Weekend Interview: John Levitt

Musician, party-guy and all around dog lover, John Levitt was kind enough to sit down with me and go over some of the tough questions about his first urban fantasy release, DOG DAYS. It's available from Ace in paperback on October 30th. Just the sort of thing you want for Halloween, right?

Keep reading as I ask John the truly hard questions...

So John, what's the premise of DOG DAYS?
That there are those among us who have special talents, who are practitioners of magic. Most people are unaware of their existence, but it's not a true "secret society," just very much below the radar. Mason, a jazz musician who has mostly abandoned magic, is forced to come out of his self imposed retirement when he and friends become targeted by unknown enemies. Bad things happen. In the end, Mason solves the mystery and of course, saves his own ass as well.

His companion, Lou, is a small dog -- only not exactly a dog. A few practitioners have magical companions who take the shape of small animals, usually cats or dogs. Lou can't talk or transform himself or actually do anything "magical," but he does occasionally save Mason's bacon. Which is his favorite snack. He basically steals every scene in the book.

Were you born with a 'pen in your hand' like most authors claim, or did you pick up writing later?

Both. I used to sit in the back of physics class in high school and write short stories, much to the annoyance of the teacher. I edited the school literary magazine. Then I went to college, discovered drugs and rock and roll, and quit writing until many years later.

How did you get into the publishing game? Agent? Slush? How many rejections did you get?

My first attempt was a non-fiction memoir about my seven years as a cop. I got an agent through a personal recommendation. (Don't you hate that.) That was some years ago and it was easier then. He couldn't place the book, but several publishers liked the writing and mentioned they’d be interested in seeing a mystery if I wanted to try my hand at fiction. So I did, and sold a mystery/thriller and a sequel. Then I stopped writing again, for boring and irrelevant reasons.

My agent had retired by the time I wrote Dog Days, and he didn't handle fantasy anyway. With my publishing credits and my story, I was confident I'd have no trouble finding another. Poor naive me. I received an embarrassing number of form rejections for my query letter. Also an embarrassing number of rejections off partials. I had a few fulls out; same results. Most of them said, "I really like the writing, but..."
It took me almost a year to sign with an agent, Caitlin Blasdell, who is great. She helped me tweak the plot a bit, and then it only took her a month to sell it.

What was the most difficult part of the publishing journey for you so far?

Getting an agent, hands down.

What's been the most exciting part of the publishing journey so far?
Meeting other published authors and being accepted "into the club." Shallow of me, I admit.

What one item do you think is absolutely essential for the up-and-coming author?
A thick skin. Rejection and criticism go with the territory.

The hot guy on your cover. Is it just me, or does he resemble Constantine from American Idol?
You're not the first to say that. What a horrible thought. Johnny Depp, maybe.

What about the tattoo on Constantine's arm on the cover? Part of the story?
Not originally The cover artist, Don Sipely, threw it in during an excess of creative frenzy. I had to backstory a mention of it into the copy edits. Now it even has a place in the sequel -- it has great significance, but I'm not sure yet exactly what that might be.

What made you decide to include a magical dog in your book?
He just showed up, very early, out of nowhere. Just like a real dog. Of course, he's not exactly a dog. And I figured people like magic, people like dogs. How can I lose?

Did you pick your title? Can we help you pick titles for your sequel? I'm thinking Dog House or Dog Breath.
I picked the title. Your suggestions for the next title are brilliant, to be sure, but I think I'll try to go it on my own. I'm actually thinking of going with the "days" theme more than the "dog" theme. The working title is Dark Days, though these days I might consider Dog Tired.

Your novel mixes music and magic both together. Are you SURE that's not Constantine on your cover?
I want to amend my previous answer about the most difficult part of publishing. It's not the agent search; it's having an American Idol cover boy. As a musician I tend see music as a metaphor for all sorts of creative pursuits, and magic is definitely creative.

Your MC, Mason, is a jazz musician. Do you play music as well?
I do. I'm a jazz musician myself, but nowhere as good as Mason. Right now I play guitar in a pop/rock band in San Francisco, The Procrastinistas. Writing is satisfying, but music is fun.

What's your book in a nutshell?
People disappoint, dogs rule, magic doesn't make life any easier.

Do you think you have an uphill climb with urban fantasy because you have a protagonist that doesn't wear high heels? Or is that a silly myth?
Yes and no. A large part of the readership for urban fantasy is women, and they relate to a kick ass female protagonist. Most of the successful UF writers are women as well, and they mostly write female protagonists. On the other hand, Jim Butcher hasn't had much trouble selling books. I see a lot more male authors coming into the UF genre these days, as well as women like Rob Thurman who write male characters. And the book is set in San Francisco, so the high heels motif is still not totally out of the question.

Tell me something I might not know about your book from the blurb and cover.
It's actually pretty amusing. Terrible things happen, but there's also a lot of humor.

So what's the sequel about? When does it come out?
The sequel is tentatively set for fall of 2008. Again, Mason is confronted with bad things happening to fellow magical practitioners, only this time, he has even less of a clue as to who's responsible. It's a touch darker, and of course once again, the "dog" saves the day.

Is DOG DAYS your first completed novel? If not, how many have you written?
I wrote two previous mystery/thrillers, as J.R. Levitt. Dog Days is my first fantasy.

Thank you so much, John, for enduring my Constantine questions and title suggestions. *g* For those of you that want to know more, DOG DAYS comes out on October 31st. You can pre-order it HERE on Amazon, and you can visit John's website HERE.


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