Women In SFF Author Spotlight: Alison Levy (GATEKEEPER)
Alison Levy lives in Greensboro, North Carolina with her husband, son, and variety of pets. When she’s not writing or doing mom things, she crochets, gardens, walks her collies, and works on home improvement projects.
Welcome to the Hive, Alison! Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
Circe by Madeline Miller. I love retellings of old myths, particularly when the story is told from a different point of view. Circe tells the story of the witch Circe from Homer’s The Odyssey. What I love about it is that it not only recounts Odysseus’s journey from Circe’s point of view, it also explores the idea that Circe and her siblings, the children of gods, were unlike any other divine offspring ever born. They were, in Miller’s story, the first beings to use sorcery. So unique! Such a good read.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
I was never a D&D player, so I asked my husband his opinion. In his opinion, I’m a wizard and my weapon would be a dagger.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit?)
Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
I have tinnitus (persistent ringing in my ears) so I actually don’t know what silence sounds like! To drown out the ringing, I like to have some sound in the background while I write. Music tends to distract me (I end up singing along), so I prefer to put on a movie or tv show. It can’t be anything I’ll be tempted to watch so I pick something I’ve seen a dozen times, something that matches the general tone of whatever I’m working on at the time. At low volume, a movie/show also soothes my anxiety (like distracting a kid at a restaurant with crayons and a placemat of games).
I don’t lean toward wearing one thing or another while writing, just whatever I’m wearing at the time. Even if I’m staying in for the day, I still tend to dress like I’m planning to go out (not fancy, just everyday clothes). It may seem pointless to wear a dress to sit around the house in, but it helps my general sense of well-being.
I tend to start off my work as a pantser, just taking an idea and seeing if I can run with it. Once I decide it’s going well, I plot the whole thing out. Still, if I’m writing and find that I’m headed off-script, I’ll keep going and see where I land.
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
I love Octavia Butler! I really enjoyed Parable of the Sower and Kindred, but my favorite book of hers is Fledging. I love how she made her own vampire mythology that’s familiar but unique while also being challenging to the reader due to its uncomfortable themes. I aspire to that level of skill with words!
Growing up, I loved Marion Zimmer Bradley. While I liked The Mists of Avalon, I preferred The Firebrand, a retelling of the Trojan War from the perspective of the prophetess Kassandra (I’ve mentioned I’m a sucker for retellings of myths!).
I’ve also read Anne Rice, Ursula LeGuin, Susanna Clarke, and J.K. Rowling. It’s so nice to find a variety of women writers in my genre!
I don’t think I have any collaboration dreams at this point. My current ambition is just to see if I can publish something that people want to read.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
I recently watched “Midnight Gospel” on Netflix. I watched it on a whim but ended up really enjoying it.
My husband and I have been watching the German series “Dark” on Netflix. I hadn’t heard anything about it, but he read some good reviews and suggested we give it a try. While I’m usually skeptical of time-travel stories (they typically just don’t catch my interest), I’m really enjoying this series.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
Assuming COVID-19 is over in this scenario, I’d like to go wine tasting! Aside from that, I like to crochet (the repetitive motion helps soothe my anxiety). I have photos on Instagram of my creatures of myth crochet toys. I also like spending time in my vegetable garden. The peppers look great this year!
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
I’m currently writing a book about a witch who runs away from her emotionally abusive family. Many of her interactions with her narcissistic parent come directly from my own childhood. It’s been very difficult to write but also therapeutic. I look forward to sharing it with the world someday.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Most: The secret to being a writer is to apply ass to chair. It’s true.
Least: During a high school career day, a writer came to talk with my class. He told us not to write because he didn’t want the competition. Ugh.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
Depends. If I have no motivation, I try to think why I feel that way. If I just need a break, I’ll take my dogs for a walk or do something with my son. Sometimes it’s okay to put the writing down for awhile. If I’m burned out on the story (or that negative voice in my head gets loud), I’ll go back and read/edit something I’ve already written. Usually, once I see that my writing isn’t the drivel the negative voice in my head claims, I feel better and my energy improves.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Victorian London. I always picture Victorian-era England as being the best setting for a historical urban fantasy. As industrialized as that time period was, it still seems like fairies and wizards would be tucked away behind soot-covered chimneys, dimly-lit old bookshops, and smoky taverns. I’d like to get dolled up in Victorian dress and walk around London to take in the sights, sounds, and smells. That inspiration could feed my writer’s imagination for years.
Who are your favourite female characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of female character you enjoy writing?
Buffy Summers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s great to see a bad-ass female fighter who’s also vulnerable and feminine. Too often, we just get one or the other.
Meg Murry of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Haven’t we all felt like an awkward outsider during our lives? I also love Meg for being the female lead of one of the first fantasy books I read with my son. That was special.
I personally enjoy writing a female character who breaks social expectations. My book Gatekeeper features my character Rachel Wilde who is the sort of woman I often wish I could be. She’s openly annoyed with people, she speaks her mind without caring who’s listening, and she’s confident in her abilities. She’s who I might have been without my anxiety.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood is a great read. Atwood is better known for The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace and The MaddAddam Trilogy but The Penelopiad is easily my favorite. It’s a retelling of The Odyssey from the point of view of Odysseus’s wife Penelope and her twelve maids who, in the original story, Odysseus hanged after killing the suitors. Much of the book is voiced by Penelope looking back on her life now that she’s dead and reflecting on it, on what was the point of being faithful to a husband who wasn’t faithful in the least.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
Rachel Wilde—sent from another dimension to bring defective daemons in for repair—needs to locate two people: a woman whose ancestors held a destructive daemon at bay for centuries and a criminal trying to break dimensional barriers. Helped by a homeless man with unusual powers, she uncovers a rising shadow organization that’s changing her world forever.
With my book, Gatekeeper, I aim to challenge the reader’s sense of what’s normal. My main character, Rachel Wilde, looks at everyday things in our world with a foreigner’s eyes and she finds our dimension, at various times, quirky, perplexing, and repulsive. She and her people move across space through dimensional passages that can be anywhere, even in plain sight. I hope my book will make you give that shadowy corner or unused door at the end of the hall a second look and wonder, “What’s on the other side?”
Thank you so much for joining us today Alison!