Name Michael Levy
Where are you from Andover MA, but originally born in Newburgh NY,
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
Boston University undergrad and the California school of professional psychology at Berkeley for my Ph.D. Live with my wife and I have one daughter. I enjoy working out, skiing, bicycle riding, traveling, the beach, acting, painting and writing.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
Just published my second book and completed a 7 city book tour. Also just assumed a new position as the director of substance use services at a hospital in Salem MA
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
Obviously in undergrad and grad school, I had to do a lot of writing and I was a pretty good writer and did well. After graduating and reading articles and books in my field, I just felt like I had something to say, I wanted to express that, and I began to experiment with writing professional articles and submitting them to journals. I am also very achievement oriented and enjoyed the thrill of seeing my work published. I began to write many articles and eventually decided to try to write a book and get it published. I was drawn to writing. I also write many letters to the editor at The Boston Globe and have gotten many published. I also for 12 years, I wrote a question and answer column in several local newspapers that focused on the understanding and treatment of substance use.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I guess after my first book. Actually, after the publication of my second book. If you write two, I guess that you are officially a writer.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
There was something that I needed to say about the treatment of alcohol use disorders. I wanted to help people who struggled with their drinking and I wanted to share with them ideas, some that are less traditional, about how they could help themselves. There is also too much misinformation in society about this problem and I wanted to share a different but informed perspective.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I believe that I write very clearly and have the ability to bring a complicated subject matter to people in a way that is very understandable. I do not like to go on and on….a book does not necessarily have to be long to be good! I write in a way that comes natural to me.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
My editor at Rowman and Littlefield experimented with a number of different titles and finally settled on this one. Originally it was just about celebrity obsession, but as much of the book is about our addiction to being entertained, it was decided to include both celebrities and entertainment in the title. The ‘addiction” and “obsession” words were my own.
Fiona: Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
That we are addicted to being entertained and are obsessed with people in the media as the media and entertainment industry has completely and unknowingly captured and captivated our minds. In addition, there are other things that we can do with our time and minds that are likely better for us.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
It is completely realistic as it is non-fiction and explains our obsession with celebrities and entertainment from a psycho-social-historical perspective.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Only to the extent that I live in society and I see what has occurred – in particular – we have become obsessed with being entertained and with those who are doing the entertaining. Quite honestly, our fawning over people who have given society little in terms of worth bothers me as there are so many other people who have done important things for society who get very little, if no, recognition or particular praise. I would say that for me, particularly when I was young, I did not get the attention or recognition some others obtained although I equally deserved it. The reason for this had largely to do with my physical size. As a result, if I am completely honest with myself, I guess people getting recognition that isn’t well deserved bothers me.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death. Russell Jacoby’s book Social Amnesia. Neal Gabler’s book Life: The Movie was also illuminating.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
That is hard to answer. In general, as I do not view myself primarily a writer, but rather a psychologist, I do hold any particular writer as a mentor. There may be psychologists who happen to write who are more mentors, but again, they are more psychologists than writers per se.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Waiting for Godot
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
None in particular, I tend to focus on subject matters that interest me as opposed to authors.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I am beginning to lay the groundwork for my next book. That book will focus on people who struggle with substance use and may be able to recover from their primary drug of use, although they may be able to use other drugs in safety. This is a completely untouched subject in my field and one that needs attention. I would actually love to see if I could write some fiction! I think that writing fiction would be much more freeing.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Family is most important, in particular, my wife, who has always supported me and believed in me. Other than that, I would say the graduate school I attended for accepting me into the program and my first book agent, who believed in me and helped me to get my first book published.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
At this time, no….but perhaps at some point. I am still primarily a psychologist who tries to ensure that people who enter treatment get the best treatment possible. I develop programs and services and train staff as well as having my own practice.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I wish that it was published in paperback and more available in book stores. In terms of content, I probably still need some time to think about that as it only recently was published.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Not really….it just kind of happened and grabbed me and became important to do. I must always be involved in creating something for if I am not, I feel that something is missing. I am very achievement-oriented and I wanted to put out my ideas and thoughts as I feel that I have something to say.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
My latest work will involve interviewing people who have struggled with a particular chemical, but who are able to use other chemicals in safety and without problems. This is kind of heretical in the field, but clearly this occurs and this needs to be discussed and addressed for many reasons.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
One needs to create the time to do it and I am a very busy person. But, I do set aside the time as if I don’t, nothing will ever happen. A great idea will just remain that: a great idea. I have also found that I often need to edit and edit. Every time I read what I have written and then read it over even days or weeks later, I find that I can make edits. This is an unending process and at some point, you just have to accept it and let it stand.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I truly do not have favorite author. This is because I do not view myself being a writer per se, but rather a psychologist and thinker who likes and enjoys writing.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Not really, although I was involved in a book tour to promote the book and that entailed a fair amount of travel.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
The publishing house with my input.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
As I researched this topic, I found that there was very little written on why celebrities dominate our thinking. It took quite some time for me to figure out what I wanted to say and how to organize my thinking. Trying to make sense of this phenomenon was challenging and at times, it was quite frustrating and draining. In addition, after putting the book together, I felt the necessity to change some of it and to do some reorganizing.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Yes! How our obsession with entertainers began over 100 years and in large part, was spawned by changes in our culture that resulted from capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. Our obsession with entertainment and celebrities is a multifaceted phenomenon that is due to so many variables that have coalesced together. Also, that most people are totally blind to how the entertainment industry affects and controls them and even if they see this, it is accepted if not embraced. They see nothing wrong with being obsessed with movies, TV, and sports, and I am very concerned about this.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
You have to put the time in and it certainly takes time to write. You must commit to it and not get distracted by other things in life. You must make writing one of your priorities. Also, in regards to getting your work published, never give up, never, never, never!
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I hope that you found the book to be interesting and that you learned something by reading it. I would welcome any feedback and comments.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
I do not. I hate to say it, but it was probably a Superman comic book! Certainly, when in college, one book that I thought was absolutely fantastic was Shogun by James Clavell. After 1100 pages, the book came together in the final 3 pages that just blew me away. I love books that surprise me and come together at the end. I hate it when books just peter out.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Anything that is funny I could laugh at as I have good sense of humor. I can cry when I say good bye to people who I love and care about. I can also cry when I experience someone being emotionally touched by another person, when someone emotionally touches me, or I emotionally touch someone and they tell me. The vicissitudes and traumas of human connection is what grab me.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
Tough question. I guess Barack Obama. I feel that we could connect and I would like to know what it was like to be President of the US, including the challenges of this and the frustrations. I would likely find it to be an enlightening and eye opening dialogue, and I know that I would learn a lot.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
“Do not go where the path may lead: instead go where there is no path and leave a trail”. I love this quote because I do not want to be a follower…I must believe in myself and I must be bold. I must be true to myself and challenge myself. Creating is important to me and I must create to be truly satisfied. I also believe that you only live once so you must make it count!! You do not want to be on your death bed and have regrets. My father suddenly died when I was a young boy and that has had a tremendous influence on me. I also believe in being a good person and in having high integrity. A person’s character is what is most important and what lives on.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
Bicycle riding, working out/running, acting (community theater), oil painting, traveling, going to the beach, eating out
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I really watch very little TV. I do not have a favorite show. In terms of movies, in general, I like movies that have point, touch you, and make you think afterwards and that stick with you, although I can enjoy a good comedy that is realistic and still touches you. Solid, clever writing is essential. However, I am not a big movie watcher. In general, I would rather spend my time participating in and experiencing life as opposed to passively watching a movie. That being said, there are some movies that I have completely enjoyed: Broadway Danny Rose; My Cousin Vinny; Life Is Beautiful. There are also some wonderful Christmas movies that we watch as a family that are so touching as a component of them is human connection, relationships, and caring about people. I also love some of the Disney animated movies that touch on human emotion, love, and caring.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music:
For food: Italian, Sushi, tapas, Mexican, most anything although I do not eat meat. Colors: black, white, purple, pink. Music: Certainly rock and roll of the 70s and 80s and beyond (Grateful Dead, Springsteen, Pretenders, Led Zeppelin to name a few but there are so many other musicians and groups that make fantastic music), although I definitely enjoy some newer pop as well. Some classical music is fantastic like Mozart and Beethoven, too.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I would have been a musician and/or a school teacher.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it? www.drmichaellevy.org
Working on a blog…..