Author Jeffrey Cohen ~ Interviewed

Jeffrey Cohen is the pseudonym of Jeff Cohen, a freelance writer/reporter/screenwriter/ghostwriter who writes under the name Jeffrey Cohen, because it’s the one his mother gave him. He has written for the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, USA Weekend, the Newark Star-Ledger and Writer’s Digest, among others. He’s the author of the Double Feature Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime, which began in 2007 with Some Like It Hot-Buttered and continued in July 2008 with the current It Happened One Knife. The third in the series, A Night at the Operation, will be published in April 2009. Cohen also wrote the Aaron Tucker mystery series, including For Whom the Minivan Rolls, A Farewell to Legs and As Dog It My Witness, as well as two non-fiction books, The Asperger Parent: How to Raise A Child with Asperger Syndrome and Maintain Your Sense of Humor and Guns A’ Blazing: How Parents of Children on the Autism Spectrum and Schools Can Work Together–Without A Shot Being Fired. Visit his website and blog.

What is your current project? Tell us about it.

My latest book is It Happened One Knife, the second in the Double Feature Mystery series. The series concerns itself with Elliot Freed, a recovering author and husband who takes all his available funds and throws them into the purchase of a one-screen movie theatre in central New Jersey. He resolves to show only comedies, one classic and one contemporary each week, and renames the place Comedy Tonight. In It Happened One Knife, Elliot meets two of his comedy idols, the team of Harry Lillis and Les Townes, now both in their eighties, and sets out to investigate when Lillis informs him that Townes murdered his wife 50 years ago.

Share a bit about your unique writing journey.

I believe I took a left turn in Albuquerque when I should have stayed right on I-95.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think that’s something writers made up to justify procrastination. I have to write for the clients I get, and if I tell a newspaper that I can’t deliver that story on Thursday because I have writer’s block, they’ll be certain to find someone who can. Just sit down and write something. You can always fix it later.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication? Or to narrow it down further what’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

You have to get out and network. It might not be who you know rather than what you know, but if you don’t know anybody, it’s unlikely your voice will be heard. Get out there (even online) and meet people in the publishing business.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

The Lillian Vernon Catalog. If you buy three ideas, the shipping is free.

Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.

As the father of a child with Asperger Syndrome, I’m so used to “the look” that I’m immune to it now. I don’t think about it. Some people will think you’re weird. That’s the way it goes. And my son is now a college student living in Philadelphia, so we seem to have done all right.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

Favorite part: Not having to wear a tie. Least favorite: Not having a steady income.

Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session? Some other quirk you’d like to share?

I’ve noticed that I tend to write fiction in the mid-to-late afternoon. Other than that, I don’t see any shortcuts. You just have to wait for the initial idea, and then jump on it like a scared rabbit until it gets into a shape you can work with. And yes, I ended that last sentence on a preposition. Revoke my artistic license.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

No thanks; I’m good. I don’t outline. It takes the fun out of it for me if I know every single thing that’s going to happen before I write it. I have three or four major scenes I know I want to write, and everything else happens when it is required to happen.

What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book?

I understand getting the pages to stick to the binding is something of a problem.

Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?

I have a saggy middle, but I thought we were talking about books. I tend to write pretty lean books, and then my editor shows me the innumerable places where the plot could be infinitely better, and I always listen to her, even when I disagree, because in the end, she’s always right. It’s infuriating.

With the clarity of experience what advice would you offer up to the wet-behind-the-ears you if beginning this writing journey today?

First, dry behind the ears. People don’t like that. And be prepared to publicize, promote and otherwise shout your name from the rooftops, because you’re mostly on your own out there.

What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?

Probably having children. You deal with young lives and you get a renewed sense of innocence and trust that you might have forgotten. It makes me less bloodthirsty, which is bad for a writer of murder mysteries, and more compassionate, which is good for a writer of any kind.

Any concerns or passion where books and society intersect? Spout a bit…

My first mystery series dealt with a man who, among other concerns, had a son with Asperger Syndrome. I wrote about that experience because I wanted people to know what it was like, what it looked like, and why some people behave the way they do. Mostly, I did it so people would treat my son with more understanding when they met him.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response? Please share.

All reader response (even the guy who emailed that my novel was “one of the three worst books” he’d ever read) is welcome. But when I hear from other Asperger parents about how my books made a difference to them, that’s especially satisfying.

How much marketing/publicity do you do? Any advice in this area?

Do everything you can think of. Do stuff you can’t think of. Go online. Go offline. Forget advertising. Meet people. Tell them about your book. If you come up with something that works really well, call me and tell me.

Parting words? Anything you wish we would’ve asked because you’ve got the perfect answer?

Yes. And the answer is: 12.