Thursday, February 19, 2009

Welcome Guest Blogger Barbara Levenson

Today I am excited to welcome my very first guest blogger who happens to be releasing her very first novel this month. Judge Barbara Levenson was born in Ohio but has lived in Miami for the past 32 years - guess she was tired of these Ohio winters, too! Before she left, though, Barbara not only served as the first female president of the Columbus Board of Education, she earned the distinct honor of being named the first female "Man of the Year" by the Ohio Newspaper.

Since graduating from the University of Miami, Barbara has had a plethora of experience in the legal field working as a prosecutor, owning her own law practice and serving as a judge, where she still presides today.

And if all that wasn't enough accomplishment for one lifetime, Barbara is releasing her first novel this month which is aptly titled, Fatal February. Fatal February stars Mary Magruder Katz, an attorney starting her own law practice and netting Lillian Yarmouth as her very first client. What's special about Lillian? Well, she only happens to be the prime suspect in Miami's social murder of the year!

So, without further ado, here is Barbara Levenson to talk about why setting is an important element in her first novel, Fatal February.

One question that I am often asked centers around Miami and South Florida. Friends who live in the Midwest or New England know little about Miami except from unflattering news accounts of crime, election problems, immigration, or South Beach tourist sites. “Why do you continue to live there?” Or “How can you stand living among all the Spanish immigrants?”

Readers of FATAL FEBRUARY are amazed to discover that real people populate Miami and its surrounding areas. They go to work, to school, raise families, and do not spend every day at the beach. The difference between this ordinary life and life in, say, Des Moines, Iowa, is that we go about our business in brilliant sunshine, without coats, earmuffs, boots, and long underwear. We drive without snow and ice.

Part of the reason that my books are heavy on setting is that I wanted my readers to know more about Miami than what they read in newspapers or travel brochures. Life here has changed over the 33 years that I have resided here. We now have four professional sports teams, the Miami Dolphins, The Florida Panthers hockey, the Heat basketball, and the Florida Marlins baseball. We have a world class ballet company and a performing arts center that rivals the top European venues. We have restaurants and food markets that supply Asian, Italian, Korean, Vietnamese, Cuban, Kosher and more menus and ingredients. We have the University of Miami, Florida International University, Miami-Dade College, Barry University, and St. Thomas University. All of this and great weather.

When we have visitors, the first thing they ask to see is South Beach. We fool them. First we show them around south Dade County: Pinecrest Garden, Fairchild Tropical Garden, small bistro type restaurants, outdoor cafes, The Redlands where fresh strawberries and tomatoes abound all winter. Then we tell them to go to South Beach. Invariably, they return less than enthusiastic. “You live in a real place with real neighborhoods,” is almost everyone’s comment.

Many travelers to Miami from other parts of the United States are annoyed when they hear a great many Spanish speakers. It is true that some residents resented the waves of immigrants who settled in Miami after dictators took over countries in the Caribbean and South America. Some long time residents moved north to Broward and Palm Beach Counties only to find that patterns of mobility brought new immigrants to those areas, as well. “You can run, but you can’t hide,” the old adage goes. Those of us who have remained in Miami have found that diversity adds to life style, bringing new artists, musicians, and opportunities for expanded horizons. Looking at immigration patterns overall, each wave of new citizens in the U.S. has enriched all of us, and each ethnicity has melded into the whole within few generations.

Of course, no place is perfect. We have horrendous traffic problems during rush hours, as you will read in my book. We have hurricanes or the threat of hurricanes as you will read in a later book in the series. We have suffered from unethical politicians (crooks), but we’ve never had a governor who had to resign like New York, or be impeached like Illinois. My educated guess is that wherever one chooses to call home, the good usually outweighs the bad in the mind’s eye or else a person would eventually move.

My personal reading preference is to read books that make place a necessary component. I would prefer to read a work of fiction that delivers a picture of a location rather than reading a guide book when contemplating a trip. My hope, in writing FATAL FEBRUARY and other books in the Mary Magruder Katz series is that my readers will feel that they have visited Miami and South Florida whether they ever come here in person.

Finally, I picture readers of FATAL FEBRUARY who live in colder climes settling in for a good read in front of the fireplace. By the third chapter they will feel as if they’ve been transported on a tropical vacation. I’d enjoy knowing what readers think about settings in novels. You can let me know how you feel by contacting me through my website,

Many thanks to Barbara for stopping by and giving us a little insight into the WARM, SUNNY setting of Fatal February. I know I, for one, could use a WARM, SUNNY setting to escape to! If you could also use a Miami escape, Barbara is giving away a signed copy of Fatal February to one lucky tour visitor. Go to Barbara’s book tour page,, and enter your name, e-mail address, and this PIN, 2954, for your chance to win. Entries from this blog site will be accepted until 12:00 Noon (PT) tomorrow (that's February 20, 2009). No purchase is required to enter or to win. The winner (first name only) will be announced on Barbara’s book tour page next week.”

Fatal February from Oceanview Publishing is available now.


misterreereeder February 19, 2009 at 7:48 AM  

Location does play an important part of the story. I am particularly fond of Texas mysteries (being from Texas) because I can visualize the places while I read. But it is so fun reading about other places as well where it takes a little moreimagination when I am not familiar with the place.

Corey Wilde February 19, 2009 at 9:40 AM  

Jen, when you've visited the locale described in a book, how well does what the writers describe compare to your own experiences? Or does it matter as long as the story is a good one?

J. D. Michael Phelps February 19, 2009 at 11:42 AM  

Hi Jen,

Just discovered your Blog through my Google Alert for detective novels.

I am impressed with your interview of the Honorable Judge Levenson.

I will rush out to buy her "Fatal February" NOW. I too, live in Miami, have raised German Shepherds (former Military Police K-9 - USAF), and I am an Author of police/crime/courtroom drama Fiction (although based on real cases). I retired as Chief Investigator for a prominent Coral Gables Law firm, specializing in criminal defense.

My first book, "DAVID JANSSEN-MY FUGITIVE", the biography of the late Golden Globe Winning, EMY Nominated actor was written by me with his first wife, Ellie Janssen.

My debut novel, THE EXECUTION of JUSTICE, (Blue Line Publishing House,Inc.), is now available. It is based on the true story of a close friend and mentor, a detective sergeant in the Robbery & Homicide Division of the Indianapolis Police Department.

I'd be happy to send you a copy for your review. I really enjoy your site, and will look in on you at Facebook, etc.


Michael Phelps

Corey Wilde February 19, 2009 at 12:17 PM  

Wow, for a second I thought: that Michael Phelps?

Michael, how did you come to write the Janssen bio?

itsamystery February 19, 2009 at 3:31 PM  

Great author posts on this tour. Barbara Levenson is a very interesting person with incredible insight into the writing world. Thanks for sharing.

Jen Forbus February 19, 2009 at 7:09 PM  

Ha! Corey, I thought the same thing when I saw the comment come through my e-mail! Too funny.

Anyway, your question about locale immediately brought to mind Linda Fairstein's Alex Cooper novels for me. I don't have a lot of opportunity to travel, but when I went to NYC I saw a number of places that she uses in her books and she really does a wonderful job with NYC. I'm looking forward to seeing RC's LA in April - oooh, I just can't wait!

Also, I need to apologize; I still don't have DSL fixed at home yet. I've been pokey in getting my replies in here. They've assured me someone will be out to fix it tomorrow. I'll be checking alternative providers at work tomorrow, but my selection is very slim in my area. Anyway, sorry for taking so long to respond!

le0pard13 February 19, 2009 at 9:12 PM  

Having a post from a guest author is a great touch for your book blog, Jen. I appreciate her insights re: Miami.

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