Let’s close out November with one more Composite Sketch.

I’ve been a fan of John Copenhaver’s books since his debut, Dodging & Burning. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, his stories always reflect that viewpoint, but from a historical prospective without ever sacrificing quality storytelling or believable characters.

Anytime my husband Michael and I can meet up with John and his husband, Jeff, it’s sure to be a riotous good time. The talk will inevitable include books, but the threads of conversation will stray to many other esoteric topics along the way. It can be challenging to keep up!

If you haven’t read John’s books, do check them out, but first let’s see how he addresses our Composite Sketch questionnaire.

Name: John Copenhaver
Location: Richmond, VA

This person from my personal life is such an inspiration:

I don’t have a single person who was a model of inspiration for me. Rather, it’s been the strong women in my life, from my mother to my “nanny” Diane (who helped my mother raise me when my father was dying of cancer) to the many women teachers and professors who took their time to teach me how to write well. I became a writer and teacher because these women saw me for who I was and took the time to cultivate my creativity. Although I’ve had some wonderful men as models in my life, too often, I felt the expectation to fit into a predetermined mold. Women, in contrast, listened and made suggestions, not demands. That was liberating.

One of the people I admire most in the crime fiction community is:

Oh, gee, this is hard. By choosing one, I’m doomed to leave out the many writers and community members I admire. But okay, here goes: Michael Nava. Michael has published crime novels since the ‘90s about gay Latino criminal defense lawyer Henry Rios. The child of Mexican immigrants and gay, Michael had lived and written in an intersectional space for many years before the term “intersectional” was used in the common parlance. He’s published with the Big 5, and he’s published independently. He’s fought bias of many types in publishing and succeeded in producing eight superb Rios novels. He’s now the managing editor at an imprint of Bywater Books called Amble Press. In 2011, at Lambda Writers Retreat, our workshop leader—another great in LGBTQ+ crime fiction, Katherine V. Forrest—taught our group using Michael’s notes. Katherine’s and his collective wisdom shifted my understanding of myself as a writer. I deeply admire what he’s achieved and what he’s given back to the community.

STALKER ALERT! If this fictional character were real, they would likely need to get a restraining order against me:

So many of the fictional characters I find compelling aren’t people I’d want in my life. In fact, I might deliberately avoid them. As a reader, I like the unlikeable. So, I will answer this question about what character most fascinates me. It would have to be Tom Ripley from The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. As a reader, Highsmith masterfully lures me into aligning my perspective with his, and I find myself cheering for him when I should be calling the police on him. The trick of that character, I think, is to give him qualities we identify in ourselves: a sensitivity to the world and its beauty, a hope to rise above station and status, a desire to be loved—and then she turns the screw by making him morally bankrupt and psychopathic. She’s telling us: Watch out, he’s more like you than you might imagine. So, yeah, I’d stalk Tom Ripley—but I’d keep my distance, too.

People are always surprised that I am a fan of this individual (singer, actor, or artist):

Virginia Woolf. I don’t think most associate mystery authors with high modernists like Woolf. Modernists were typically against traditional plotting, and mysteries, by definition, must adhere to certain plot conventions. But Woolf’s work, especially To the Lighthouse, shaped my thinking about how stories about families can be told and about how we grieve the loss of a parent and, yes, how to continue to be writer or artist in the face of rejection and eventual undertow of time. Most of all, she’s a writer who continues to draw me in and remind me that all fiction is mystery fiction.

PS: I’m also a HUGE Carly Rae Jespen fan. Is there really a pop album better than Emotion?

My personal catch phrase is (or should be):

I was having dinner with my ninety-one-year-old mother one night when the topic of tombstone epitaphs came up. I asked her what she wanted on her tombstone. She took a sip of her wine, sat back deep in thought, and then, with a deadly serious expression, said, “She tried.”

I said, “Oh boy.” And we both burst out laughing.

So, from now on that’s my catch phrase: “She tried.”

Sometimes I’ll be doing a household task like folding fitted sheets, get frustrated, throw it down, shrug at my husband and say, “She tried,” and walk away.

Find out more about John at his website