Personal Histories of Loss and Grief

Irene Cooper Author Interview

Found follows a woman who must climb out of the abyss of her grief and help solve a series of crimes before they strike too close to home. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

One of my own interesting (if not notorious) skills has been the ability to sense whether a physical object (belonging to someone else) is, in fact, lost; if it isn’t, I often find it, sometimes in the proverbial haystack. These objects are usually no more consequential than an earring, or a glove. But one day, the idea of the act of finding small things took root: what if the objects were not so inconsequential? I can’t remember the details, but I love research, and research led me to Stevi Jackson’s book about NecroSearch, an actual volunteer forensic group devoted to clearing cold cases by finding bodies via science. I love science, most especially when a human is at the wheel.

My personal histories of loss and grief connect, over space and time, to other histories of loss and grief. The loss of a child is a fraught subject for discussion—an unimaginable event until it happens. Despite our best empathetic intentions, grief of this kind can carry a whiff of contagion. I wanted to find out if there was more to Eleanor’s emotional quarantine than simple retreat—if there was anything like strength in her admission that she had failed to move on.

Safety too was another bee in my bonnet—a concept, I believe, grossly mythologized by and riddled with empty rhetoric. Safety is not the absence of occurrence. Safety lies on the other side of occurrence, or perhaps, on either side—and has, I think, something to do with community. Anyway, these were my concerns and fascinations when developing FOUND. That, and the ongoing war over body autonomy.

Eleanor Clay is a compelling character. What were some driving ideals behind her character’s development?

I didn’t know much about Eleanor when I started writing, except for her pain. That unknowing drove all the questions about what life after the death of a child might look like for her, from base survival to some sort of revival. At one stage of the manuscript, I got some criticism from a trusted source: Eleanor was too obtuse, too absent—hard to relate to, despite her tragedy. I listened to that feedback, and also saw the value of not being too on the nose with Eleanor’s development. Grief is, or can be, alienating. It’s also democratizing—everybody experiences it. Eleanor understands this, and this understanding makes her refreshingly non-judgmental. She has very little ego—not always such a good thing—and abundant, almost childlike integrity. In the end, she remains mysterious, even to herself. I love her, and feel close to her, and feel like she earns her gains in the course of the story. That said, I still don’t know everything about her.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

When my eldest was a freshman or sophomore in high school, she and I went to a presentation for an organization that sponsored short-term travels abroad for middle and high school students. While I disliked the oppressive air of hegemony about the whole “Ambassador Program,” the biggest red flag was (what seemed to me) the ridiculous repetition of the words “safe” and “safety.” How could such a thing be so glibly guaranteed, I wondered? I would rather have understood how organizers were prepared to support the children in the event of an unsafe situation. So, thematically, I wanted to explore the chasm between the promise of safety and what it is to actually feel safe in an unsafe world.

I wanted to think about the various ways we “lose” people, including ourselves, and, of course, how we may be found. In addition, I was thinking about my own autonomy, and about other people’s ability to make decisions about their bodies. I was thinking about the deep impact of family—the one we are born into as well as those we create and nourish.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

Two projects are paying rent on my desktop currently. The Olfactorist is a collection of short stories, speculative about subjects including climate change and food ethics, connected to one another through the bodies and timelines of the characters. There are funny bits, and dare I say it, a measure of whimsy. I also have a poetry collection out for submission. My first, spare change, was a finalist for the 2022 Oregon Book Awards Stafford/Hall award, much to my delight and astonishment. While spare change considers personal grief and loss, this new work, even my dreams are over the constant state of anxiety, plays with form and shape and is more focused on the bigger beauties and tragedies of our contemporary moment—and, hopefully, is also funny in bits.

I’m kicking around the idea of a sequel to FOUND. Eleanor and I may have more to say to one another.

Author links: GoodReads | Website | Facebook | Twitter

In Irene Cooper’s Found, what compels me is the compassion among characters, their empathy for one another, and their insights into what it means to lose a child. The suspense may take me on a ride, but it’s the other passengers that keep me in the car.” Beth Alvarado, Jillian in the Borderlands

Ten years after the drowning of her daughter in the Colorado River, Eleanor Clay subsists finding corpses for Bristlecone Springs PD, until the day she finds three-year-old Lizzie—living, but left-for-dead in a culvert under the railroad tracks.

The crime unspools to a series of brutal kidnappings implicating a local megachurch, a craft beer company, and a cannabis consortium. With the help of Althea Giordano, effervescent forensic botanist for CorpsPursuit-a volunteer organization that recovers cold-case bodies-and Elan DePeña, bike cop for BSPD, Eleanor must climb out of the dark hell of her grief to end the violence before it hits too close to home.

In FOUND by Irene Cooper, characters encroach upon one another’s territories and disturb the ground. Eleanor is pushed out of her dark apartment to face the violence others read about, and sometimes, even unwittingly, perpetrate. Like Eleanor, we look for a villain, quietly suspecting trouble is closer than imagined-maybe, if we admit it, within ourselves.

About Literary Titan

The Literary Titan is an organization of professional editors, writers, and professors that have a passion for the written word. We review fiction and non-fiction books in many different genres, as well as conduct author interviews, and recognize talented authors with our Literary Book Award. We are privileged to work with so many creative authors around the globe.

Posted on October 23, 2022, in Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.


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