Author Interviews: Susan Rogers Cooper, 02/15/96

Author Interview: Susan Rogers Cooper
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Milt Kovak is in no mood for nonsense. The alcoholic wife of his best friend just committed suicide under mysterious circumstance and a beautiful, funny local celebrity has been brutally murdered in her car. Other suicides have been cropping up all over the county, too, in alarming numbers. And, Milt’s normally stable, reliable wife Jean is pregnant and her hormones are lost out in the ozone somewhere. 

Yes, Milt is having a really, really bad day.

To find out how the crusty sheriff tunnels his way through this awful mess, read Susan Rogers Cooper’s sixth Milt Kovak book, Doctors and Lawyers and Such

Described as “the perfect combination of suspense and intimacy,” Cooper keeps several layers of tension floating around at any one time. Since she’s never afraid to kill off a recurring character, you won’t be turning any predictable plot curves while reading her books.

In Doctors and Lawyers and Such, for example, regular character Shirley Beth Hopkins dies from an apparent self inflicted gunshot wound. Unfortunately, the ballistics match her husband’s gun, a man who also happens to be the police chief. Because of her various emotional problems, Shirley Beth was never actually seen in one of Cooper’s scenes, but she was in the background of almost every Milt Kovak book. 

Cooper goes even one step further. In Chasing Away the Devil, the fourth book in the series, Milt’s regular girlfriend Glenda Sue is killed. “I’ve never thought about it, but it probably is unusual that I kill off standing series characters,” Cooper said.

“I know my editor was very unhappy with Chasing Away the Devil, and she wanted me to change the victim to a cousin of Glenda Sue’s,” she added. “I tried to explain to her that wouldn’t work with the storyline, and she eventually came over to my side.”

This book became Cooper’s favorite of the Milt Kovak series. “I found out so much about Milt in it,” she said, “including his childhood and his real relationship with Glenda Sue. One fan said she always looked for a spark of truth in any book she read. She felt it was there when Milt and Glenda Sue realized they never should have been lovers, because they were really and truly friends.”

Cooper sees plenty of her own personality in Milt. “Psychologists say we all have male/female sides, and I think I’ve been able to tap into my male side with Milt,” she said. “Of course, every male in my lifemy father, two brothers, and husbandall think they’re Milt. I just smile and nod.”

Very little of Cooper’s personality surfaces in Milt’s psychologist wife, however. “She’s a hard character for me,” she said. “I have a very good friend who is a psychotherapist, so she helps with Jean’s job.”

Cooper lists other differences. “Jean is certainly better educated than me, and she’s a Yankee,” she said, “but she’s more of a whole-cloth character than other regulars in the series.” 

Although the first Milt Kovak book arrived in the bookstores in 1988, Cooper started writing long before that. “I wrote my first short story as an assignment in the sixth grade, and I loved it so much that I kept at it. I used to hold my babysitting charges hostage, reading them these awful stories!”

She vaguely remembers her first literary attempt. “My character was a green monster with a neon sign on his belly saying ‘Eat at Joe’s.’ I doubt my teacher kept it.”

Cooper probably didn’t outline that story, and she said she still doesn’t. Spending about four hours a day writing, she writes in a more linear fashion. “Outlining takes all the juice out of the story for me,” she said. “I just know who got done, who did it, and why it was done. Then I go from there, revising as I go. Then, I do a second, third, and sometimes fourth draft.”

She suggests that aspiring mystery writers read plenty of mysteries. “Mine preferably!” she said. “Then, finish your story line. That may not be the one that gets published. Actually, it usually isn’t, but keep plugging. The second story might be the one!”

Besides the six-book Milt Kovak series, Cooper has written a mystery series featuring E.J. Pugh (One, Two, What Did Daddy Do?) and another with Kimmey Kruse (Funny As a Dead Comic). “I haven’t been working on a new Milt mystery, because I’m concentrating on the E.J. series right now,” she said. “I just finished the third in that series, with the second, Hickory, Dickory, Stalk coming out this fall.”

Cooper said she has been lucky in her writing career, getting published and receiving mostly favorable reviews. “As far as the one bad review, I found the best way to handle it was to scream obscenities in my office, then get on with my life.”

She modestly attributes her successes to pure luck, but reviews of Doctors, Lawyers, and Such praise her talents. As Booklist put it, “Cooper’s latest Kovak novel…features devilishly funny humor, a clever plot and enough warmth, charm, and down home ambience to knock the socks of a snake.”

Kirkus Reviews echoes that sentiment. “Attention-grabbing plot twists, vividly drawn characters, unsticky but heartfelt domestic episodes, credible solutions, and a hero who grows ever more simpatico: the best of the Kovak series to date.”


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