When the New York-born writer was just 3 or 4 years old, she’d sit curled up on her mother’s lap reading the first book she remembers: Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings. “I loved that time,” she says of early reading days. She remembers sitting in circle time as her kindergarten teacher read from Dr. Seuss stories and admiring the rhymes.
By elementary school, she was hooked on books. “I sat around reading books at recess while others played around me,” she says, adding that Saturday was library day, when she got to hit the stacks while her mom ran errands.
From there, Levy's obsession with books only grew. Her dad was a big science fiction and fantasy fan, so during middle school and high school she read whatever he was reading — Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, J.R.R. Tolkien. She remembers discovering Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time , before the days of widespread recognition of YA literature.
Now based in Scottsdale, she’s joined ranks of young-adult authors with her first book, The Temple of Doubt, published in August 2015 by Sky Pony Press. The dedication reads: “In loving memory of my parents.”
Levy will be reading from the novel, signing copies, and answering questions on Saturday, September 19, and Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Mesa.
But being a YA author wasn’t something she aspired to early on.
She majored in English during college, deciding she should put aside the science fiction and fantasy books she’d read for so many years. “I was going to do a serious job,” she says. And so she chose journalism.
Levy says she wrote “mostly local stuff” for newspapers in several cities, and it was a good thing. “It got me out in the real world and talking to real people.” However, her bio is more impressive than she lets on.
Levy actually spent more than two decades writing for print, web, and radio. She graduated from Smith College, studied abroad at University College London, and received her master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. She teaches English to middle school students at BASIS Phoenix.
Levy conceived her plot for a novel more than a decade ago, and fleshed it out during a week in bed with the flu. “Clearly, I’ve angered the gods,” she recalls thinking at the time. But the down time wasn’t wasted. “By the time I got out of bed, the whole plot was in my head.”
She wrote early drafts (today she calls them “awful”), but didn’t run with them until after moving to Scottsdale in 2008. “I dusted them off, literally, in 2009,” she recalls. “They were on floppy disks.”
She reworked the drafts in the middle of the night, then made more revisions after securing a literary agent in 2011. They went back and forth with the manuscript for about three years, further developing the characters and enriching details about the characters' world.
The Temple of Doubt imagines life for 15-year-old Hadara, who lives with her mother in a place called Port Sapphire, where the Temple of Doubt teaches that only magic, and never nature, can be trusted.
Hadara sees things differently and learns as she journeys beyond her city that “everything she’s been taught about the sacred and profane” isn’t necessarily true.
Levy describes it as the story of Hadara’s exploration and coming of age, noting that Hadara has a lot of hesitation about religion. “I see a lot of young people, and people of all ages, question their faith," she says.
While writing, Levy discovered that crafting fiction was far different from being a journalist. “I feel like I had to unlearn a lot of things,” she says. “In journalism you write everything up front, but a good story unfolds.”
It's been a learning process from start to finish. Although it's far from over. The Temple of Doubt sequel, The Well of Prayers, is slated for release in August of 2016.
Looking back on the time spent shopping the book around, Levy describes “a whole series of rejections.” She readily recounts the many ups and downs of creating a book, and all the wisdom that comes with the sometimes trying experience. Her favorite pieces of advice she's heard along the way include a simple gem from Jane Yolen, a Smith College alumna who has authored more than 300 books: “Butt in chair," and that, "If you aren't a good writer, you aren't a good reviser."
Very importantly, it's clear that novel writing isn't a one-woman show. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” says Levy. “You need people to run things past.”
And finally, there's the advice that's made her debut so immersive: “Fully inhabit your fictional world.”
Anne Boles Levy will be at Barnes & Noble Booksellers Dana Park Village Square, located at 1758 South Val Vista Drive in Mesa, from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, September 19. For more information, call 480-545-8507 or visit www.anneboleslevy.com.