Minor Details: Thirteen-Year-Old Andrew S. Cohen on the MURDER MYSTERY RACE
The Big Thrill Interviews Andrew S. Cohen
In the annals of Western history, the number 13 has largely been associated with bad luck and misfortune. But debut novelist Andrew S. Cohen—a thrill seeker who is decorated in archery—turned that notion on its head with the publication of his first thriller at just such an age. Inspired by Suzanne Collins and J.K. Rowling, and afforded the opportunity to write a lot during the COVID-19 lockdown, Cohen completed the manuscript for THE MURDER MYSTERY RACE.
Set in the not-too-distant future, the book finds the (fictional) town of Wayverlyn, New Jersey under attack by a relentless serial killer known as “The Knife Thrower,” whose skills with a blade allow him to strike at any distance. Forced into a pandemic-like lockdown, eleven-year-old Andrew Mikaelson wants nothing more than a return to normalcy—because being stuck at home with his new stepfather isn’t exactly a good time.
After showing bravery in the face of grave danger, Andrew is invited to join 15 other adolescents on a luxury cruise liner to take part in the annual Murder Mystery Race. “The Knife Thrower” will also be aboard, and participants will compete to catch the killer and win a one-million-dollar prize. But winning means surviving, and the numbers may not be in Andrew’s favor…
Here, Andrew S. Cohen shares his story of becoming a published author at an impressively young age.
What inspired you to write THE MURDER MYSTERY RACE, and are there specific authors or books (or other artists/platforms) that you credit with influencing your storytelling ambitions?
I was inspired to write THE MURDER MYSTERY RACE because I was simply bored during quarantine. I had to stay inside and there wasn’t much to do so I started to write…a lot. An author I find inspiring is Suzanne Collins. I love the way she keeps readers in suspense and anxious for the next page. I hope to be able to entertain my readers the same way she can. Another author I find inspiring is J.K Rowling. She is not only an incredible writer, but she has grit. J.K Rowling is a single mother and it was tough for her to make ends meet. She received many rejections, but she never gave up.
You and your protagonist share the same first name. Beyond that, how are you most like your character, and in what way(s) does the “other” Andrew most differ from you?
The character, Andrew, and I have many similar traits. We are both adventurous, enjoy spending time with our friends, and we are both a little sarcastic. However, there are some things Andrew and I do not have in common. I don’t know about anyone else, but I could never throw knives or go on a cruise to fight a murderer.
Despite the extraordinary nature of his circumstances, Andrew also experiences a lot of things common to people your age (e.g. bullying, parental divorce, family/friendship struggles, school frustration, etc.). What do you hope your peer readers might find/recognize within the pages of your book? Is there a message you want to share with them?
I wrote this story, not only to create a thrilling and exciting novel, but also for young kids to relate. Andrew is mistreated by the older contestants of the Murder Mystery Race. Even though Andrew is treated poorly he doesn’t take it. He stands up for himself. All kids go through adversity, and the book illustrates that if you are strong and stand up for yourself, you’ll persevere.
While set in the future, the narrative seems to draw on the sense of isolation and fear that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic. Did you find yourself consciously channeling those feelings into story?
Yes, the pandemic life definitely parallels Andrew’s life…that is, before he goes on the cruise. Andrew is really annoyed that he has to stay home because of this dangerous murderer brutally killing the residents of Wayverlyn.
The second half of the story plays out on a cruise ship, where action and chaos ensue as Andrew and his friend pursue “The Knife Thrower.” Tell us about your own adventures as a thrill seeker, and how they informed this part of the book.
Yes, throughout my life I’ve always loved thrilling adventures such as roller coasters and skiing. I incorporated these thrilling activities from my life into the book. For example, the contestants play laser tag and participate in an escape room.
Your writing journey progressed from comics to short stories and chapter books prior to THE MURDER MYSTERY RACE. How did those earlier works help you to grow in terms of confidence and craft?
Each time I finished a story, I was excited because my characters became more dynamic. I would think of more surprising plot twists. Also, as I got older, I had more experiences to draw from, such as…going on a cruise, playing laser tag, and participating in escape rooms. All of these life experiences and stories I’ve written build off of each other and make my next book better than the one before.
Many young creatives might believe they’re too young to write an entire book let alone publish one. Given that you’ve accomplished both those things, what advice would you offer them?
My advice to young authors is to choose a topic that you are passionate about. When you enjoy the topic, you will be able to come up with creative ideas. If you hit a block, don’t be afraid to start over again. Lastly, and most importantly, edit, edit, edit, and once you are finished editing–edit some more.
The Big Thrill Interviews Andrew S. Cohen