Interview with Jeffrey Cohen
By Shirley Wetzel
(June 16, 2009)
Q. Youíre a New Jersey boy, born and bred. What influence did growing up in New Jersey have on your writing?
A. New Jersey is the middle child of the United States. Weíre stuck between New York and Philadelphia, weíre constantly trying to attract attention, and we get ignored or ridiculed. So: no, no influence at all.
I think, seriously, that all New Jerseyans have a certain inferiority complex. We get mocked a lot when we donít actually have a lot of the characteristics people attribute to us. But that develops a strong sense of irony and sarcasm, traits we use to great effect. It made me talk the way I do, which led to me writing the way I do.
Q. Name some of the many jobs you held before turning to the mystery field. Which was your favorite?
A. Well, they all involved writing. I started as a newspaper reporter, then moved on to public relations (mercifully briefly), then trade journalism, then freelancing, which Iíve now done for 24 years. Obviously, I liked freelancing best, or I would have done one of the others for 24 years. But Iíll always have a soft spot for the time I spent as a newspaper reporter, even if at the time I wanted to get out as quickly as I possibly could.
Q. You are more than an author of humorous fiction, you are a strong advocate for educating people about autism. Youíve written two non-fiction books about raising children with Asperger Syndrome, part of the autism spectrum. One of your children, now a college student, has the syndrome. Why did you decide to write the books, The Asperger Parent and Guns Aí Blazing, both of which, you say, have subtitles so lengthy that they qualify for a spot in the Guinness Book of Records?
A. I wrote The Asperger Parent for very selfish reasons -- I wanted people like me to stop treating this part of the autism spectrum like the Tragedy of the Western World. I thought that if we could train ourselves to see the funny parts, to celebrate the small successes, we could have happier children and lead happier lives ourselves.
I wrote Guns Aí Blazing, a study of people with children on the spectrum and the relationships they have with school systems, because Iíd heard horror stories (all of them true) about such dealings, and wondered why my son had had such a relatively smooth way through a public school system. I concluded, after a while, that we were extremely lucky to begin with, but also that going in with a positive attitude and a realistic expectation can certainly help.
Q. Your first series, the Aaron Tucker mysteries, feature a protagonist who is a freelance writer and house husband who takes care of the children, one of whom has Asperger Syndrome. His wife is an attorney. There are some similarities to your own life. Coincidence?
A. Yes, total coincidence. I started out to write a series about a transsexual lumberjack from West Palm Beach, and look what came out.
Honestly, I gave Aaron some of my own circumstances (but none of my experiences) because 1. I never thought anybody was going to read it; 2. I knew I couldnít really write a novel; and 3. Because I had never tried such a thing before, and figured that if I at least knew the characterís daily routine, Iíd have some familiar touchstones to rely upon. Then I found out that everybody assumes you are the character, and made sure Elliot Freedís circumstances were not at all like my own.
Q. You and your son Josh collaborated on your insightful YouTube video -- Itís Just a Mystery: advice for aspiring authors -- which can be found on your website: http://www.aarontucker.com\ No question here, itís hilarious and everybody should watch it!
A. Well, thank you. It was a lot of fun and Josh, a film student at Drexel University, gets the bulk of the credit. He worked very hard and had really good ideas.
Q. Your latest three books are in a new series, the Double Feature Mystery series. Iíve read that you would love to have the job your protagonist, Elliot Freed has, owning a movie theater that shows only classic and current comedies. Is that true? If so, might this be something you try later down the road?
A. Elliotís job is sort of a fantasy of mine -- forcing people to watch the classic comedies I adore so. Would I ever do it myself? Good lord, no! Iíd lose my shirt in a week, and if thereís one thing the world doesnít need, itís me without a shirt!
Q. I understand NIGHT AT THE OPERATION will be the last book in the Double Feature series. Do you have something new in the pipeline?
A. Well, yes -- A NIGHT AT THE OPERATION will be the last in the series, unless everyone -- and I mean EVERYONE -- goes out and buys one right away. But I will be starting a new series about a woman who opens a Jersey shore guest house that has a couple of, let's say spectral occupants, in June, 2010. Look for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED (unless the title changes) by E.J. Copperman (unless that changes, too).
Q. Last year, for the first time ever, you came to Texas to do a signing at Murder by the Book in Houston. Was that a culture shock for you, since you have seldom traveled far from New Jersey? Was the experience much different than signings in the places you usually go? How so?
A. I hate to burst the bubble for you, but Iíd actually been to Texas before, when I was a trade journalist, interviewing electronics retailers in Odessa. A glorious time.
A signing is very much a function of the store and the booksellers who organize them, so it was a wonderful experience, because the people at Murder by the Book are very professional, very enthusiastic, and absolutely charming. The town itself doesnít really play into it, other than the fact that I was staying in the most hilarious hotel Iíd ever seen.
Q. Tell us how you feel about the explosion of wildly popular vampire-themed books and movies.
A. I have absolutely no opinion. I havenít seen or read any of them, and pretty much gave up on vampires after Barnabas Collins.
Q. Your books are excellent, and you have a loyal following. Have you been able to crack the code as to why some authors zoom to the top of the best seller list while others, equally (or more) talented, do not?
A. If I had cracked the code, Iíd be one of the zoomers, rather than one of the code-crackers. But thank you for the kind words. Perhaps that should be "small-but-loyal following."
Q. What is the most important criteria for becoming your friend on Facebook?
A. It helps if I actually know who you are.
Q. What accomplishment are you most proud of?
A. Their names are Josh and Eve.
Jeff, Iíd like to end this interview with a quote from J.D. Salingerís classic novel, The Catcher in the Rye.
The protagonist, Holden Caulfield, says:
"What I like best is a book that's at least funny once in a while...What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though."
Your books are funny much more than once in a while, as well as moving and even, at times, inspirational, and your main characters are people Iíd like to be friends with. And while Iím not likely to pick up the phone and call you to tell you how much I enjoyed one of your books, I know I, and other readers, can express the sentiment by e-mail and you will be there to answer it. That doesnít happen much.
Thatís very, very kind of you. Iím flattered, and if I donít sound that way, itís because I donít handle flattery well. I deflect with wiseguy-ness. Itís not intentional.
Jeffís website: http://jeffcohenbooks.com
Jeff blogs on this site:
Books by this author...
FOR WHOM THE MINIVAN ROLLS: AN AARON TUCKER MYSTERY (Bancroft Press, 2002)
A FAREWELL TO LEGS: AN AARON TUCKER MYSTERY (Bancroft Press, 2003)
AS DOG IS MY WITNESS: ANOTHER AARON TUCKER MYSTERY (Bancroft Press, 2005)
SOME LIKE IT HOT-BUTTERED: A DOUBLE FEATURE MYSTERY (Berkley Prime Crime, 2007)
IT HAPPENED ONE KNIFE: A DOUBLE FEATURE MYSTERY (Berkley Prime Crime, 2008) Read the review?
A NIGHT AT THE OPERATION: A DOUBLE FEATURE MYSTERY (Berkley Prime Crime, 2009)Read the review?
THE ASPERGER PARENT: HOW TO RAISE A CHILD WITH ASPERGER SYNDROME AND MAINTAIN YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR (AAPC, 2002)
GUNS A' BLAZING: HOW PARENTS OF CHILDREN ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM AND SCHOOLS CAN WORK TOGETHER--WITHOUT A SHOT BEING FIRED (AAPC, 2006)
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