John Copenhaver’s historical crime novel, Dodging and Burning (Pegasus, 2018), received a Publishers Weekly starred review, and Library Journal starred review and Debut of the Month. The Associated Press calls it “a riveting debut,” and BOLO Books: “A masterwork of tone and voice … a beacon for voices too often stifled.” Copenhaver writes a crime fiction review column for Lambda Literary called “Blacklight,” and he is the five-time recipient of Artist Fellowships from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. He’s a Lambda Fellow, and he has completed residencies at VCCA, VSC, and Ragdale. He’s a Larry Neal awardee, and his work has appeared in CrimeReads, Electric Lit, Glitterwolf, PANK, New York Journal of Books, Washington Independent Review of Books, and others. He chairs the 7-12 grade English department at Flint Hill School. He grew up in the mountains of southwestern Virginia and currently lives in DC with his husband, artist Jeffery Paul (Herrity).
What Scooby-Doo Taught Me About My Ghosts
Writing for me is about chasing ghosts and peeling off masks. I have Hanna-Barbera to thank for that.
As a kid, I would dash home from school, grab a packet of Pop-Tarts and a bottle of Mountain Dew, and hurry to the living room as that all-too-familiar jingle announced my favorite show on TV—Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? I loved this show with such furor, such unadulterated pleasure. I loved it because Scooby and Shaggy were believers. They believed in the Creeper and the Snow Ghost, the Miner 49er and the Witchdoctor even though time and time again, the mask would be ripped off, and the gloriously paranormal would be reduced to some schmuck in a suit.
I wanted to believe in ghosts too.
My father died when I was eight, and I was left with only an outline of a man, a phantom. Out of that void burgeoned my desire to write. My early compulsion to tell stories sprung from a need to fill in his outline, to uncover who he was. Throughout adolescence and my twenties, I continued chasing his ghost. During this time I married a woman, began teaching high school English, and established a conventional straight existence. But the more I pursued him, the more I realized it wasn't my father I was hoping to booby-trap and unveil, but myself. Then, much like hapless Scooby and Shaggy, I ensnared my own ghost and ripped the mask off—I came out of the closet and started living and writing truer to myself.
Now, instead of ripping off goofy latex masks, I pursue my phantoms as psychological metaphors, removing layers of deception and misdirection to unveil the truth about my characters.