LEN LEVINSON - A Legend in Men's Action/Adventure

FOR OUR FIRST interview, He Said... She Said is proud to present Living Literary Legend Len Levinson (try saying that 10 times fast). He provided us with not only his phenomenal biography, but a wonderful compilation of inspirational writing quotes he's gathered over the years called General Writing Considerations.

You can check out our Q&A with Mr. Levinson HERE

So, without further ado...

MY SO-CALLED LITERARY CAREER

by Len Levinson

As I look back at my so-called literary career, which consisted of 83 paperback novels by 22 pseudonyms, I've concluded that it all began in 1946 when I was 11, Fifth Grade, John Hannigan Grammar School, New Bedford, Massachusetts.

A teacher named Miss Ribeiro asked students to write essays of our choosing. Some kids wrote about baking cookies with mommy, fishing excursions to Cuttyhunk with dad, or bus to Boston to watch the Red Sox play the Yankees at Fenway Park, etc.

But my mommy died when I was four, and dear old Dad never took me anywhere. So Little Lenny Levinson penned a science fiction epic about an imaginary trip to the planet Pluto, probably influenced by Buck Rogers, perhaps expressing subliminal desires to escape my somewhat Dickensian childhood.

As I wrote, the classroom seemed to vanish. I sat at the control panel of a sleek, silver space ship hurtling past suns, moons and blazing constellations. While writing, I experienced something I can only describe today as an out-of-body, ecstatic hallucination, evidently the pure joy of self-expression.

I returned to earth, handed in the essay, and expected the usual decent grade. A few days later Miss Ribeiro praised me in front of the class and read the essay aloud, first time I'd been singled out for excellence. Maybe I'll be a writer when I grow up, I thought.

As time passed, it seemed an impractical choice. Everyone said I’d starve to death. I decided to prepare for a realistic career, but couldn’t determine exactly what it was.

In 1954, age 19, I joined the Army for the GI Bill, assuming a Bachelor's degree somehow would elevate me to the Middle Class. After mustering out in 1957, I enrolled at Michigan State University, East Lansing, majored in Social Science, graduated in 1961, and travelled to New York City to find a job.

Drifting with the tides, in 1970 I was employed as a press agent at Solters and Sabinson, a show biz publicity agency near Times Square. Our clients included Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Bob Hope, the Beatles, Flip Wilson, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, Holiday on Ice, Playboy, Caesar's Palace, numerous Broadway shows, and countless movies, among others. It was at Solters and Sabinson that certain life-transforming events occurred, ultimately convincing me to become a full-time novelist.

The wheels of the cataclysm were set in motion innocuously enough by press agent Jerry Augburn, whose desk jammed beside mine in a large, open office packed with approximately 20 hustling press agents and secretaries.

Unusual in that raucous atmosphere, Jerry was a well-mannered WASP from Muncie, Indiana with B.A. in English from Ball State U and Ph.D. from Columbia. Through some trick of fate, instead of becoming a professor, he landed in entertainment publicity. Together we represented the New York Playboy Club, and individually worked for other clients.

One day Jerry complained he wasn't feeling well. Soon afterwards he was diagnosed with leukemia, stopped coming to the office, left word he didn't want calls. A few months later he died around age 35. Intelligent, capable, good guy, husband and father - suddenly gone. Wow.

I never thought much about death until Jerry's passing. According to Hinduism which I studied at the time, death is a normal stage through which all sentient beings pass on journeys to next incarnations. Perhaps I’d return as a chimpanzee, fish or possibly a cockroach someone would stomp.

Weeks passed, the office seemed to forget Jerry like he never existed. Jerry's desk was taken over by Jay Russell, press agent in his 50s, who spent his days writing column items.

One night approximately three months after Jerry's demise, Jay and I worked late. I went home around 9pm, leaving him behind. Next morning I learned that he died of a heart attack that night sitting on his home toilet, writing column items. I'm not making this up. That's the story I was told. Perhaps he wrote one so funny, his heart burst with glee.

After Jay's funeral, I reflected upon Death striking twice at the chair beside mine. Was I next on the hit parade? Meanwhile, the office returned to its usual pressure cooker atmosphere. After a few weeks Jay was forgotten like Jerry.

I was 35, looking down the road at 40. If I died at my desk or on the toilet, unquestionably I too would soon be forgotten by co-workers and clients. What was the point of busting my chops if it meant nothing in the end?

I'm not exaggerating about busting my chops. Competition for clients was ferocious. A press agent was only as good as his last media break. If it didn't break - it never happened. If you didn't produce steady breaks - you were on the street.

I spent substantial time on the phone asking editors and reporters to run my press releases, interview clients, and cover events. All too often they rejected my pleading, because they only had so much space, and their phones never stopped ringing from press agents' calls, their mailboxes stuffed daily with press releases.

Gradually it dawned upon me that I was in the wrong job for my personality type. But what on earth was the right job for my personality type?

Since the fifth grade my grandest ambition remained: novelist. In light of Jerry's and Jay's passing, I slowly came to the life-altering realization that I didn't want to kick the bucket without at least attempting to fulfill my highest career aspiration.

I'd already tried writing at home evenings, after working all day in the office, but my mind was too tired. If I wanted to be a novelist, I needed to approach it like a job, first thing in the morning when my mind was clear, four hours on the typewriter, no distractions. That meant I'd need to quit my regular job. My savings would support me for around a year. Surely I'd appear on the bestseller list by then.

But I wasn't totally delusional. I knew that substantial risk including possible homelessness accompanied the novelist's life. I had no family to provide financial assistance if I hit the skids.

On the other hand, if I played it safe and remained in PR, suppressing unhappiness, I'd probably evolve into a well-pensioned, graybearded, ex-PR semi-alcoholic residing comfortably in a West Side co-op, or gated community in Boca Raton, happily married to a former Playboy Bunny.

BUT the day inevitably would arrive when I'd be flat on my back in a hospital bed, tubes up my nose and jabbing into my arms, on the cusp of Death Itself. And knowing how my mind tends to function, I'd reproach myself viciously for not at least attempting to live my dream, since I was going to die regardless. Why not go for the gold ring of the novelist's life, instead of getting put down daily by journalists?

After much meditation on death, heaven, hell, destiny, mendacity and art, I resigned my press agent career and threw my heart and brain cells completely into writing novels. It was the bravest, most consequential and possibly most foolish decision of my life.

You can call me shallow, immature, irresponsible and/or insane. But I never betrayed my ideal. Against the odds, I went on to write those 83 paperback novels, mostly in the high adventure category, about cops, cowboys, soldiers, spies, cab drivers, race car drivers, ordinary individuals seeking justice in an unjust world, and other lunatics, but never rose above bottom rungs of the literary ladder, and probably was considered a hack. Sometimes even I suspected myself of hackery.

One of my novels, "The Bar Studs" by Leonard Jordan (Fawcett) sold 95,000 copies, and I was on my way to the big time, or so I'd thought at the time. "Publishers Weekly" judged it: "Tough as they come, but surprisingly well done." My next sold around 20,000.

My favorite, "The Last Buffoon" by Leonard Jordan (Belmont-Tower), was possibly most vulgar and disgusting novel in the history of the world. A photo of me adorned the cover, standing in a trash can in Greenwich Village, true metaphor for my so-called literary career. Amazingly, "The Last Buffoon" got optioned for the movies, but like most such deals, no movie was made.

Walter Zacharius, President of Kensington Publishing Corporation, took me to dinner at the Palm restaurant near the UN and said he expected my “The Sergeant" series by Gordon Davis, nine novels (Zebra and Bantam), to make a million dollars. But Lady Luck had other plans.

Then came "The Rat Bastards" by John Mackie (Jove), 16 novels about a platoon of American soldiers fighting the Japanese Imperial Army in the South Pacific during World War II. This unquestionably was one of the most freaked-out, violent literary projects ever devised by a sick mind. Soldiers constantly were stabbing each other with bayonets, or blowing up each other with hand grenades, or machine-gunning each other to smithereens. Blood, guts, profanity and occasional heads flew through the air. How could such novels, spiced with gallows humor, possibly fail in the gutbucket action-adventure marketplace? They didn't exactly fail, but didn't set sales records either.

I felt certain that my Western series "The Pecos Kid", six novels by Jack Bodine (Harper), would soar to the top of the Western market, becoming worthy successors to Louis L'Amour, Zane Grey and Max Brand. “Pecos" contained huge dollops of all possible melodramatic elements such as gunfights, fistfights, knifefights, romance, intrigue, suspense, treachery, deeply-researched Apache lore, gags, quips, paradoxes, puns, even a cynical horse named Nestor providing his own unique viewpoint. But the Western market wasn't very impressed.

My final series, "The Apache Wars Saga," six novels by Frank Burleson (Signet), achieved the status of "important historical fiction" in my estimation, comparable to "War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy or "Gone with the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell. Again the market didn't agree.

My so-called literary career crashed totally in 1997. My last editor, Todd Keithley at Signet, said: "They don't want little profits. They want BIG profits."

I didn't take it personally. Many action-adventure writers got dumped during the 1990s, due to hot new policies implemented by rapidly conglomerating publishing houses. Advances usually paid to low profit writers like us got redirected to possibly profitable new authors, especially in the bestselling category, women's romances.

Between 1997 and now, four of my manuscripts failed to find publishers. Obviously, based on cold, cruel reality, my big gamble ultimately flopped. Not everyone's dream comes true forever, evidently. Just because you place your offerings on the altar of pulp fiction, doesn't mean every one will be accepted.

But my so-called literary career wasn't 100% mistaken, I don't think. At least I needn't torment myself on my deathbed for not attempting to become a novelist.

Moreover, I must confess that I enjoyed writing those 83 nutty novels. They allowed me to explore my bottomless imagination, always best destination for an introvert, instead of daily brush-offs by journalists, plus insults from temperamental clients.

Sometimes when you lose -you also might win. Perhaps the novelist’s life is its own reward. And punishment.

My so-called literary career isn't over yet. Every morning I look forward to sitting at my computer. I'm working on a new novel which I consider my best achievement ever, based on the greatest love affair of my life, played for laughs. It probably won't be published because I’ve relocated to rural Illinois and lost contact with the NYC literary scene. But even that doesn't stop me.

In the words of Janis Joplin, as written by Kris Kristoffersen: "Freedom's just another word -for nothin' left to lose."

end

P.S. Since the above, I received a call from my literary agent, after around six years of no communication whatever. To cut to the chase, many of my novels are now available as ebooks, audiobooks and paperback books under my real name, Len Levinson, including my series "The Sergeant”, “The Searcher”, ”The Rat Bastards", "The Pecos Kid”, and “The Apache Wars Saga”, as well as standalone novels such as “The Bar Studs” and “Without Mercy”.

Also since the above, I've discovered that bloggers have been writing about me. Joe Kenney in his blog GLORIOUS TRASH referred to me as a “trash genius”, and I guess it’s better to be a trash genius than no genius at all. People also are buying and selling my old paperback books. Can it be - is it possible - is it conceivable that my newly republished books suddenly will go viral, and I'll become a zillionaire, appear on the Jimmy Fallon Show, relocate to Paris, and marry a dancer from the Follies Bergere? Like I said, my so-called literary career isn't over yet.

NOVELS BY LEN LEVINSON

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THE APACHE WARS SAGA series by pseudonym Frank Burleson

originally published by Signet

available as ebooks by Len Levinson

1 DESERT HAWKS 1994

2 WAR EAGLES 1995

3 SAVAGE FRONTIER 1995

4 WHITE APACHE 1996

5 DEVIL DANCE 1997

6 NIGHT OF THE COUGAR 1997

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THE PECOS KID series by Jack Bodine

published by Harper Paperbacks

available as ebooks by Len Levinson

1 BEGINNER'S LUCK 1992

2 THE RECKONING 1993

3 APACHE MOON 1993

4 OUTLAW HELL 1993

5 DEVIL'S CREEK MASSACRE 1994

6 BAD TO THE BONE 1994

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THE RAT BASTARDS series by John Mackie

published by Jove Books

available as ebooks by Len Levinson

1 HIT THE BEACH 1983

2 DEATH SQUAD 1983

3 RIVER OF BLOOD 1983

4 MEAT GRINDER HILL 1984

5 DOWN AND DIRTY 1984

6 GREEN HELL 1984

7 TOO MEAN TO DIE 1984

8 HOT LEAD AND COLD STEEL 1984

9 DO OR DIE 1984

10 KILL CRAZY 1984

11 NIGHTMARE ALLEY 1985

12 GO FOR BROKE 1985

13 TOUGH GUYS DIE HARD 1985

14 SUICIDE RIVER 1985

15 SATAN'S CAGE 1985

16 GO DOWN FIGHTING 1985

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THE SERGEANT series by Gordon Davis

published by Zebra and Bantam

becoming available as e-books by Len Levinson

1 DEATH TRAIN 1980

2 HELL HARBOR 1980

3 BLOODY BUSH 1980

4 THE LIBERATION OF PARIS 1981

5 DOOM RIVER Bantam 1981

6 SLAUGHTER CITY Bantam 1981

7 BULLET BRIDGE Bantam 1981

8 BLOODY BASTOGNE 1981

9 HAMMERHEAD 1981

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SEARCHER series by Josh Edwards

published by Charter Diamond

becoming available as e-books by Len Levinson

1 SEARCHER 1990

2 LYNCH LAW 1990

3 TIN BADGE 1991

4 WARPATH 1991

5 HELLFIRE 1991

6 DEVIL'S BRAND 1991

7 STAMPEDE 1992

8 RECKLESS GUNS 1992

9 FORT HAYS BUSTOUT 1992

10 BOOM TOWN 1992

11 BLOODY SUNDAY 1993

12 BARBARY COAST 1993

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LONG RIDER series by Clay Dawson

published by Charter Books

3 GOLD TOWN 1989

4 APACHE DAWN 1989

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THE SKYMASTERS series by Richard Hale Curtis

published by Dell

8 EVERY MAN AN EAGLE 1982

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FREEDOM FIGHTERS series by Jonathan Scofield

published by Dell

11 BAYONETS IN NO-MAN’S LAND 1982

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THE SILENT SERVICE series by J. Farragut Jones

published by Dell

2 FORTY FATHOMS DOWN 1981

5 TRACKING THE WOLF PACK 1981

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BUTLER series by Philip Kirk

published by Leisure Books

becoming available as e-books by Len Levinson

1 THE HYDRA CONSPIRACY 1979

2 SMART BOMBS 1979

3 THE SLAYBOYS 1979

4 CHINESE ROULETTE 1979

5 LOVE ME TO DEATH 1980

6 KILLER SATELLITES 1980

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BRONSON series by Philip Rawls

published by Manor Books

STREETS OF BLOOD 1975

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CHERRY DELIGHT series by Glen Chase

published by Leisure Books

WHERE THE ACTION IS 1977

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KUNG FU series featuring MACE by Lee Chang

published by Manor Books

6 THE YEAR OF THE BOAR 1975

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RYKER series by Nelson De Mille

published by Leisure Books

3 THE TERRORISTS 1974

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SUPER COP JOE BLAZE series by Robert Novak

published by Belmont Tower Books

3 THE THRILL KILLERS 1974

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THE SHARPSHOOTER SERIES by Bruno Rossi

published by Leisure Books

4 THE WORST WAY TO DIE 1974

5 NIGHT OF THE ASSASSINS 1974

7 HEADCRUSHER 1974

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NON-SERIES NOVELS

Those marked with *** are available as e-books by Len Levinson

WITHOUT MERCY by Leonard Jordan, Zebra 1981 ***

THE GOERING TREASURE by Gordon Davis, Zebra 1980 ***

THE LAST BUFFOON by Leonard Jordan, Belmont Tower 1980 ***

CABBY by Leonard Jordan, Belmont Tower 1980

THE FAST LIFE by Cynthia Wilkerson, Belmont Tower 1979 ***

DOOM PLATOON by Richard Gallagher, Belmont Tower 1978 ***

SWEETER THAN CANDY by Cynthia Wilkerson, Belmont Tower 1978

INSIDE JOB by Nicholas Brady, Leisure 1978 ***

HYPE! by Leonard Jordan, Fawcett 1977 ***

THE CAMP by Jonathan Trask, Belmont Tower 1977

THE BAR STUDS by Leonard Jordan, Fawcett 1976 ***

SHARK FIGHTER by Nicholas Brady, Belmont Tower 1975 ***

OPERATION PERFIDIA by Leonard Jordan, Warner 1975 ***

PRIVATE SESSIONS by March Hastings, Midwood 1974 (this was my first

published novel, XXX rated hardcore erotica, most definitely not

recommended for decent people.)

total 83 novels by 22 pseudonyms