Writers Talk Shop, Novel, and Pitch Conference
Commentary by conference attendees
A Conversation With Stephen R. Levine
Stephen is an award-winning former news reporter who spent more than a dozen years covering news and feature assignments for daily newspapers including The Press of Atlantic City, the Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, N.J.) and the Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.). He also wrote for ADWEEK Magazine in New York City and he now writes Web copy for Rowan University in southern New Jersey. His literary thriller, BAD RABBI, developed from a story he covered as a beat reporter in Cherry Hill, N.J. It's the tale of a womanizing clergyman who has his wife murdered in the midst of his extramarital affair with a worshipper.
My character is sort of a modern day Roskolnikov - too smart for his own good - and the story has universal appeal. It's not just the story of a BAD RABBI but a man corrupted by power and ego. Hopefully others will see it that way too.
NYC: What did you find most effective about the New York experience?
SRL: The best part had to be making direct pitches to editors but a close second was my
interaction with other writers in my group. We had a very supportive, eclectic group and it
was a lot of fun working with them over four days. The feedback I got from editors,
colleagues and our moderator, Tim Tomlinson, was really terrific. While I didn't sell my
novel at the conference (yes I arrived with dollar signs in my eyes) I feel I'm well on my way
in part because of it.
NYC: What inspired you to write BAD RABBI?
SRL: When I began writing it I'd been a journalist for about a dozen years and was looking
for a project that would be more lasting than yesterday's newspaper. The irony is that
yesterday's newspaper held the story I was looking for, one with all the elements of good
fiction – a strong, highly flawed character caught up in great conflict.
NYC: How has the story evolved?
SRL: My lead character, Rabbi Louis Abrams, is a hedonistic, charasmatic clergyman with a
30-year trail of broken wedding vows. Though he'd been unfaithful in the past his life
changes when he falls in love with a young Public Radio journalist. Abrams decides he can't
divorce his successful businesswoman wife because a messy public divorce might jeopardize
his standing in the community so he recruits a bumbling handyman to kill her. The plan
begins to unravel almost immediately when the killer crashes his van fleeing the scene of the
NYC: What made you choose to attend the New York Pitch Conference?
SRL: My novel is done but I've only begun to market it and thought the New York Pitch Conference would be a great place to start. I was really looking for some direction in honing my
pitch and that's exactly what I found.
NYC: Do you feel the novel is improved as a result?
SRL: Well, I haven't reworked it much yet but certainly my approach to marketing it and
positioning it has. When I arrived at the conference the tone of my pitch was humorous but
that wasn't exactly right for the novel. An editor at the conference helped me realize that.
NYC: Where does BAD RABBI go from here?
SRL: Hopefully into the hands of a great editor with a big house! I feel I've got a very
compelling story – the case on which it was based was featured twice on Dateline NBC –
and I believe I've written it in a very compelling way. My character is sort of a modern day
Roskolnikov - too smart for his own good - and the story has universal appeal. It's not just
the story of a BAD RABBI but a man corrupted by power and ego. Hopefully others will see
it that way too.
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