A Conversation with Lawrence H. Levy


I reviewed Second Street Station on Tuesday, so here’s a quick conversation with the author, Lawrence H. Levy:

What inspired you to write Second Street Station? 
Actually, I originally thought of it as a movie, but I knew that Hollywood has never warmed to original period piece movies because of the expense. I figured that a novel wouldn’t restrict me and some of the most popular books are period pieces. I loved the story and my characters so much and felt I had to tell what was in my mind. So, I decided to write my first novel, and in doing so, I fell hard for the medium.

Mary Handley is smart, principled and fearless. Is she based on a real person?
Mary Handley was a real person who was hired by the Brooklyn Police Department to sleuth a high profile murder. The part that is fiction is Mary’s personality. In my research, I couldn’t find out exactly what she was like, so I have created the woman I would have loved her to be.

Are there similarities or differences when it comes to developing characters for television as opposed to a novel?
I think when you develop for both mediums, ideally you want to give your characters a full, rich background, so you really know who they are, what they would do in different situations, how they would emotionally react, and why. The difference I find between writing a novel and television is that in a novel I have more personal control. I don’t have to rely on actors, a director, cameramen, a budget, etc. to fully realize my vision. I can describe and create exactly what I want. I didn’t really realize that until I started writing Second Street Station, but it’s an incredibly freeing and creative experience.

You have a daughter. What was her influence on Mary Handley? Or did she influence other characters?
Ah, you caught me. There is a lot of my daughter in Mary Handley. Not all of Mary is my daughter, nor is all of my daughter in Mary, but the idealism, the desire to achieve something special in a difficult profession, and the sensitivity are there.

The book is historical fiction. Are there any historical facts woven into the story?
The short answer is plenty. The Edison/Tesla feud is well documented, and I’ve even put in the true historical fact that Edison had Harold P. Brown create the electric chair to discredit Tesla’s AC electricity. And Edison did go around electrocuting live animals in public to do that.  J.P. Morgan did back Edison and George Westinghouse did back Tesla. Morgan’s trysts with prostitutes are legendary. The Goodrich murder did happen as depicted in the book. Mary was hired to find the killer. The characters of Chief Detective Campbell, Kate Stoddard, the police commissioners, and many more characters were real people involved in the case. Edweard Muybridge was a real inventor whose invention was, to use a kinder word, borrowed by Edison. Vin Mariani was a real wine that had cocaine as one of its prime ingredients, and Edison was a proponent of cocaine. There are many more facts, and I can’t give them all here. Suffice it to say, I did a lot of research, and the book reflects that.

Thomas Edison comes across as a very dark character. Tell us more.
It’s hard for me to tell you more without giving away some key details in the book. Let’s just say he was primarily an excellent businessman. He was also an inventor but many of the inventions for which he got credit were mostly other peoples’ work. He had a lab he populated with some of the best scientists in the world, and they did most of the work. There are many stories about him stealing other peoples’ technology. When he died, he had over a thousand patents to his name. Only a fraction of those were genuinely his own work. And there is some convincing and compelling information that indicates he had a much darker side.

What drew you to write a mystery set in the late-nineteenth-century?
A number of facts, actually. Years ago, I was helping my son with a term paper and came across the Edison/Tesla feud over the electricity market. I thought that was fascinating, but I also thought it might be too dry by itself and decided to put it in the context of a murder mystery. After doing research, I found the Goodrich case and thought it fit perfectly.

Can we expect a sequel? How about a TV deal? 
Crown has already hired me to write a sequel titled Brooklyn On Fire to be published in 2016. Many production companies have shown great interest in Second Street Station in both TV and film. It’s nice to be in that position.

About Mark Gardner

Mark Gardner lives in northern Arizona with his wife, three children and a pair of spoiled dogs. Mark holds a degrees in Computer Systems and Applications and Applied Human Behavior. View all posts by Mark Gardner

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