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John Copenhaver Books In Order

Publication Order of Standalone Novels

Dodging and Burning (2018) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

John Copenhaver is bestselling American author of historical fiction, crime, gay and lesbian novels. He is best known for his debut novel Dodging and Burning published in 2018. John was born and raised in southwest Virginia and subsequently graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Davidson College, masters in literature from School of English and a master in fine arts in fiction from GMU where he served as an Editor of the Phoebe magazine.

Currently, John Copenhaver is the chair of English department at Flint Hill college preparatory school and lives just outside Washington DC with his partner and two photogenic dogs Roxy and Winky. The author has won for four consecutive years Artist Fellowship from the D.C. Commission. His short story fiction has been featured in Glitterwolf Magazine, Gaslight, and Roanoke Review. In 2015 John won the Larry Neal award for his short story fiction and was runner-up in the Narrative Magazine Contest and F. Scott Fitzgerald Contest.

According to an interview, John admitted that his greatest inspiration in writing Dodging and Burning came from two separate but connected events. The first event was reading of Walter Benjamin’s analysis of photography and seconds his decision to come out of the closet as a gay man. Walter Benjamin argues that photographs distort the reality and can only be given value if only they are paired with the right caption. The only way one can correct this distortion is to by telling the story behind the façade.

Dodging and Burning

Dodging and Burning is John Copenhaver’s debut novel that went on sale in 2018. Dodging and Burning refers to the technique in which a photographer uses to manipulate his/her subject appearance. In his debut novel, John beautifully portrays the lives of four young people, Robbie Bliss, Bunny Prescott, Jay Greenwood, and Robbie’s sister Ceola through alternating lenses of photos, diary entries, letters, notes and some other documents.

The novel is set in Royal Oak Virginia and during the Second World War, and the events in the story incorporate elements of war photography, mystery, loss of innocence, and sexual orientation into one solid frame that leaves the readers turning pages from the first page to the last. In graduate school, John Copenhaver took a course that examined how photography influenced the 20th-century fiction. The course also examined how photography could misrepresent the truth.

Dodging and Burning is an intriguing story that tackles a theme that is rarely addressed in mysteries- the life for lesbians and gay men during the America’s post-second world war era. The intricate plot weaves in a coming out of the tale, coming out of age story and an intricate mystery with likable and realistic characters who just want to be accepted for themselves.

Dodging and Burning photography technique which works pretty well as a metaphor for some of the characters whose freedoms to be themselves and to love are restricted by time period in which they live. The characters themselves do a lot of dodging and burning as they live their lives in Royal Oak as well as the stints in the military.

The story opens up in 2000 when Bunny Prescott, a mystery writer receives an anonymous letter in the mail containing an old crime scene photograph. The photograph sparks the memories of three characters, whose their lives were forever changed in 1945.

Back in 1945, Bunny was only 18 years old. She was the daughter of the town’s most rich man, the owner of the local factory that manufactured soda and was also the local town’s famous employer. Bunny had fallen in love with Jay Greenwood, a photographer wounded during the Second World War and who now lived with his despotic grandmother. Then there is Ceola Bliss, who at that time was only 12 years old and like Bunny, she also admired to be in love with Jay who was a good friend of her brother Robbie who was reported missing during the Second World War.

Jay wants the two beautiful girls to follow him to the local forest where Jay claims to have taken photos of a woman who had been killed. While he has the proof of the photos, the body is nowhere to be seen when they get into the forest. The blond woman he claims to have photographed was Lily Vellum who may recently have been abducted.

Ceola a hardcore fan of detective fiction, an interest she shares with both Jay and Robbie. But the real mystery here is the secret life that Robbie and Jay led- two secret lovers who could never acknowledge their relationship.

Even though set during the post-World War II, Dodging and Burning is a story that explores the gay life that existed in this period, as well as the pure hatred and bigotry that the homosexuals had to undergo. Jay’s narration of his war days is heart moving as he tries to fit in and bond with other gay soldiers in a society where gays and lesbians were viewed as outcasts. Don’t tell, don’t ask wasn’t even an option, but what Jay had to undergo in his hometown, where he was despised due to his feminine ways was even much worse.

Several moving/pitiful scenes show how Jay was trying to explain to Ceola the intimate affair he has with Robbie. In the 21st century, any 12-year-old teenager would understand what a gay being is but Ceola being a product of 1940’s has very little idea what being a homosexual means. However Ceola’s adoration of her brother never diminishes, even her recollections are in the form of her speaking to the long-dead Robbie.

The narrative’s fast pace is amplified by the in-depth character studies and a detailed study of gay rights. Gay and lesbian mysteries have been published for decades, but the short story and columnist writer John Copenhaver brings a new voice in this genre with his debut novel. Dodging and Burning is a complex mystery behind a crime scene photo, but even more accurately it is an exploration of the way photographs can twist our understanding of ourselves and others if their captions remain unwritten and their stories untold.

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