Mystery author Lev Raphael is multi-published in several genres, but as he explained to The Mystery Reader, mysteries have a special place in his life. Lev talks about writing, reviewing, and some really good advice.
Welcome, Lev! Tell us about yourself.
I'm six feet tall, with green eyes, shoulder-length blond hair, work
out 3 times a week and weigh a lean 174 pounds. I'm a Taurus. My
hobbies are spelunking, cinematography, and-- Oh. You wanted
something less personal and more professional?
Okay, I escaped academia over a decade ago to write full-time and
have never looked back, except for material. I've lived in Michigan
for almost 20 years and it's my home. Though I was born and
raised in New York, I got over it, so you could call me a recovering
For readers who may not be familiar with your backlist, tell us
about your writing background.
My first love was short stories and I've been publishing them and
winning prizes for them for over 20 years. My very first crime
story, "Free Man in Paris," will be published in a new English magazine,
Crimewave, in December.
The three Nick Hoffman mysteries are LET'S GET CRIMINAL, THE EDITH
WHARTON MURDERS, and THE DEATH OF A CONSTANT LOVER. They're set in
a fictitious Michigan university and the sleuth is a lowly
composition professor desperate for tenure.
I've always written across genres so my books include a short story
collection, DANCING ON TISHA B'AV; a novel, WINTER EYES; a
literary critical book on Edith Wharton, EDITH WHARTON'S PRISONERS
OF SHAME; an essay collection, JOURNEYS & ARRIVALS, plus several
co-authored books in psychology and education, the best-selling one
of which is a book for children called STICK UP FOR YOURSELF!
What drew you to writing mysteries? Are you a long time reader?
I fell in love with Agatha Christie, the Lockridges, John Creasey
and Phoebe Atwood Taylor in high school--but also Henry James and
other literary writers and the latter path is the one I followed
through writing classes and my English major classes in college. I
also did an MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in American Studies.
It wasn't until I had a few books out, and dozens of stories and
articles, that I felt established enough and talented enough to
launch the Nick Hoffman mystery series. Writing mysteries is hard
work, though it's also more fun than anything else I've worked on.
Do you write full-time? Or do you divide your time between
writing and another job?
I'm writing every day in one form or another because I review so
much: I write the "Mysteries" column for the Detroit Free Press and
review generally for that paper, as well as reviewing regularly for
The Jerusalem Report and Forward (a Jewish weekly in New York).
I've also started reviewing for The Washington Post, so I always
have something due somewhere. Reading for pure fun is a luxury!
Last month I took a whole week off and re-read George Eliot's
MIDDLEMARCH, which I first read over 20 years ago, and fell in love
with it all over again for the depth of the characterizations and
the author's love for her people.
What writers have influenced you?
Though I especially admire Robert Barnard, Sue Grafton, and David
Handler, Ken Follett, Martha Grimes, Walter Mosley, I've been more
influenced and inspired by non-mystery writers over the course of my
career: Joan Didion, Philip Roth, Anita Brookner, Andrew Holleran,
Don DeLillo, James Baldwin. Then there are the classic writers like
Edith Wharton, Henry James, D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Fitzgerald --these are
people I re-read.
I've always read very widely, and my college creative writing
professor (who predicted when I was 17 that I'd someday be published
and win prizes), said, "Read everything!" I think that's good
advice for a beginning writer.
What changes have you noticed in the world of mystery fiction in
the time you've been writing?
Well, more people know my name.
Industry-wide, there's more attention paid every year to Big Books
(thrillers, suspense) and less to building a series as mergers make
publishers dump established writers and take fewer risks with new
Tell us about your current work.
The new book is called LITTLE MISS EVIL and you could call it HEART
OF DARKNESS crossed with LUCKY JIM. It's the darkest satire of
academia in the series, and will be out in the spring from Walker
You're active online. What role does the Internet play in
writing, researching, and marketing your books?
My web site has been an important tool in getting my name out there,
as has the web site of 'THE TODD MUNDT SHOW, where I'm the book
critic: . I do some
research on-line, but mostly use it as a reviewer to find out about
books I've seen advertised or read about in magazines like
Publishers Weekly. Subscribing to Dorothy-L has not only been
educational, but garnered me a lot of fans, too.
How about e-publishing? Where do you see that heading?
I have no idea. I don't see people ever giving up the physical
pleasure of holding a book, turning its pages, etc. My kids are
both very computer savvy and they still love to read books.
As a reviewer for the Detroit Free Press, how do
you handle reviewing a book that doesn't work for you, given that
you are a mystery author yourself?
I've heard thanks from people who like what I said about their
books, and I've even heard from a writer I panned. She was simply
grateful to have her book mentioned and PR people tell you that's
better than it not getting reviewed at all.
Now, if a book is pretty bad, I'll usually just skip it, unless it's
being hyped and I feel I need to offer a different POV. I haven't
been reviewing books by people I'm close to, but since I know so
many mystery authors, it's impossible not to review a book by one of
them. This fall I'll be doing some events with a writer whose last
book I didn't like at all, and I guess that's the inevitable result
of being a reviewer. It had to happen sooner or later.
Is the academic world as crazy as you describe it in your
It's worse! People tell me stories about their universities or
departments and I have to tone them down because they're so
How can readers get in touch with you?
Contact me at www.levraphael.com where they'll find info on the
series as well as my e-mail address. And please sign the guest book
and have some of the hors d'oeuvres. I'd hate to have to throw all
that stuff out.
Lev, thanks for joining us! Readers, check out our review of The Death of a Constant Lover, the latest Nick Hoffman mystery.
October 15, 1999