Please give a warm welcome to Debbie Levy this morning. Debbie is visiting the virtual offices to celebrate the release of Imperfect Spiral.
[Manga Maniac Café] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.
[Debbie Levy] Mom, spouse, dog- and cat-friend. Reader, writer, nature-lover. Once upon a time: Newspaper editor. Lawyer. Don’t hold that against me.
[Manga Maniac Café] Can you tell us a little about Imperfect Spiral?
[Debbie Levy] In Imperfect Spiral, Danielle Snyder’s summer job babysitting five-year-old Humphrey Danker turns tragic when, as they walk home from the park, Humphrey runs into traffic to chase down his football. Immediately Danielle is caught up in the machinery of tragedy: police investigations, neighborhood squabbling, and, when the driver of the car that struck Humphrey turns out to be an undocumented immigrant—a politically charged immigration debate. Danielle’s thoughts are on Humphrey—her funny, fun, peculiar “Humpty” and the two months they spent together—but all around her, friends and strangers seem focused on everything and everyone else.
So the novel is about a tragedy, a community’s search for someone or something to blame, and Danielle’s growing realization that sometimes the most, and least, you can do is try to stop one bad thing from leading to another. And it’s equally the story of a deep connection between two slightly oddball souls—Danielle and Humphrey—that transcends age and, in some ways, even death.
[Manga Maniac Café] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?
[Debbie Levy] My process is not tidy or organized—although I, personally, am both of those things, really I am—so I could honestly answer this by saying:
But I can also try to impose structure on the disorder that characterizes the inception of most of my projects. So I can say that the origins of Imperfect Spiral were my musings about a character, a teenage girl who feels that she is terribly peculiar. She’s not actually terribly peculiar but she may be a little bit peculiar. In a good way, in my opinion, but not hers.
There’s more. I thought it would be helpful for my character—Danielle—to come to see herself reflected in the eyes of someone else, but not a love-interest someone else, so I came up with a little boy. A great little boy, who is also a little bit peculiar. Who thinks Danielle is absolutely the greatest. And who can make it clear to the reader how great she is. I named that boy Humphrey.
And then. . . . Well, then, Humphrey died. At my hands, obviously.
And this is where the idea-making process gets even more difficult to explain. Once my two main characters came into being, they took on lives of their own. Once I had Danielle and Humphrey in play, the situation presented itself: that of something terrible happening to Humphrey, and happening on Danielle’s watch, when she was babysitting him. This is what presented itself, sad as the idea was.
[Manga Maniac Café] What three words best describe Danielle?
[Debbie Levy] Work. In. Progress.
[Manga Maniac Café] Name one thing Danielle is never without.
[Debbie Levy] Her fare card for the Washington, D.C. area subway and bus system. Because you never know when you might want to go somewhere.
[Manga Maniac Café] What are your greatest creative influences?
[Debbie Levy] Books, woods, and water. Books, because they remind me that, hard as it is to write something that really touches people, it is possible. Woods and water, because walking in the woods, paddling in, or even just looking at, rivers and other bodies of water clears my head, helps me create, and also helps me deal when the creating is not going well.
[Manga Maniac Café] What three things do you need in order to write?
[Debbie Levy] An idea. And then two more.
[Manga Maniac Café] What was your biggest distraction while working on Imperfect Spiral?
[Debbie Levy] I was putting together presentations for my 2010 book, The Year of Goodbyes, which involved revisiting some very emotional territory. That book is about my mother’s last year as a child living in Nazi Germany in 1938, and what happened to her friends and family. I have a lot of photographs and other documentary material that I use to illustrate those presentations, and you know a picture is worth a thousand words (a cliché is a cliché because it’s true)—so this was all very intense.
[Manga Maniac Café] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?
[Debbie Levy] The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer. Before that, Stoner, by John Williams. It’s a quiet classic that I’d never heard of before this year, and I can’t piece together how I heard of it this year—but anyway, it is so intelligent, so clear, so non-gimmicky. Fiction for grown-ups. Before that, Wonder, by R.J. Palacio.
[Manga Maniac Café] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?
[Debbie Levy] Seriously, just one book?
Okay. All-of-a-Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor.
[Manga Maniac Café] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
[Debbie Levy] I love to kayak, enjoying birds and other wildlife and also fishing from the kayak. I know, not so enjoyable for the fish, but we are not a vegetarian family and I only take the fish that I’m going to fillet and cook. I also love to read. (Surprise!) And to swim.
[Manga Maniac Café] How can readers connect with you?
[Debbie Levy] Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send me a Tweet at @debbielevybooks. Friend or message me on Facebook.
Or skywrite me a message. I’m always looking up.
[Manga Maniac Café] Thank you!
About the book:
Danielle Snyder’s summer job as a babysitter takes a tragic turn when Humphrey, the five-year-old boy she’s watching, runs in front of oncoming traffic to chase down his football. Immediately Danielle is caught up in the machinery of tragedy: police investigations, neighborhood squabbling, and, when the driver of the car that struck Humphrey turns out to be an undocumented alien, outsiders use the accident to further a politically charged immigration debate. Wanting only to mourn Humphrey, the sweet kid she had a surprisingly strong friendship with, Danielle tries to avoid the world around her. Through a new relationship with Justin, a boy she meets at the park, she begins to work through her grief, but as details of the accident emerge, much is not as it seems. It’s time for Danielle to face reality, but when the truth brings so much pain, can she find a way to do right by Humphrey’s memory and forgive herself for his death?