Steven Cooper did not sleep well two nights before the release of his first novel in 10 years.
“I’m excited-slash-anxious,” said the novelist, a Sandy Springs resident. “It’s like delivering a baby and asking the world if you like my baby.”
This baby’s name is “Desert Remains.” It’s the first in a series of crime dramas following Detective Alex Mills and psychic Gus Parker, who team up together in an unconventional partnership to catch a killer.
The psychic character, Gus, is meant to turn psychic fiction on its head. “It’s well integrated in the reality of the crime drama without it being fantasy,” said Cooper, who hopes to reach a broad audience with his book.
The book is set in the deserts around Phoenix, where Cooper once worked as a TV reporter.
“It’s a love letter to the desert as a backdrop to crime,” Cooper said. “As beautiful as the desert is to look at, the book allows the desert to become a character of its own. The killer is using the desert as a tableau for his crimes, to manipulate people.
“It has unexpected elements to a crime novel with unpredictable characters, an unusual setting, not a big city setting,” Cooper said.
Prior to setting up residency in Sandy Springs to try a corporate life working communications at Newell Brands, Cooper was a TV reporter in Phoenix and Orlando. He has received multiple Emmy awards and nominations and an Edward R. Murrow Award. He also taught at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla.
In Phoenix, Cooper often covered crime as a young reporter. “I sat in trials, observed the crazy [things] people do to each other. It’s not uncomfortable [for me] to write about crime. It’s a way to work out the ugliness I had to watch going to crime scenes and seeing body bags,” Cooper said.
His home also backed up to a mountain preserve, which he often hiked and which served as an inspiration.
“Ever since I left Phoenix, I knew I wanted to write this story,” Cooper said.
When he found the momentum to pick up his writing career, he pitched the idea to his family and friends, receiving positive feedback, and started writing.
Last year, Newell Brands chose to relocate its headquarters to New Jersey. Cooper received a two-book deal from publisher Seventh Street Books three weeks after finding out about the move. He didn’t want to uproot himself again, so he set to writing. The release date for his novel, Oct. 10, coincidentally marks the first anniversary of his departure from the company.
Cooper frequently writes and edits at the Starbucks and Einstein’s Bagel Bros. coffee houses at Peachtree-Dunwoody and Hammond roads. “It’s a chance to get out of the house, be around a different vibe, and be around a lot of coffee. Coffee is key for writers.”
During the editing process, Cooper visited Phoenix to explore the mountains, trails, and the neighborhoods. He consulted with the Phoenix police department to discuss how they deal with crime.
But now, Cooper is feeling quite settled in to his metro Atlanta lifestyle, and imagines he might one day want to write a book with Atlanta as a backdrop. “Atlanta has great neighborhoods and pockets of intrigue in it.”
Yet Cooper noticed a trend about how he writes, saying the process is to immerse and then get distance. His previous books, of a more campy mystery genre, are also influenced by places he’s been or lived, and he did not write them until he lived in Florida.
“I’d probably write my Atlanta novel flying off to a vacation somewhere. I’ll start it when I’m away,” Cooper aid. “I’d like to go to Peru.”
“Desert Remains” is available on Amazon.com and at local bookstores. Cooper will be hosting book signings at Barnes & Noble, 2952 Cobb Parkway, on Saturday, Oct. 21, at 2 p.m., and at Tall Tales Bookstore, 2105 LaVista Road, on Sunday, Oct. 29, at 2 p.m.