I loved Robert Levy’s debut, The Glittering World, and am thrilled to welcome him to the blog today to answer a few questions about the book, and more!
Congratulations on your new book, The Glittering World! Will you tell us a bit about it and what inspired you to write it?
Thank you so much! The Glittering World, is, at heart, my version of a modern and dark fairy tale, one that takes traditional mythic and folkloric themes and recasts them in a contemporary milieu. It’s not a fairy tale retelling per se, though the story of Hansel and Gretel–with its lost children and dark woods and questionable parenting skills–was certainly a big influence.
My novel, which concerns four friends on vacation in Cape Breton and all the wondrous and terrible things that happen to them there, was directly inspired by my travels to that magical island alongside three of my own friends (one of whom is now my husband). None of the characters or actions are real, but the general situation was very much drawn from life experience.
Why do you think readers will connect with Blue? Will you tell us more about him?
Oh, Blue. So beautiful, so adrift! He’s at a crossroads in his life, what’s known in astrology as the Saturn return, the point around your 30th birthday where you run up against a wall and are really forced to question yourself and the path that you’re on. In some ways, Blue just isn’t ready to cope with adulthood, but of course there turns out to be a very good reason for that…
And though you may want to shake some sense into him, Blue is also quite loveable. He’s the kind of ex you know you should stay away from but just can’t, to the point where you wonder whether it’s fated that you spend the rest of your lives together. I think a lot of readers can relate to that.
And while he’s certainly a flawed character (the only kind I write, mind you, since we’re all essentially flawed), I find his struggles relatable. In terms of fiction, I don’t particularly like noble characters; on the page I find them static and boring. I much prefer those who have to hustle just to get by, or are otherwise crippled by emotional or psychic baggage. I cannot for the life of me understand when a reader puts down a novel because they wouldn’t want to have lunch with the protagonist. Honestly, it baffles me! I’d much rather read about someone I would never have lunch with… That’s what books are for. They’re the ultimate safe space.
Why did you decide to set the book in Canada?
This is a story that really sprung directly from the land, so in truth the setting chose me. Cape Breton is just… Wow. It’s a very special place, one whose splendor is bucolic in summer and powerfully stark during the cold winter months. So I drew on the land itself, as well the beliefs of its people–the native Mi’kmaq as well as Nova Scotia’s Scottish and Irish immigrants–to form my own mythology of an indigenous population of subterranean beings the locals refer to as the Other Kind. These creatures are made up of the very place they inhabit, and in that sense the setting truly is its own kind of character.
What kind of research did you do for the novel?
A staggering amount of research was done for the story’s setting and supernatural element, which involved Cape Breton’s flora and fauna and geographical features, insect behavior, Celtic and Gaelic mythology and culture, folklore, oral tradition and ballads.. I could go on!
You’re a Harvard grad and trained as a forensic psychologist, but have you always wanted to write fiction? Will you tell us more about yourself and that progression?
I’ve always been a writer of one sort or another, even during adolescence, when I would fill composition notebooks with poems and jokes, comics and manifestos. I eventually moved on to short stories and plays, studying creative writing and theater at Oberlin before earning a degree in English from Harvard. After college, I moved to San Francisco and developed my own work as a performance artist.
It actually wasn’t until I was back in grad school in New York that I ever considered doing anything else besides write, which was becoming a therapist. But even working on my master’s thesis made me realize that writing was what I really wanted to do with my life. Eventually I landed up with a job as an assistant to a literary agent, and I’ve been surrounded by books and consumed with acting as a therapist to fictitious clients ever since.
What books or authors have influenced you the most?
Books that directly influenced this particular novel include Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Surfacing by Margaret Atwood, Occultation by Laird Barron, Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand, The Keep by Jennifer Egan, No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod, Insectopedia by Hugh Raffles, The Fairies in Tradition and Literature by Katharine Briggs… I’m sure there are more as well.
As for books and authors that have influenced me as a writer in general, they are legion! All the aforementioned, plus everyone from Shirley Jackson to Dan Chaon, Toni Morrison to Emily Bronte. And then there are writers in my own life who have influenced me, like my dear friend Livia Llewellyn, the author of Engines of Desire: Tales of Love and Other Horrors. She’s an amazing writer and was my crit partner and cheerleader throughout the writing of The Glittering World.
If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
It would probably be something along the lines of Murder on the Orient Express, or Presumed Innocent: a shocking and original whodunit, something that really made me gasp.
What are you currently reading?
I’m about fifty pages into The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld, and so far I’m digging it.
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I have two young children, so free time is a very loosely defined term… When we can, my husband and I try to get a babysitter and go to the movies, but these days we’re more likely to find ourselves watching a half-hour of television or reading before passing out on the couch. Aside from that glamorous scenario and the responsibilities of parenting in general, I’d say drinking with friends and spending as much time in bed as possible are probably my two topmost pursuits. Other than that, I enjoy updating my blog, Nothing Dies Forever, which includes posting old photos of Madonna and David Bowie, uploading shots of seashells I’ve written poems on, and corrupting old comic strips in a feature called “Stephen King Funnies.” Clearly I spend too much time online…
What’s next for you?
First there’s promotion of The Glittering World, including my February book tour, and then it’s back to the grind: working my new novel, shopping a screenplay, finishing a short story I’ve been writing for years now… Hey, I better get going! Thanks so much for having me. I love My Bookish Ways!
About The Glittering World:
In the tradition of Neil Gaiman (The Ocean at the End of the Lane), Scott Smith (The Ruins), and Jason Mott (The Returned), award-winning playwright Robert Levy spins a dark tale of alienation and belonging, the familiar and the surreal, family secrets and the search for truth in his debut supernatural thriller.
When up-and-coming chef Michael “Blue” Whitley returns with three friends to the remote Canadian community of his birth, it appears to be the perfect getaway from New York. He soon discovers, however, that everything he thought he knew about himself is a carefully orchestrated lie. Though he had no recollection of the event, as a young boy, Blue and another child went missing for weeks in the idyllic, mysterious woods of Starling Cove. Soon thereafter, his mother suddenly fled with him to America, their homeland left behind.
But then Blue begins to remember. And once the shocking truth starts bleeding back into his life, his closest friends—Elisa, his former partner in crime; her stalwart husband, Jason; and Gabe, Blue’s young and admiring coworker—must unravel the secrets of Starling Cove and the artists’ colony it once harbored. All four will face their troubled pasts, their most private demons, and a mysterious race of beings that inhabits the land, spoken of by the locals only as the Other Kind…