June 1, 2021

Lev Raphael And The Department Of Death

Lev Raphael And The Department Of Death

Ep:086 Lev Raphael is the author and co-author of 27 books in a dozen genres from memoir to mystery.  His first book of short stories, Dancing on Tisha B'Av, won a Lambda Literary Award. He’s published hundreds of stories, essays, articles, and book reviews in a wide range of newspapers, magazines and journals. Lev has also won Amelia’s Reed Smith Fiction Prize and International Quarterly’s Crossing Boundaries Prize for Innovative Prose, awarded by novelist D.M. Thomas, author of The White Hotel.  His suspense novel Assault with a Deadly Lie was a Midwest Book Award finalist.

Lev’s fiction and essays have appeared in over 24 anthologies in the U.S. and England, and they are taught at colleges and universities around the country—which means he's become homework. His fiction has been analyzed in scholarly journals, books, and at academic conferences.  He's been a newspaper columnist and book reviewer, produced his own radio talk show, and reviewed books for newspapers, magazines, public radio stations, online magazines and websites. You can connect with him on Facebook or Twitter, his author website, or his Write Without Borders website, where he mentors authors online.

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Lev Raphael's Website
Lev's Writer Mentoring Site, Write Without Borders

Cold Was The Ground by B.A. Black

Brad Shreve's Website


Transcript
Brad Shreve:

In this episode, Lev Raphael introduces a new book that takes place in one killer of a college and once again Justene is forced to create a new category for her book recommendation. I'm Brad Shreve and you're listening to Queer Writers of Crime, where we feature LGBTQ authors of mystery, suspense, and thriller novels. Hey Justene, you know, I was out of town all last week.

Justene:

Yes you were, you've been just on the road so much,

Brad Shreve:

I want to tell you, I was visiting family in Minnesota and as much as I love my family, it's the end of May. And there was a chance of snow

Justene:

just terrible. I don't understand how people live like that.

Brad Shreve:

Well, like I told them, I said, you guys wonder why I put up with earthquakes in sunny, California.

Justene:

Yeah. but you know, we've got, we have wildfires drought, heat waves.

Brad Shreve:

But we also don't have snow in May.

Justene:

No, we don't have snow in May. But I can respect how people live there. I. just of all the weather conditions, snows, my least favorite.

Brad Shreve:

Well, it was beautiful. It was really nice to see trees,

Justene:

Yes. Although I have, trees, I live in a part of Los Angeles where there's trees.

Brad Shreve:

yeah, but we don't have trees. Like they have trees.

Justene:

I don't know. We're a tree city, you know? My suburb is named as a national tree city.

Brad Shreve:

Oh really?

Justene:

Yes. I, have redwoods and I have Oaks and Japanese Maples.

Brad Shreve:

It's been a while since I've been on your side of the city, so I'll have to take a drive.

Justene:

That's right.

Brad Shreve:

Well, I will say it didn't snow, but it was the damn coldest rain I ever have felt in my life. It was like, a half degree away from snow.

Justene:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well, you know, I've, I've lived in winter a lot of my life and, and, and those is I've felt that rain it's like, oh gosh.

Brad Shreve:

Snow it would have been better because it wouldn't have drenched your clothing.

Justene:

Yes, yes. Yeah. A cold rain is I think, significantly worse.

Brad Shreve:

Yes, it was awful, but I was really happy to visit my family. There was a lot of love going around,

Justene:

Yeah.

Brad Shreve:

So I'm, uh, going to go through several things here before we get to your recommendation. I'm going to try not to eat too much into it.

Justene:

That's all right. I got them quick and snappy sometimes.

Brad Shreve:

Okay. The guest today want a welcome back. Love Raphael.

Justene:

Yeah.

Brad Shreve:

He's always a lot of fun in addition to be fun. He's interesting as hell. He

Justene:

sure is.

Brad Shreve:

So he's always got something talk about. We really had a good time. As you know, ReQueered Tales asked me to write the forward to his older novel that you reissued, The Death of a Constant Lover.

Justene:

That was the last one we put out, we are putting out number four in the next month or so, the next one is called Little Miss Evil. So we're republishing all of his series.

Brad Shreve:

Well, I felt very honored to be asked. And today we talk about his newest novel and brand new of the Nick Hoffman mysteries and it's Department of Death.

Justene:

Wonderful.

Brad Shreve:

I'll tell you that college professor just stumbles on bodies all the time.

Justene:

Yeah.

Brad Shreve:

And we discussed that as well. I want to let her know, listeners know about something, you know, every week I tell them there's links in the show notes.

Justene:

Yeah.

Brad Shreve:

Well, there's a problem Forty-eight percent of our listeners listen on Apple or iTunes

Justene:

Yeah. You know, used to be a higher percentage, I guess we're dissuading them.

Brad Shreve:

It has gone down. There are a lot more they're coming in on the other apps, but looking over the history of the show, 48% are on Apple or iTunes. Well, Apple a few weeks ago, did a whole series of tremendous updates and the results have been disastrous. They're still working to fix all the problems they created, but one of the worst is. I hope this has changed by the time they're listening to this, but the links no longer work in the show notes on Apple,

Justene:

Oh, the horror.

Brad Shreve:

the, the horror. So

Justene:

They're going to have to open up the webpage, right?

Brad Shreve:

Well, exactly. That's what I was going to say. If you're on Apple and you're looking at the show notes and there's no link and you should be clicking on them, If they don't work, go to Queer Writers of Crime dot com our website and they are working there. So if anybody has ever has a problem, because not all apps do have links in the show notes anyway, but Apple used to, well, they really. They blew it this time. So hopefully it's worked. Hopefully it's done by the time they hear this, but if not go to the website, Queer Writers of Crime dot com.

Justene:

Well, you know, I always am very suspicious of Apple's motives. I'm sure that they thought, gosh, people are clicking on these links and linking and leaving Apple. We don't want that to happen.

Brad Shreve:

N o and I will tell you from a pod-casters point of view, that the same thing happened. They, they made some nice things to make our lives easier in the process. They took some things away that were very important. So I don't like it when Apple does updates. Anyway. And now we're going to toot our own horn and I hope people are okay with this. Uh,

Justene:

You know, I think by now they would have turned us off if they weren't. Okay. Because we do this every week. We're all. What are we a hundred shows in?

Brad Shreve:

We're not a hundred. We're getting there soon.

Justene:

I don't know, but we're tuned our horn from an awful long time.

Brad Shreve:

Yes I know. And I hope they love us enough to listen through it all. Well, I don't read our reviews very often, so I decided today I'm going to read some. Okay. So here, I'm going to give them a quick list. I'm not going to read all of them and I'm not going to read the entire reviews. I just took out the highlights.

Justene:

Okay. You're going to name the reviewers, right?

Brad Shreve:

Yes.

Justene:

Good.

Brad Shreve:

The first one is from Davey in lock down in Canada. Hopefully he'll change that named soon. Yeah.

Justene:

They're not coming out anytime soon, Brad.

Brad Shreve:

I hope for their sake. It won't be too long, but Dave in locked down said Justene's recommendations are my reading list and her delivery and banter with Brad makes me smile.

Justene:

Oh, how wonderful.

Brad Shreve:

And I want to say the banter with you makes me smile too. In addition, Davey said Brad's interviews, there's a great mixture of guests and alongside the books and writing, he managed to highlight his guest Queer experience.

Justene:

That's wonderful.

Brad Shreve:

The next one is from Potato Lady.

Justene:

Oh, my

Brad Shreve:

I don't know if she lives in Idaho or just loves the, a lot of potatoes.

Justene:

That was what Idaho was one of the places I lived with winter, you know?

Brad Shreve:

Oh, you lived there once.

Justene:

Yeah. I lived there once.

Brad Shreve:

It's beautiful. I've never seen it by. I always wanted to go there. It looks absolutely gorgeous. Well, Potato Lady says our show. It's an enthralling and engaging podcast

Justene:

That's great.

Brad Shreve:

And we have another Canadian. We must be a hit in Canada. Because I have Shabbat from Canada and he said that, listen, to find out what's inspired these people to be themselves, no excuses.

Justene:

That's great.

Brad Shreve:

And then the next one is Olivier Bosman It's nice to know he is, was not only a guest, but he's a fan of the show.

Justene:

Yeah.

Brad Shreve:

And he said the interviews are thorough and entertaining. And the banter between Brad and Justene is fun. Love it.

Justene:

That's good.

Brad Shreve:

Coming down to the end here, Mystery Rat's Maze from United States.

Justene:

Ah, They've got their own little, production going. I believe that I know, I know they're a newsletter or they're an online magazine, but I think they also have a podcast.

Brad Shreve:

Yes, they do, a brief podcast where they read a chapter or a short story every week, or I'm not sure if it's every week, but pretty often, Mystery Rat's Maze says the show is always fun and I get to learn about so many great LGBTQ authors.

Justene:

Yes.

Brad Shreve:

And just one more. This is from Andy Pants, New York city. And obviously from the United States,

Justene:

Yeah.

Brad Shreve:

He said, Brad always finds a way to have an engaging and fun conversation. And Justene's recommendations are always on point. Highly recommend.

Justene:

Great.

Brad Shreve:

So for everybody else out there, please leave reviews. It really helps when people are searching for new podcasts and they stumble on it. And if they see reviews on there, they're like, I'm going to check this show out. So I asked people earlier in the year to help us double our listenership this year. I can say we've already gone up 25%, so we're on a good start. It really helps. Most of the reviews are again on Apple and iTTunes because they really make it easy. to do reviews. if you, I have an iPhone, you can do it on Apple. If you don't have an iPhone, everybody has access to iTunes. So if they could leave a review or on some of the other apps that do allow reviews,

Justene:

That's great.

Brad Shreve:

And there's two other people that I want to thank,

Justene:

Okay.

Brad Shreve:

We had recent donations. One was from Arthur and one was from Rich Stevens. And they were both very generous and for other listeners out there. If you would like to help defray the cost of the show, it is. wonderful and much appreciate and again, they just need to go to Buy Me a Cup Of Coffee They can go there and leave a donation. So again, remember what I said about you, Apple folks about the link's not working and go to the website and click it. Big letters there. It says, Buy Me a Cup of Coffee.

Justene:

Yeah.

Brad Shreve:

So again, thank you to Arthur and Rich Stevems

Justene:

You know, I'm really glad people like my recommendations because there are a lot of good authors out there who don't have a chance to make their books known, and people really need to pick up some of these books and read them and encourage these authors as well as, building a large following for gay mysteries.

Brad Shreve:

And I will tell you, I was chatting with a, host of another podcast, last week And I told him. I honestly feel Justene has helped get some people get their writing career off the ground. And I truly believe that

Justene:

Oh, good. Well, that's always, always nice. I'm a big fan of authors in general and many in specific.

Brad Shreve:

I know. That's why I asked you to be the book recommender on this show

Justene:

Wow. I just assumed I was the one number 100 on the list in the first 99. Turns you down.

Brad Shreve:

Well, I didn't want to say that, but anyway, I love that people like our banter because anybody that remembers our earliest show, this is when we started the show, Justin, and I didn't know each other whatsoever, other than I've seen her leave a lot of reviews. And I love her because she left some nice reviews on my book. So I asked you to be on the show and let's just say the fact that we didn't know each other, it, it kind of showed.

Justene:

Well, and it's also a little difficult to be talking into a microphone when you're not used to talking into a microphone,

Brad Shreve:

That's true. That does get, that does take a little time to get used to

Justene:

And, but, you know, I'm glad you stuck with us. uh, you know, we talked a lot about whether just go with the interviews or put the recommendations at the end and you know, we'd say, okay, let's just do it a little bit longer and eventually a little bit longer. Good turned into, oh, not a problem.

Brad Shreve:

Yes, and I am happy to have you on the show with me. I really enjoy our conversations every week

Justene:

Me too.

Brad Shreve:

and addition to between our recordings.

Justene:

Oh, we don't need to tell people that.

Brad Shreve:

All right. And I that's, that's all I have about tooting our own horn. I could go on with more reviewers, but you know, I think people get the point.

Justene:

Yes. All right. Are we up to my recommendation?

Brad Shreve:

I believe we are.

Justene:

Okay. My book today is called Cold. Was the Ground. A Houston Mars mystery. And it is the first book in the Houston Mars mystery series. a second book came out last Friday, May 28th. So I decided with the new book out, I should pick up the first and let people know whether to read it.

Brad Shreve:

All right. Well, I'm going to guess you're going to let them know they should.

Justene:

Yeah, well maybe they should.

Brad Shreve:

Who is this by?

Justene:

this is by B.A. Black.

Brad Shreve:

B.A. Black.

Justene:

Yes.

Brad Shreve:

All right.

Justene:

Well, I'm not sure they should. I, if they, if they, picked it up and read it, it's worth their while, but I will tell you that the murders in this one are particularly gruesome,

Brad Shreve:

I love that.

Justene:

I know you love that. but gay men are the target. It was in the 1930s where nobody much cared about it, but, uh, You know, there are really gruesome murders that are just, you know, so inventive that they could never happen in real life. And you're just like, wow, that's a really good way. And then there's other murders which are straightforward. Somebody shoots somebody and then later they shoot somebody else. But, uh, these murders were hate crimes and were particularly ugly. So if, if, if that's just not your cup of tea or not your cup of tea this week, Don't read it before bedtime. That's all I have to say.

Brad Shreve:

And I want to say movie buffs probably know that older movies, even up to the seventies, the gay protagonist or, secondary gay character always was killed was the killer or killed themselves. because we live such miserable lives according to the old movies. So I do think even though there's a lot of murders in the 1930s is appropriate.

Justene:

Yes. Well, the PI in this case, Houston, Mars is himself gay. So it's not as if it's just a, a killing off gays because they're, you know, unimportant. I mean, this is a it's a book with a very strong gay protagonist. Houston Mars is comfortable with who he is aware of the risks. And is not, you know, not particularly deterred by it, he's careful, but he's not deterred by the risks. Um, and he certainly doesn't deny his own sexuality. His partner is less comfortable. At the beginning of the book, it's not clear what Sal's sexuality is, although he is, somewhat. critical of Houston taking on a case with gay victims, for fear that it's going to, you know, somebody in the investigations going to rat him out as being gay. And there's a gay police officer was also equally concerned about getting involved with gay victims, which is not something I had ever really thought of before. Um, you know, at a time in history when like 1930, you had gay PIs and gay police officers who didn't want to investigate gay murders because it just, hit too close to home or led to a certain amount of suspicion. As we go along in the book, it's clear that Houston likes Sal quite a bit and Sal shares that attraction. but it's still uncomfortable with it Sal he doesn't date women when he hangs out opium, dens. And so Houston's got to go and pick them up from the opium den and take them home and, dry them out on a pretty regular basis at the beginning of the book.

Brad Shreve:

Didn't Sherlock Holmes do a lot of opium?

Justene:

Yes, but I don't think they fell and ended up unconscious with his wallet stolen in an opium den.

Brad Shreve:

I don't remember Watson ever having to slap him up and wake him up.

Justene:

that's right.

Brad Shreve:

All right. Well, I'm sorry to interrupt. Go

Justene:

Although, you know, when in the more recent Sherlock Holmes, Watson often tries to convince Sherlock not to eat or to smoke opium. Modern sensibilities. So 1930, it's a depression. and People go hungry and Houston and Sal are barely, barely making ends meet. And so some of, some of Sal's concerns might have been, you know, reason enough to dissuade Houston, but they need the money. And when, a wealthy the woman known in society comes in and reports her husband missing, she says the police, aren't going to look at it because, he. he is a gay man. I can't remember the term she used, but good gay was not what was in 1930. And I am comfortable with that, but I want to protect his secret. And so that's why I'm coming to you to please find him, Along the way, they end up going to a private country house on the lake where they have private parties for gay men. and then they go to the other side of town where they have seedy bars. And the whole gamut in between of people, places where gay men hang out and the tension between. them and the police is, occasionally the police have to get involved, but they don't want to get involved. Now, the first victim, the husband, when he's found, he's dressed as a woman and. they're not sure whether somebody dressed him like that afterwards, or if that was something he did for himself and they use the word eonist, E O N I S T. And you know, I did some reading about it and it's not clear to me whether it was, it was used at that time to refer to transgender or transvestite. Because I think at the time they really saw those two things as the same, they talked about, I mean, some of the literature says, and this is, this is me down a rabbit hole, as you can imagine, some of the literature says, you know, they, they want to be the other gender, but then they get turned on by the thought of being the other gender. So right.

Brad Shreve:

Well, I have never heard that word before. I know it wasn't long ago where they were all bunched into transsexual.

Justene:

Yes. Yes. Uh, now, I don't know, perhaps some of our listeners can enlighten me. Yeah. That was, that was sort of a, you know, historical research rabbit hole. I went on at the end, they solved the case and up in the usual thrilling chase, the killer killer chase them, run around and get hurt. scenario And it's all very well-written there's not a lot of, fluff in here. Every scene leads into first and you were at the edge of the seat the whole time, but the murders are gruesome, As you can probably guess from the fact that, you know, this suspicion that they dressed him up in women's clothes afterwards to make him look bad.

Brad Shreve:

Yeah. that sounds sad, but probably appropriate

Justene:

Yes. Yes. So it is getting a new type of recommendation. I had to invent an entirely new category and this. is getting an intense recommendation. Okay.

Brad Shreve:

You did a new category, not too long ago.

Justene:

Yeah, that was great. New category fun. But uh, this one just really deserved this category of it's an intense recommendation.

Brad Shreve:

you know, you're going to end up having to make a whole book of all your different recommendation names.

Justene:

Okay. Uh, well, I, you know, we're still under 10 Brad I figured, you know, once I get to a dozen, I'm going to start figuring out why I'm, I can combine so. I had thrilling, I had intriguing and neither of them really fit this. It's just was really intense.

Brad Shreve:

yeah, there's a difference.

Justene:

Yeah. Yeah.

Brad Shreve:

Well, that was a short and sweet recommendation.

Justene:

you know, some books you don't want to give a lot of spoilers for.

Brad Shreve:

Once again, I want to thank all the folks I listed and I think I'm get right to my interview with Lev Raphael

Justene:

Sounds great.

Brad Shreve:

Hello Lev

Lev Raphael:

Hey, good morning. How are you?

Brad Shreve:

I'm doing very well. Thank you for being on the show. And before I do your formal introduction, I'm going to tell you something I'm going to hold you in suspense because after your introduction, I'm going to tell you who is the luckiest person on earth.

Lev Raphael:

Oh boy, it's just a, it was decided by a contest or,

Brad Shreve:

No, this hit me,

Lev Raphael:

oh, I can't wait.

Brad Shreve:

You'll know very soon. Lev Raphael's book of short stories, Dancing on Tisha B'Av won a Lambda Literary award. He's published hundreds of short stories, essays, articles, and book reviews. His fiction essays have appeared in over 24 anthologies in the U S and England. And then they are taught at colleges and universities around the country, which means he's homework. He's been newspaper columnist, a book reviewer. Producer of his own radio talk show and reviewed books for newspapers, magazines, public radio stations, Lev is the author and coauthor of 27 books and dozens of genres from memoir to mystery. His most recent novel Department of Death released last month, which is April, 2021, depending on when you're listening to this show. And it is the 10th in the Nick Hoffman mystery series. Okay. Lev are you ready to hear who the luckiest person on earth is?

Lev Raphael:

You got to tell me.

Brad Shreve:

Okay, well, you're familiar with Murder She Wrote,

Lev Raphael:

Yes, of

Brad Shreve:

okay. Jessica Fletcher's town was called Cabot Cove.

Lev Raphael:

I remember that. Yeah. I used to watch the show. Yeah.

Brad Shreve:

And then in your Nick Hoffman mystery series, Nick is a professor at, State University of Michigan.

Lev Raphael:

Yes.

Brad Shreve:

So it dawned on me as I was reading your novel, that the luckiest person on earth is one who grows up in Cabot Cove, attends the State University of Michigan and lives to tell about it.

Lev Raphael:

Uh, when I've done readings from, from the mystery series around the country, there's almost always somebody who says, well, isn't it. believable that, you know, Nick Hoffman is English. Professor is going to keep stumbling across. Uh, a body in every book or almost every book, right? Uh, cause he doesn't always discover the body and you one time before I could even answer it, someone at the back of the auditorium said one body isn't enough kill a whole department. So I figured this was either a disgruntled professor who didn't get tenure or maybe a graduate student having trouble with his dissertation. But. But, you know, that's what you expect in an amateur mystery in amateur crime fiction, you expect a dead body and you expect that in crime fiction in general, you know, and in thrillers you expect a really high body count. So that's just part of that's part of what people think is going to happen in a mystery. What I've tried to do with each one of the books in this series is, a different form. So that they're, you know, in one, there was a body at the very beginning, but I don't, you know, one, there was a body showing up, midway making each book different, both different from the other ones that came before and also making sure that each book is a standalone. So someone could pick up any book in the series and they would feel fine. I know there's some people who feel like if they like a series, they have to start with number one and read all the way through, that's a perfectly acceptable approach if that works for you, but I wanted to make sure I've always wanted to make sure that these books stand on their own. So Department of Death, even though it's the 10th. In the mystery series, people could start there and work backwards, work any way they want.

Brad Shreve:

Yeah, I'm a firm believer in that. It's always best to start in the beginning as a general rule, but I like a series where I can just grab one off the shelf randomly and I'll still get it. And it's the way you write. The Nick Hoffman series. There's been progression obviously, but you, you haven't lost anything when you pick, if somebody picked up now up as their first novel, they wouldn't be lost in any way, shape or form. In fact, they would be very happy. They picked up this novel.

Lev Raphael:

Yeah. It's getting great reviews on Amazon, which is always a thrill.

Brad Shreve:

Well, you told me going back to, uh, the. Unrealistic aspect of amateur sleuths, which is part of the fun. I mean, I certainly have never stumbled on a body every other week.

Lev Raphael:

It's more like every year for him or every few years. Cause the cause I, you know, because I write in so many different genres, I haven't done, uh, consistently a book every year. It's been every few years, sometimes, more than that. So it really depends for me, the mysteries are really our vacation from the other kinds of work that I do because I'm going back to a familiar place. Okay. It's not an all-inclusive spa, right. It's not a Club Med. Right. But, uh, the food is actually pretty good because Nick and Stefan, a good cooks. And I like the setting, State University of Michigan and their college town. And I liked the characters and I like making sure that they grow over time. If you pick up a murder ministry, if you pick up crime fiction, you expect at the very least a murder Now sometimes. crime fiction is less about a murder and maybe about some crimes that are being committed, like a heist book would be considered crime fiction. Um, no one has to be killed in that. So, but I've also had, when I was teaching an MSU, I had some students come up to me and at the beginning after. At the end of the first, introductory session, say, is it going to be a lot of violence in the books that we're reading these, uh, international thrillers? And I said, yes, probably. Uh, because this is a crime fiction course focusing on, thrillers and, and translation and good translations, or I wouldn't have picked them. And if you're uncomfortable with violence, Then this is probably not your course, but she stuck it out, which I thought was great. People have very interesting comments to make about mysteries. And certainly about my mysteries. I've had people say things like, I really hate your cover. Versus I really love your cover. I mean, I think one thing that's very funny and anyone out there who is an author or is, uh, planning to be an author is once you are published, you are a target. In this sense, people will say things to you that you would never imagine saying to anyone else like, with my book of short stories that won the Lambda Literary Award, someone said, you know what? I thought your stories were too short. I said, what do you mean? He said, well, I thought there was a mistake at the factory and maybe they left out the endings, which is a really interesting comment. I'm thinking. Okay. So like the endings are published separately in a separate file and then just tack them on. Um, someone said to me, you know, you really have to write about a nice lesbian and I thought, okay, I, you know, it. I think as a LGBTQ writers, we can write about good people and bad people. And if some of them happen to be gay or lesbian, that's not, it's not a requirement to have all, all of us be represented as terrific people. I think actually that's, what's changed a lot in the culture in the last 20 years. American culture is that it's okay to have a gay villain or a lesbian villain. You know, that doesn't. seem to freak people out the way it did 30 years ago when gay and lesbian representation on in the media was so slanted, if there was a psychopath, he or she was gay. Right.

Brad Shreve:

Right.

Lev Raphael:

Michael Nava who's fabulous writer. once said years ago at a conference, his most devoted fans were middle-aged white women. who read his books. And then of course it's actually one of the largest audiences anyway. So, so that was good, but that's where he got most of his fan mail from. And so I think, yes, there is an element of, uh, lack of reality, but that's what you buy into when you It's the willing suspension of disbelief. When you pick up a mystery or thriller. Okay. You know, the, the fate of the world and the thriller is not dependent on one person pushing one button, like 500 miles away in a factory where he has to cross through zombies, vampires, moats filled with alligators. I mean, that's not real, obviously, you know,

Brad Shreve:

It's real fun.

Lev Raphael:

It's fun. Of course it's fun. There was a reviewer in the New York, magazine. I can't remember which one, but he said. He was talking about superhero movies and he said, the fate of the universe is always at stake. He said, why not the fate of Passaic, New Jersey for a change? I thought that was great. I don't know if you've seen the new Angelina Jolie thriller, Who Wants Me Dead. It's set in the Pacific Northwest sort of, and it's about fi firefighting. And one of the things about it that makes it unusual is it, it's not about saving a city or a planet or anything. It's about her saving one person's life. And I, I thought that was really beautifully structured and I, and quite a fine movie.

Brad Shreve:

Yeah, I haven't watched it yet. I saw the previews to it and we put it on our, to watch list. It looks very intense.

Lev Raphael:

Yeah, it is intense. And which is what you expect. I mean, the thing, the thing with the thriller and when I used to teach mystery writing and I still do, when I work individually with people on my website, Write Without Borders dot com is that with a thriller things, just have to keep ratcheting up and up and up. Mysteries are very different because they travel in two directions. At the same time, they travel back into the past because whoever the detective or sleuth is, has to figure out what happened that created the situation in which this person could be killed and they traveled forward, but they traveled forward a lot more slowly than, thrillers. And because it's detection and looking for clues and investigation. Uh, so I did write one, one of the books in the series Assault With a Deadly Lie is written as a novel of suspense. And in that one, See that's what I wanted to do something different with this series in that one, uh, there is. It starts with a bang and it just keeps building and Nick and his, husband Stefan are in a lot of trouble and being stalked and it ends with gun violence. So it was fun for me to work with a different structure.

Brad Shreve:

How did your readers take that? Did it throw them off?

Lev Raphael:

Nope. No, I think, people loved it. Uh, I think probably more people might've read it because it was a novel of suspense as opposed to a straight on mystery.

Brad Shreve:

Let's go ahead and start talking about Nick Hoffman. We talked around him a little bit. Tell us who is Nick Hoffman? Okay.

Lev Raphael:

Well, he is a displaced New Yorker who was never mugged. And of course he keeps asking himself, why is it that in this bucolic, Midwestern college town, he keeps being involved in murder. Uh, he is. totally fine. being who he is. He came into the department of English, under a cloud because he wasn't hired directly. His partner, Stefan is a well-known writer and was hired as the writer in residence. And Nick is a spousal hire quote, unquote. That means, uh, we'll hire you. Yes. We love you. We'll give you your job and we'll find something for your a husband or wife to do or partner. so he's not really welcome. And so that's where the satire comes in because, um, it's really, especially at Department of Death, it's like, uh, it was really a slash and burn set tire of, of the craziness in academia right now. Borges called it a bald man arguing over comb. They're often seen as very little. at stake And yet the fighting about it is incredibly intense. And so when my editor at St Martin's for that book of short stories was suggesting I do a crime series. I thought academia is the perfect place. For crime, because there's all this high-minded rhetoric about a community of scholars and educating the next generation to be model citizens and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And underneath that surface, it's, you know, sort of, uh, boiling over with envy and resentment and jealousy and hatred and people who want to do more than destroy each other with the bad footnote.

Brad Shreve:

I gotcha. I really liked Nick, but man, I feel sorry for him sometimes. Uh, th

Lev Raphael:

well, that's why, that's why he, you know, he started as, at the very bottom of the rung as an academic in. the series and the only place for him to go was to become chair of a department where everybody dislikes him. And that's, that's the situation in the, uh, in Department of Death. uh, and it's called department of death on campus because it has such a high body count. And he through kind of mysterious circumstances, he's just been picked to be chair over ruling all university procedures. See, this is a thing I've learned. Having been in universities and hearing from my friends who are in them, there are all these rules and regulations, but if administrators want to break them, they go ahead.

Brad Shreve:

Yeah. I mean, everybody he works with our assholes and I'm always so relieved for him when he gets to go home to a loving husband.

Lev Raphael:

yes. And a good meal and a great dog.

Brad Shreve:

yes. If he didn't have that, he would have been in an institution quite some time ago.

Lev Raphael:

Right. I, it was important for me to make sure that there was a center. to his life, and that way, I think I'm avoiding the cliche of the amateur sleuth or detective who is in recovery of some kind or not. It has some kind of a really serious problem, uh, with booze or drugs. Is divorced or separated and miserable about that and has an obnoxious teenage son or daughter. And I definitely did not want to have gay characters, gay men who are miserable about being gay. And I'm still finding in 2021 books like that. Now that doesn't mean you can't be unhappy and you can't need help. But what I've noticed as a reviewer is if you write a book about a really miserable gay man, straight reviewers will eat it up. They'll find it regulatory incredibly intense. They don't seem as interested in reviewing books about gays and lesbians and queer people in general, who are happy that doesn't, you know, that doesn't seem to strike them as, as exciting. Which I think is really sad. I'm not going to name any names because it's important that, to just keep that, anonymous.

Brad Shreve:

Have you ever seen the movie? Uh, um, oh my goodness. Finding Eden. Um, it's a town called Eden. What's the, what's the name of that movie?

Lev Raphael:

I, you got me.

Brad Shreve:

Anyway, what I love about that movie is there is no coming out. angst No homophobia whatsoever. It, it just it's a love story and everybody in this small town in Montana don't even bat an eye about it. And it's so refreshing.

Lev Raphael:

Yes. Yes. And nobody actually dislikes Nick. or Stefan for being gay in the series. The jealousies envies, hatreds are all related to the academic life pretty much. So for instance, Nick has written a bibliography of Edith Wharton, which a friend of mine did. So that's, so I borrowed her life in part. And what that is is basically a guide to everything that's ever been written by Edith, Wharton, every article, every book, every you name it, it's very hard work. And it took Nick five years, but it's a really useful, handy guide for anyone doing research. I mean, it's the first thing you would look at if you wanted to do research in this author, a secondary bibliography for any author. Well, he's not respected by his colleagues for having written a book like that, published the book like that because it's not something written in academic jargon, that only six or seven people will understand, and fewer will buy. So because he's done something useful. he's looked down on And he also loves teaching at the beginning. He's teaching basic composition and he just has a ball, helping people perfect, their writing. But you know, this is how crazy academia is. Okay. Well, I was invited to teach back at MSU, uh, Michigan State University, which is a real place. the chair of the department said, you know, we want you to teach here because in creative writing, because you've published more books than the entire creative writing staff put together, I didn't know that I hadn't done a count, but I thought, oh, that's really cool. Well, I thought, well, I wouldn't be respected for that. And actually I wasn't. The head of the creative writing program was never nice to me unless she wanted a favor. and the folks there wouldn't even give me a name tag and a nameplate from my office door. I'm not kidding. One of those plastic, black and white things you can buy on Amazon for a couple of bucks. They wouldn't give me one from my office door. I asked why. And they said, well, because we've just hired you for the semester and you could be gone next semester. My answer was well, so can anyone who's teaching here because they could leave and they could get divorced and commit a crime and flee the country or they could just drop dead. And they said, Yeah, but, well, it's different for you And so I, it actually was kind of bizarre and good material in a way to find out what it's like to be a second class citizen, even though you've done. a lot of really good work. Uh, well, a lot of work that's respected by other people. And I just saw things happen in that department. It's a madhouse and I could write this series posthumously, I guess. I mean, come back from the dead to do it because it's just so much material I've never lacked a plot. I've never lacked the inspiration for characters, so it's just narrowing down. And the key is always, if I find the right, uh, the right story and the right murder victim, I hear Nick's He's my guide. He's on the sarcastic side and he is intensely well-read. He is a lover of films and poetry and fiction and drama. And so he sees the world through that prism So. That gives him a very different perspective on what's happening on campus than somebody maybe who was born in Michigan or just somebody who doesn't have his set of circumstances.

Brad Shreve:

Well, you had a quote in the novel and I wish I could remember it verbatim, but it was like, why do you need humor when everything's going well? And it made me think of Nick because he has a lot of, uh, it's very, it's sometimes subtle. Sometimes not so subtle, but it's there. It's his humor is great. And one thing I got to tell you that just made me laugh out loud and I don't know if it was your intent throughout the novel. Nick quotes, Henry James Somerset, Maugham Joan Didion and I think is another one. I remember he does a lot of quote from classic authors and then there's a scene where. He knows a direct quote from Conan The Barbarian, because he's seen it so many times.

Lev Raphael:

Pop culture is a real part of his life just to, as, uh, yeah, just as, literature is, I think the quote you're thinking of is somebody asks Conan what is happiness? And the, if I remember it, it's close to happiness is. To defeat your enemy and drive his women before, uh, before you, defeat your enemy and he had the lamentation of their women or something like that, close to that

Brad Shreve:

that was a really good quote. I was surprised it came from Conan because I thought it was a good quote. But no, this was a little different and in, I wish I could remember what it was, but, it, it's basically about, Why are you laughing in a, in a difficult situation? And, the response was well, when everything's going well, there's no reason to, for humor, something of that nature.

Lev Raphael:

well, and that's what, that's, what helps him in his partner gets through life is having a sense of humor. Because I'd given Stefan, who's the writer in residence over the course of the series. His career goes up and down, which I think is realistic for a writer. And so, uh, you know, Nick sometimes has to deal with his, uh, with his husband being really depressed. There is an ebb and flow in their relationship. And I think that's important too. That's very realistic. When two professionals are married and their careers do not follow the same path at all and the same arc, so Stefan can be published a book and it does doesn't do well and he's miserable, or he could publish a book and it makes a lot of money and he's thrilled and they buy, a vacation condo. Like you never know what's exactly going to happen with them. But Stefan in the pair is the one who's quieter, solid, introverted, and helps keep Nick centered in their home, and in their life together. And, in this book, will Nick more than once wonders, you know, maybe it's time to give up. And. So that's what I've worked on over the course of this series is making sure that these characters changed somewhat. They develop and that the, the weight of what has happened to them, is there. And that's why they, that's why they bought a condo on Lake Michigan. So they could get away and get out of town. That's why they go on vacation, but both of them are seriously considering, you know, maybe this is it. Maybe we've been through enough and maybe we need to get out early while we can, because they they're not bitter. And they still love teaching and they still, they actually love the town and they love living in Michigan. Many of my books are really praised for Michigan An homage to, Michigan, which is a beautiful state, but maybe they've had enough. And in a previous, book, in assault with a deadly lie, they had to deal with stalking and a lot worse. And that, that pushed them both pretty close to the edge.

Brad Shreve:

I certainly love their neighborhood and I loved their, their home. but I really thought it in this one that, Stefan was going to say, we're leaving. We're done.

Lev Raphael:

It could happen. Anything could happen, you know, Hey, listen, if Sherlock Holmes could, uh, if kind of Doyle could kill Sherlock Holmes and then bring them back to life, anything can happen in a series. Right?

Brad Shreve:

Exactly. One thing I really enjoy that I get from your novels is we learn the inner workings. of a university and the bureaucracy that goes on and I can relate to that. And I think anybody can relate to that because it doesn't matter what position you have in what company you deal with bureaucracy. If I can get the word out right yet, it's obviously very different wherever you work. And it certainly is different in academia based on what you give us in Nick's books.

Lev Raphael:

Well, that's very true and think about it. Uh, a professor once said to me, you know, academics are people who probably couldn't make it in the real world in outside, in the real 40 hour week work world, uh, pre pandemic, obviously, They don't get a lot of supervision. Their class time is limited, you know, two or three courses, maybe a semester, office hours, which most people don't come to. There are a lot of misfits in academia and they have a lot of power over their students and they have a lot of power to make other people around them miserable. And there's a sociologist I once heard in a conference about mystery said, deadpan, but everyone cracked up. He said, well, Academics don't have good means of conflict resolution. And we all cracked up because we knew this to be true. And that makes it a great environment for a murder mystery, because how you resolve a conflict with someone, why don't you kill him? Why go through a complaints committee, meetings, whatever, but people tell me horror stories all the time. And so I, have this, this set of twins in the book who hate sharing an office. And that just becomes this gigantic dispute and all these people get involved in it. And in a previous book, these two guys actually got into a brawl, at a retreat where everyone was supposed to be meditative and happy, you know?

Brad Shreve:

Yeah, he's, he's juggling a lot of balls at one time. That's for sure. want to ask you something about Nick's career, but I want to make a statement regarding the twins. I absolutely hated them and I loved hating them.

Lev Raphael:

They are hateful. They obnoxious.

Brad Shreve:

Oh my God.

Lev Raphael:

They're meant to be obnoxious and they are not, um, How shall I put it? They are not while I they're fictional characters. what drives them is totally realistic. envy, jealousy, inability to get along with the other people that is. And of course it's magnified by the fact that they're twins and they have to share an office. So, yeah, I was looking for some real targets in the beginning of the mystery series, you know, people, I, there were a couple people who I said, oh, I can imagine writing a character somewhat based on this person, then that would be a good person to kill. And after a while I ran out of people, I disliked. So, so I, I was, I take suggestions wherever I go, or, you know, and when people describe somebody obnoxious, I think, Hmm. That could be the basis of a character. Um, Writers. eavesdrop a lot. And I hear things people say, and I think, Ooh, that would be really great dialogue. Uh, and we also are really, really attentive to the world around us because we're always turning it into words.

Brad Shreve:

Yeah, I brought it up in a, another interview two or three weeks ago that my husband is always saying you are so damn nosy. And my response is I'm not, I'm a writer.

Lev Raphael:

yeah, of course. Of course.

Brad Shreve:

And the reality is I'm nosy as hell, but it comes with the territory. I

Lev Raphael:

It does. And sometimes I find myself asking, wanting to ask what might be an inappropriate question, and I think. Okay. I need to preface this. And I'll say, listen, I write a mystery series and you know, blah, blah, blah. And, it's been while we're reviewed in the New York Times. And I'm wondering if you could explain X and then people, people can deal with that because then they don't think you're some crazy stalker.

Brad Shreve:

That adage of write what you know, I love it and I hate it. I think it's great for new authors, but if you only write what, you know, you're gonna end up running out of things to write about very quickly.

Lev Raphael:

I think a lot of people think that, oh, I can't write about X because I haven't been there or I haven't done it. And that is total bullshit. You can research anything you want in any way you want. Okay. I, at one point in the series and Nick is feeling personally threatened and he's a New Yorker and he's never been, into guns. He goes, gun shopping and he goes to a gun range and practices, uh, with a gun and learns how to shoot. So to diff, so as to defend themselves and okay, that's something that I had never done. Of course I was able to, to study it. I did my own research. I went out, I went to gun shops. I started reading books about, catalogs that they gave me. I know there's a dispute now, out there about, can you write about people different from yourself? Well, if you couldn't, then literature of all kinds would be incredibly boring. People have been doing this for centuries. The question is, are you representing that person that, that type of person or that group or that, uh, ethnic group or race or whatever, in a way that's inappropriate? Well, people who are in that group do that. Do that in ways that might not be, positive. So I, you know, this is really tricky territory for writers, and I think a lot of writers now are scared to write about people who are unlike themselves. I've never had that problem with uh, with the book.

Brad Shreve:

Well, the own voices Mo moment that you referring to. I think a lot of is how much do you put into learn about I'm going to go to the gun reference that you gave? I know nothing about guns. I held one in my hand once and it really freaked me out, but I had a former employee who was a gun collector. I'll call him a gun nut, because mean he has, you know, everything about guns. And I said, my protagonist was a military police officer. Now he's a, private detective, what would he carry? And he was like, oh, he'd carry blah, blah, like right off the top of his head. And he explained it and everything, you know, I did a little research there, but I've seen way too many times. I used to blink belong to some different writer groups on Facebook and I ended up leaving them, out of frustration. And there was somebody one day posted the question would a gay man marry a drag queen. And they got responses and somebody said, first of all, why wouldn't that? But if you're questioning that, did you ever consider going and talking to a gay man or talking to a drag queen and, and learning about them and, the person was brutally attacked. And they were dead on with the way it should worked. So I think it's things like that is why when people write outside of themselves, other ethnicities or, sexual identities, or orientations that's what gives it a black eye.

Lev Raphael:

It can do it definitely can do, but it could be the same thing about, writing about, anyone in a certain religion. I mean, I remember, um, Well, you know, every Louise Penny is a, is a, famous bestselling author. I looked at one of her books, someone recommended it to me and, uh, and I think it was said in a monastery or something like that. And I read a lot of critiques that she. got things dead wrong about how the monastery would have worked prayers to. I mean, she just didn't do enough research to make it authentic, I guess. And I agree with you if it feels authentic. that's what really counts. I once had someone write to me years ago, um, First of all, he sent me two short, stories without asking him for, I wanted to read his work or he just sent them blind. And he said, now my characters are Orthodox Jews. I don't really know anything about Orthodox Jews. And I don't much care. That was his introduction to his fiction. And I was supposed to respond to that. So. I have always responded to, from the very beginning to all my fan mail, unless someone writes something obnoxious, uh, but I always respond and now it's email. And, all I said to him was, I'm sorry, I don't read. other people's work. I'm a teacher. I was teaching at the time I'm teaching, I'm doing my own work. I don't read on solicited, work from people. I don't know. And I just left it at that. I wasn't going to, I was not going to get into a long, dispute with him about what he was writing and, you know, hopefully he became an accountant or something else.

Brad Shreve:

Let's hope you handled it much better than I would have.

Lev Raphael:

It's tricky. You know, I did did, once someone emailed me in something obnoxious and I did, once I confess wrote back under a false name. Mr. Raphael thanks you for your, writing to him. And unfortunately it does not have enough time, does not have the time to answer all his, fan mail and signed in with someone else's name. That was a, that was a hoot. I think I might've put that into the series. So, you know, sometimes it's hard to know what's real. What's not real sometimes, uh, uh, people know my books are really well we'll, we'll say, you know, the place where you and I said, no, no, no, no, no, no. That's Nick that's. The narrator is Nick. They had a cottage up north in Michigan, which a lot of people do and people have actually asked me if they could borrow my cottage. I have not been tempted to give them a key and direction. Because they're friends, but I take that as a compliment. And to me it means that the book is so real that they, think that voice is me. So yes, I can draw on things from my life and my husband's life. But. they are a very different couple than we are and I've made it, uh, I've that's one thing that I've wanted to do is to make their lives distinct from mine. So for instance, uh, Nick. Has a cousin who has cancer. I do not have a cousin who has cancer. Stefan is an only child. My husband is not, We've had experiences. They haven't, they've gone to places we haven't. that part has actually been fun, you know, separating them from who we are.

Brad Shreve:

Were times I was like, Nick, what are you saying? Why are you saying these things?

Lev Raphael:

He's a little quip happy. I mean, that's how I conceived of him is he, and, and then of course it doesn't endear him to, the administrators. I also have him more confrontational than I am. I am not really. I grew up in an angry family and I am not. confrontational the way he is. I would rather work things out more subtly and quietly, Which is fun for him and fun for the series, because it's more dramatic.

Brad Shreve:

Well, we are reaching the end. I can't believe it as always with you. There's so much I want to talk about and we never get to it all.

Lev Raphael:

We'll do it again.

Brad Shreve:

Yes we will. But, before we go, we have to do Awkward Questions. Authors Get, and. I know you've done this before, in case you don't remember. I surveyed dozens of authors and asked what were awkward questions you've gotten in the past. And these, some of these are just difficult to answer or off-putting or bizarre. So if you hold on, I'm going to spin the wheel and we're going to see what you get.

Lev Raphael:

Alrighty

Brad Shreve:

Okay. Your question is Why do your characters have to be gay?

Lev Raphael:

I've gotten that question. And not only have I gotten that question, but in a memoir, I wrote. My Germany about growing up as the child of Holocaust survivors, hating and fearing Germany, and then having books published in German and going there and falling in love with the country. I've actually had people ask, why did you have to mention being gay in the book? And I said, it's a memoir. It's sum up my own lived experience. And, and people have actually said, but it's distracting. Well, then I guess you didn't enjoy the book and I'm sorry, but that I couldn't write a memoir where I censored out my entire, orientation, my A big chunk of my identity. I mean, that's part of who I am. I'm gay. I'm a child of Holocaust survivors, some summer Holocaust survivors. I'm a writer, I'm all these things. And all those things are in the book. About the mysteries people, haven't quite asked that they, someone once who was not happy, that I included a love scene between the two of them. So was that necessary? And I said, yes, actually, it wasn't necessary because they were in a place where it was really important that they connected in that way. So I take the question seriously. I take all the questions seriously. That's one thing I learned my mentor in college was. Unflappable. It didn't matter what people asked her. She always had a good answer and she always took question seriously. So when people, so in, when I've taught and people say, well, this might be a stupid question. I just stopped them. And I said, there really are no stupid questions because if you need an answer to this question, hopefully I have it for you.

Brad Shreve:

It reminds me of, have you ever read Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking?

Lev Raphael:

Oh yeah, absolutely.

Brad Shreve:

Okay. Well, I watched the show and I loved the book. And if you read the critiques of the book and the reviews over and over and over again, people are complaining about all her name dropping, and I'm like, she's the daughter of Debbie Reynolds. She she's the daughter of Eddie Fisher. This is her reality. These are the These are the people that lived in her life day to day that she's not name-dropping she's speaking her reality.

Lev Raphael:

Yes. Well uh, Henry James is one of my favorite favorite authors, and he said to a young writer, or he said in reviewing, um, you must grant each author, their option. In other words, you need to let writers write what they want to write, and it's not your point. To tell them they should write about something different. It's the question is, have they done a good job at what they've written? And I agree with you, you know, so, uh, Nick and Stefan for instance, are happily married. They don't hire escorts. They don't go to bars. very, they haven't, their life is, you know, there are kind of a typical married couple, if there is such a thing. so that being gay is woven into the fabric of it. And I think, I think more people complain or ask questions about the murders. And again, I say, well, it's a murder mystery note, the word murder.

Brad Shreve:

To remind our listeners. My guest is Lev Raphael, and the latest in his Nick Hoffman series is Department of Death. And you can get it right now.

Lev Raphael:

Thanks. yep. Great talking to you.