E.J. Copperman is the author of thirty mystery novels. He advises you can count them if you like, but you’d have to count the first six under another name. Among them have been the Haunted Guesthouse, Agent to the Paws, Mysterious Detective and Asperger’s Mysteries, a collaboration between both those names. Learn more about E.J. and his books at his website. Today he joins us to talk about his newest series, the Fran and Ken Stein Mysteries.
Creating Characters from Scratch
Some years ago – and by “some” I mean a lot – the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series was going strong and my publisher was interested in perhaps branching out a bit. (No, there aren’t going to be any more Guesthouse books and no, that wasn’t my idea.) Could I come up with something else that sort of touched on the paranormal without being, you know, scary?
Well, I wasn’t interested in frightening people so I started to think of things other than ghosts that could play into a mystery novel series. (My editor had been clear on one point: “NO ZOMBIES!” and I was more than okay with that.) Vampire detectives? It had been done. Werewolf detectives? Done. Invisible detectives? More than done.
But one area of the Universal Pictures monster pantheon had not yet been written as a mystery series, in particular a traditional one without the horror theme, before. The idea struck me as perfect: Frankenstein, P.I.
Before you tune up and tell me Frankenstein was the scientist and not the creature, trust me, I know. But in this case, if the creation could be a person living in present times and in a familiar setting, there could be some fun to have with it. Suppose this was a descendant of the original creature, living generations later in New Jersey (I set everything in New Jersey in those days) and trying to solve crimes because his (the creature was male until Elsa Lanchester came along) ancestor had been so badly treated by the criminal justice system of his time. Suppose he had some mystery about his creation that he needed to solve over a series of books. Suppose I had a better idea than that.
I decided against the descendant thing. It was too complicated to figure out who the mother was, for one thing, because Elsa had been adamantly against such things. And I felt that over all that time, what made the creature special would have been diluted by genetics. Thawing him out from being frozen (which is closer to Mary Shelley) was a possibility but didn’t especially interest me.
But what if this creature was a woman? What if she was created outside the Frankenstein universe? What if…
Wait a minute. Frankenstein. Fran. Ken. Stein.
Suddenly I had a pair of siblings and that’s where it took off. Fran and Ken were (when the book opens) an adult brother-and-sister pair of investigators who had questions about how they were created, who the people were who created them (and to whom they refer as “our parents”) and why those people had abandoned them at an early age, reportedly due to concerns about the children’s security?
It took a while, but UKULELE OF DEATH, the first Fran and Ken Stein Mystery, was published on May 2, and it answers some, but not all, of the questions. The Steins have opened a detective agency that specializes in helping adopted people find their birth parents because Fran and Ken have some experience with growing up knowing very little of their lineage. When they stumble (or walk, more accurately) into a murder plot that seems to have something to do with their own situation, things get complicated in a hurry.
Years have gone by, but Fran and Ken are finally seeing the light of day. Their origin story is, let’s say, unique and their attitudes (not to mention their physical abilities) might be a little unusual as well. They know they’re different and they know why. But does that mean they’re not people?
It’s up to you to decide, but I’m glad you’re finally getting the chance.
Ukulele of Death
A Fran and Ken Stein Mystery, Book 1
After losing their parents when they were just babies, private investigators Fran and Ken Stein now specialize in helping adoptees find their birth parents. So when a client asks them for help finding her father, with her only clue a rare ukulele, the case is a little weird, sure, but it’s nothing they can’t handle.
But soon Fran and her brother are plunged into a world where nothing makes sense – and not just the fact that a very short (but very cute) NYPD detective keeps trying to take eternal singleton Fran out on dates.
All Fran wants to do is find the ukulele and collect their fee, but it’s hard to keep your focus when you’re stumbling over corpses and receiving messages that suggest your (dead) parents are very much alive.
Ukuleles aside, it’s becoming clear that someone knows something they shouldn’t – that Fran and Ken Stein weren’t so much born, as built . . .