Robert Levy is an author of unsettling stories and plays whose work has been seen Off-Broadway. A Harvard graduate subsequently trained as a forensic psychologist, his work has been called “frank and funny” (Time Magazine), “idiosyncratic and disarming” (The New York Times), “ambitious and clever” (Variety), “smart” (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) and “bloody brave” (the UK’s SFX Magazine). His first novel, the contemporary dark fairy tale THE GLITTERING WORLD, was published worldwide on February 10 by Gallery/Simon & Schuster.
Robert kindly answered a few of my questions about his debut novel, and more!
Kristin Centorcelli: Congrats on your new book, The Glittering World! You’ve trained as a forensic psychologist and are also a playwright, but have you always wanted to write fiction? Will you tell us a little more about that progression?
Robert Levy: Thank you! Yes, I’ve always wanted to write fiction, and in fact have been doing so fairly regularly since I was at least fifteen. My high school had a playwriting elective, and it was there that I started exploring that turf, though my heart has always really been in writing novels and short stories. I went on to study writing in college, and have taken numerous workshops since, including attending the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop.
As for being trained as a forensic psychologist, I’ve always been drawn to the different, the outside, the other. So when after college I learned about the field of forensic psychology–which I understood at the time to be an extended examination of abnormal psychology, though in fact it covers any and all intersections between psychology and the criminal justice system–I jumped at the chance to study it at the graduate level. Psychology in general is an area that has really informed and infused my writing. In fact, one of my protagonists in The Glittering World is a therapist who himself has suffered from PTSD, which was the subject of my master’s thesis.
KC: The Glittering World is told from several characters’ viewpoints, and indeed you pulled the idea from an event in real life, but was there one character that you personally identified with the most?
RL: Honestly, no. I share various traits with them all–I would try to delineate these traits here were they not so alternately self-critical or self-aggrandizing–and yet the main characters are wholly distinct individuals from myself. All four of them are me, and none of them are. Although I think that might be the case with all my writing…
KC: The Glittering World could definitely be called a contemporary fairy tale, features some very unusual underground inhabitants, and it’s very atmospheric. What kind of research did you in order to create such a menacing, and also beautiful, atmosphere?
RL: I did a ton of research on flora and fauna indigenous to Cape Breton, as well as on its mythologies, including the old-country beliefs that immigrated there from Scotland, England and Ireland. In addition to these beliefs are contemporary superstitions of extraterrestrial and ultraterrestrial life, the latter being a term I borrowed for the book that indicates those born of Earth that live among us or beside us but are not of us. I needed to know it all before I felt I could start to have the characters hypothesize about what exactly is going on in mysterious Starling Cove.
I also had to learn a great deal about life underground, and how someone could successfully negotiate an underground landscape. I reread a lot of Laird Barron short stories, so that helped a lot, especially on the subterranean front!
KC: How does your creative process most differ from writing plays to writing fiction?
RL: In truth, it’s been a while since I wrote a play, but novel writing is vastly more complicated, grueling, and involving: you can bang out a decent play draft in a month, for example. And though writing novels is much more of a commitment, I’ve also found it to be far more rewarding for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that you can get the work in front of so many more eyes, all across the globe.
KC: What authors have influenced you the most, in writing, and in life?
RL: So, so many writers have influenced me I can’t even begin. But I’ll try! Elizabeth Hand, Laird Barron, Jennifer Egan, Nathan Ballingrud, Dan Chaon, Shirley Jackson, James Baldwin, Margaret Atwood, Lanford Wilson, Toni Morrison, Kristin McCloy, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Christopher Barzak, Livia Llewellyn, Joan Didion… I should probably stop because the list could continue forever.
KC: What are you currently reading?
RL: Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn. It’s a horror novel that’s not coming out until April but my editor sent me the galley and so far it is seriously creeping me out.
KC: What’s next for you?
RL: Finishing up my book tour, then back to work on the new novel, in addition to shopping a screenplay, revising a short story I’ve been working on for over twenty years, and probably more. Thanks so much for having me!