Today’s author, Janet Levine was born and raised in South Africa. Multi-published, from her political memoir, Inside Apartheid to her women’s fiction novel, Leela’s Gift, she is a superb writer with a superb grasp of the art of story-telling. Welcome Janet. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer and was there a particular inspiration to get started?
There was never a time I did not want to be a writer. I still have my five-year old scribbles. Vividly I remember the first book I read on my own. It was about a visit to the circus and described the dawn colors and the day’s events. I was enchanted, exhilarated at the world evoked on the pages and I told my mother I was going to do that, write a story. So I did, and I’ve never stopped.
How long did it take you to publish your fist manuscript?
At fourteen, a short story I wrote was read on the national radio in South Africa, and was a finalist for the best teenage writer prize that year. What a thrill. Since the age of eighteen I became a published freelance journalist in the national press in South Africa in those “liberal” newspapers that were against the apartheid regime. I have continued to write articles all my life. I now blog and write book reviews. I also wrote novels from about the age of twelve but none of them were publishable. Because of my involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle I did not have time to polish and revise. My political memoir Inside Apartheid was my first book length manuscript to be published. I started it in 1985 shortly after we immigrated to the USA. My then husband is American and we arrived to live in the Boston area with our two sons. I craved peaceful time to write after the drama of South African politics and wrote the book to establish that a number of white activists were part of the human rights struggle, too. Americans seemed to think that all whites supported apartheid. Because of my reputation in political activities and journalism, I was invited to be on the MacNeill/Lehrer News Hour commenting on the situation in South Africa, and interviewed by Judy Woodruff. A few days later PBS forwarded me a letter from a New York agent who asked if I was thinking of writing a book. I told him I was already working on one. Several months later we had a contract with a large Chicago publishing house.
Many of us cross over genres and it is difficult to pinpoint one to fit our books. What shelves would we find your books in a bricks and mortar bookstore?
I’m a cross over writer; I’ve published a political memoir, two psychology books, and a novel. The book we are promoting today is a novel and we would find it under fiction, women writers, and spirituality.
Do you always write in the same POV or narrative or do you switch it up in different stories?
POV is one of the most challenging decisions for a fiction writer. My voice is decidedly first person. In the novel I am working on now I have two first person narrators; I enjoy making readers “work” a little at figuring out what is the structure. This is highly experimental and unconventional and I still need to work on smoothing the transitions between the voices. In a recently published, magnificent novel The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (recently won the Pulitzer Prize for literature 2014) the author mastered the first person POV to perfection. A pre-pub novel (by a well-known author) I am reading now for review has two, third person (omniscient) narrators, and he works the transitions between their POVs superbly.
What was the hardest part for you in the writing process; the outline, synopsis, query or building the story itself?
Currently the hardest part of the writing process (for me) is deciding to go the traditional route of seeking an agent, or trying to find an indie publisher, or to self-publish. What I have learned is that however long your work takes to write and revise, it is pristinely your baby, until you hire an editor to bring that professional polish. But the aggravation of the editing process and all those revisions is nothing compared to the resilience and patience (and time and/or money) you need to publish your book. You have to absolutely believe you have something to say that other people want to read or don’t even begin the publishing journey. It is a tough world out there.
Tell us about one of your books in 3 sentences
In Leela’s Gift the protagonist, a New Yorker, undertakes an enriching spiritual journey in the mountains near Darjeeling, India. The novel uncovers highly relevant spiritual teachings for our modern world. In captivating prose the novel intertwines modern philosophy and ancient wisdom in telling a story as old as the human heart.
Complete this sentence……. My favorite place to write is in almost total silence in a room surrounded by my favorite books and pictures and with a window that looks out on a garden or some greenery.
How about this one. …. A book about writing I love is Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings.
Where can readers buy your books?
My website is www.janetlevine.com. All four books are linked to Amazon from my website and readers can follow me on twitter @jlevinegrp
Thank you Janet. I know we will have you back to tell us more about Inside Apartheid. Can you share a few paragraphs from the book we are promoting today, Leela’s Gift?
“There was no mistaking Maharishi, standing amidst a group of solemn looking men all dressed in white. Pausing with one hand on the gate, Maharishi looked searchingly at me, drawing my attention back to him. He wore a long, immaculate white kurta, a collarless Indian shirt, over wide white trousers. Open sandals adorned his thin feet. In his other hand the beads of his mala slid effortlessly and deliberately through his slender, elegant fingers. His gaze seemed to penetrate my being and warmed to life many layers of my inner self that until that moment lay dormant; quickly I lowered my eyes, the force of his energy overwhelming. In his presence I struggled for breath.
His dark, deep-set eyes were softly luminous, and they smiled as he opened the gate. At the abrupt loss of his presence I felt cold, as I were in the Atlantic Ocean in winter. His presence radiated such heat and desire than when he left I was bereft. Considering this state along with my urge moments earlier to sink to my knees and prostrate myself at his feet, there was every reason to ask with rising hysteria; what was happening to me? After five minutes at the ashram my inner being swirled in choppy eddies. Maybe I should return to the taxi and drive back to Bagdora airport. The familiar known world tugged at me—standing at the threshold to this world seemed perilous, too risky.”