John Levitt

Open Book Thread

I’ve fallen behind in book reviews, so I’m going to do a multibook post, starting with Mainspring [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], by Jay Lake.  Lake envisions a clockwork universe where the Earth orbits the sun on a great track, with an equatorial gear twenty miles wide … and the Mainspring of the world is winding down.  Apprentice clockmaker Hethor Jacques must find the Key Perilous and rewind the Earth’s mainspring.

I loved the “What if?” of this book, the central idea and the exploration of how a clockwork universe would work, both the mechanics and the implications for the inhabitants of that world, their beliefs and ideas.  (Though I still don’t understand how such a world would have seasons.)  The characters … Hethor took a while to grow on me.  And there’s an underlying noble savage thing going on with the southern “correct people” that makes me uncomfortable.  Overall, I think the idea was stronger than the story, but the story wasn’t bad, and the idea was fascinating.  I’m interested in checking out Escapement, the sequel.

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Next up is MythOS [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], by Kelly McCullough.  This is the fourth of McCullough’s books about magical hacker Ravirn/Raven and his webgoblin Melchior.  I’ve enjoyed this series a lot.  They’re fast-paced, interesting, page-turners with just the right amount of humor.  Or maybe I just have a weakness for all things goblin.

This time around Raven finds himself in an alternate universe, one which runs on a Norse mythology OS instead of the Greek system he’s used to.  It’s an interesting switch, and livens up the series as Raven gets drawn into new conflicts and has to figure out a whole new system of magic.  The second book remains my favorite, but I’d put this one as runner up.

This is the fourth book in a series.  If you liked the others, you’ll like this one.  If you didn’t, why are you still reading the series?  Really, people…

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I mentioned Laura Resnick‘s Doppelgangster [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] in her First Book Friday post — this is book two in a series that started with a Luna title, then jumped to DAW.  You can tell it’s a second book, but Doppelgangster stands alone pretty well.  The most fascinating thing to me about this book is that it’s urban fantasy in which the protagonist is pure human.  No magic, no mixed genetics, no nothing.  That’s something I haven’t seen much of, and I enjoyed it.

Esther Diamond is a struggling actress and waitress in New York.  Her restaurant gig happens to be a popular mobster hangout, and the mobsters are starting to die from magical means.  Diamond and her friend Max the Magician need to figure out what’s going on and stop it.  To complicate things, her potential boyfriend Lopez is also a New York detective — and he doesn’t believe in magic.  The mobsters sometimes felt a little over-the-top, but overall it was a fun adventure.

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Finally, there’s Dog Days [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] by John Levitt.  Our hero Mason is a gifted magician, though he appears to lack the discipline to fulfill his potential.  He’s currently making a living as a jazz magician.  More importantly, he has a magical companion named Louie, an ifrit who takes the form of a small dog.  For everyone who’s gotten tired of fantasy authors and their cat-loving ways, this is the book for you.

The magic system was fairly loose and undefined, but this worked with Mason’s improvisational style, which fits well with his jazz background.  But that may not be enough when a powerful enemy decides he wants Mason dead, for reasons that would spoil the whole book if I shared them.  I appreciated the mystery and revelation, though the bad guy felt a bit flat.  But sometimes evil, nasty villains make for fun reading.  Plus, magic dog!

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So there’s some of what I’ve been reading over the past few months.  What about you?  If you’ve read any of these, what did you think?  If you’ve been reading something else, feel free to share.  I need to build up my wish list for the holidays 🙂

First Book Friday: John Levitt

Welcome to First Book Friday, an ongoing series exploring how various authors sold their first books.

Today we have John Levitt, whose lifestyle incorporates both the high-flying luxury of the author and the nonstop partying of the rocker, for approximately 400% more awesomeness.  (Check out his band’s page on MySpace.)  In a world full of cat-loving authors and readers, John dares to write urban fantasy with a dog on the cover.  Because that’s just the kind of guy he is.  He’s also on LiveJournal as johnlevitt.

Um… okay, so both kids have been sick this week, and my intro-writing skills are a bit overtired.  Anyway, here’s John!

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I’m one of the few people who has not one, but two first book stories. Not really, of course — there can only be one first book, but for all practical purposes I have two.

My first novel was published back in 1989. I’d spent some years previous to that as a police officer, and I used to tell my friends various “war stories,” which seemed to entertain them. So I decided I’d write a book about my police experiences.

Back in those ancient days, it was a lot easier for a first time writer to get published. Most publishers still took unagented submissions, and getting an agent wasn’t the holy grail it’s become today. Besides, I knew someone who knew someone, and a casual word was all it took for an agent to take a look at the ms.

He liked it, and tried to sell it for me on a handshake agreement. No contract, no forms, just a simple verbal agreement – fraught with danger now, but back then was a simpler time.

He couldn’t sell the book – everyone liked it, but didn’t think it would sell, because it was about police work in Salt Lake City, not L.A. or Miami. But the editor at Doubleday passed reluctantly, and mentioned that if I ever wrote a novel, he’d love to see it.

How hard can that be, I thought? Ah, the arrogance of the clueless. But I wrote one, a thriller titled Carnivores, and it sold to St. Martin’s Press. I was happy, but not overwhelmed. I assumed getting a novel published was honestly no big thing. A year later, I sold a sequel. As I said, a simpler time.

Then, for various reasons, I quit writing. Fast forward to 15 years later. I’d always been a reader of fantasy  and had in mind a desire to write a modern fantasy, a book combining magic and mayhem, P.I. noir with odd creatures and black magicians. I started it on a whim, not knowing if there was any market for it, and then discovered that not only was there a market, but a complete sub genre called urban fantasy.

So I finished it up, and went about finding an agent. I had no doubt about finding one; I assumed it would be easy. I was a published author, I’d gotten a rave review from Publisher’s Weekly and an enthusiastic blurb from Steven King himself for Carnivores. I researched agents, found the one I thought best suited for me, and dashed off a query letter.

I got back a very nice rejection note, saying though my credentials were impressive, the idea just didn’t grab her. I was actually shocked; that’s how naïve I was about how the business had changed. So I reworked the query, and sent it off to my second choice, and got an enthusiastic request for a partial. This was more like it. Except, this agent passed as well – just didn’t grab him. About this time I realized things  might be a bit more difficult than they used to be.

It took me about 8 months and numerous rejections before I landed my agent – but as it turned out, she was the perfect agent for me in every way. She helped me polish Dog Days [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], an urban fantasy, (pointing out where she thought I’d gone astray), and submitted to five houses – three rejects and two offers. And this time, I was properly thrilled. I went with Ace, who offered a two book deal, then another two. And I’ve been writing ever since.

Jim C. Hines