Friday, May 25, 2007
Welcome to “Up Close & Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing her views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.
Today’s interview is with Eileen Cook, she's the author of soon to be released novel “Unpreditable” from Berkley Trade in February '08. Ms. Cook is a counselor for individuals with disabilities. Her work has been published with several notable publications: Woman’s World Magazine, The National Post, CBC Radio and The North Shore News. Ms. Cook lives in Vancouver Canada.
EI: Tell us what were you like as a teenager? Please tell your readers more about Eileen Cook -- the woman behind the author?
EC: I kept my diaries from junior high and high school. I have documented proof of every dorky mis-step I ever took. I have vowed to have these burned before I die. When I re-read them I can see that I had a good sense of humor, but I spent entirely WAY too much worried about what other people thought of me. Currently, I am far better at social interaction and I no longer think Duran Duran is the world’s best musical talent. I’m considering this progress.
EI: Do you express your inner self in your writing or do the personas you create exist only in your imagination?
EC: My writing is a mix of things that come from my life and complete imagination. I don’t think my life is interesting enough for people to want to read. One of the best parts of writing is you can create anything you can imagine. No boundaries. You can take what you want to express and give it a voice.
EI: What is your response to the public perception that writers’ creative insight and energy is frequently the product of personal conflict?
EC: Overall, I had a frightfully functional childhood, parents who loved me, a stable home, and good friends. Of course there was conflict and it wasn’t Disney perfect- but overall I can’t complain.
I don’t think you have to “write what you know,’ but instead, write what you want to know. If you are willing to research and put in the work, I believe you can write anything you want.
EI: What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?
EC: The fact that you worry about being good enough is a part of being a writer. In the past year I’ve met several “big authors” who are repeatedly on the New York Times list and they have the same worries, the same insecurities. I haven’t met a writer- still trying to publish or multi-published, who doesn’t ask themselves the same questions.
The doubts come with the job. What I would want people to know, is having doubts doesn’t matter, what matters is if you keep writing despite the doubts.
EI: Many writers describe themselves as "character" or "plot" writers. Which are you? And what do you find to be the hardest part of writing?
EC: I usually start with a character in an interesting situation. I admire writers who have everything plotted out in an outline before they start- but I tend to write my way into the story. My day job is as a counselor, what people do, what motivates them, and how they see the world is fascinating to me. You know the kind the person you see at the mall sitting in the food court watching everyone? That’s me.
The hardest part of writing for me is showing up day after day- even on the days when it isn’t going well. Because I don’t outline, I almost always get stuck at some point. Then I become convinced that the entire manuscript stinks. Heck, I stink. Why did I ever think I could write? I might as well give it up right now. Then I usually pound my head on the desk for a period of time. Eventually all that head pounding seems to shake something free and I go back to writing with a new idea.
EI: Would you describe yourself as a confident writer, always ready to face the next new challenge? Do you have to psyche yourself up to try different venues?
EC: I’m a schizophrenic writer- one day confident, the next day cowering under my desk. I remind myself I could choose to do anything- I chose writing. I do this because I enjoy it. Trying new approaches or venues is part of the fun. It doesn’t have to be perfect; the point is to see where those venues take your writing. This is one of the reasons I enjoy writer’s conferences. It is a great exposure to different approaches.
I recently took a screenwriting course. It wasn’t about becoming an Oscar winner- but taking a chance on something new. Regardless of what becomes of the script I wrote, the class improved my dialog and helped me write in a tight form.
EI: Do you let anyone read your manuscript, before you send it to your editor or agent?
EC: I have a group of six early readers. These brave souls not only read my drafts, but they provide honest feedback. By having several people read it I can’t lie to myself about what is working or not working. If more than two of these readers mention a problem- then it is a problem that needs my attention.
My suggestion is if you give your writing to others it works better if you know what kind of feedback you want. Are you at a point where you need to know only what is working? Are you ready to face what isn’t? At different stages of our writing we are ready for different types of feedback. I ask specific questions: did they believe the character motivations? Who did they like/dislike and why? I ask them to mark any places where it slowed or where they put it down.
My agent, Rachel Vater is a perfect match for me. She gives excellent feedback and editorial suggestions. She is definitely a part of the process for me. My goal is always to give my editor a manuscript that is as ready to go as possible.
EI: Was there anyone who really influenced you to become a writer?
EC: My parents were always big readers and gave me a love of reading. I had a number of great teachers at different points. In the end, the push to not just write, but to send my writing out into the world, came from my husband who pointed out that I had nothing to lose. I wasn’t published. The worst that would happen is that I would remain unpublished. I realized it was highly unlikely that any editor or agent was going to get my submission and then show up at my house to beat me with the manuscript for wasting their time. The potential payoff was worth the risk of rejection.
EI: Now let’s shift gears here for a second... Everyone is eager to learn about your new book, “Unpredictable,” Can you give us a hint as to what it's about?
EC: Sophie isn't crazy, she just wants her guy back. And posing as a psychic to give his new girlfriend a fake reading designed to break them up isn't going overboard, is it? Don't answer that.
Faking psychic powers turns out to be fun, especially after a few lessons from Nick, the cute skeptic, who teaches her all the tricks of the trade. But her readings do a lot more than she could have predicted. Now she must decide whether to accept her rising stardom in a less-than-honest line of work-and whether the best option is trying to rekindle her old flame or finding romance with someone new. And, most importantly, she needs to figure out whether the answers lie in the stars-or in herself.
Unpredictable will come out in February 08. New Line Cinema has optioned the film rights and recently hired a screenwriter.
EI: Can you share with us some of the challenges you faced to publish ‘Unpredictable?’ Is there anything about you that you would do differently, knowing what you do now?
EC: Publishing takes longer than you can imagine. You have to find an agent, then your agent has to sell your work, then the publishing company fits you into their calendar. Writing is subjective, what one person loves someone else can’t stand. It is hard not to take the entire process personally. When the book was optioned by New Line, the publisher decided to push back the publication date and do a different marketing approach. I felt like I had been waiting forever already, I didn’t want to wait any longer. Of course now that I have seen the new cover, I love it and I’m glad the publisher took the time. Perspective is everything.
The best advice I got when I started the process came from another writer who told me- your publisher and agent will focus on the business, you focus on the writing. The writing is the one portion of the process that the writer has control over- so I did my best to keep my focus on that area. When all else failed I had chocolate. It didn’t make things better- but it certainly didn’t make things worse.
EI: What was the inspiration for your novel? And what is your response to the public perception about your creative insight with your book?
EC: I attended a skeptic conference where one of the sessions showed how psychic abilities could be faked. I was surprised how easy it was for these people to make it look like they had a real ability. Sometimes because we want something to be true, we interpret the facts to make it appear true. I was fascinated first with how it was done, that led me to the question- why. Why would someone want to pretend to be a psychic? The why question led to the story that became Unpredictable.
EI: How much of Sophie & Nick is planned out in your head? How do you know where you will go next with their character? What was your biggest challenge?
EC: Story is about conflict. No conflict? No story. The writer Elizabeth George once said “Characters are interesting in their conflict, their misery, their unhappiness and their confusion. They are not, alas, interesting in their joy and security.” This can be difficult when you are writing, you come to love your characters and your job for most of the book is to make their life as complicated as possible.
EI: How did you develop these characters? Did you work them out in advance, or did they evolve as you wrote the story?
EC: I do character sheets before I start writing, but I always have to keep in mind that these are subject to change. Once I start writing things evolve, the characters may behave differently than I expected. Because I am not an outliner- I don’t always know where the story will lead- as a result I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the characters change their minds too.
When I find myself stuck I tend to pull out pen and paper and “interview” the characters. I write down several questions (What do you want from Nick?) and then free associate the answers. As I mentioned earlier, my day job is as a counselor, this interviewing process helps me tap into the part of my brain that I use at work to understand motivation and behavior.
EI: You also have a story published in different publications such as CBC Radio, Woman’s World Magazine, First Line Magazine, The National Post and The North Shore News, to name a few... For those just discovering your work, could you briefly summarize your back list, highlighting as you see fit? Would you please tell your readers more about it?
EC: Most of my writing falls into the category of humor writing. (at least I was trying to be funny.) I wrote a novel before Unpredictable. At the time I thought it was amazing. In retrospect- like many first books- it needed some work. This is an understatement on par with saying the Grand Cayon is a small hole. I believe all the writing we do, the things that work and the things that don’t, help move us a step closer to improving. People aren’t born writers; they become them by continuing to put words on the page.
EI: What's up next? Is there another book in the works? What can you share with us?
EC: I have a second book that is finished and with my editor. The book started with a fact I read about how more people are killed by vending machine accidents than by shark attacks. It has led to a story about someone who evaluates risk for a living and is terrified to take any risk in her own life.
I’ve also recently finished a screenplay and am working on revisions. I am of course, fully planning to hang about with celebrities and buying a dog that can fit in my hand bag.
EI: Ms. Cook, thank you for contributing to my blog. It has been a pleasure for me to get to know you, and your work a little better. Would you like to end your interview with a writing tip or advice for young aspiring writers?
EC: Thank you for the chance to be on your blog! My advice for anyone who wants to write is to read. Read as much as you can. If you have a book that you really like sit down an outline it. What is in each chapter? What about the characters do you like? When do key events happen in the book? We can learn so much by paying attention to those who do it well.
Lastly, my advice is to keep writing. Writing is a craft, like painting, singing or carpentry- we get better with practice. If you get discouraged and stop, then you will never know what you might have written. Is that a regret you want to have? I didn’t think so.
To learn more about Eileen Cook, please visit her at:
Posted by E. I. Johnson at 12:21 PM