I want to thank Marla Cooper, author of Terror in Taffeta, for answering my questions! It was such a delight to connect with her through Twitter. I invite you to read my review of Terror in Taffeta before reading the interview, as some questions are based on my thoughts on the book. Feel free to follow Marla Cooper on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Google+
Grab the Lapels: On July 20th I reviewed your book, Terror in Taffeta. I was so pleased when you reached after I tagged you on Twitter! What is your relationship with book bloggers so far? What do you wish you could do more of?
Marla Cooper: Thanks for having me! It’s funny, most people say you should never, ever, under any circumstances, respond to a review — even a positive one. And you’ll notice I didn’t respond right away. But since you Tweeted me, I just had this feeling that I should write to you. And I’m glad I did!
I’ve had great experiences with book bloggers so far. I’ve had some enthusiastic praise, and also gotten some good insight. The great thing about book bloggers is that they actually elaborate on their feelings and reactions (as opposed to, say, Amazon, where I got a review that read, in its entirety, “Okay”). Even if it’s not 100% positive, I always appreciate the level of thought and engagement that goes into it.
GTL: I had some criticisms of Terror in Taffeta, but it was a book I felt many readers would enjoy. As an author, how do you handle criticism?
MC: I’m an advertising copywriter by day, so I’ve developed a fairly thick skin when it comes to feedback. And I always find it interesting to hear how different things affect different people. I’ve learned that three different people can have three completely different points of view — and they can all be right. For example, I loved writing Mrs. Abernathy. For me, she’s comic relief. But you had a strong reaction to her, and instead of her being the character you loved to hate, she was just a character you hated.
I thought you made a good case about why you didn’t like her, and it was really helpful to understand your thinking on it. If you’d just said, “She’s the worst; I hate her,” then I wouldn’t have much ground to do anything but disagree. But I loved hearing your reasoning, and it’s valuable feedback. I still love her, but at least now I can see why someone else might not!
GTL: I’ve been really thinking on it, and the only book I can come up with that I’ve read that is a cozy mystery might be Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary, which means I’m probably not your ideal reader! But, I wanted to give Terror in Taffeta a try. I wound up surprised that a wedding planner would be so thoroughly involved in solving a murder of someone she didn’t really know. Is there any advice you would give people like me who aren’t terribly familiar with cozy mysteries when approaching a book in the genre?
MC: I’m not even sure if Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary would even really be classified as a cozy. It seems more like a satire of a pulp fiction novel, with a little bit of mystery thrown in. (It does sound pretty funny, though!).
Cozies, for those of you who don’t read them, are primarily mysteries, but without any violence, language, or adult situations. And the main character usually has some harmless job like cupcake baker or pet groomer, and then she decides to get involved in an investigation. (If Murder, She Wrote was a book instead of a TV show, it would be the perfect example.) Another thing that most of them have in common? They’re not meant to be particularly realistic.
Now, as I mentioned, there are not many very good reasons for a perfectly sane person who isn’t a detective to want to go solve a murder. To further complicate matters, cozies are almost always series, which means that bodies are dropping everywhere — and how many dead bodies would one cupcake baker really encounter in the course of her day? So needless to say, willing suspension of disbelief plays a huge role in the enjoyment of the subgenre.
My Terror in Taffeta heroine, Kelsey, does feel bad when the bride’s sister is arrested for murder, and she wants to help — plus, a big part of her job is fixing things, so she feels an underlying responsibility to do just that. And then Mrs. Abernathy very politely asks her to help out (ahem), and since referrals are a big part of Kelsey’s business, she feels she has to keep her well-connected client happy. But, yeah, in the real world? She wouldn’t investigate. (And then there wouldn’t be a book!)
GTL: What is your writing process like?
MC: I’ll be honest: I hate revising. Well, I shouldn’t say I hate it, but it goes so slowly. When I’m creating, I’m having fun and it just flows out of me. When I’m fixing problems, I can spend half an hour working on a paragraph that took five minutes to write. When I was writing the second book in the series, I made a choice early on that I later realized wasn’t going to work. (I call it my “left turn at Tucson”). There was no fixing it, so I had to trash several chapters. Those are the days that you think, “Now, why exactly is it that I wanted to write a novel?”
GTL: What did you want to be when you grew up, and does this choice influence your writing today?
MC: In elementary school, I wanted to be either a ballerina or a kindergarten teacher, but neither of those quite panned out. Then, from about seventh grade on, I wanted to be a writer. I took a brief detour when I decided being a business major was more practical, but then I heard about this magical career where they actually paid you to write things, so I switched over to advertising and became a copywriter. That led to writing web copy, which led to me ghostwriting a nonfiction book. Then, I got another ghostwriting gig writing a guide to destination weddings, which gave me the inspiration for my novel. The fun thing about writing novels is that you get to live vicariously through your characters and pursue the roads not taken, so I suppose I could always write about a ballerina who solves crimes!
GTL: My book club is going to talk about Terror in Taffeta on July 31st. In the happiest parts of your imagination, what moments or themes from the book do you hope we hit on in our discussion? What do we say?
MC: What a good question! When I originally sat down to write Terror in Taffeta, I wrote the book that I wanted to read. My main goal was for it to be entertaining, because with everything that’s going on in the world, I want people to be able to have a good laugh. (Myself included!) So in my secret fantasy, everyone would say, “What a fun book!”
However, if your group is looking for a more nuanced, intellectual discussion, you could invite them to explore the hidden parallels between my book and Anna Karenina. (That should keep them busy!).
MARLA COOPER was astonished when, at the age of 18, she realized people could actually get paid to write things. So she switched her major from business to advertising—much to the relief of her accounting professor—and began her career as an advertising copywriter. She later became a freelancer so she could take advantage of perks like working in her pajamas, and now she writes a little bit of everything. It was while she was ghostwriting a book on destination weddings that she found inspiration for her first novel, Terror in Taffeta. Originally hailing from Texas, Marla lives in Oakland, California, with her husband and her polydactyl tuxedo cat.