Local author’s novel set at fictional Carmel Valley elementary school
Those who aspire to write fiction typically enter college as English literature majors, sign up for creative writing programs or at least take some classes on the subject.
Del Mar Heights resident Kathy Cooperman did none of those things. Boredom, comedy and crime sparked her decision to compose fictional prose.
She is the author of two novels produced by Amazon imprint Lake Union Publishing — “Crimes Against a Book Club,” and her recently released volume, “The Very Principled Maggie Mayfield.”
Tedium induced by her law studies at Yale led the New England native to her first stab at the craft.
“I wrote one book during law school, and it was terrible,” she said in a recent interview at a Del Mar Heights cafe. “It was ridiculously autobiographical and not entertaining. ... It was a book only a mother would read — my mother.”
That experience, however, failed to deter a second attempt at crafting a novel, an effort that led to representation by a literary agent. She recalls getting the call that “Crimes” would be published while she was at a gas station.
“I’d just filled up, but I still had the nozzle in the tank,” Cooperman said. “My agent calls me, tells me. I got so excited talking to her, I drove off and the nozzle was still in there.”
Fortunately, she said, the hose was detachable, and she returned the dispenser to the service station.
Her approach to writing, she said, is driven in part by her experiences doing live comedy improvisation during college. That fostered a proclivity for expressing herself humorously, even on the printed page.
“It teaches you a lot about structure, tension, timing and characterization,” Cooperman said of improv. “It teaches you a lot about story-telling.”
Another contribution to Cooperman’s fictional bent came from her work as an attorney, particularly her exposure to white collar crime.
“I thought the psychology of that was very interesting,” she said. “My theory is that people will commit crimes if they think it’s morally justified and really think it’s right, which can be justified by needs — and they think they’ll get away with it.”
Whereas the setting for “Crimes” is La Jolla, “The Very Principled Maggie Mayfield” centers on Del Mar and Carmel Valley, with most of the action occurring at the fictional school, Carmel Knolls Elementary.
The setting, plot and theme ensue largely from Cooperman having four children attending area schools, including the two younger ones in the Del Mar Union School District and the two older ones in the San Dieguito Union High School District.
“A lot of this is based on my kids’ experiences in school, and what I thought their needs were,” Cooperman said. “The other thing that inspired it was frankly the funding situation out here (for education).
“I was a little shocked when I moved out here. ... I went to lousy public schools, but we just had everything. We had an arts teacher, a music teacher, foreign language, and this and that.
“It was just a given that we had all this stuff. The idea that that would be precarious was a bit of a shock to me. ... I was surprised that schools had to fight for STEAM teachers.”
The narrative is propelled by Principal Mayfield’s dedication to her students and school and her fight to continue Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics programs threatened by a lack of funding.
Cooperman said that, while the commitment evinced by Mayfield was inspired by an outstanding principal at one of the schools attended by her children, the character Mayfield is entirely a literary creation, and a comical one. Much of the book revolves around interactions between the principal and her administrative assistant, Diane Porter.
“The emotional core of my books tends to be female friendship,” Cooperman said. “I like female friendship, I like comedy and I like the slip into illegality (as fictional elements). ... I’m not interested in portraying a monster. I’m more interested in why a good person does something shady.”
Maggie’s ardor leads her down some well-intentioned but ill-advised paths, especially after getting romantically involved with Danny Zelinsky. Danny Z, as he is called by the main characters, oversees his company’s testing of its computerized math-teaching software in the school’s classes.
While the book is largely about the challenges of public elementary school education, the book’s tone and language are adult-oriented and often irreverent.
The book has elicited praise from reviewers.
“Part comedy, part commentary, ‘The Very Principled Maggie Mayfield’ is a light and entertaining tale of an educator on a quest for romance and funding,” said Kristin Dreyer Kramer of Shelf Discovery, a feature of the National Public Radio station WCBE in central Ohio. “Fans of chick lit — and school arts programs — will enjoy the read.”
One of the hosts of the online 3BookGirls podcast said, “‘The Very Principled Maggie Mayfield’ is hilarious. It really is fun and so well-written.”
Both Cooperman’s books can be purchased through amazon.com and she plans a third novel.
“I feel tremendously grateful whenever one person reads one of my books,” she said.