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BY AJ TRAGER
Suspenseful literature, like that of writers such as Dan Brown, brings intense scenes and a fast trajectory to the narrative. “Assault with a Deadly Lie” is one such work of fiction sure to catch and keep the attention of readers.
Author Lev Raphael paints Michigan as a troubled state caught between the hustle and bustle of a metropolis and the calm of a quiet, harbor vacation destination; any native Michigander is sure to feel right at home when reading it. Anyone who has lived in a college town during the summer months will surely connect with the lulling descriptions of a campus not in full swing, but perhaps not with the life threatening interactions Nick Hoffman, the protagonist, faces. Hoffman deals with multiple threats to his life and struggles as a gay man forced to work with the police of Michiganopolis.
Hoffman knows one thing: he and his partner, Stefan, are being targeted. They may be under threat because of Stefan’s Jewish heritage, because of their very open relationship in what appears to be a semi-conservative town, because the university where he works has gone through some recent changes or because an old acquaintance is harboring hatred due to a declined application. Hoffman is thrown into survival mode, not knowing when, where or from whom the next threat will come.
As the son of Holocaust survivors, Raphael focused many of his early stories on similar experiences, has published dozens of essays, articles and stories in a wide range of Jewish publications and has keynoted three international Holocaust conferences. Raphael published his first short story in 1978 and his first book in 1990, which won a Lambda Literary Award. Over the course of his career, Raphael has written 24 books including two books about Holocaust survivors, three memoirs and his latest book, “Assault with a Deadly Lie,” as the eighth installment of the Nick Hoffman Mysteries series.
Alongside writing, Raphael works as a creative writing, popular literature and Jewish-American literature assistant professor at Michigan State University. Raphael sat down with BTL to discuss his book, his writing process and the influence his life has had on the work.
How long have you been writing and what does the writing process bring to you?
I’ve been writing since second grade, because that’s when I fell in love with story telling via science fiction and adventure. I love casting a spell on people the way books of all kinds still cast a spell on me.
Are any of the characters in “Assault with a Deadly Lie” tailored after someone in your life? If so, why did you choose those characteristics?
All writing is autobiographical, but in my books, it’s autobiographical in highly personal ways that only I, my spouse and maybe my best friend might guess at. Why? Because I like having some privacy even though I’m a public figure. So people might think they know who somebody is in a book, or think the narrator is me – but they’d be wrong!
Much of your content features overcoming great obstacles and oppression. Can you talk a little about what it is that drives you to those narratives?
This is a novel of suspense, and that’s how the genre is constructed. The protagonist faces an increasing series of obstacles and has to overcome each one – or go under. It’s like life, magnified a thousand times. But this book especially was started four years ago in response to changes in our society. We’ve become a national security state with militarized police forces, and I wanted to show the impact of that on a gay couple.
Your writing covers a lot of styles and topics. What is the most rewarding thing this broad range of skills has brought you?
That’s a hard one to answer because it’s brought me many things, like Special Archives at MSU’s Main Library buying my literary papers; teaching in London for six weeks; being invited to speak at the Library of Congress; having the U.S. State Department send me on two book tours in Germany; reading from my work in eight different countries on three continents; and seeing my work appear in 15 different languages… it’s all connected to the range of my writing and my different audiences.
Given your background – being raised by Holocaust survivors, being gay in the 80s, growing up in the field of writing and speaking at international Holocaust conferences – what can you suggest to help LGBT youth who are going through tough times?
It’s important to develop a network of friends you can reach out to for support; to maintain a balanced life in every way possible; to explore what nourishes you and to always try to keep that close; to understand the impact of shame and fight against it; and to develop your sense of humor. Oh, and having a dog helps keep you grounded in earthly reality. On the other hand, finding a way to express yourself artistically is also important because you can transform and transcend reality – as well as use your work to make the world better.
What’s up next for you?
I’ve got 10 different books in various stages of completion. The one closest to being done is a sequel to my horror novella, “The Vampyre of Gotham,” set in 1910 New York.
What life has in store? I hope it’s less snow.