Tuesday, February 04, 2014

A Conversation with Mystery Author Kim Cooper

sOmnimystery News: Author Interview with Kim Cooper
with Kim Cooper

We are delighted to welcome mystery author Kim Cooper to Omnimystery News, courtesy of Esotouric Ink, which is coordinating her book tour. You can find a complete schedule of the tour, here.

Kim's debut novel, The Kept Girl (Esotouric Ink; January 2014 trade paperback and ebook formats) is a work of fiction inspired by actual events and featuring the real-life cop who is a likely model for the Raymond Chandler's greatest creation, private eye Philip Marlowe.

We recently had the opportunity to talk to the author about her new book, and she's giving our readers a chance to win a copy! Details, below.

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Omnimystery News: The Kept Girl features characters inspired by real people and a plotline based on real events. Into what genre do you categorize your book?

Kim Cooper
Photo provided courtesy of
Kim Cooper

Kim Cooper: The Kept Girl is a book that defies easy categorization. The plot adheres closely to the actual events that unfolded during the police and newspaper investigation of the Great Eleven cult in mid-1929. But the investigators themselves have been fictionalized — two of them from real people, one a composite character — and the events of several months telescoped down to a single week. Truman Capote's "Nonfiction Novel" might be the best tag to hang on this book, but I'm comfortable with "Historical Mystery". I do think the story will appeal to fans of true crime narratives as well as mystery lovers, and hope that they won't be turned off by it being shelved with the fiction.

OMN: Give us a summary of the book in a tweet.

KC: Young Raymond Chandler, oil co VP, must find cult of murderous angel worshippers who've fleeced his boss' kin. Helped by secretary & LA cop.

OMN: What is your personal backstory to The Kept Girl?

KC: This book comes out of my work hosting Esotouric's true crime bus tours in Los Angeles, where my specialty is researching forgotten oddball cases that reveal the hidden histories of my city. I also ride shotgun for my husband Richard Schave's tours of Raymond Chandler's life and work. The story of the Great Eleven cult was originally featured on a crime tour called Wild Wild West Side, then adapted for the Chandler tour when we stopped giving tours in West L.A.

Esotouric is our family business, a reflection of our many shared obsessions about old Los Angeles. We have lived and breathed local history for almost a decade, and have the great good fortune to make our living taking about 50 people out in a bus every Saturday to explore this fascinating city.

Because of the years of research that have gone into writing my tours and history blogs, when I began work on this novel, I could close my eyes and see and smell Los Angeles as it was in 1929, its criminals and good guys, its public transportation networks, famous landmarks lost and still surviving. I recognized that I have a unique take on the city's past, and found a lot of pleasure in fictionalizing what I've learned.

My book is based on a real cult murder spree, though I've fictionalized the investigators in order to explore Raymond Chandler's life in business before he became a writer, which is poorly understood and, I believe, a major influence on his writing.

The cultists, their victims, the D.A., the Ventura County Sheriff, the larger-than-life rural constable who runs off loiterers with sneak attacks, the idealistic proto-Philip Marlowe policeman who helps Chandler — these are all real people, with their characters and appearance as truthful as news reports and vintage photos can make them.

Of course, one of the cool things a novelist can do is to name interesting characters after people they like. (There's a darker side of this, which I chose not to partake in.) There are a few fictional characters in The Kept Girl who are named after friends. Horace Ridenour, the Venice detective who is present when the mystery of the title character is finally revealed, is a nod to Al Ridenour, whose Cacophony Society of urban explorers introduced me to the weird side of L.A. and who will one day write a great book about local cults. "Perch" Pattison, the philosophical flagpole sitter, is named for Gordon Pattison, whose family owned the last two Victorian mansions on Bunker Hill, and who has greatly enriched my understanding of that tragically demolished community which appears in the book. And Chandler's secretary, Muriel Fischer, is both named for and loosely based on Dorothy Fisher, a beautiful dame who was Chandler's secretary at Paramount and who I was privileged to know at the end of her life.

OMN: Describe what it was like to write this book.

KC: Because this book was so tightly tied to true historical events, the plot was outlined almost to the minute. Then once that tight structure of real events was laid out, I allowed myself to imagine the characters moving through the scenes, and sometimes they would say or do things that I didn't anticipate. I found that staying a bit too long in the sauna at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, Chandler's old club, would produce an almost hypnotic effect during which the situations came alive in my head and I could really let the characters loose. Depending on the scene I was thinking about, this could be a delightful or a rather terrifying experience.

OMN: How did the book come to be titled? And how involved were you with the cover design?

KC: Naming things is a favorite mental exercise. Usually it's hard and time-consuming work, but this time it seemed like the ideal title was on the tip of my tongue. I sat down and made a list of just four possibilities, with The Kept Girl at number three. I said it out loud a few times, smiled, and poured myself a glass of wine.

Shortly before I began writing The Kept Girl, I discovered the graphic work of Paul Rogers — specifically a striking image of the Angels Flight funicular railway coming down from old Bunker Hill in Downtown Los Angeles. It was a wonderful image, because it was clearly a new work, yet it brilliantly reflected the architecture and artistic styles of the past.

When my husband and I decided to launch our publishing imprint and take control of the book's graphic identity, I remembered Paul and visited his website. There I discovered how deeply he delves into the representation of old Los Angeles, and the historic remnants that survive in the modern city. I felt sure that he was the perfect artist to create an iconic image to represent the story of The Kept Girl.

Fingers crossed, I asked if he would consider accepting a commission. Paul read the book, expressed interest, and very quickly emailed me his conception of the cover art, which was nearly exactly in its final form. (The only thing I changed was the headline on the newspaper, because the one Paul used would have been a plot spoiler.) It was an incredible feeling to see the story reflected through his artist's eye. I think it's a beautiful cover, and other people seem to love it, too. Check out Paul's other work and blog at PaulRogersStudio.com.

OMN: Create a Top 5 list for us on any topic.

KC: Top 5 Los Angeles Time Machines, public places where the era of The Kept Girl lives on:

1. The Bradbury Building;
2. The Pacific Dining Car;
3. Caravan Book Store;
4. Angels Flight Railway; and
5. The century-old cactus garden at The Huntington.

OMN: What's next for you?

KC: Having found to my great surprise that I am a novelist, I'm in pursuit of the next story by which to reveal the secret truths of Los Angeles. I already have the germ of an idea, and the research begins in earnest once the book release hubbub dies down.

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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, the Real Black Dahlia and Weird West Adams. Her collaborative L.A. history blogs include On Bunker Hill and in SRO land. With husband Richard Schave, Kim curates the Salons of LAVA — The Los Angeles Visionaries Association. When this 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.

For more information about the author and her work, please visit her website at TheKeptGirl.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Kept Girl by Kim Cooper

The Kept Girl
Kim Cooper
A Mystery Featuring Raymond Chandler

Los Angeles, 1929: a glittering metropolis on the crest of an epic crash. A mysterious prophetess and her alluring daughter have relieved an oil tycoon's nephew of his fortune. But the kid won't talk. To find the money, the old man calls on a trusted executive, Raymond Chandler, who in turn enlists the aid of his devoted secretary/mistress, Muriel Fischer, and their idealistic patrolman friend Tom James.

Soon the nephew is revealed as a high-ranking member of a murderous cult of angel worshippers, and the trio plunges into an investigation that sends them careening across Southern California, from sinister sanitariums to roadside burger stands, decaying Bunker Hill mansions to sparkling cocktail parties, taxi dance halls to the morgue, all in search of the secretive Great Eleven. But when Muriel goes undercover to infiltrate the group's rural lair, she comes face to face with disturbing truths that threaten to spoil everything, not just for the cult's members, but for herself as well.

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