What some of his characters are saying about him:
"I have utmost respect for the man. I mean, he created me, did he not?" - Sierra, from "The Knack at Astor Place," published in Meridian, Winter 2009.
"I heard he used to roam around that mysterious abandoned mansion too." - Henry, from "Back to Rosemary Farm," published in Cream City Review, Fall/Winter 2010/2011.
"He was the one who suggested I collect a few musicians on Sunday night and hide inside the heavy metal. I am forever most grateful." - Altea, from "Black Sunday," published in The Gettysburg Review, Autumn 2013.
"I never would have thought a story he wrote about me drawing maps would win a literary award, but, well, okay then. Good for him." - Ethan, from "Critical Cartography," published in The Florida Review, Fall 2007.
"He's a lot like our stepbrother but not as outspoken. We don't think we'd be as inclined to slap him around. The next time we go back to the villa on St. John, he can tag along if he likes." - Reckless and Ruthless (otherwise known as Nora and Ethel), from "Scorpion," published in Eclipse, Fall 2010.
"I don't think he should have had Mary break my bicycle in Montauk. It's an extremely touchy subject we have yet to really put behind us." - George, from "The Musketeers," published in Other Voices, Spring/Summer 2003.
"I didn't happen to meet him quite by chance roaming aimlessly in Central Park, if you really must know." - the nameless protagonist, from "Big Button," published in Sou'wester, Fall 2008.
"Why did he ever mix me up with that model? The woman is just never satisfied." - Peter, from "Chrome," published in AGNI, 2005.
"He keeps me busy, he does. I'm already the fourth grade teacher at the school and run the puppet shows besides, and now, apparently, I have my own chapter in his first completed novel. It is a bit wearing on me, might I say." - Judith, from "Undercurrents," published in Zone 3, Spring 2015.
"I think he was the one who helped inspire some of my famous lists. I keep records of things: mostly wants and desires. But I am not a selfish person, and I'm sure Mr. Levens will back me up on that." - Margie, from "Realistic Situations," published in Yemassee, Spring 2017.
"Never heard of him. And I do get around." - Krystal, from "Meet Krystal," published in Sou'wester, Spring 2012.
Up-close and personal Q & A with Sydney, the heroine in Mr. Levens' two completed novels:
Q: So, how does it feel being the main female character in the novel Girl in Tow, Joseph's first book-length body of work, as well as his recently-completed sequel Mother Dancing with Infant? How do you handle the fanfare and glory?
A: The novels revolve around the old man painter, Damien, primarily. I am simply in the books to go along for the ride, I suppose. Fanfare and glory? I can't say I've seen too much of that. Two reputable New York City agents have met me in Girl in Tow and had such kind words to say about our story, but the work remains unpublished up to this point, several years later.
Q: Why do you think that is?
A: I can only guess. The appeal of the books probably lie most with those readers out there who adore engaging literary content, perhaps those who can appreciate unique perspectives and directions in narration, combined with elements of mystery and intrigue.
Q: Perhaps the read requires a little more of an investment in concentration that an average reader is willing to make?
A: Possibly so. I don't know for sure. But if I were to confer with Damien and Mr. Levens, I believe we'd all be in agreement that although the work may not reach a great majority of readers, we would take comfort in knowing our story had notable impact on a select few.
Q: Can you give us a flavor of the novel, Girl in Tow?
A: Without disclosing too much, let me just say that the book's main focuses include the importance of art, its impact on us, and how far generosity and kindness can go.
Q: Can you tell us a little about the painter?
A: When I met Damien, he was already very distinguished and world-renowned, living alone in Santa Fe, eighty years old. In the latter part of his career, he had painted and selflessly given away much of his work to random people he saw in public, projecting the thought that art is completely independent to that of business and should be a vehicle to help comfort and inspire. In these latter works, rather than including his signature, Damien had taken to hiding a number in the painting, to minimize public recognition.
Q: Is that how you came to know him? Had he given you one such painting?
A: I don't want to reveal a lot of the details, and with all due respect, I'd like Mr. Levens' narrative to tell the story directly. But what I will say is that Damien deeply touched a number of everyday and deserving individuals, and deeply sparked the interest of the art community worldwide, particularly in these mysterious latter works of his.
Q: What about the sequel, Mother Dancing with Infant? Can you give us a glimpse of what has happened since Girl in Tow?
A: I'm happy to say that my story, though I would rather call it Damien's story, lives on through this second novel. I have moved from Santa Fe to New York City and cherish solitary walks through Central Park. My strife continues, and Mr. Levens is now conferring with me and my associates—other fine characters of the books—discussing the possibility of a trilogy.
Q: How exciting. Do you have any guess on how well-received this Mother sequel will be?
A: What matters most is the story itself. I suppose the underlying theme here is not much different than the goal of touching a select set of individuals who can deeply appreciate art and its redemptive graces. We'll just have to wait and see.
Joseph Levens is a fiction writer, living in Smithtown, New York. He founded The Summerset Review in 2002—a literary journal of prose and poetry—and continues to edit it and publish it quarterly with the help of several generous, talented, and passionate volunteers. Work of his has appeared in many literary magazines and won some notable awards. One of his short story collections was finalist in the Bakeless Prize and the annual contest at Autumn House Press. He has completed two linked novels. You can contact him at editor (at) summersetreview.org.