Monday, March 3, 2014

Interview with Kim Cooper

Earlier in the month I read Kim Cooper's delicious The Kept Girl, a novel of Raymond Chandler, a murderous cult, and a sultry 1929 Los Angeles. I'm thrilled to share my interview with Cooper so read on to learn more about her book and what she does when she's not writing (which is very cool!).

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

The Kept Girl is actually the first piece of fiction I've written. I've been a professional writer for most of my life, but always nonfiction: music criticism, oral history, true crime. The story of the Great Eleven cult was so compelling, especially when paired with the opportunity to set the young Raymond Chandler on their trail, that I was compelled to make the leap to writing a novel.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

Writing fiction feels very different from nonfiction. I've always done my best writing late at night, but The Kept Girl insisted I attend to her early in the day. I think other parts of the brain get used, and that the proximity to the dream world helped when it came to conjuring up the lost Los Angeles that is the setting of the book.

I also came up with much of the dialogue in the sauna at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, which is Chandler's old club. The slightly hallucinogenic experience of getting really hot in the dark proved the perfect environment for letting the novel's characters come alive.

Was The Kept Girl the original title of your book?

It was. Naming things is one of my favorite mental exercises, but it usually is pretty hard work. This title came very quickly, almost as if it was already there, just waiting to be said out loud. As soon as I did, I knew it was the one. A lot of things just fell into place with this project. It felt quite extraordinary.

Kim Cooper
As you were writing The Kept Girl, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

Near the end of the book, when detective Tom James finally meets the cult priestess Ruth Rizzio, his questioning brings out aspects of her philosophy that I didn't see coming. The things that Ruth and her mother did to the followers of their cult are not black and white. What looks demented from the outside can be an act of profound faith to true believers on the inside. I find that chilling.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

You'll find me most Saturdays on the Esotouric bus, giving guided tours of Los Angeles true crime and literary history. I love turning people on to hidden treasures, exploring old buildings, digging for gems in book and thrift stores and chasing down threads of lost urban lore.

Read any good books recently?

I've been enjoying LA.S.D. arson investigator Ed Nordskog's new book about the most memorable firebugs he's busted, Fire Raisers, Freaks and Fiends: Obsessive Arsonists in the California Foothills. The 1920s doesn't have a monopoly on murderous kooks!

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My thanks to Ms. Cooper for her time and answers. Kim Cooper is the creator of 1947project, the crime-a-day time travel blog that spawned Esotouric's popular crime bus tours, including Pasadena Confidential and the Real Black Dahlia. With husband Richard Schave, Kim curates the Salons of LAVA - The Los Angeles Visionaries Association. When the third generation Angeleno isn't combing old newspapers for forgotten scandals, she is a passionate advocate for historic preservation of signage, vernacular architecture and writer's homes. Kim was for many years the editrix of Scram, a journal of unpopular culture. Her books include "Fall in Love For Life," "Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth," "Lost in the Grooves "and an oral history of the cult band Neutral Milk Hotel. The Kept Girl is her first novel.  You can learn more at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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