delray. I will definitely read your book.

Anonymous said...

Excellent interview -- as a middle school teacher, I will personally look forward to the young adult mystery.

Dru said...

Great interview.