… But Not Least

It’s not an easy assignment, following this crowd on their first posts, but hey, last aboard, last, um, aboard.  I guess.

For the countless millions of you who don’t know, I’m the author of a mystery series centering on Aaron Tucker, a New Jersey-based freelance writer who works at home, has a wife who works outside the home as a lawyer, has a son and a daughter and a beagle/basset mix from an animal shelter (the dog, not the children), is a bit below average in the height department and doesn’t take a lot of things seriously, at least outwardly. 

I am, on the other hand, a New Jersey-based freelance writer who works at home, has a wife who works outside the home as a lawyer, has a son and a daughter and a beagle/basset mix from an animal shelter (the dog, not the children), is a bit below average in the height department and doesn’t take a lot of things seriously, at least outwardly. Oh, and did I mention that both Aaron’s son and mine have a neurological condition called Asperger’s Syndrome?

Here’s why I’m not Aaron Tucker.

It’s a danger any writer assumes when giving a character any attributes or circumstances that are similar to his or her own.  It’s especially true when the books are written, as mine are, in the first person.  People assume they’re reading your diary entries, that you’ve changed the names and nothing else for the sake of propriety and that everything that goes on in the book (with the exception of the murder mystery, or the entire plot, in other words) is exactly what goes on in your home.

It’s why my wife is urging me to write another series, preferably about a gay French Canadian lumberjack who solves crimes when not felling the mighty Larch.

Writers use their own circumstances because writing a work of fiction is HARD. Coming up with a coherent plot, dialogue that sounds like a conversation and characters who aren’t made out of oak tag is difficult enough (as is evidenced by the heavy hand I sometimes think I wield). Inventing it all from scratch ups the level of impossibility and besides, the first book in the series was my first novel ever, and how the hell did I know people were going to, you know, READ it?

So you borrow stuff.  They say "write what you know."  I know about being what they call a "stay-at-home dad." (Do most dads live at the YMCA?) I understand the freelance writer’s daily routine.  I know a little something about Asperger’s Syndrome, and wouldn’t it be nice if people found out a little more about that, so they could stop treating my son like the Creature From the Black Lagoon?

But you only START with that.  Then, you add what we in the business call (and forgive me if this is too technical a term) "fiction."  You take what exists in your life and you exaggerate it.  Aaron’s wife Abby has, by his estimation, the most magnificent legs in the universe.  Men have been known to go into cardiac arrest upon catching a passing glimpse of them.  Does my wife have nice legs?  I think so.  Have I ever had to call EMS because she wore too short a skirt on a warm June day?  Not really, no.  And by the way, she practices an entirely different area of law than Abby Stein.  But I digress.

See, I traffic in humor, and exaggeration is a tool of humor. Without it, Inspector Clouseau would be a little clumsy, Jack Benny would have been a trifle reluctant to overspend and Woody Allen would have a couple of minor neuroses that he could work out on his own.  I’m guessing Mae West would have still had large breasts, but you never know.

The problem is, when I run into one of the seventeen people on the planet who have read my books (and I appreciate every last one of them, believe me!), they expect to find a man so short you need a microscope to locate him, and who has a clever remark ready in the blink of an eye for any occasion. (I write Aaron’s quips for him,and I can tell you honestly that some of them take hours. By the time he came back with his devastating wit, the person he was talking to could have hopped on a plane and made it to Venezuela.) Strangely, none of them ever thinks that I’d be good at solving crimes.

In my second Aaron book, A FAREWELL TO LEGS, Aaron is getting dressed to attend his high school reunion. He tells the reader, "(Abby) leaned into the closet (we have a lean-in closet in our bedroom, meaning that it’s roughly the size of a small refrigerator, so all you can do is lean in) and came out with the blue T-shirt, a pair of black jeans I actually fit into, and my black sport jacket, which is made of something that approximates suede without actually harming any animals to produce it."  Don’t worry, I actually have a point here.

Not long after the book was published, I was doing a signing at one of the chain bookstores near my home.  I’m used to such things, and expect that no one at all will attend a one of them, so I was pleasantly surprised to see three women, each carrying a copy of the book, approach the podium that the store’s employees had set up. They stopped dead in their tracks, and one of them pointed at me.

"He’s wearing it!" she shouted. "He’s wearing the outfit!"

That’s just what I mean about people taking the similarities between Aaron and me too far.  They were lovely people, all of them, and I enjoyed chatting with them about the books, as I always do with anyone who’s been kind enough to shell out hard-earned cash for a story I made up in my head.  But they were just dead wrong.

The T-shirt I was wearing that night wasn’t blue. It was aqua.

113 thoughts on “… But Not Least

  1. Mary Mitchell

    Humorously entertaining as always, Jeff (and a friend of mine who is dreading upcoming booksignings will find comfort in your–outward, anyway–attitude ).

    Reply
  2. Sue Trowbridge

    Do you also, like Aaron, hate coffee & tea and drink hot chocolate? Because my husband does that too, so I found it kind of endearing when I came across it in “Minivan.”

    Reply
  3. Jeff Cohen

    Actually, Sue, I have to cop to that one. I do, in fact, avoid both hot coffee and tea (I will drink the occasional iced decaf during the summer), and hot chocolate, when it’s really cold out, is the beverage of choice. But my real addiction is caffeine-free Diet Coke, which Aaron mentions in passing, but doesn’t seem to have the same Jones for as I do. Tell your husband to hang in there against the comments. People think you’re not an adult unless you’re a certifiable caffeine freak.

    Reply
  4. Elaine

    Wonderful post, Jeff! Hot chocolate, huh? Hmmm. Pari like Scotch. I’m a Jack Daniels fan-what are the rest of you drinking? But, my writing beverage – just so you all won’t think me a souse, is Cafe Francais. It’s addictive. And it pours the pounds on, but what the hell, right?

    Reply
  5. Jeff Cohen

    The sad truth, Elaine, is that hot chocolate is only an occasional indulgence. Diet Coke is the main addiction. But I haven’t seen much of an effect on my writing. I’d try the Jack Daniels or Scotch, but I’m afraid the only thing alcohol does for me is make me sleepy, and that probably wouldn’t contribute much to the work. I’m so suburban.

    Reply
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