How Much Would You Risk in a "Real" Witch Hunt?
A new novel imagines family after-effects of the infamous Hollywood Blacklist.
Posted Dec 26, 2018
Before tape recorders, there was something called a "wire recorder." That bit of antique tech plays a crucial role in Thomas A. Levitt's novel The Wire Recorder.
Levitt, the son of two blacklisted screenwriters, used bits and pieces of history and of his own life to concoct a story of how McCarthy's witch hunt and the House Un-American Activities (HUAC) of the 1950s affected at least two generations. For good measure, he added an element of romance.
Levitt, a Los Angeles native, now retired from teaching at a variety of schools and grades in the L.A. Unified School District, graciously agreed to be interviewed about his creative process.
Q: How much did your parents tell you about how the Blacklist affected them and their careers?
Pretty much everything, beginning when I was about ten.
Q: Were their names given up by someone else's testimony?
Yes, at least one of the “finks” – Martin Berkeley – named my parents. I'm pretty sure others did as well.
Q: What was the defining moment you decided to start writing this novel?
When I was 14, I met a girl I liked at weekend camp. When I told my parents about her, they recognized her unusually-spelled surname as that of a man they'd once known and who, my father said, “might be hostile” to them now. My dad checked the phone book and confirmed that she was his daughter; his name and hers were listed at the same address in Beverly Hills (she was apparently a Beverly Hills brat with her own phone line).
I never saw her again, but for years I wondered what would happen if I’d ever wanted to date a girl whose parents were “hostile” to mine. That train of thought led me eventually to conceive a story about a romance between (spoiler alert) a boy whose father had been blacklisted and a girl whose father had been a “friendly witness” and named names before the HUAC. Later I decided to flip the genders to make it less autobiographical, and I gave it the added twist of the boy having grown up thinking his father had been a non-cooperator and been blacklisted, when the opposite was true.
Q: What was your writing process during the years it took to complete The Wire Recorder? Such as writing daily at a set time, or for a certain number of pages or hours? How did you get in the mood, or was that the easy part?
Though I'd written some earlier versions of the story, with different plots and settings, the current version took me about eight years to write. And yes, happily, getting in the mood was the easy part; because the project was intensely self-motivating, I never had to impose any form of discipline on myself in order to keep it moving along.
Q: Do you find the characters you created feel as alive to you as yourself and the other people you based things on?
Yes, they feel totally alive to me.
Q: You mentioned to me that you paid for professional evaluations and copyediting.I saw no typos, so clearly this manuscript got some high-level proofing.
I am pretty good at proofreading. I found a few typos (and over 100 other changes I decided to make) in the first version that I published, made the changes, sent them to my formatter, and uploaded the new version to Amazon. I found two typos in that second version, so I corrected them and uploaded a third version. The ability to easily make changes like that without publishing an entire new edition is one great advantage of self-publishing. Especially for someone as compulsive as I am about such details.
Q: I think you did a nice job interweaving bits and pieces of your own personality in there, your own difficulties with social awkwardness. Did you ever have a mentor like the teacher Stevie in The Wire Recorder?
No, the only real mentors I had were my parents.
- See Thomas A. Levitt's web site here.
(c) 2018 by Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.