Kristin Levine is the author of two middle-grade novels, The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had and The Lions of Little Rock. She received her BA in German from Swarthmore College and an MFA in film from American University. A former teacher, Kristin has taught everything from 3rd grade German immersion to college-level screenwriting. Currently, she lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband and two daughters. For more information, you can visit her website.
Let the conversation begin!
Can you share a nugget of writing wisdom?
My favorite quote about writing (especially for beginning writers) is Don’t get it right, get it written. Once it’s on the page, it’s so much easier to revise. And you almost never get writer’s block if you give yourself permission to write something really, really bad.
Tell us about the book you’re working on.
My first book, The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had, was inspired by my grandfather’s life growing up in rural Alabama. I got the idea for my second book, The Lions of Little Rock, because my mother was born in Little Rock. When it was time for a third book, my dad kept hinting that he hoped it was his turn. So I think my next book is going to be about a paper boy in Chicago in the early 1950s, who is kind of a bully, and how he learns to depend on the greater community around him, instead of his own, dysfunctional family. I may throw a dash of McCarthyism in there too! Hopefully, it will be out in early 2014.
Do you keep a writing journal?
It’s not exactly a writing journal, but I have kept a diary ever since I was in the 8th grade. I only write it by hand, and only when I feel like it, so it’s full of lots of highs and lows, and not much of the everyday stuff in between.
Coffee or Tea?
I like both, but if I had to pick one, I’d say Earl Grey tea with rice milk.
If you could live anywhere for one year, all expenses paid, where would you live?
Vienna, Austria. I actually did live there for a year once. Between high school and college I took a year off and lived in Vienna, working as an au pair. It was fabulous! I especially loved all the music. When I was there (1992-93) standing room at the opera cost $1.50 and a movie ticket cost $9. I’ve never since been able to afford so much live music!
What did you want to be when you grew up?
First a teacher, then a screenwriter. My first book actually started as a screenplay, but when it kept getting rejected by producers because the main characters were kids and it was a period piece, I realized it needed to be a novel instead. Being a middle-grade author seems like a nice fit for me, because I get to do the creative writing I enjoy AND be a teacher when I do school visits.
What is your favorite season?
Summer – because there’s no school! My husband is a teacher, and I really enjoy having a break from our usual routine. We live in the Washington, DC, area, and even though it can get really hot and humid here in the summer, and everyone complains about it (including me), I still love it.
What’s the best dinner you ever had?
When I was an au pair, I took a week off to go to Italy. I was supposed to go with a friend, but she cancelled on me at the last minute, so I ended up going by myself. One day, I was in this little town in Italy and there wasn’t much to do, so I decided to take a cable car to the top of a mountain to see the view. On the way up, it suddenly got super-foggy, and you couldn’t see three feet in front of you, much less any view. I felt kind of bad and sorry for myself, when some guys I had met in the cable car invited me to have lunch with them. Turns out, they knew Italian and exactly what to order and the restaurant at the top of this fogged-in mountain was absolutely fabulous. Expensive too, but I didn’t really care. I loved how this experience I thought was going to be so disappointing, turned out so great. I’m realizing now, I don’t have any memory of WHAT we actually ate, only that it was delicious.
What was the first live concert you ever attended?
Huey Lewis and the News with my dad on my 13th birthday. We had a great time!
What specific thing have you done that impressed yourself?
Learned to speak German fluently. The thing is, I am NOT naturally skilled at languages. English, Math, Science – all those classes came easily to me, but I was completely flummoxed by German. I almost gave up, but then through grit and determination and a whole lot of weird German movies, I got better and better at it. Ten years and a semester abroad later, I realized I was actually fluent. Notice I said fluent and not perfect. I can understand and make myself understood in pretty much any situation, and occasionally fool people into not immediately realizing I’m an American, but I still make lots of mistakes. I think learning to be willing to make mistakes was a really important life-lesson too. I’m actually going back to Austria for the first time in six years this summer – let’s hope I haven’t forgotten everything I once knew!