Meet Marilyn Levinson
Her Twin Lakes mystery series includes A MURDERER AMONG US and MURDER IN THE AIR.
MURDER A LA CHRISTIE and MURDER THE TEY WAY are the first two books in her Golden Age of Mystery Book Club Mystery series.
Some of her books for young readers include AND DON’T BRING JEREMY, which was a nominee for six state awards, NO BOYS ALLOWED, and RUFUS AND MAGIC RUN AMOK, an International Reading Association-Children’s Book Council “Children’s Choice.”
She likes traveling, foreign films, reading, knitting, Sudoku, dining out, and talking to her granddaughter Olivia on Face Time. She lives on Long Island.
Her latest book, THE DEVIL’S PAWN, was released on September 28.
I met Marilyn last spring when we both attended Domestic Malice. We shared a lovely dinner and had some great conversation. I knew immediately that I wanted her to write something for Birth of a Novel. Happily, she agreed. Here’s what she has to say about writing for kids:
Why I Write About Magic and Horror in my Kids’ Books
We Earthlings love stories. Stories explain great events. They draw on our emotions. As far back as we can remember, our stories are filled with other-than-human characters, both good and bad. In Beowulf, possibly the oldest Old English epic poem, the hero defeats a monster named Grendel and later on a dragon. Our folklore abounds with elves and fairies, dragons and trolls, zombies and werewolves—creatures we’ve never seen with our eyes except on the screen. Yet they’re as real to our inner lives as the flesh-and-blood neighbors who live on our streets.
Kids love to read about monsters. They also love to read about humans with magical or super powers. Superman, Wonder Woman and Spider Man are just a few of the well-loved icons of our society. These characters have special powers that enable them in their fight to defend the weak and downtrodden against the evil In the world. Each of our superheroes has an Achilles heel that make them vulnerable to their enemies. A struggle is expected, but good will always triumph, leaving kids hopeful that they too will triumph over bullies and the problems in their lives.
Rufus Breckenridge, the protagonist in my young YA Rufus and Magic Run Amok, an International Reading Association-Children’s Book Council “Children’s Choice”, is an ordinary boy until he discovers he has magical powers like his mother, grandmother, and aunt. Rufus is ambivalent about his newfound powers. Having them means he’ll have to take lessons to keep them under control. Even worse, he’s supposed to use his powers to help others and perform good deeds. Not exactly what a ten-year-old kid wants to do.
Rufus discovers that having magic is fun! Magic is power! He likes upsetting Big Douggie, his nemesis, who used to chase him home from school every day. He enjoys moving objects around. But as his power grows stronger, the objects move too fast and too far, wreaking damage and landing him in trouble. When magic runs amok, Rufus wishes he knew how to control it so it doesn’t control him.
In Rufus and the Witch’s Slave, Rufus and his friends discover that an evil witch is draining the magical powers of a young girl named Violette, and using them for her own illegal purposes. Rufus must convince Violette to stand up for herself and not go along with the old witch’s plans. That having magical powers is not something shameful, as she’d been taught, but a means of doing good in the world.
In The Devil’s Pawn, Simon Porte must develop his special powers in order to save his own life and stop the slaughter of innocent young girls. Evil lurks in the heart of his uncle, Raymond Davenport, the most powerful man in Buckley, NY. Like all Davenports Raymond has magical powers, but they cannot prevent him from dying. Draining the life force of nine-year-old girls only helps him temporarily, and so he tracks down his brother’s family and brings Simon, his fifteen-year-old nephew, to live with him. Raymond hypnotizes Simon repeatedly, each time implanting his memories, values, and abilities into his nephew’s mind. When all is ready, he will live on in Simon’s healthy body.
Locked into a situation that’s threatens his very existence, Simon must develop his powers to defeat his uncle. Knowing nothing about his father’s family, Simon relies on his instincts and smarts to do what he can to avoid becoming his uncle’s pawn. Help comes along in the form of his dotty great-aunt Lucinda, who teaches him how to develop his extraordinary abilities and block his uncle’s assault on his mind. With Lucinda, an odd pair of twins and his younger sister Lucy, Simon takes down Raymond and his cronies.
Children love reading about young heroes who, despite great odds, defeat evil uncles and bullies. Even if they can’t retaliate against a bully in real life, reading about a character that can empowers young readers and shows them it can be done. Rufus doesn’t use magic to defeat Big Douggie, but his own personal strengths, strengths he doesn’t realize he has at the start of the novel.
Simon’s adversary is older and more experienced than he. What’s more, Uncle Raymond is a respected member of the community with henchmen committing crimes on his behalf. The odds are daunting, which makes the story more exciting for young readers. Young people like to read about protagonists forced to fight huge battles, usually more dangerous battles than they encounter in their own lives. They cheer the hero on at the same time they identify with him. The elements of magic and horror drive up the stakes and make for a more exciting adventure. At the same time, readers have nothing to worry about. Deep down, doesn’t everyone know that magic and horror are only make believe and that good will triumph in the end?
In both The Witch’s Slave and The Devil’s Pawn, children are victimized by adults. A scary topic, but one familiar to children. They’re familiar with the bullying older brother, the sarcastic teacher, the too-strict parent. We try to shield our children from the evil in the world but they encounter it every day—in school, on the school bus, even at home. Reading about the trials and tribulations fiction characters must endure helps kids realize that they are not the only ones with problems. The magical and horror elements are far enough removed from real life to help them understand: “This is a story. It’s not real. At least I don’t have to deal with a wicked witch or an evil uncle like Raymond.”
Wise words, Marilyn. Kids need all the help they can get learning to deal with the problems in their lives. Fiction is the perfect way to do this. Thanks for sharing your insights with us.
To learn more about Marilyn Levinson and her books: