Thursday, June 27, 2013

Chatting with Jennifer Oko - Head Case (Book Tour & Giveaway)

Head Case
by Jennifer Oko

Welcome to BK Walker Books Etc. I'm so happy I could join you today at your subtegmento. 
It's apparently, the Esperanto word for attic. It sounds much more interesting this way, no?)

BK: Yes, it does. Looking out the nearest window, (are their windows?) describe the scene you see.
I am sitting a small desk in the attic/playroom, and it only has skylights. In order to see out, I have to look up. It’s gorgeous, so long as I can hold my head that way. I see a few tree branches, a beautiful blue sky, and a little bit of rust around the frame.

BK: Tell us about your office. Is it a mess like mine, or is everything in its place?
Here’s a sneak peak of a passage of the book I am working on now, in which my home office plays a cameo:
Resigned, I closed my laptop and walked across the makeshift home office I had crammed into the corner of our small semi-finished basement, stepping across the detritus of a rambunctious play date that had occurred two days prior, careful not to impale myself with a stray Lego block.  It took dexterity to get to the bookshelf behind the train table without causing myself physical harm, but I got there. I moved aside the tattered Dr. Seuss tomes and a half dozen half-chewed board books and laughed at my own obvious metaphor as I plucked my twenty-five-year-old copy of Crime and Punishment off the shelf.

BK: What is a must-have, such as coffee or a favorite pen, that you need to write?
Electricity. The story of my laptop’s battery could be a murder mystery unto itself.

BK: Haha. I hate laptop batteries myself.  Do you like to write in silence, or do you need music or background noise?
My most focused writing usually happens in noisy cafes. That’s why the battery situation is such a bummer. My favorite cafe just got rid of all the public AC outlets.

BK: Tell us a bit about your hero/heroine, and their development.
The narrator/heroine of Head Case is the ghost of a murder victim named Olivia Zack. In life, Olivia was a PhD candidate in neuroscience who had a penchant for experimenting with psychopharmaceuticals and buying designer clothing she couldn’t afford. In death, her ghost tries trying to figure out both how she was murdered, and in doing so, how her relationship with her best friend had fallen apart. It’s her investigation of her own murder that become the narrative.

One of my friends said HEAD CASE is like a mystery mashup of Prozac Nation and Bridget Jones Diary, which makes me laugh because there is probably some truth there.

BK: As a writer myself, I'm always curious how other writers get through stumbling blocks. When you find a story not flowing, or a character trying to fight you, how do you correct it?
Oh! If I had a good answer for this I might have to patent it! Mostly, I just try to push through, writing scenes that usually have nothing to do with the plot, but that might give me a better sense of how my character moves about in the world. I often write myself into crazy corners this way, but at least I am writing something.

 BK: Using the letters of your first name as an acronym, describe your book...
This is funny to me because for my day job I have been consulting at an enormous multinational NGO and there EVERYTHING is an acronym. I can never figure out what anyone is talking about.
How’s this:
Negates the
Intensity of
Even after a drug-fueled

BK: How did your writing journey begin?
My professional writing journey began when I realized that a diary I was keeping during a rather bumpy period in my life read a bit like a novel. Long story short, I took a memoir writing class, cleaned it up, and ultimately it got published! The reviews for Lying Together were really nice, and that helped me sell my second book (Gloss) before it was even half written.

I think that I always wanted to be a writer, but I just didn’t know it.  I co-wrote a novel with my best friend when I was eight (the title was It’s Nice to Be Together and it featured a “together monster” as the central character), but it wasn’t until my late twenties that I really started to embrace the idea of becoming a professional author. Now, being an author is a huge part of my identity. When my son was in kindergarten, he wrote me a card that said (his spelling) “my mom is a good mom bcus she rote books.” I love that!

 BK: Using the letters from the word, Summer, how would friends and family describe you?
I am struggling with this one, so I outsourced it.
Here’s what my friend Maureen offered up (can you tell she’s also a writer?):
Smart as a whip
Merry, but

BK: I loved it, lol. What is the craziest thing you've ever written about, whether it got published or not?
I think Head Case might be it! As one reviewer said, “there are drug-dealing grannies, pill-popping celebrities, Russian mob bosses, eccentric ex-Soviet chemists, feuding roommates, faltering friendships, bad bosses and a rat named Raskolnikov - so how can you not have fun?”

BK: Tell us one thing you've done in life, that readers would be most surprised to know.
When I was 18, my friend and I stowed away on a sailboat in Italy for a couple of nights. It was a pretty stupid thing to do, but since nothing terrible happened, it’s a good memory.

 BK: What can we expect from you in the future?
The above excerpt is from the novel that I am currently working on. It’s still at that point where I can’t really talk about it though... not so much because I am afraid that someone will steal the idea or that I will jinx it, but more because I am still trying to figure out where I am going with it. But there is a mom, a murder, and a whole bunch of allusions to morbid moments in classic Russian literature.

This or That...

Coke or Pepsi?

Night Owl or Early Bird?

 Fantasy or Mystery?

Pen/Paper or Computer?

Pizza or Burger?
Burger--if my husband is grilling. Otherwise pizza, preferably from Sals.

 Rock or Country?

Chocolate or Vanilla?

Beach or Mountains?
Mountains, if there is snow to ski on. Otherwise a beach and a book!

Thank you so much for having us as one of your stops today. It has been great getting to know more about you and your book, and wish you the best of success!
Thank you for hosting me!

About The Author:

Jennifer Oko's first book, Lying Together: My Russian Affair (written under her maiden name, Jennifer Beth Cohen), was published in 2004 and received numerous positive reviews. The New York Times Book Review called Lying Together "riveting" and twice named it an Editors' Choice. The San Francisco Chronicle raved, saying it was "a heady cocktail" and "a quick, juicy read." Her second book, a satirical novel about morning television news entitled Gloss, was a Marie Claire "pick of the month" in 2007 and chosen as a "hot summer read" by USA Today.

Currently working as a freelance writer and media consultant, Jennifer is a "recovering" journalist and award-winning television news producer. A graduate of Columbia University's Journalism School, her career has taken her across the country and around the world.

Additionally, Jennifer's writing has been published in a variety of magazines, including The New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, Maxim, Self and Allure.

Jennifer lives in Washington, DC with her husband and their son and daughter.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Head Case

Genre: Humorous Mystery

Publisher: Jennifer Oko
Release Date: February 2013

Book Description:

As one reviewer states: "HEAD CASE is an enjoyable gem of a mystery, and more...There are drug-dealing grannies, pill-popping celebrities, Russian mob bosses, eccentric ex-Soviet chemists, feuding roommates, faltering friendships, bad bosses and a rat named Raskolnikov - so how can you not have fun?"

HEAD CASE is a new, exciting and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny mystery from an author whose work has been called "SIMPLY RIVETING" by The New York Times and "SHARP AND FAST-PACED" by Publisher's Weekly. It's like Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones meets Carl Hiaasen's Nature Girl (with a dash of Janet Evanovich's One for the Money) as Olivia embarks on a postmortem quest to deconstruct the remarkable events that lead up to her mind-altering death.

A comic satire of the influence of the psychopharmaceutical industry on American life, HEAD CASE takes Olivia and her estranged friend and roommate Polly Warner on a collision course involving ethically challenged executives, spotlight-hungry celebrities, third-rate mobsters and drug-dealing babushkas. A smart and savvy page-turner, HEAD CASE explores the meaning of personal relationships, emotional intelligence, and mental health while taking the reader on a synapse-stirring, neurotransmitting rollicking ride.

Praise for Head Case

"Head Case is an enjoyable gem!" ~Dan McGirt, Amazon Reviewer

"Oko's writing is as addictive as the pills she pokes fun at!" ~ElevenelevenAM, Amazon Reviewer

"All I can say is that if you don't put ALL YOUR OTHER BOOKS AWAY and read just the FIRST chapter you are NUTS; you will find yourself going and going and I will just say it now --your welcome!" ~Jennifer Elizabeth Hyndman, Amazon Reviewer



It's all very dramatic. Although I suppose on some level, in the end, that is what Polly wanted. I mean, she didn't want anyone dead, certainly not anyone she knew. The opposite really. She once told me she just wanted it all to be very alive. Life. Which is drama, right?
I think she was probably right, that to some degree that's what we all want. Or wanted. If we were going to be satisfied just living our lives with the dull drudgery of the everyday, then why would we spend so much time fantasizing about what's next, what's in, what's hot? If dull drudgery made us fly, Polly wouldn't even have the silly career she has. Celebrity publicists wouldn't exist. No one would aspire to anything. And without aspirational living, who would care about celebrities, luxury goods, or, hear me out now, the pursuit of happiness. Right? So maybe there's a very direct link between our celebrity culture and our societal eagerness to pop a pill.
I know it might sound like a stretch that there could be a connection between designer psychopharmaceuticals and, say, designer fashions, but if you stop to consider that, with the exception of certain celebrity Scientologists, just about everyone who is anyone in the world of the aspirational has certainly popped a few in their time, it makes sense. We live by these assumptions that overnight success is possible, that shiny happy people are models to uphold, that tomorrow any of us could be the next A-lister, the next gazillionaire. Couldn't there be a connection here? If there is a pill for every little micro-problem in our brains, why not believe that there's a quick fix for everything else too? I'm sure Polly used to believe that. I know she did.
This is what's so nice about being dead.
I get to play the role of wise sage, and with an amazing perspective. Because when you die, not only can you flit around the present, you also get to watch stuff in rewind. You get to go inside peoples' heads in the past tense and follow the firings of their synapses, medicated or not, as they spit them toward the present. Yes, Cher, it turns out that you can turn back time. But the catch is-drum roll please-you can't be alive to do it. And so, proverbial remote in hand, I'm now able to backtrack; I can take a look and try to figure out how this all happened to my best friend. And by extension, of course, how this happened to me. How, at the ripe age of twenty-eight, with a future as bright as whatever cliché the tabloids will soon be gushing, my body-the body of Olivia Zack-is lying down there in the back of a black Lexus SUV (license plate NYX1KZ, in the event anyone can do anything with this information) while I'm up here, floating around bodiless in the ether, shape-shifting, wall-transgressing, house-haunting, and whatever else it might be that you imagine we ghosts can do. I'm trying to figure that out as well. After all, this is fairly new for me, too. I've only been like this for a few minutes, just long enough to zip up to Polly's apartment and witness her flailing about, waiting for me to come and comfort her once again.
Anyway, in order to figure this out, it seems logical that before I can fully focus on my ending, I need to go back to the source of the whole mess. Because it's very clear, especially considering the other blood that was spilled near my remains, that I seem to have gotten caught up in a drug war. And I'm not talking crack cocaine. I'm talking Prozac. I'm talking Ritalin. I'm talking Adderall, Lexapro, Zyprexa, Klonopin and what have you. The good stuff. The blockbusters. The billion-dollar babies.
Go get some popcorn. The show's about to begin.