Our Interview with Author Doug Levin

I asked each of the authors to tell us a little bit about themselves, about the story they contributed to West Coast Crime Wave and the city in which their story is set. I also asked them to share a few thoughts about e-books, as well as what the future holds for them in the coming 12 months. 

Today’s conversation is with Doug Levin, a writer from Portland. I had known Doug through our shared interest in technology and crime fiction, but like so many of today’s interactions, it was an acquaintance based entirely on social streams and emails until we met face to face in Portland in September, where we were both attending the 2011 Willow Award ceremony honoring Phil Margolin for his contribution to the Northwest mystery community.  Our editor Brian Thornton had already accepted Doug’s short “Bridget’s Conception" for the collection, but I had dropped the ball in telling Doug. Imagine Doug’s surprise, and my discomfort, as Brian told Doug how much we loved his short and was glad it was in the collection.

Well, Doug’s a great guy, and it all turned out, and we’re lucky to have him representing Portland in our collection West Coast Crime Wave. Enjoy.

-Mike

Tell us about yourself.

As a kid, I read Agatha Christie because my mother read her. Then I took to reading artsy and canonical literature, which I took too seriously and ended up with a Ph.D. in English from Yale University. My hope was to have a cushy academic job and write fiction in the summers, but that didn’t pan out because I couldn’t get a teaching job. I always liked the criminal and noir elements in traditional high-brow literature, and when I was washing out of academia, I read a lot of crime fiction and got caught up on the greats. I had dabbled in fiction writing in college and wrote a couple of half-finished and half-baked novels in the 1990s.

My first published story, “Fire Lines,” was meant to be a throwback to the pulp era and it was published in a collection of pulp-style stories called Measures of Poison in 2002. I got to appear alongside some really great writers such as Charles Willeford, James Sallis, George Pelecanos, James Crumley, Michael Connelly, and others. In 2004, immersed in Patricia Highsmith, I decided to get a little more serious and semi-disciplined about fiction writing. I wrote a handful of stories, and one called “Wilson’s Man,” sold to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (January 2008). EQMM published another, “The Docile Shark,” in December 2010. I wrote another unfinished novel about a whiny architect, and then I finally knuckled down and completed a heist, called Jailhouse Pale. I got an agent, Doug Grad, who took me on in part because we share the same first name. So far, the book has received some glowing and some respectful rejections from the Big Six, but no buyers. 

Tell us what makes your city/location a unique and interesting setting for crime fiction.

Compared to gritty, ruptured east coast cities, Portland seems on first glance like an unlikely place for crime fiction. But it’s a city that has a significant criminal history, rough edges, and a bit of a Wild West spirit. It’s also a city that arguably feels bullied in its identity by Seattle to the north and San Francisco to the south. It’s also a city — forgive me — of slackers, creative types, business people, and semi-weirdos — and this makes for an interesting stew. For the most part, my Portland stories have been about odd or unfortunate characters, who maybe end up being of a more criminal bent than they expected or recognized.

Tell us a little bit about the story’s main character.

In “Bridget’s Conception,” Bridget is a young, friendly, spacey home health worker. She is also very pregnant and supports her idle husband. Bridget is a little mysterious too: it’s hard to know exactly how smart or observant she really is. 

This anthology is an e-book from a new publisher.  In general, how do you as an author see the opportunities in publishing changing with the growth of e-books?

I love the physical object of the book, and I hope it is able to co-exist beside e-books. That said, it is exciting to see the opportunities and dynamism emerging from e-books. For instance, in crime fiction, novellas and shorter novels used to be common, and they disappeared to a great extent. E-books will allow alternative forms and lengths to make a comeback. I hope that publishers large and small (and new) still have a curatorial role — even if there are more books and a greater variety available. 

Tell us what’s in store for you over the next 6 to 12 months.

I have another short story, called “Sheltered Assets,” due out in the March 2012 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. I’m hoping to finish a second crime novel by the middle of 2012 or so. My first novel, Jailhouse Pale, has received a lot of warm rejection, but no takers… yet.

You can find Doug’s short story “Bridget’s Conception” in the mystery anthology West Coast Crime Wave.