|photo: Michael Soo
Ellison Cooper has a Ph.D. in anthropology from UCLA, with a background in archeology, cultural neuroscience, ancient religion, colonialism, and human rights. She has conducted fieldwork in Central America, West Africa, Micronesia, and Western Europe. She has worked as a murder investigator in Washington, D.C., and is a certified K9 Search and Rescue Federal Disaster Worker. She lives in the Bay Area with her husband and son. Cooper is the author of Caged, Buried and Cut to the Bone (Minotaur, July 14, 2020).
On your nightstand now:
They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall and the short story anthology Both Sides edited by Gabino Iglesias.
Favorite book when you were a child:
This is a tie between two books. First, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. I was a total wild-child and Meg's adventures really spoke to me. Her power came from her difference and that was a message I loved. Second, The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs. There is something very sweet and dark about his writing. It is full of humor and warmth and, in some places, it's actually quite scary. Bellairs was my gateway to more adult horror like King and Poe. Honorable mention to the Three Investigators series.
Your top five authors:
Of all time? This is an impossible question! This list doesn't make any sense but here're the names that popped to mind first: Jorge Luis Borges, James Rollins, Lisa Gardner, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Zora Neale Hurston, Kathy Reichs, Jeffery Deaver... there are too many to keep to five.
Book you've faked reading:
I love Russian fiction (for many years I actually thought I might become a Russian Lit major until I realized I would have to learn to speak Russian), but I have literally tried to read Anna Karenina 20 times and I just can't make it through the damn thing. I'm sorry, Leo.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Labyrinths by Borges. These short stories capture everything I love about the form and are a sort of dry magical realism that gives me the warm fuzzies.
My favorite story is "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," a mystery/sci-fi thing of beauty that basically brings into question the way that reality is (or isn't) manifest and what role human consciousness plays in the creation of our reality. There is a magic mirror, an ever-changing encyclopedia, a fantasy world and a linguistic/philosophical treatise, all in one relatively short piece of fiction. This is exactly the kind of short story I would write if I were a raging, magical genius.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Chuck Wendig's Blackbirds.
Book you hid from your parents:
Fortunately, I had the kind of parent that never required hiding a book. If it had words on a page, I was allowed to read it. (Instead, ask me about my failed plot to somehow hide a TV under my bed....)
Book that changed your life:
Lisa Gardner's Live to Tell. Obviously, it is a top-notch thriller but, for some reason I don't entirely understand, after I finished reading this book, I said to myself, "I want to try and write a thriller too!" That was the first time I really contemplated what it would take to become a writer.
Favorite line from a book:
"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." --Anne Frank
Five books you'll never part with:
The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg; So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo; Emile Durkheim's Elementary Forms of Religious Life; my illustrated first-edition copy of Museum of Antiquity by Yaggy and Haines; and Of Wonders and Wise Men by Terry Rugeley (about the Caste War in the Yucatan).
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. With a host of unforgettable characters (including Behemoth, a hard-drinking devilish black cat), this book is raucous, disconcerting, hysterical, genuinely moving and creepy--sometimes all at once. It reminds me of the wave of noirish, urban fantasy coming out lately, a gritty and dark wild ride, but also exploring some intense and beautiful topics such as the search for truth and intellectual courage.