Please welcome Robert Levy to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Glittering World was published on February 10th by Gallery Books.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Robert: I co-authored with a classmate my first poem at the age of five or six. It was about a family of mice, and our poetry teacher Marty transcribed it and hung it on the wall in the stairwell. I vividly recall looking up at that giant piece of paper with our poem on it and feeling nothing so much as amazement: something I'd written was out there for the whole school to see! I've been chasing that feeling ever since, and having my debut novel published all these many years later is a startlingly similar experience.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser? How does being a playwright affect (or not) your novel writing?
Robert: I'm a pantster who wishes he were a plotter. I plot, and then usually fail to adhere to my outline. There are significant moments in my work that I pin down early, such as the midpoint and denouement, but outside of that I land up winging it a lot of the time. This can lead to both fortuitous serendipity and brutal dead ends, depending on the day. I haven't given up on trying to outline more, however!
As for being a playwright, the only relatable skill I've found directly connected to writing in other forms is dialogue. I've written plays since I was fifteen, and they live and die on the dialogue level, so the spoken word is something I've been tuned into for most of my life. It's by far the part of writing prose that comes the most naturally to me.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Robert: Ah, what a fitting follow-up question! In terms of writing this novel, I'd have to say that I definitely reached a point about 3/4 of the way through the drafting process when I couldn't for the life of me see the entire piece at once. This really rattled me, because as authors we're used to being these kind of godlike figures that can oversee our make-believe worlds as if from above, and not being able to sense the story's overall arc was disturbing. I powered through this dark night of the soul, however, and was relieved to be back on track.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?
Robert: So, so many! Elizabeth Hand, Truman Capote, Laird Barron, Shirley Jackson, Toni Morrison, Dan Chaon, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Jennifer Egan, James Baldwin, Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Lanford Wilson, David Mitchell... I could go on all day.
TQ: Describe The Glittering World in 140 characters or less.
Robert: A dark contemporary fairy tale about four friends vacationing in Cape Breton and the wondrous and horrible things that happen to them there.
TQ: Tell us something about The Glittering World that is not in the book description.
Robert: The word "glittering," like the word "shining," makes most people think of light. But for something to truly glitter, it has to move in and out of the dark. For me, this novel is at heart about the journey in and out of darkness, and hence in and out of light, how one cannot possibly exist without the other.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Glittering World? What appealed to you about writing a supernatural thriller?
Robert: The novel's basic situation is inspired by life experience: traveling with my boyfriend (now husband) and another couple on vacation to Nova Scotia. As for the supernatural thriller aspect, I've long accepted that everything I write has at the very least a deeply creepy undercurrent, which is probably because that's what I most like to read. I can't help it!
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Glittering World?
Robert: The bulk of my research was on Cape Breton and the supernatural element of the novel, which is an indigenous race of humanoid insectile beings that possess the ability to shift their shapes, among other powers. The setting of the novel, as it turns out, is inextricably connected to the essential nature of these beings.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Robert: Of the four protagonists, the easiest to write was probably Elisa. All four are searching for meaning and validation outside themselves, but she's the most hyperaware of this fact, and hence struggles with it the most. I think that's true of me as well. As for the hardest, it would probably be Gabe, which is kind of surprising, seeing as how in some ways he's a younger version of myself. Maybe it was having to tap back into those earlier, rawer emotions that made it somewhat difficult.
TQ: Which question about The Glittering World do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Q: How did you manage to write such a heartbreaking work of staggering genius?
A: Why, thanks so much for asking, how kind of you to say! It was a very tortuous, angst-filled process, and necessitated a vast intake of red wine and stockpiled Halloween candy. Please send more of both as soon as possible.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from The Glittering World.
Maureen had told them about the canoes docked at the water, and after clearing the dishes they sauntered down the steep hill, bright sparkles on the stony shore cast by the early afternoon sun that made the wet rocks appear dusted with glass shards, if not quite diamonds.
TQ: What's next?
Robert: I'm going on a book tour, which I'm super-excited about, and then it's back to work on a heap of new projects, including my next novel. You can read more about all of this at my home away from home, TheRobertLevy.com.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Robert: Thanks so much for having me!
The Glittering World Publisher: Gallery Books, February 10, 2015 Format: Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages List Price: $26.00 (print) ISBN: 9781476774527 (print) Review Copy: Provided by the Publisher
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...
The Glittering World is an intelligent supernatural thriller that kept me riveted to its pages. Michael Whitley or Blue, as he’s called by friends, is off to Canada to sell the house left to him by his grandmother, a woman he hasn’t seen or heard from since he was five years old. Due to some desperate financial difficulties pertaining to his restaurant in New York, Blue is eager to sign the legal papers, but he wants to see the old place first hoping to stir up the lost memories of his youth. Vibrant Elisa, Blue’s newly married best friend, persuades Blue that he needs some R & R so a week away from it all while checking out the place would do just the trick. Blue invites Gabe, his “it’s complicated” companion; an emotionally wounded and physically scarred young man. Jason, Elisa’s husband, books four plane tickets from New York to Halifax and the pilgrimage to Blue’s birthplace begins. Blue rents a vacation cottage by a lake, near the ruins of the Starling Cove Friendship Colony, on the remote island of Cape Breton where he had lived as a child. On the night of their arrival, at a party held by their neighbors, Blue has the sensation of being watched from the woods. The next day, during a hike with his friends, he hears strange, alien voices. Something in Starling Cove awakens the memories of his long forgotten past and the mysteries that surround it. Something beckons to him and seems to welcome him home.
Everything about this story impressed me. Robert Levy’s rich descriptions will envelop his readers in an eerie world filled with unfamiliar sounds, smells and feelings. The four companions' adventures in the forest and mountains of this secluded place are packed as much with peculiar events as with their personal baggage. The Glittering World is written in four separate sections, one from each of the main characters’ point of view but advancing with the unfolding events. Levy explores each person’s motivations and personality in a way that opens them completely to the reader. The complexities of the human spirit and soul are deeply delved into as each of his character's vulnerabilities and suffering is revealed. As I learned each person’s background, I couldn’t help but feel compassion for them, even if I didn’t necessarily like them. I hesitate to share too much of the book, as its mystery is delectable when savored. I wager this novel will be eagerly scoffed up by book clubs. I highly recommend The Glittering World - it’s a mesmerizing and thought-provoking story that will inspire both discussion and wonder.
Photo by Colin Douglas Gray
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, will be published worldwide on February 10 by Gallery/Simon & Schuster.