Sunday, March 31, 2013

Head Case Interview

I'd like to welcome author, Jennifer Oko to Cozy Up With Kathy. Jennifer joins us as part of the Head Case Book Tour. Head Case is her current release!

Kathy: What first drew you to the cozy mystery?

JO: This may sound silly, but with both my previous mystery GLOSS and with HEAD CASE, I didn’t fully realize I was writing a mystery, much less a cozy one, until after the fact! Even though some of my favorite authors (like Carl Hiaasen and Lisa Lutz) write books that are marketed as mysteries, I had a rather limited idea of what the definition of a mystery novel was supposed to be (i.e. it was either an Agatha Christie-type whodunit or a Harlan Coben-type thriller). I’ve since learned better, and was thrilled to learn about the cozy genre as it is evolving. I am so happy to be part of the club. I’ve also discovered some great new authors in the process.

Kathy: Do you write any other genres?

JO: My first book was LYING TOGETHER: MY RUSSIAN AFFAIR, a memoir centered around a year I spent working as a television news producer in Russia, navigating the collapse of a country and the collapse of my engagement at the same time. Next came GLOSS, a comic mystery about a morning television news producer caught up in a conflict of interest scandal. I definitely had more fun writing GLOSS and HEAD CASE than I did writing Lying Together. Fiction is very liberating!

Kathy: Tell us about your series. 
JO:  Alas, HEAD CASE isn’t part of a series. At least not right now. I would love to bring back the narrator, but I haven’t figured out how to do that quite yet. Per next question ;-)

Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?

JO: Definitely! I love, love, love Olivia, the narrator (who happens to be a ghost investigating her own murder). She is quite flawed, but she is smart and sassy and funnier than she knows. I really miss her.

Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for HEAD CASE?

JO: When I was in journalism school a gazillion years ago, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn was my “beat” for a reporting class. It’s an area with a lot of Russian immigrants (I used to speak Russian). The first day I went down there, I stumbled upon some elderly women selling prescription medication right on the street. The signs advertising their wares were written in Cyrillic, so the English-speaking beat cops were oblivious. Or at least they pretended to be.

A few years later, I wrote an article about it for New York Magazine. It was one of the first pieces of writing I was ever paid for. Now, it’s right here on the bookshelf next to my desk, nicely framed.

Around the same time, a dear friend was visiting, and in the morning she realized she had forgotten some medication she was taking. I happened to be on the same medication, so I gave her some of mine. That’s when we hatched an idea to write a screenplay about friends trading prescription drugs. We never wrote the movie, but I did start writing the book, combining some of these ideas. The story changed tremendously over the years, but there are still a few sentences from the original version.

Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?

JO: HEAD CASE was originally set to go to press in early 2009, the second of a two-book deal that started with my novel GLOSS. The cover was created, pages proofed and all—when suddenly the publisher canceled about half of its titles because the economy was tanking and the market for fiction was going down with it. HEAD CASE was one of those titles. They reverted the rights to me, and I spent the next year revising the manuscript some more. After a few more attempts to sell it to another publisher ("Endearing!" they said. "Flawlessly written!" and then passed, for want of famous authors and guaranteed hits), I stuffed this labor of love into a virtual desk drawer. But then... the world started to change!
After reading story after story about once conventionally published authors having lots of fun (and occasionally great success) in the brave new world of digital self-publishing, I realized that an eBook format would be the perfect publishing platform for this somewhat unconventional book.

Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?

JO: Fun! These aren’t necessarily my all time favorites, but I do love them and it might make for a good “girls’ night out” as it were:
Jennifer Weiner, because I love that she is a positive force for getting female authors the attention they deserve.
Agatha Christie, because she is the Queen.
Joanne Fluke, especially if she will bring the dessert.
Dorothy Parker to spice it up.

Kathy: What are you currently reading?

JO: Here are the top five on my Kindle, in order of when last opened:
Front Page Fatality, by LynDee Walker — Just started, looking forward to picking it up again this evening.
The Museum of Innocence, by Orhan Pamuk — Reading now. The protagonist is a bit of a creep, but I like it.
The Queen of Spades, by Aleksandr Pushkin — Inspiration for the new novel I am working on.
How to Make a Killing on Kindle, by Michael Alvear — Ha!
The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker — Loved.

Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?

JO: Does drinking coffee count as a hobby? Hmmm. I like making up stories with my kids (ages 5 and 7). They want to publish a book with me, so I recently typed up one of the stories and they are working on the art. It will probably have a very small but dedicated fan base.

Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.

JO: Oh, this assumes I always have four items! I am a terrible cook. That said, there is always enough stuff to scrap together a half decent school lunch. And there’s always ice cream. It’s the glue to my marriage. After the kids go to bed, my husband and I curl up on the couch and eat ice cream (usually Breyers Mint Chocolate Chip) almost every night.

Kathy: Do you have plans for future books?

JO: The novel I am working on right now isn’t part of a series, but it could be the start of one. It’s about a writer whose books aren’t selling too well, so she has to return to work full-time. She is trying to balance writing, work and family life—but her creative mojo has been sapped. To get inspiration, she starts to re-read some of her favorite murder scenes from literary history, and those fictional events start to influence the what is happening on the pages she is writing—as well as events in real life around her. Got any recommendations for crazy crimes in classic literature?

Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?

JO: On a good day, the words just come pouring out and it’s like I’ve gone to visit another world. It’s amazing. On a bad day... well, I remind myself of this thing that happened when my last novel (GLOSS) was about to come out.

I was on an airplane and had the good fortune to sit next to an amazing, inspiring woman. She was a nurse in her late 50s with a long career behind her, as well as a doting grandmother to a couple of toddlers she loved madly, and she was leaving her family to help set up a military hospital in Afghanistan. I wanted to thank her for her work, her bravery, her trailblazing, but all I had was the galley copy of GLOSS. I gave it to her to keep her entertained on her long flight.

Many months later, I was getting ready for a reading at a small bookstore when my agent called to say that said that while the reviews were great, sales weren’t moving. It was crushing news, and I was so upset I wanted to cancel the reading. Then, like something out of a Nora Ephron movie, minus the romance, my inbox chirped. It was an email from the nurse, telling me how much she had enjoyed the book and thanking me on behalf of all her troops out there in the war zone for giving them a few hours of a fun, entertaining read that took their minds away from where they actually were.

I replied immediately, but never heard back. But when I’m having a bad day and start asking myself what the heck I’m writing for, why should I keep at it, I remember her and I get my answer. 
Thank you Jennifer, for the interview. If you want to learn more about Jennifer Oko you can find her via these links:

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this great interview, I really enjoyed reading it. Especially the last part, about how the book was appreciated by the troops.

    And I do hope your children will become famous authors in their school ;)