Interview with Suspense Author Allan Leverone

 

Allan Leverone is a 2012 Derringer Award winner for excellence in short mystery fiction and the author of four novels. These include the Amazon Top 25 overall bestseller THE LONELY MILE  (StoneHouse Ink), as well as the thriller FINAL VECTOR (Medallion Press). Allan also is the author of the supernatural suspense novels PASKAGANKEE (StoneGate Ink) and REVENANT (Rock Bottom Books).

This prolific author has written three horror novellas as well: DARKNESS FALLS (Delirium Books), HEARTLESS (Delirium Books), and THE BECOMING (Rock Bottom Books). Seventeen of his dark, short fiction tales are collected under the title POSTCARDS FROM THE APOCALYPSE.

Allan lives in New Hampshire with his wife of nearly thirty years, three children, one beautiful granddaughter, and a cat who, he reports, has used up eight lives.

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The Vigilante Author: Allan, congratulations on your prolific and successful writing career.

Allan Leverone: Thanks very much, and thank you for having me!

The Vigilante Author: I have to tell you, I marvel at your versatility as a writer. Tell us a bit about that, and about your most celebrated work to date.

Suspense author Allan Leverone

Allan Leverone: I write in a couple of different genres, but my most recent thriller is titled THE LONELY MILE, and deals with a scenario straight out of every parent’s nightmare.

Bill Ferguson is a regular guy, divorced, struggling in a tough economy to keep his two hardware stores solvent. One afternoon, entirely by accident, Bill stumbles upon the kidnapping of a teenage girl at a crowded highway rest stop. He reacts the way we all like to think we would, stepping in and breaking up the kidnapping, saving the girl. But the kidnapper manages to escape in the confusion.

Days later, when Bill’s seventeen-year-old daughter, Carli, disappears, he knows he has been targeted for revenge by a sadistic sociopath. Now he must decide just how far he’s willing to go to save his only child. And there may be more factors at play than he realizes…

The Vigilante Author: Yikes! As a father and grandfather, you’re touching sensitive nerves. Anyway, as I say, I admire your versatility as a cross-genre author. Is there a unifying thread running through your work?

Allan Leverone: I love suspense. I write horror novels and short fiction in addition to thrillers, and the one thing that ties all of my work together—hopefully—is that element. Someone will be in jeopardy and something important, often lives, will be at stake.

I write fiction I would want to read, and as an avid reader, I believe there’s nothing cooler than reading late at night, knowing you need to get to sleep right this minute because you have to get up for work the next day, but not being able to put the damned book down! That kind of reaction from the reader is what I aim for in my work, the sort of visceral need to know what’s going to happen. It’s up to other people to decide whether I’ve succeeded, but that’s my goal every time I start pounding on the keyboard.

The Vigilante Author: Well, you’ve garnered plenty of acclaim from readers and reviewers, and racked up a lot of sales, too. So I’d say you’ve succeeded.

How did you get started in this crazy business, anyway?

Allan Leverone: I was born and raised in a small town in central Massachusetts, about half an hour outside Boston.

The Vigilante Author: Small world, Allan. I spent several years living in central Massachusetts, too. My daughter was born there.

Allan Leverone: I mean, this town was tiny. I mostly stayed out of trouble because there weren’t enough kids in town to form a decent gang. My dad worked for the telephone company and my mom was an office manager for a realtor.

The public school system in town, at least at that time, was a disaster, and when administrators decided they were going to grade on “effort” rather than “production,” my parents decided it was time to go with Plan B. They pulled my sister and me out of the local school and sent us to school in Fitchburg, a slightly larger small town sixteen miles away. They sacrificed a lot, both in terms of time and money, so we could get a decent education and have a chance at a decent future, and I owe them big-time.

The Vigilante Author: As I do mine. How did you get into writing, Allan?

Allan Leverone: From as early as I can remember, I loved to read. I’ll bet I read every single Hardy Boys book Franklin Dixon ever wrote. I read all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and when I got a little older, I discovered this demented guy in Maine named Stephen King, who was writing some of the scariest stuff around. I read Salem’s Lot and have been a King fan ever since.

I didn’t learn about the thriller genre until after that, but once I did, I felt like I was home. Some people claim thrillers—and genre fiction in general—are formulaic, or lowbrow, or somehow less “important” than literary fiction. Those people are wrong, in addition to being pretentious. Genre fiction can be just as thought-provoking as “literary” fiction, with the added advantage of being interesting.

The Vigilante Author: Amen to that! In the interview I did with thriller master Lee Child, he pointed out that most popular writers could produce “literary” work if they really wanted to, but that “literary” authors seldom are capable of producing popular works. Being a good storyteller is very hard work.

Did you have anyone who helped you make the transition from reading to writing?

Allan Leverone: Probably the most important person in my life, in terms of convincing me to write, was a high school English teacher I had with the improbable name of Rocco Piccolomini. I swear, that was really his name. A lot of students despised Mr. Pic, sometimes including me, because he expected a lot of his kids. But he believed in me and made me feel like I might actually be able to write stuff people (some people, at least) would want to read. I think about him a lot thirty-five years later, and wonder what he would think of my work.

The Vigilante Author: Which writers have most influenced you, and how?

Allan Leverone: That’s a tough question, because there are so many writers I count as influences. Stephen King I already mentioned. It’s hard to imagine any genre writer in the last three or four decades not being at least somewhat influenced by him. Other influences include, in no particular order, Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, Dean Koontz, Edgar Allen Poe, Lee Child, Michael Crichton, Vince Flynn, Barry Eisler, and probably hundreds of other writers whose names escape me at the moment.

The Vigilante Author: Would you care either to compare or to contrast your work with that of others?

Allan Leverone: I wouldn’t even presume to compare my work to any of them. If you look at their names, they are all prolific authors who have proven that they have the ability not just to write compelling fiction, but to do it over the long haul. Writing entertaining fiction is hard, not in the way that roofing buildings or digging ditches is hard, but still it’s difficult to do well, and even more difficult to do consistently well. When I’ve been doing it for twenty or thirty years, then I’ll think about comparing my work to theirs.

That said, I hope readers can see parallels in my work to the above authors. The way Lee Child maintains suspense; the way Block and Westlake use dialogue so skillfully. I would consider it a tremendous compliment.

The Vigilante Author: People always wonder what motivates a writer to sit at his desk for hours, days, weeks, and months. We all have our reasons. What’s yours?

Allan Leverone: I love to write; I always have. When I went off to college, it was with the intention of majoring in journalism. I was going to be a sportswriter. Somewhere along the line I got sidetracked, changed majors, graduated with a Business degree I’ve never used, and became an air traffic controller.

The Vigilante Author: Allan, we must have lived in parallel universes. As a kid in high school, I wanted to be a journalist, too. Then I went to college and majored in economics. I never used that, either. But anyway, back to you…

Allan Leverone: Writing sort of fell through the cracks as I concentrated on my career and raising a family. Along about six years ago, I realized how much I missed it and began writing again, starting out with a sports blog at Foxsports.com, and then finally switching to fiction when it occurred to me that was what I really wanted to do.

I’m at a point in my life where, at fifty-three, if I had spent the last three decades writing instead of talking to airplanes, I might be getting tired, or bored, or burned-out. But I don’t feel that way at all. I’m like a kid in a candy store. I’m a newbie. All the motivation I need I get from knowing people out there enjoy my work. Every so often I’ll get an email from a reader telling me how much he or she enjoyed one of my books, or how she never saw the twist coming, or even how he feels the book could have been better.

My motivation is to not let that guy down.

The Vigilante Author: The writing life a lonely one, filled with constant challenges to one’s ego. What kind of obstacles have you faced along the way, and what have you done about them?

Allan Leverone: I’m kind of a solitary individual, so I don’t find the thought of sitting at a computer for hours, making stuff up, to be daunting in the least. The biggest challenge for me is in balancing writing with everything else in life. I still work full-time, and I have a family I would like to ensure remembers what I look like, so sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day.

On the other hand, my kids are older now—they range in age from 24 to 19—so a lot of the time they’re off doing their own thing, anyway. And my wife is absolutely the best ever; she knows how much I love to write and supports me completely.

The Vigilante Author: What would we do without patient, understanding spouses? So, what does your wife see when she peeks into your office…or wherever you work? Or what would anyone spying on you see?

Allan Leverone:  Oh, man, I feel sorry for anyone watching me write. He’d probably die of boredom and then I’d have to figure out what to do with the body. I spend great stretches of time staring into space, telling myself I’m plotting but in reality doing nothing more than daydreaming. If I could get the time back that I’ve spent trying to choose between Mila Kunis and Amy Adams for the lead role in the film version of my latest book, I’d probably have three more novels done by now.

The Vigilante Author: What about your writing methods?

Allan Leverone: I’ve tried outlining and quickly reached the conclusion that it doesn’t work for me. When I was writing FINAL VECTOR, I spent a long time constructing a fairly complex outline, only to discover before I was probably a quarter of the way through the writing of the first draft that it was useless. I had veered so far off course from the original outline that the whole thing was basically unsalvageable.

Having said that, though, it’s not accurate to say I don’t outline; I just do it in my head. By the time I start writing a first draft, I’ve spent so much time daydreaming…I mean plotting…that I know most of my characters inside and out, I know where I’m starting and—more or less—where I want to end up. I just don’t exactly know how I’m going to get there. The route I’m expecting to take at the beginning usually ends up just a fading memory by the time I’m done.

As far as a schedule goes, I wish I had one. I write whenever I can. I write on breaks at work, I write early in the morning and late at night, I’ve written holding a sleeping baby with one arm, typing with the other. I just write when I can.

The Vigilante Author: I commend you on your self-discipline and commitment, Allan. Lots of wannabe writers make excuses about a lack of time, or the right place, or the right tools. You don’t make excuses. You make books.

So, what’s the hardest thing for you about writing?

Allan Leverone: The hardest thing? That’s an easy one to answer: nothing. Every minute I spend writing is a minute spent doing something I love. Even the parts of the job that can be tedious, like editing and researching and rewriting, for example, are still extremely critical parts of the big picture, which is to get great fiction in the hands of readers, and it’s all time well spent. I don’t mind doing any of it.

The Vigilante Author: What gives you the greatest pleasure? And is there any accomplishment that you’re especially proud of?

Allan Leverone: My greatest pleasure is in hearing from a reader how much he or she enjoyed my work. Some guy name Bidinotto did an outstanding interview with the great thriller writer Lee Child a few years ago, and something Child said in that piece really struck a chord with me: “We’re here to entertain the audience. The audience comes first, second, and third. If you ever lose sight of that, you are sunk.”

With that in mind, the thing I’m probably most proud of is when a reader tries one of my books and then buys a second, and then a third. One of the challenges facing every writer who is mostly unknown is getting people to try our work. Once someone’s read one of my books, I’m honored and proud if they like it enough to read more.

The Vigilante Author: Like me, you seem to have strong political opinions, Allan. Do yours find their way into your novels?

Allan Leverone: You know, I’ve been voting in presidential elections since 1980, and it seems in every one, pundits say “this is one of the most critical elections ever for the future of our nation.” And they’re probably all correct, to a degree. But this election, at this point in time, really seemed to fit that description. I do have strong political opinions, because it matters to me what kind of nation my children and grandchildren are going to inherit.

That said, I don’t set out to write fiction with a strictly political bent. One thing that really chaps me as a reader is when the author sticks commentary into a novel, usually out of the blue and having little or nothing to do with the plot, that advances his or her political agenda. It might not bother me as much if I didn’t so often disagree with that agenda.

But if you read enough of my work, it probably won’t take too long to figure out where I stand on the political landscape. I don’t advertise it in my work, but I don’t shy away from it, either.

The Vigilante Author: You’ve migrated between traditional publishing and self-publishing. I’d like to hear about your odyssey, and what you’ve concluded about the various options open to authors.

Allan Leverone: Timing is everything, right? I signed the contract with Medallion Press for publication of my debut thriller, FINAL VECTOR, in December 2009, with an anticipated publication date of February 2011. At the time I signed with Medallion, Amazon’s Kindle had been out for a couple of years, and a few forward-thinking writers were publishing their own work, but the general consensus among agents and writers was that self-publishing was akin to committing career suicide.

I had racked up an impressive array of rejections from agents and publishers by that time, but I anticipated a long and mutually beneficial relationship with Medallion. They were my new family, publishing-wise. Until I submitted my second thriller, THE LONELY MILE, and earned a rejection from my new family, with barely more feedback than if the book had come straight out of the slush pile. I have to admit, that one stung a little, even with a couple of hundred rejections under my belt.

By now it was the spring of 2011, and bestselling author Vincent Zandri, who I had become friends with after he very graciously agreed to read and blurb FINAL VECTOR, could not stop raving about a small press called StoneHouse Ink, which had published several of his backlist titles and which seemed to be doing everything right. I knew I wanted in, and I submitted THE LONELY MILE to them, and they loved it. StoneHouse published THE LONELY MILE and my next book, a supernatural suspense novel titled PASKAGANKEE.

The Vigilante Author: I know StoneHouse and the author in charge, Aaron Patterson. They’re one of the finest small presses out there. But that, too, was just a way station for you?

Allan Leverone: After PASKAGANKEE it finally occurred to me that the publishing landscape was changing so rapidly, there was really no longer any overriding reason why I needed a publisher. I could contract out the editing, the cover art, etc., and then retain complete control over my work. A lot of people would argue I figured out the obvious long after everyone else had, but eventually I got there, and that’s all that counts.

So to answer your question (finally): I love the independence offered by self-publishing, and although it’s a lot of work, I really feel like my career is finally my own. I would recommend the “indie” experience to every author, with one important caveat: You had better be willing to work hard, and to treat your writing career with the respect it deserves, otherwise you’ll end up spinning your wheels or worse.

The Vigilante Author: Allan, I couldn’t agree more. Any writer who thinks self-publishing is a short-cut is in for a rude awakening. Like anything else that offers great rewards, it also requires the self-responsibility to face risks and exert a lot of effort.

What qualities do you think are most important for any would-be writer? And what advice, if any, would you offer them?

Allan Leverone: If you had asked me this question five years ago, my answer would have been persistence. It’s incredibly difficult and stressful dealing with rejection after rejection, from agents as well as publishers, and it really takes a lot of mental stamina to get up and keep going in the face of almost constant negativity, especially when a lot of the rejections are tempered with quite positive commentary on the work being submitted.

Now, however, with the ease of self-publishing and the ready availability of electronic publishing platforms, I believe the answer to your question has changed. It is hugely important for the would-be writer to maintain a critical self-awareness. It would be so easy to throw some crap together, slap a cover on it, and rush it out into the marketplace. Plenty of writers are doing exactly that. But if you’re serious about your work and are looking at the long-term, creating quality work is the only thing that’s going to build a base of support and keep readers coming back.

I’ve always been a perfectionist, and in this environment, at this point in time, I don’t know if there is any more valuable trait for a writer to possess.

The Vigilante Author: Again, I couldn’t agree more. Indie authors are competing with the best works by the best authors, backed by the biggest publishers. So, to succeed, we have to strive to be first-rate in every aspect of our writing, and in the production values and marketing of our work.

Any closing thoughts for our readers here?

Allan Leverone: First, I would like to congratulate you, Robert, on the incredible success of HUNTER, and wish you best of luck on the followup and all of your work moving forward. It clearly resonates with readers and I’m certain will continue to do so. Thanks so much for having me here today and for asking some outstanding questions. I only hope I haven’t driven every last one of your readers to head for the hills.

To readers, I would just like to say thank you to everyone who has read one of my books. I wish I could thank each of you personally. There are so many great choices when it comes to reading for pleasure that I’m honestly humbled whenever someone reads my work. I love to write, and when I’m doing it, you the readers are never far from my mind.

The Vigilante Author: Thanks for the kind words. And I’m sure that the only place readers of this interview will head now is to wherever they can buy your books. How can they do that, Allan, and how can they contact you, or learn more about you and your work?

Allan Leverone: All of my books—and that includes four novels, three novellas and a short story collection—are available at Amazon. All of my work is at Barnes and Noble as well, with the exception of REVENANT, which is exclusive to Amazon in the Kindle Select Program until late December. Readers interested in my two limited-edition, collectible, mini-hardcover horror novellas can check at DarkFuse Publications for availability—they are fine, high-quality volumes I’m very proud of.

I love to hear from readers. There’s a contact form at my website, www.allanleverone.com, and if you use that, I promise you I will respond. If you want to tell me my work is wonderful, I never get tired of hearing it, but if you feel it could be improved, if you didn’t like the way my book developed, or the twist didn’t seem realistic, or the dialogue wasn’t right, whatever, please feel free to let me know. Any reasonable criticism is welcome; it’s the only way to improve in any undertaking.

The Vigilante Author: Thanks so much for spending the time with me, Allan. And I hope this interview brings you many new readers.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/Allan.Leverone Allan Leverone

    Robert, thanks a lot for having me, I very much appreciate it!

    • Anonymous

      Allan, it was an absolute pleasure. You and your work deserve the attention. Thanks for spending the time.

  • Donna Galanti

    Fun, witty, and fascinating interview Al! And funny too: “I mostly stayed out
    of trouble because there weren’t enough kids in town to form a decent
    gang.” LOL! I also think you need a character now in your next book
    named Rocco Piccolomini. It’s a musical name. Great for a guy with a machine gun – or a machete. As an author myself, I loved hearing your many different paths to publication and how you are still navigating this new publishing landscape and will most likely continue to do so with success. Good luck to you!