Sunday, March 17, 2013

Review/Author Interview: Head Case by Jennifer Oko



Jennifer Oko

Release Date:
February, 2013

Olivia Zack is a smart, hardworking neuroscientist and pharmaceutical consultant. She’s also very much dead. Now, she wants to know who was behind her murder and she intends to find out.

It all started when she was hired by Pharmax to research a new drug that will make people who are unhappy with their jobs, very happy. They lavished  her with money and she was totally taken in by them, but then she became suspicious that there was something underhanded going on.  It even caused her to lose her best friend. Unfortunately, she also lost her life.

Olivia gives us an hysterically funny narration of her quest to learn the details of her murder as well as a satirical look into the pharmaceutical industry.

I loved the character of Olivia. She wasn’t perfect, but she was strong and witty. This book gave me many hours of enjoyment and laughter. It has everything you’d want – a humorous premise, an intriguing mystery involving everyone from the Russian mob to celebrities to unethical executives. It all mixes for a fast-paced mystery that will leave you laughing.  Jennifer Oko is an author I'll be adding to my "must read" authors.

For reading challenges:
A-Z Reading Challenge 2013
2013 ARC Reading Challenge
2013 E-Book Reading Challenge

FTC Disclosure: The author provided me with a copy of this book for a review. This did not influence my thoughts and opinions in any way. All opinions expressed are my own.

Author Interview

Please join me in welcoming author Jennifer Oko to Socrates’ Book Review Blog and Socrates’ Cozy CafĂ© Blog.  Jennifer is the author a brand new humorous mystery, Head Case.  We are very happy she is visiting with us today.

Welcome, Jennifer!  Ready to be interrogated?  LOL

Hi Yvonne! You’ve given me some rather tricky questions that have been fun to grapple with!

1)         First, when did you know you wanted to write books and mysteries, in particular?
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 let myself 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!

As for the mysteries, this may sound silly, but with both my previous mystery Gloss and with Head Case, I didn’t fully realize I was writing a mystery until after the fact! Even though some of my favorite authors (like Carl Hiaasen and Lisa Lutz) write books that are marketed as such, I had a rather limited idea of what the definition of a mystery novel was supposed to be (i.e. it was either an Agatha Christie-type whodunit or a Harlan Coben-type thriller). I’ve since learned better, and am so happy to be part of the club. I’ve also discovered some great new authors in the process. 

2)         Who is your greatest influence in your writing life?
I feel like I should say Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, but in truth it’s probably Carl Hiaasen (Strip Tease, Nature Girl, etc.). A gazillion years ago, I was introduced to his books while working on a profile about him for a television show. It was a revelation to me that a book could be an outlandishly funny page turner while still having depth. I actually sent him some excerpts of a very, very early incarnation of Head Case, and he sent me an encouraging postcard in return.  I wish I knew where I put it because I would love to have it framed over my desk next to my son’s card!

3)         What else have you written?
My first book was Lying Together: My Russian Affair, a memoir centered around a year I spent working as a television news producer in Russia, navigating the collapse of a country and the collapse of my engagement at the same time. Next came Gloss, a comic novel (that I didn’t fully realize was also a mystery until I saw the cover) about a morning television news producer caught up in a conflict of interest scandal. Sense a theme? ;-)

4)         Where did you come up with the idea for a humorous mystery?
That’s a really hard question! I suppose the answer is that life is often funny and mysterious so you don’t have to look that hard for seeds. It’s a question of where and how to plant them.

5)         Who are your favorite authors and what are your favorite books?
I tend to be a kind of “love the one you’re with” person as far as books are concerned. Right now I’m reading and loving The Museum of Innocence, by Orhan Pamuk. I recently read Gone Girl, which I loved, loved, loved until about 75% of the way in, and then kind of hated—but I have to give credit to her for evoking such polar passions in me!

6)         Where do you do most of your writing?  Can you describe the setting for us?
Lately, it’s wherever I can find a table during my lunch hour! Who knew that a Cosi sandwich shop could be so creatively inspiring?
The other, more regular setting has a cameo in the new mystery I am working on (working title, The Sentence). Here’s an excerpt from the most recent draft:
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.

7)         What kind of communication have you had with your fans – in person or via an online method?  Do you have any particular story to share with us?
For the first two books, there was a fair amount of in person contact with book tours and book clubs, but it’s amazing how the world has changed in just a few short years. I’m trying to connect with fans in social media as best as I can (please like me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter!). I love that I can see who has Head Case on, say, a goodreads shelf, and pop them a quick thank you note and ask their opinion.

I do have a particular story though, and a heartwarming one at that. Seriously, cue the violins. 

A few years back, when Gloss was about to come out, I was on an airplane and had the good fortune to sit next to an amazing, inspiring woman. She was a nurse in her late 50s with a long career behind her, as well as a doting grandmother to a couple of toddlers she loved madly, and she was leaving her family to help set up a military hospital in Afghanistan. I wanted to thank her for her work, her bravery, her trailblazing, but all I had was the galley copy of Gloss. I gave it to her to keep her entertained on her long flight.

Many months later, I was getting ready for a reading at a small bookstore when my agent called to say that said that while the reviews were great, sales weren’t moving. It was crushing news, and I was so upset I wanted to cancel the reading. Then, like something out of a Nora Ephron movie, minus the romance, my inbox chirped. It was an email from the nurse, telling me how much she had enjoyed the book and thanking me on behalf of all her troops out there in the war zone for giving them a few hours of a fun, entertaining read that took their minds away from where they actually were.

I replied immediately, but never heard back. But when I’m having a bad day and start asking myself what the heck I’m writing for, why should I keep at it, I remember her and I get my answer.

8)         Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
Yes. 266. That was the number of words on a random page a writer friend once counted. She made a pact with herself that all she needed to do was to write 266 words each day. It is not a frightening amount of words. It’s doable. So, I’ve tried to take that on, and while some days I find myself overusing adjectives to get the word count up, most days I find that when I sit down to write the 266, I usually write many, many more.

9)         How do you feel about the e-book market vs. traditional books market?
Um... ask me in a few more months?
The truth is, unless you are super famous or super lucky, both are extremely hard. Certainly, with traditional book publishing I had the support of the sales teams and some help with getting work of the books out there, but a lot (most) of the promoting fell to me anyway, and there was a lot about the experience, especially with the second book, that was frustrating. There is definitely something liberating and exciting about doing it on my own (with the financial support of the backers of my Kickstarter campaign for things like cover art and proofing), and publishing it as an eBook is the best way to do that. It is all the harder to get noticed, though. Apparently, the number of self-published books produced each year has jumped 287 percent!!

10)       Can you give us a sneak peek at your next release?
Ha! You’ve asked me at the right time! A couple of week’s ago I wouldn’t have been able to answer this question. An idea I’ve been toying with for a few years has just started to come together (the little excerpt above is part of it). It’s about a writer who is trying to balance writing, work and family life—but has lost her creative mojo. To get inspiration, she starts to re-read some of her favorite murder scenes from literary history, and those fictional events start to influence the what is happening on the pages she is writing—as well as events in real life around her.

Thank you so much for stopping by!
Thank you so much for hosting me! I hope your readers will check out Head Case, and then enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!


  1. I love reading about other authors and their unique journey.

    My favorite parts of this interview were how the author decided to write mystery; and the excerpt that shows us a setting (or writing space) that is probably more often the kind of space we use.

  2. Head Case sounds unique! Great interview ladies. Its always nice learning a bit about the author behind the books.

  3. Sounds like a fun read. I love a good humorous mystery.

  4. Thank you all for the replies, and major thanks to Yvonne. She asked some hard questions, but it was so much fun. I hope you all have a chance to read Head Case! If you do, please let me know what you think.


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