Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
My name is Lev Rosen, and I write books for all ages under various versions of my name: Lev Rosen, Lev AC Rosen, L.C. Rosen. My most recent book, Jack of Hearts (and other parts) is a YA sex-ed thriller about an openly gay teen who writes a sex advice column and starts getting anonymous notes which blackmail him into behaving like a “good” gay. My next book, which will be out in May, is called Camp, and it follows Randy, who after 4 summers spent at a queer summer camp, remakes himself as uber-masculine to win the attentions of “masc4masc only” Hudson – but has to wonder what the point of falling in love is if he can’t be himself.
What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?
I went to a summer camp, and part of that inspires Camp, and Jack of Hearts (and other parts) takes place in a liberal private high school in NYC, similar to the one I went to. Aside from that, I’m most inspired by being a queer person and living a queer life and the many injustices, small and large, which accompany that, and which many straight people participate in without even knowing. I want to show them how they participate, and I want them to see what it’s like for us, as queer people, to live through that.
How do you deal with creative block?
I have this completely unscientific theory that if you have writer’s block, then the best thing to do is pursue some other artsy or crafty thing. I personally like working with textiles – I do natural dyeing and fabric painting. The idea behind this is that all the creative parts of the brain are together, and so if you work another creative part, it’ll move, like a muscle, and massage the stressed out writer part until it’s relaxed and the writer’s block goes away. Not real science, of course, but weirdly, it’s always worked for me. That and the classic advice of going for a walk. I also think there’s weird pressure to stare at a computer screen and type, and if you don’t do that, you’re not writing – but writing is more complicated than that. It’s about thinking, visualizing, figuring out structure. If you need to do that on the page, or it works for you, that’s great. But it doesn’t work that way for a lot of people. They have to figure out the plot while laying on the sofa or in the shower. The flashing cursor is intimidating.
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
As a creative writing teacher I think the most common mistake I see is that people have ideas for characters or world, but don’t always think about plot. The most basic way you can figure out a story is to say “here is a character, they want X, they will now try to get X.” I think a lot of folks don’t set up what X is early enough, or try to write something that feels like how a characters day would go, and so a lot of first drafts end up being meandering in the beginning. Remember, real life isn’t a story. If someone wrote it down, it would be boring. The way things are arranged is what makes a story. It’s about desires and contrasts.
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
I’ve only gone the route of traditional publishing, in which the publisher decides my covers – and sometimes, my titles. The best advice I can give on titles is to make it active in some way. It can’t merely be said. It has to be shouted, murmured or sung. It has to have movement.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
I generally try to avoid reading them. Easier said than done, but in the end, I think of one of the best pieces of advice I got from one of my editors: Not every book is for every reader, but there is a reader for every book. So while those bad reviews may come from someone who your book isn’t for, and who want it to be something else, there is someone out there who will love your book as it is – they just might not blog about it.
How has your creation process improved over time?
I’ve gotten better at time management. Not very sexy, but honestly one of the most useful skills a full-time creative can have. I also have gotten better at planning ahead a bit more – I make a lot of lists now; not just of daily to-do stuff, but of stuff to do within whatever I’m working on.
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
I always say an author’s first audience is themselves. There are very few occasions where this isn’t the case, because it’s so unavoidable – you write for yourself, and you’re the one reading it as you write, the one responding to the story, laughing at the jokes. You can’t write with objectivity. My YA is for teen Lev, and my MG is for pre-teen Lev, so all the books I’m writing I’m writing because I want or wanted them (which is not the same as saying my characters ARE me – they certainly are aspects of me, but they could be people I want to be, or wish I was). But you also have to have an awareness that there will be readers beyond you some day. That can be tricky – but in the end, what it’s about is giving someone the opportunity to view things through your eyes. That’s how you balance it – you acknowledge that you’re the primary reader for this, but also try to make sure that people can see the story the way you do, if they take the opportunity. Not every reader does, though. But that’s fine – not every book is for every reader.