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Scoppettone, Sandra 1936–

SCOPPETTONE, Sandra 1936–

(Jack Early)

PERSONAL:

Born June 1, 1936, in Morristown, NJ; daughter of Casimiro Radames and Helen Katherine Scoppettone; partner of Linda Crawford (a writer). Hobbies and other interests: Old movies, reading, gambling (in moderation), computers and on-line connections with bulletin boards, tennis.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Southold, NY. Agent—Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency, 65 Bleecker St., New York, NY 10012. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer and playwright.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Eugene O'Neill Memorial Theatre Award, 1972, for Stuck; Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation grant, 1974; American Library Association best young adult book citation, 1975, and New Jersey Institute of Technology, New Jersey Authors Award, 1976, both for Trying Hard to Hear You; California Young Readers Medal (high school), California Reading Association, 1979, for The Late Great Me; (as Jack Early) Shamus Award, Private Eye Writers of America, and Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination, Mystery Writers of America, both 1985, both for A Creative Kind of Killer; Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination, 1986, for Playing Murder.

WRITINGS:

picture books

Suzuki Beane, illustrated by Louise Fitzhugh, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1961.

Bang Bang You're Dead, illustrated by Fitzhugh, Harper (New York, NY), 1968.

young adult novels

Trying Hard to Hear You, Harper (New York, NY), 1974.

The Late Great Me, Putnam (New York, NY), 1976.

Happy Endings Are All Alike, Harper (New York, NY), 1978, reprinted, Alyson Classics Library (Los Angeles, CA), 2000.

Long Time between Kisses, Harper (New York, NY), 1982.

Playing Murder, Harper (New York, NY), 1985.

novels

Some Unknown Person, Putnam (New York, NY), 1977.

Such Nice People, Putnam (New York, NY), 1980.

Innocent Bystanders, New American Library (New York, NY), 1983.

Everything You Have Is Mine, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1991.

I'll Be Leaving You Always, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1993.

My Sweet Untraceable You, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1994.

Let's Face the Music and Die, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1996.

Gonna Take a Homicidal Journey, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1998.

Beautiful Rage, Five Star (Waterville, ME), 2004.

This Dame for Hire: A Novel, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Too Darn Hot: A Novel, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2006.

novels under pseudonym jack early

A Creative Kind of Killer, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1984.

Razzamatazz, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1985.

Donato and Daughter, Dutton (New York, NY), 1988.

plays

Home Again, Home Again Jiggity Jig, produced at Cubiculo Theatre, 1969.

Something for Kitty Genovese (one-act), performed by Valerie Bettis Repertory Company, 1971.

Stuck, produced at Eugene O'Neill Memorial Theatre, Waterford, CT, 1972, produced at the Open Space Theatre, New York, NY, 1976.

screenplays

Scarecrow in a Garden of Cucumbers, Maron-New Line, 1972.

The Inspector of Stairs, Independent, 1975.

teleplays

Love of Life, Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. (CBS-TV), 1972.

A Little Bit like Murder, American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (ABC-TV), 1973.

Scoppettone's manuscripts are housed in the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota.

ADAPTATIONS:

The Late Great Me was filmed by Daniel Wilson Productions, 1982; Donato and Daughter was adapted as a television movie starring Charles Bronson and Dana Delany, CBS-TV, 1993.

SIDELIGHTS:

"One thing I would like to say is that I'm a lesbian," proclaims Sandra Scoppettone to CA. "I mean, that should be clear. I also want to say that I've been with the same person for twenty years—I think it's important for people to know that it can be done." Author of both young adult novels that deal with homosexuality, alcoholism, and murder, and adult novels that depict a hallucinatory seventeen-year-old, a single-parent male detective, and a witty lesbian private investigator, Scoppettone has been accused of writing about such controversial topics merely for the money. "But it isn't true," she asserts in Speaking for Ourselves. "The books I've written have been about important issues in my own life or in the lives of people I've known."

Growing up in South Orange, New Jersey, Scoppettone knew as early as the age of five that she wanted to be a writer. And right from the start, her parents encouraged this ambition. Scoppettone would escape into her imagination and write stories when she was alone. One of her favorite activities took place at her grandparent's house when she was about five or six and the only grandchild. "It was a fairly big family, and I would get under the table and listen to everything and spy. I loved to listen and loved to hear adults tell stories and talk. I made up my own stories a lot. I remember playing with marbles, not playing regular marble games, but making a marble a person, giving them a name and moving them around."

By the time she finished high school, Scoppettone had no interest in attending college; she wanted to move to New York City and write. Her parents supported her in her endeavors, and she took on various jobs within the city. "I really began to support myself with my writing around the age of thirty."

Children's author and illustrator Louise Fitzhugh collaborated with Scoppettone on her first published work—the picture book Suzuki Beane. "Louise came over one day with all these little drawings, dumped them all over my bed, and said we should do a book," Scoppettone continues. "When she left I started to lay them out. I remember sitting on my bed and putting them around, and then putting them into notebook form. In some places I wrote under her pictures, others I left blank. She then took it back and we sold it practically overnight."

Scoppettone's next book was another picture book with Fitzhugh. In the meantime, she also wrote for other media, including television, film, and stage. "I've had productions and it's very exciting to hear your words on one hand," relates Scoppettone. "On the other hand, it's horrifying when you know they've skipped three pages of an act and they don't know it. It's a very out of control situation. Something I like about writing books is that you have control."

It was Scoppettone's ability to handle and control a touchy situation that inspired the subject matter for her first young adult novel. "I was living on the North Fork off Long Island where there was a thing called 'Youth on Stage,'" she remembers in her interview. "They needed someone to direct the summer musical and I had directed adult things, so I volunteered. There were two high school boys who were obviously having an affair, and the kids were being awful to them. I stepped in and didn't let all the awful things that happen in the book happen, but that was the basis for Trying Hard to Hear You. "

Published in 1974, Trying Hard to Hear You tells a similar tale. Set in the summer of 1973 on the North Fork of Long Island, the story is told by sixteen-yearold Camilla Crawford. A summer production of the musical Anything Goes is under way, and Camilla and her group of friends are all participating in one way or another. During the course of rehearsals, Camilla falls for one of the actors, Phil Chrystie. The two go out on a couple of dates, but Camilla is confused when Phil asks more than a few questions about her best friend and next-door neighbor Jeff Grathwohl. Things come to a head when Jeff and Phil are caught kissing during a Fourth of July party. The group then proceeds to ostracize the two boys and violence ensues. "The confrontation between the gentle sincerity of the lovers and the tittering shock of the 'straights' is … the most emotionally genuine and moving thing in the book," maintained Annie Gottlieb in the New York Times Book Review. A Booklist reviewer assertedthat "plot threads are credibly interwoven" and "adult as well as teenage characters are well developed and interrelated" in Trying Hard To Hear You to create "a teenage story of unusual depth for mature readers."

Scoppettone's next young adult novel, The Late Great Me, also has somewhat personal origins. " The Late Great Me deals with alcoholism," she notes. "I had done my research because I'm a recovered alcoholic. When I wrote it I was sober, but I have had years of being an active alcoholic. This was not my story, however—I didn't write about myself. Things such as hangovers and blackouts are the same, but this is not my story. I do think I was a teenage alcoholic, though, in the sense that I think I was an alcoholic the first time I picked up a drink. I didn't get sober until I was in my thirties."

Geri Peters, the young alcoholic in The Late Great Me, is able to overcome her drinking problem approximately a year after it starts. Considering herself one of the "freaks" in her high school, Geri is thrilled at the beginning of her junior year when Dave Townsend, a handsome new student, picks her to befriend. The two start dating, and Dave introduces Geri to drinking the first time they go out. As time goes by, Geri's drinking escalates until she has bottles stashed in her school locker and in her closet at home. Nothing can make Geri realize she has a problem, not even the death of Dave's mother—another alcoholic. It is finally one of her teachers, a member of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) herself, who spots the signs, and Geri grudgingly accepts her help. Scoppettone "has a swift, engaging style but the story is centered on a problem rather than on empathetic characters," asserted a Publishers Weekly contributor. Karen McGinley, however, concluded in Best Sellers that " The Late Great Me is a book which will make us all more aware of a problem that is growing around us. It will help us to grow in our own awareness and understanding."

Scoppettone deals with another controversial issue in Happy Endings Are All Alike, a book which has been banned in several areas. "That's the one that got the least attention when I wrote it, the least reviews, the least anything. It sold the least because it's about girls." The novel, published in 1978, focuses on the lesbian relationship between two teenage girls in a small American town. Jaret and Peggy are spending a loving summer together when Peggy decides to test her sexual orientation by dating a young man. In the meantime, a jealous youth who has been spying on the two girls savagely beats and rapes Jaret, threatening to reveal her lesbianism if she tells anyone. With the support of her family, Jaret bravely brings charges against the boy. Although many critics found the rape scene unnecessarily brutal, Lenore Gordon wrote in the Interracial Books for Children Bulletin that Scoppettone's "intent is not to shock, but to leave the reader with no illusions about the violence inherent in the act." Geraldine DeLuca, writing in the Lion and the Unicorn, wrote that Happy Endings Are All Alike successfully exposes the prejudice against homosexuals and maintained that "it is a book that challenges many of our conventional assumptions about life, particularly the belief that certain patterns lead to happiness and that they are the same for all of us. And it encourages the individual to stand for what he or she needs and believes."

Scoppettone's young adult novel Playing Murder is similar to many of her adult novels—it concerns a murder and the solving of a crime. Anna Parker has just moved to Blue Haven Island, Maine, with her mother and father, her twin brother Bill, and her younger sister. Upon arriving in Maine, the entire Parker family starts to work at the restaurant they have bought. Despite the fact that she still has a boyfriend, Tony, in her old hometown, Anna falls for handsome Kirk Cunningham and begins to see him. The action reaches a turning point one night when the group is playing an after dark game called murder and Kirk, who is playing the "victim," is actually killed. In an attempt to clear her brother, who's been arrested for the crime, Anna learns that Kirk wasn't what he appeared to be, and eventually discovers the true murderer. Finding "several … questionable bits in the whodunit," a Publishers Weekly contributor, however, goes on to add that Playing Murder "is nevertheless fine escape reading." Susan Levine, writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, found Anna's narrative to be a bit repetitive at times, but asserted that "the book is interesting" and that "its suspense holds it together well."

In addition to her young adult novels, Scoppettone has written several novels for adults, under both her own name and the pseudonym Jack Early. The first, written under her own name, combines fact with fiction in a tale of sex and scandal. Some Unknown Person concerns the events leading up to and surrounding the actual death of twenty-five-year-old playgirl Starr Faithfull. A drug addict and alcoholic, Faithfull had been seduced at the age of eleven by her forty-five-year-old uncle—Andrew J. Peters, then mayor of Boston. The details of their nine-year affair made the Faithfull murder case infamous. "Scoppettone has blended fact and fiction in this novel, creating her own conjecture of who the 'Unknown Person' responsible for Starr Faithfull's death might be," noted a New York Times Book Review contributor. The book introduces most of the people who were important in Faithfull's life, alternating back and forth in time between 1906 and 1977. Some Unknown Person "is an entertaining [and] interesting idea presented in an interesting way," wrote the New York Times Book Review contributor.

After publishing two more novels under her own name, Such Nice People and Innocent Bystanders, Scoppettone next turned to detective and mystery writing for adults under the pseudonym Jack Early. "One day this voice came to me in first person male, and I thought this is a private eye and his name is Fortune Fanelli," she explains. "He started talking to me, this sounds crazy, but that's what happened. I started writing in that voice and it was a forty-two-year-old man and in first person. I thought it would be very jarring to put a woman's name on the book, so I just picked the name Jack Early. Jack got prizes and all kinds of reviews that Sandra had never gotten and so I just sort of stuck with the name for a while. It was very nice to be anonymous—people didn't know until the third book who Jack Early was."

Scoppettone's first Jack Early book, A Creative Kind of Killer, was published in 1984 to favorable reviews. The book features Fortune Fanelli, an ex-cop and long-divorced single parent whose good investments have enabled him to become a part-time private detective. When the body of teenager Jennifer Baker is found in New York's SoHo district, Fanelli is hired by her uncle to find both Baker's killer and her younger runaway brother. During the investigation Fanelli is threatened, another body is found, and a kiddie porn ring is uncovered. "Early has filled his book with well-drawn characters and believable dialogue," wrote a Library Journal contributor.

Donato and Daughter concerns both the alienated members of the Donato family and a psychopath on the loose in New York City who is killing nuns. Lt. Dina Donato is in charge of the detective team, and appoints Sgt. Mike Donato, her father, as her partner, despite the difficulties the two have been having relating to each other since her brother's suicide. "Events move at a breakneck pace," related a Publishers Weekly contributor, adding that the "suspense is unremitting" and that "numerous side plots and intriguing characters enliven" Donato and Daughter.

"I had three years after I finished Donato and Daughter where I couldn't write at all. When I was able to write again it was under my own name and it was Everything You Have Is Mine. " The first installment of a three book contract, Everything You Have Is Mine introduces the character Lauren Laurano and is "the first book I've ever written directly about myself," adds Scoppettone in her interview. "Meet Lauren Laurano," invited Michael Lassell in the Advocate. "She's short, Italian, and 42 (although she looks younger). She's a witty, articulate feminist, a lesbian chocoholic who gets queasy at the sight of blood. She's a wise-cracking sweetheart of a pistol-packing private eye and the protagonist of one of the summer's hottest novels."

Published in 1991, Everything You Have Is Mine details Laurano's attempts to solve a rape case that quickly turns into a murder investigation. Laurano resides in Greenwich Village with her long-time lover Kip, a psychologist who has a large family that is very accepting of the couple's relationship. The young victim, who is date-raped and then murdered a short time later, is called Lake Huron and was born during the 1960s to a very complicated family. To find first the rapist, and then the murderer, Laurano must overcome her fear of computers and untangle Huron's family ties from amid lies that have been told over the years. In her review of Everything You Have Is Mine, A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "a lively pace, convincing characterization, colorful scene setting and sensitive observations about complications among families ordinary and unusual far outweigh the overwrought elements of the plot; readers will want to follow Lauren on her next case."

In My Sweet Untraceable You Laurano is hired by one Boston Blackie to find out if his father murdered his mother some twenty-five years earlier. As new murders stalk her investigation, and witnesses disappear, Laurano unravels a complicated plot from years before. Noting the "well-plotted coincidences and confusion" of the story, Marie Kuda in Booklist found that Scoppettone "ably transmits the modish urban grit of Laurano's encounters with Manhattan's winos, weirdos, and wise guys." The reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented: "Lauren and Kip remain a with-it urban lesbian couple, but their appeal is diminished here by a coincidenceladen, hard-to-credit story line."

Let's Face the Music and Die finds Laurano called upon to help a friend wrongly accused of murder. While investigating the murder, she must confront her own deteriorating relationship with Kip and infatuation with a woman she has met on the Internet. Whitney Scott, reviewing the novel for Booklist, calls it "a serious, multi-layered novel of crime that recalls Graham Greene's Third Man and Brighton Rock. " "Scoppettone fans," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor, "will most appreciate the chance to know game and complex Lauren better."

In Gonna Take a Homicidal Journey, Laurano investigates a suspicious suicide in a small Long Island beach town, uncovering what may be a series of murders of women and children. "Each suspect she questions," notes Rex E. Klett in Library Journal, "withholds crucial information; meanwhile, the idea of a police conspiracy grows. The wide-ranging, all-encompassing case may seem shallow or far-fetched, but Scoppettone's tongue-in-cheek attitude makes the book work."

Scoppettone hopes that the books featuring Laurano will help women "feel prouder and have more self-esteem as lesbians. I think it's already happening. Everything You Have Is Mine is the first mainstream lesbian private eye book and it took a courageous publisher to print it. I got my first daily New York Times review for that book—I don't know if you know what that means. After writing for all these years, to finally be reviewed in the daily Times was really exciting. I had gotten other reviews in the Sunday Times, but that's not quite as prestigious. It was this book, and it was reviewed very well without making a big number about the lesbianism either. It is what it is and that's the way the reviewer took it and it was really great."

Scoppettone leaves behind New York detective Lauren Laurano for a new protagonist in This Dame for Hire. Set in the 1940s, the novel features Faye Quick, a rare, and perhaps the only, female private eye working on her own in New York City, a job she fell into when her boss left to fight in World War II. In her first case, Quick discovers the body of a dead girl in Greenwich Village and is hired by her parents to find the murderer. Writing in Booklist, Frank Sennett commented that the author "delivers a satisfying plot about love gone wrong and a large cast of engaging characters." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote: "There are echoes of Chandler and Hammett in the distance, but the plot offers some fresh surprises."

Quick returns in Too Darn Hot, this time tracking down a missing boyfriend for a department store salesgirl. Before long, Quick finds out that the missing person case also involves murder. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that Quick's tough-guy "voice is again pitch perfect."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

books

Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 11, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1993.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 26, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1983.

Gallo, Donald R., editor, Speaking for Ourselves, National Council of Teachers of English, 1990, pp. 186-187.

periodicals

Advocate, July 2, 1991, Michael Lassell, review of Everything You Have Is Mine, p. 93.

Best Sellers, May, 1976, Karen McGinley, review of The Late Great Me, p. 40.

Booklist, November 15, 1974, review of Trying Hard to Hear You, p. 340; May 15, 1994, Marie Kuda, review of My Sweet Untraceable You, p. 1668; June 1, 1996, Whitney Scott, review of Let's Face the Music and Die, p. 1643; June 1, 1998, Whitney Scott, review of Gonna Take a Homicidal Journey, p. 1735; May 1, 2005, Frank Sennett, review of This Dame for Hire: A Novel, p. 1536.

Interracial Books for Children Bulletin, Volume 10, number 6, 1979, Lenore Gordon, review of Happy Endings Are All Alike, p. 16.

Library Journal, April 15, 1980, Michele M. Leber, review of Such Nice People, p. 1005; April 1, 1984, review of A Creative Kind of Killer, p. 736; May 1, 1985, Lynette Friesen, review of Razzamatazz, p. 81; July, 1998, Rex E. Klett, review of Gonna Take a Homicidal Journey, p. 140.

Lion and the Unicorn, winter, 1979-80, Geraldine DeLuca, review of Happy Endings Are All Alike, pp. 125-148.

New York Times Book Review, January 12, 1975, Annie Gottlieb, review of Trying Hard to Hear You, p. 8; February 22, 1976, review of The Late Great Me, p. 38; September 25, 1977, review of Some Unknown Person, p. 22; April 25, 1982, Annie Gottlieb, review of Long Time between Kisses, p. 44; October 13, 1985, Newgate Callendar, review of Razzamataza, p. 29; April 14, 1991, Marilyn Stasio, review of Everthing You Have Is Mine, p. 25.

Publishers Weekly, June 20, 1977, review of The Late Great Me, p. 66; July 24, 1978, review of Playing Murder, p. 100; February 22, 1980, review of Such Nice People, p. 92; December 3, 1982, review of Innocent Bystanders, p. 50; February 17, 1984, review of A Creative Kind of Killer, p. 73; March 22, 1985, p. 54; August 16, 1985, review of Playing Murder, p. 71; January 15, 1988, Sybil Steinberg, review of Donato and Daughter, p. 79; February 22, 1991, Sybil Steinberg, review of Everything You Have Is Mine, p. 213; May 16, 1994, review of My Sweet Untraceable You, p. 53; May 6, 1996, review of Let's Face the Music, p. 72; May 23, 2005, review of This Dame for Hire, p. 55; April 3, 2006, review of Too Darn Hot: A Novel, p. 43.

Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1982, p. 37; June, 1985, Susan Levine, review of Playing Murder, p. 135.

Women's Review of Books, July, 1997, Kathy Phillips, review of Let's Face the Music and Die, p. 39; July, 1998, Kathy Phillips, review of Gonna Take a Homicidal Journey, p. 32.

online

Ellen Hart Home Page, http://www.ellenhart.com/int_scop.html/ (June 26, 2006), interview with Scoppettone.

Sandra Scoppettone Home Page,http://sandrascoppettone.com (May 26, 2006).*

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