Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Interview with writer/author Eileen Cook

Author Eileen Cook joins me today to chat with me about her young adult thriller, With Malice.

Eileen Cook is a multi-published author with her novels appearing in eight languages. Her books have been optioned for film and TV. She spent most of her teen years wishing she were someone else or somewhere else, which is great training for a writer. Her newest book, The Hanging Girl, came out in October 2017. She’s an instructor/mentor with The Creative Academy and the Simon Fraser University Writer’s Studio Program.

Eileen lives in Vancouver with her husband and two very naughty dogs and no longer wishes to be anyone or anywhere else.

Welcome, Eileen. Please tell us about your current release.
While on a school trip in Italy Jill is in a horrible car accident. She wakes up in the hospital with no memory of the accident or the six weeks before. Jill is devastated to hear that her best friend died in the accident and then horrified that the police don’t believe it was an accident- instead they’re trying to prove Jill murdered Simone. Jill has to fill in the missing time while trying to decipher if other people’s stories of what happened are accurate before she’s forced back to Italy and a trial. She’s forced to question her friendship and more importantly what she’s capable of doing.

What inspired you to write this book?
There were a few things that came together to form the idea of this book. I’m fascinated with long-term friendships and how they survive and evolve, or don’t. I knew I wanted to write about two friends who had been in a relationship for so long that at times it was hard to tell where the good parts and the bad intersected. I’d also worked for over twenty years in the field of vocational rehabilitation assisting with people with injuries and illnesses as an expert for the BC Supreme Court. I’d done a lot of work with individuals with brain injury and taking the opportunity to explore identity and relationships when you can’t trust your own memory was exciting.

Once I wrote a full draft of the manuscript I knew it was missing something and two other pieces of inspiration fell into place. The first was that I was planning a trip to Italy and it occurred to me to set the book there. I felt it would give Jill an extra push to explore her friendship if they were out of their normal environment. As I prepared for the trip I started to read more about the Amanda Knox trial and that motivated me to add the pressure coming from the media- where everyone else is deciding your guilt or innocence based on very little information.

The final bit of inspiration came from the first season of the Serial podcast by NPR. (If you haven’t listened- download it- you’ll thank me.) It’s a true crime story about a murder trial that happened in the 1990s. With each person that told their story I would shift my feelings. “He’s totally innocent! He’s guilty! Wait-he’s innocent!” I wanted to see if I could recreate that feeling for readers by providing them with new perspectives that might change how they felt about the storyline.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I am one of those people who is most excited when I’m working on a project. I’m in the process of finishing up a new book tentatively titled, You Owe Me a Murder. I was inspired by Highsmith’s books, Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley. I took that basic premise of two strangers meeting and becoming embroiled in a murder for hire project, and one of those people is a master manipulator. The main character, Kim, must figure out how far she’ll go to stay out of trouble.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I always loved books and stories. My parents have a homework assignment I did in second grade where we were supposed to practice writing sentences and instead I strung mine together to make a story. The first time I can remember thinking that writing books was something I wanted to do was when I was 11 or 12. I’d gone to the library and picked up a book by Stephen King, Salem’s Lot. The librarian tried to discourage me from reading it- declaring it too scary. I remember being offended because I was a very mature kid and I understood the difference between make believe and real and I figured how scary could something I knew was fake be? Turns out- really scary! I slept with the light on for weeks. I thought it was amazing that this writer had made something up, something I knew was fiction, and yet it felt so real that I had a real emotional reaction. That’s when I knew that is what I wanted to do.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I’m so fortunate as after years of juggling writing and a day job I’m now in a position where I can write full time. When I started writing it took me a long time to realize that what works for one writer might not work for another. I always encourage people to try different processes and see what fits their style.

What works for me is to spend time plotting and planning before starting to write. Sometimes this includes writing diary entries from different character’s point of view, making timelines, and endless lists. I used to jump in as soon as I had an idea, but I’ve learned it’s better to let an idea ferment for a period of time. Like wine, it gets more complex and interesting if it sits for a while.

I usually get up early and walk the dogs or go to the gym before settling in with a cup of tea and getting to work. I’m not creative before 8am or after 10pm. I usually have three or four hours of writing/creative time before my brain gives up. I spend the rest of my day doing more business things, marketing, teaching, research etc. Also looking at random things on the Internet, yelling at my dogs to stop digging in the yard, and drinking endless cups of tea.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Do we get only one? I feel as if I’m the very definition of quirky. I have a thing for vintage typewriters. I own three and recently a friend got me a vintage keyboard that uses blue tooth to connect to my laptop- so now as I write I have the great clickety-clack sound.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I know it might shock some people – but I always wanted to be a writer. I was also open to becoming a princess – but alas was born to commoners who never provided me with the social connections to marry into royalty.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I’m often asked what is the best writing advice that I’ve ever been given. It came Canadian writer and storyteller Ivan Coyote. When I was taking a class with Ivan I bemoaned that I was worried that if I sent my work out there I would be rejected. Ivan said: “You realize that you’re already not published, right? The worst thing that will happen is that you still won’t be published.”

This was my light bulb moment. I realized that while being rejected wouldn’t be fun, I could survive it. I knew what I would really regret is never having tried at all. I would encourage anyone who wants to write to do it. Heck, no matter what it is you’ve been dreaming about – you have to try – you never know what might happen.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Creative Academy (where I offer mentorship etc.) | Amazon

Thanks for being here today, Eileen.

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