Interview: Laurie B. Levine

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Laurie B. Levine. Now I Know It’s Not My Fault is her first novel.

Laurie started writing this story several years ago, but then put it down. She was inspired to pick it back up after a female teacher in her town was accused of sexually abusing several male students.

“There were two objectives for me in writing this book,” she explained. “The first was to shed some light on the fact that women can be abusers too—there’s a lot written in abuse and trauma literature addressing men as abusers, but very little about women. I wanted to write a story that depicts an attractive, charming woman in that role. The second objective was to draw attention to a subtle form of abuse. When most people think about child sexual abuse, they think about an adult engaging in direct sexual contact with a child. Now I Know It’s Not My Fault highlights a kind of abuse that occurs under the radar, but can be just as damaging.”

She got her first opportunity to publish in 1990 as the second author of an article entitled “Axe Murders, Spiders and Webs: The therapeutic use of metaphors in couples therapy.”

“It’s mind-blowing if you’re one of the few who are interested in couples therapy or metaphors. I was just 23-years-old and it was a great opportunity for me. I later wrote several other articles and book chapters.”

In Now I Know It’s Not My Fault, Laurie told me that the plot and characters came to her together. Since it’s a story about a subtle kind of abuse, she knew immediately what some of the characteristics of Paula and Alex would be. The idiosyncrasies of their personalities came later as they developed into full-blown people in her mind.

She’s not writing now, but she is percolating on a story that picks up with Alex ten years down the line.

“I really like her character and think it would be interesting to see where she is after college, and how her experiences with Paula affect her life into adulthood,” she told me.

Currently, she’s reading Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo, one of her favorite authors.

“I do a ten-mile bike ride several times a week, and I recently started listening to books instead of music on my rides,” she said. “I’m currently listening to Postcards From The Edge by Carrie Fisher. Her death is such a loss for many. I loved Star Wars and Princess Leia, and I saw the film version of Postcards From the Edge but I never read the book—I’m really enjoying her writing.”

“When did you first consider yourself a writer?”> I asked.

“I published my first article when I was a 23-year-old graduate student so I guess I’ve technically been a writer since then! I’ve been a therapist for more twenty years, and it’s hard to think of myself as anything other than that professionally. But I think publishing my debut novel means I’m now a writer also!”

Laurie has a few different writing spaces depending on her mood and the weather.

“In the winter, and on other bad weather days, I write sitting at my kitchen island if no one is home. The kitchen is sort of in the center of the house, so I feel connected to things in there. My office is on the second floor of the house and overlooks the street but I feel very tucked away up there. My favorite place to write is on my front porch. We live on the shady side of the street, and I have a small table and chairs out there for when I’m in serious writing mode. When I’m proofreading, or playing around with different ideas about characters or plot, I sit on the outdoor love seat with my feet up on the wrought iron table. Sometimes, my dog, who is of considerable size, will curl up next to me.”

She’s a Marriage and Family Therapist and has a private practice in the town where she lives. She told me that it’s the perfect balance to writing.

“I see clients everyday but Fridays. I almost always have gaps in my schedule which is perfect for writing. I also have three teenage kids, a husband, and a giant dog who require rides (the kids and occasionally, the dog, not the husband),” she said.
“I love movies, running and riding my bike. Every year, I try to see all the movies nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.”

She loves seeing teenagers in her practice. Laurie explains why.

“There’s a lot of pressure during that time in a kid’s life. It’s great to be a part of the process of them figuring out who they want to be. Some kids just need an adult, who’s not their parent, to talk to. I can say the same kinds of things their parents say about friends, school, boy/girlfriends. It’s easier to hear it from me because I’m not their mom. I also enjoy helping them find their voices and talk their parents about who they are or what’s important to them. Sometimes, parents’ anxiety about raising kids makes it hard to accept the ways their kids may be different from them. Writing for teenagers is the same process for me. I can raise issues about parents, friends, school, and other challenges without preaching to them. My hope with Now I Know It’s Not My Fault is to show kids abusive adults aren’t just creepy old men. Charming, attractive adults can be creepy too. I want kids to know that something big and scary doesn’t have to happen for them to be affected badly. They should trust their intuition. If something feels wrong, it probably is.”

“What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book?” I wondered.

“The relationship between what’s terrifying and thrilling is interesting as they are often flip sides of the same coin. Some level of risk is inherent in both. I’m generally a shy person, and I’m more comfortable not being the center of attention. Once my book became available on Amazon and I posted that announcement on Facebook, the reality that people were going to read it hit me. Until that point, only my husband and close friends had read the entire thing. It is scary for me to have my work out there for people to comment on or even judge—that doesn’t surprise me at all. What I didn’t expect was that I also like the attention that comes from the book.”

Finally, I asked her what challenges teens face today that she did not.

“Social media and smart phones are great, and I enjoy mine. But as a teenager, the social interactions never stop. There’s always someone posting something or texting in a group chat. Kids are rarely alone with their thoughts. That was one of the reasons I set my book in the 1980’s (in addition to the awesome music). I wanted Alex, the main character, to be alone, at times. I wanted her sadness and anxiety to rise to the top of her experience rather than being chased away by a series of snapchats or tweets.

“School pressure is also a huge thing for teenagers. There’s so much more expected of them in terms of AP classes, extra-curricular activities, pressure to get into college, etc, than when I was young. I see that with my kids and with the kids that come into my office.”

Alexandra Geller is a bright, underachieving fourteen-year-old coming of age in the big hair 1980’s. The sudden death of her mother five years ago, and her relationship with her well-meaning but emotionally unavailable father, leaves her unmoored and vulnerable as she tries to figure out who she is. Early in her freshman year, she’s befriended by Paula Hanover, a young, attractive science teacher at her high school. Paula’s irreverence and charm attracts the attention of the girls, who look up to her, and the boys, who have crushes on her. Alex is thrilled to be chosen by this woman and relishes the feeling of finally “belonging” to a mother figure. Paula’s intentions aren’t so benevolent, as she slowly and carefully draws Alex into a relationship designed to meet her own needs, not Alex’s. Desperate for maternal attention, Alex finds ways to ignore the vague sense that something is wrong. Her compelling story sheds light on a common, but rarely talked about kind of trauma which is subtle and occurs under the radar.

Twitter | Goodreads

Buy the book at Amazon.

Comments

  1. Ooh, this book sounds good. There aren’t enough stories about abuse in general, but it’s especially difficult to find anything written about abusers who are women. Thank you for helping to fill the gap here!

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