I have to admit that I was wowed by The Last Detective and thrilled to have a chance to learn a little more about Brian Cohn and his next project. If you haven’t read The Last Detective ditch this interview and buy it right now. In the wake of an alien invasion only one detective remains to solve the murder of one of the alien invaders. It’s unique and engaging and memorable. – Sandra Ruttan
What does Brian have to say for himself?
“I’m an ER doctor living in St. Louis with my wife and two rambunctious children. A lifelong gourmand of great fiction, I have had two previous novels published by Pandamoon Publishing. My first novel, THE LAST DETECTIVE, was recently named Underground Book Reviews’ editor’s choice for Novel of the Year.”
SR: What’s your new book/work in progress about? What inspired you to write it?
The Unraveling of Brendan Meeks is primarily about the trials and troubles of living with schizophrenia, not only due to the crippling paranoia and delusions, but due to the way our society mistreats those with mental illness, often tossing them aside rather than dealing with them as the people they are.
SR: Practice pitching: tell us what your book is about in 30 words or less.
The Unraveling of Brendan Meeks is the story of a young man with schizophrenia trying to solve his sister’s murder while being assailed by paranoia, delusions, and voices.
SR: How do you think your protagonist would respond if aliens landed in the center of town on page 57?
I’m not sure Brendan would be all that surprised. He already believes there are government agents hunting him down to retrieve the “code” planted in his brain. I’m not sure aliens would seem that far-fetched to him.
SR: Your protagonist has to flee the country. Where are they headed to and why that location?
I think Brendan would want to go anywhere he could to get away from people, at least now that his sister is dead. An out-of-the-way village in the middle of the Amazon jungle might suit him just right. Basically anywhere he wouldn’t have to worry about secret government agents finding him (although with his paranoia, they would be bound to “find” him eventually).
SR: What conspiracy theory is your protagonist most likely to believe in? Roswell? JFK? Princess Diana? What about you? Any conspiracy theories that you think might have some truth to them?
Brendan would believe in any of the above. They’re certainly no more far-fetched than the conspiracy theory his schizophrenic mind has already cooked up. As for me, I could definitely believe there was government involvement in JFK’s assassination, though I’m not sure there’s much we could do about it now.
SR: Is your protagonist more likely to go insane or end up in prison?
Not really applicable, as Brendan already has schizophrenia, and basically loses touch with reality any time he goes off his meds.
SR: Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Katniss Everdeen or Arya Stark? If your protagonist could be any fictional character for a day who would it be and why?
Arya Stark (in later seasons). I think Brendan would love the idea of being able to change his identity at will. It would be a great way to elude the ever-present government agents trying to get what’s inside his brain.
SR: Was there a specific issue that really motivated you to write this particular story?
I work with patients with mental illness on a near-daily basis. While schizophrenia seemed like a great handicap to give a character solving a murder, I was really more interested in detailing the humanity that we often miss when we see mental illness. We’ve become so accustomed to homeless people muttering to themselves on the streets that we forget that most people with serious mental illness aren’t like that. I wanted Brendan to help people remember that these are human beings with families and lives that, while very different from the lives most of us lead, are just as meaningful. Brendan is a lovable character not necessarily despite his illness, but perhaps because of it. He gives us the slightest glimpse at what people deal with every day, and I hope it will help bring a little empathy into people’s hearts.
SR: What’s one thing that you and your protagonist have in common?
I think we both fondly remember Nintendo cheat codes. Other than that, we are very different people.
SR: If you were in an arm wrestle with your protagonist who would win? What is your protagonist better at than you? What are you better than your protagonist at?
I would definitely win. Brendan isn’t the exercise type, while I work out nearly every day.
SR: If hell was watching one movie over and over and over again, or listening to one song over and over again, what would the movie or song be for you? For your protagonist?
For me, it would definitely be Darren Aronofsky’s Pi. I so wanted to love that movie and felt very let down when I saw it. I couldn’t bear to watch it again, much less on repeat ad infinitum. I think Brendan would be freaked out by Jacob’s Ladder (as was I). It would crank his paranoia into overdrive.
SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?
William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner. It was such a beautifully written story about a tragic time in this nation’s history. I was amazed at how a white man living in the 20th century was able to take me back over a hundred years and give startling insight into the mind of a southern slave. Whether or not that insight was correct, it felt very real and vivid to me, a white teenager in Alabama in the 1990s. That’s a powerful ability, and one that I’ve always dreamt of having. I think in part that was why I was bold enough to write about someone with a disease I’ve never experienced (and struggle to fully comprehend). I can only hope I’ve done justice to all of those suffering with schizophrenia.
SR: What’s the best thing about writing?
For me it’s creating characters and trying to understand their motivations. I’ve always been drawn to books where characters do the unexpected because I find it amazing how an author can nudge you into believing that people can do things you would never have thought them capable of. Motivation is what propels great books.
SR: What’s the worst thing about writing?
The sense of vacuum. I’ve never been ambitious about much, but when I write, I want everybody to read my words. In the end, most writers are lucky to have an audience of a few hundred, and I’ve been no different. It can be a very deflating experience.
SR: How long will you survive in the zombie apocalypse? How long will your protagonist survive? Why?
Brendan and I would both be dead in an instant. I love watching The Walking Dead, but I would have been gone in the first episode, overcome by a zombie horde while peeing in the woods.
SR: Everyone needs an outlet to help them recharge. What hobbies do you have outside of writing?
My family is my outlet. I have a wonderful, supportive, and very patient wife who happens to be my best friend. Very few people are lucky enough to be able to say that. We also have two children that keep me on my toes. Without them, I would be probably be one of those reclusive writers with pale skin and bloodshot eyes that you only ever see in the movies. The one drinking bourbon out of the bottle while composing the “Great American Novel.”
SR: Do you have any special events coming up? Where can people catch up with you in person or on a podcast?
The best way to keep up with my work and projects is on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/BrianCohnWrites), Twitter (twitter.com/briancohnMD), or at my website (http://www.briancohn.org). I love engaging with readers, so please feel free to leave comments at any of the above options and I will be guaranteed to respond.