Last Gasp

front cover

Please welcome Howard Levine to my blog. Hello Howard, welcome to my blog, whenangelsfly.net, take a comfy seat and then we shall chat. 

Please introduce yourself to those reading this blog post.

I’m a retired teacher of English for Speakers of Other Languages and special education, in public schools in New York City and Prince George’s County, Maryland.   Before beginning my career as a public school teacher, I taught Transcendental Meditation (TM) in the Bronx. My wife and I now live in the metro Washington DC area, where we volunteer and hike together.  I spend a fair amount of time on my bike, and a greater amount writing.

Has writing always been part of your life and when did you “know” that it was time to start writing your first book? 

I developed an interest in writing in college, but got serious about it at roughly age 30, with a novel that would have to be largely rewritten before I would allow it to see the light of day.

How difficult was it writing your first book?

My first published novel, Leaving This Life Behind, came out in October 2000 from an indie press in California.   I presented some of the TM-related understandings I have about the nature of life—and death—in a fictional context.  Having those understandings emerge within the flow of the novel, rather than suddenly reverting to non-fiction, giving a mini-lecture, was a challenge.  Based on the reviews and responses it received, it at least appears that I met the challenge.

Have you ever wanted to give up and what stopped you?

I never seriously considered giving up, although the frustrations involved in getting published traditionally (as opposed to self-publishing) can be difficult at times.  Over the years I’ve managed to attract a number of literary agents, a few fairly prominent, but have been published only by two different indie presses.  Promoting a novel after it comes out is not a wonderful experience either, and it’s gotten harder.  Still, the writing itself is very absorbing, and the story takes on a life of its own.

Who is the most supportive of you and your dream to be a writer?

My wife, who is also my editor-in-chief.  I trust her reactions to what I read, and I know that she tells me exactly what she thinks.   I think most writers need honest feedback a great deal.

Anything specific you want to tell your readers?

Last Gasp, my current novel, is very topical politically.  And, I’m told, the pages turn quickly.

What is the best advice given to you (book or otherwise), and by whom?

“If your characters don’t seem like real people, nothing else about your fiction will seem real either.”  This advice was given to me by a professor of mine at City College of New York, and proved valuable when I got hooked on writing years later.

What is your target audience and what aspect of your writing do you feel targets that audience?

My target audience is any reader who enjoys an engrossing novel.  Last Gasp is a not only a thriller but a family drama.  I feel that I write in an accessible style that favors momentum over excessive description, and features characters and situations that most people can relate to.

Did the cover evolve the same way, or did you work with someone to make it come together for you?

The cover was designed by the illustrator at Black Opal Books.  He designed a cover based on the content of the novel.  I was very pleased with what he showed me, and we went forward with it.

What are you working on now? Can we get a peek, an excerpt?

I’m currently working on an as-yet-untitled novel about a retired couple who rescue two undocumented minors from the Arizona desert.  They attempt to reunite the boys with their undocumented father, who lives in Maryland.  An excerpt follows below.

Levine                                                                                                                         1

                                                            Chapter 1 

            Jose thought that it might be another mirage.  A dust devil without the benefit of wind, as if the desert—thus far unable to take Miguel or himself down via scorching heat, freezing nights, a flash flood, the sole-piercing chollo pods, or rattlesnakes, serpientes venenosos—had decided to rise up and swallow them, finally be done with them.  If they weren’t so young, this could almost be seen as an act of mercy.  Gracia, as their devout mother would have put it.  But if it wasn’t a mirage, at a closer look, then it could be a car in the glimmering distance.  Which would probably mean la migra.  Jose knew very little about the United States, but he doubted that most Americanos drove their big fancy cars around in the desert.  Getting picked up by la migra meant a return trip to Salvador, one way, he was pretty sure of that.  Death in the desert might be better.

            Miguel, his normally rooster-ish voice thin and frail, said, “Mira.”  Look. Shielding his eyes from the sun with his left hand, he pointed with his right index finger (which back in Salvador had doubled as a “gun,” complete with unnervingly realistic sound effects).  Okay, a mirage it was not.   As it came closer, it began to wink, sunlight glinting off of metal and glass.

            Even as Rich Anson got closer, he was unsure as to what he was looking at.  They could have been saguaros, albeit scrawny and wilted, their outlines blurred by the dust kicked up by Rich’s Jeep Wrangler—a mini-desert storm that was surely visible from where the kids stood, if kids they were– a distance that was difficult to calculate in the

Levine                                                                                                                        2

open, undulating, expanse.  He could’ve been the border patrol, come to ship them back to Mexico or Central America, maybe slap them around first, or even kill them, save the expense and hassle of deportation.  Two more skeletons in the desert.  Actually, they were halfway there already—or so it seemed, as their outlines finally became clear enough. The boys made no attempt to run.  There was no place for them to hide anyway, especially since Rich had wheels and an engine.  Besides, as he drew nearer, he’d have laid odds that running was no longer a physical option for either kid.

Any last words before we wrap things up?

I appreciate the opportunity to be interviewed on When Angels Fly, and invite readers to take a look at Last Gasp.

Howard Levine hedshot 4

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7 thoughts on “Last Gasp

  1. Howard, your new novel’s passage isn’t just well written, but oh so timely. Your desert descriptions are spot on and I like the injection of Spanish words and slang within the context of the scene as it adds a gritty realism to the narration. I like what your teacher said about fictional characters needing to seem real in order for the story to do the same. Great advice and one that I try to abide by as well. Very fine interview.

    Liked by 1 person

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