This week, Midnight Ink sat down with Jeff Cohen (sometimes known as E.J. Copperman), author of the new Asperger's Mystery series.
Midnight Ink: How long have you been writing?
Jeff Cohen: What’s today . . . pretty much since I was eight.
MI: What influence have other authors had on your writing?
JC: I don’t know that other writers influence the way I write. Obviously I have read a lot of writers who are important to me, like Irwin Shaw, Robert B. Parker, William Goldman, and many others. But I’ve always pretty much written the way I write. I think.
MI: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
JC: Living in a refrigerator carton. I don’t know how to do anything else. Luckily I married well. For any number of reasons.
MI: If you have a job outside of writing, what is it?
JC: I don’t. This is it. So buy my books; I still have student loans to pay off. (Actually I do a little teaching, but that’s much more part-time than writing.)
MI: What is/are your favorite thing/s to do when you’re not writing or working?
JC: It’s such a cliché: I like to spend time with my family. I play guitar when nobody can hear. I watch a lot of movies and I read. I am a remarkably dull person.
MI: Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?
JC: Besides my own? Probably Sherlock Holmes, although he’s something of a know-it-all. I like Spenser, at least in the first 30 or 40 books. And Chris Grabenstein’s John Ceepak/Danny Boyle series is something I’ll always stop my day to read.
MI: Do you have a favorite murder case from a book (either yours or another author’s)?
JC: I’m going to get in such trouble for saying this: The murder is the least interesting part of the story to me. I’m much more involved in the characters and their relationships, and hopefully in making the reader laugh. I come up with different ways to kill fictional people because it’s part of the form and it makes the story go, but the murder itself? In other people’s books, I barely pay attention. In my own, it’s always the thing that causes me the most headaches.
MI: What was your inspiration for the Asperger’s Mystery series?
JC: I have a son who has Asperger’s (or whatever they’re calling it this week) and his challenges and triumphs in dealing with the world are an inspiration all the time. As for the Asperger’s series itself, I thought it would be interesting to get inside the head of someone who thought like that and give him something difficult to figure out. The whole thing came in a flash—the missing head, Questions Answered, Ms. Washburn (although she didn’t have a name yet), everything. It was just a question of figuring out the mechanics of it once I started writing. And that’s always the hardest part. For me.
MI: How does this series compare to your past works?
JC: It’s not as desperate to make you laugh, although hopefully people will find it funny. Aaron Tucker was a joke machine; the plot was secondary to him riffing on things. Elliot Freed was Aaron Tucker on steroids—he lived for comedy, almost literally. The Haunted Guesthouse series has Alison Kerby’s attitude throughout and the situations are set up to be funnier. With Samuel (in the Asperger’s series), he would not be anxious to make jokes because he’d be worried people wouldn’t find them funny. It’s more the reactions of other characters to what he does that carries the humor here.
MI: Tell us about Samuel Hoenig.
JC: Samuel is right on the edge of a lot of things. He has Asperger’s, but he’s very high-functioning, so he almost doesn’t have Asperger’s—at least outwardly. He’s not quite a genius, but he’s really close. He’s an adult in his 30s who lives with his mother because he wants to. And he opens a business at which people can get any question answered—if it interests Samuel. He believes Asperger’s is less a disorder and more a personality trait, so he’ll get a little testy if people treat him like he’s afflicted… but he’s not above using that to his advantage when necessary. Samuel’s complicated, more than might immediately be obvious.
MI: Do you have a pet? Tell us about him/her.
JC: As a matter of fact, we adopted a beagle name Gizmo (and the four of us debated for three days about a new name before leaving the one he’d been given at the shelter) who’s just over a year old and hasn’t figured out he’s not a puppy anymore. He’s a very small beagle (they call him a teacup beagle, but my vet says there’s no such thing). He’s heavily into chewing and getting picked up. He’s settling into the family nicely.
MI: If you don’t have a pet, do you have a favorite animal?
JC: Does Bullwinkle J. Moose count?
MI: What food could you live off of for the rest of your life?
JC: Pasta, but I prefer having a choice.
MI: Do you have a favorite recipe?
JC: You’re assuming I cook. That’s adorable.
MI: What is your favorite part about being an Inker?
JC: I am very big on personal relationships—I like doing business with people I like. So I’ve been really impressed with everybody at Midnight Ink and their incredibly supportive attitude toward Samuel and the series.
The Question of the Missing Head is now available online and in bookstores!