This holiday season, I’ve decided to promote some of my writer friends and ask some of the questions that folks ask me. Today’s guest/victim is:
L. Andrew Cooper
First, a little something about Andrew.
L. Andrew Cooper teaches film and digital media at the University of Louisville. He specializes in horror film and in horror more generally, from eighteenth-century Gothic to whatever comes after torture porn and found footage. His publications include (2010), (2012, co-edited with Brandy Ball Blake), and (2012). He also dabbles in fiction; if that takes off, it may seize control of the site: his first novel, , was published on November 30, 2012. His B.A. is from Harvard, and his Ph.D. is from Princeton.
At what age did you start writing or know that you wanted to write?
I remember learning to write in kindergarten—the vivid challenge of “owl” on a spelling test—but I don’t remember knowing how to write and not writing stories. I first tried a novel in the second grade, a choose-your-own-adventure, but I didn’t finish one until I was eighteen (totally unpublishable). I know people live without writing. How odd.
Where do your ideas come from?
Anxieties, fascinations, passions, which I turn into problems that I must solve by transforming them into stories, strange and disturbing stories.
Do you base your characters on people you know or know of? Family or celebrities?
Aspects of people I know creep into my characters, but because most of my writing tends to be… dark… most of my characters experience terrible things, which means I avoid basing any character on any one person. I have, at times, made characters superficially resemble people with whom I am presently unhappy. When those characters experience terrible things, I get some shadenfreude, but I always make those characters differ from the people they resemble in major ways, too, so that I don’t feel like I’m ever truly imagining someone real.
I don’t base characters on celebrities when I craft them, but I fantasize about casting people to play them after I’m done writing them. I’ve approached celebrities at conventions, handed them books, and said, “You’d be perfect for…” and named characters. None of the celebrities has ever gotten back to me directly, but one did accept a Facebook friend request. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, the character I imagine her playing has a bigger role in the novel I’m working on now… so if Hollywood calls me, I will definitely call her (she’s been a fave for years).
Do you plot out your stories or just make it up as you go?
All my novels and books have outlines first, but a lot of improvisation happens in between the larger points on the outlines, which are often just chapter-driven tables of contents. That said, my brain usually plots far ahead of where I’m writing, and I almost always have an ending before I begin. The ending I start with is never complete, however, particularly where characters are concerned. Characters have minds of their own: they can live, die, kill one another, and intervene in events in unexpected ways. They rarely change the major outcomes for which they were born, but they change the shapes of things, and who knows? They could start taking over.
Do you listen to music while you write, and if so, what do you listen too?
Some ideas require quiet. Extreme horror or action might need some Nine Inch Nails, KMFDM, or another industrial goody from my younger years. Lately, as my prose has played more with film elements, I’ve been listening to Philip Glass and Angelo Badalamenti.
Which of your characters would you most like to meet in person? Which character of another author would you want to meet?
Many of my characters would kill me if we met. If we could stipulate safety, I would like to meet Dr. Allen V. Fincher, author of The Alchemy of Will, the book of rituals with horrific results in my novels and short stories. He’s also the architect behind the massive conspiracy that began in my novel Burning the Middle Ground and continues in the novel I’m writing now, Manufacturing Miracles. If meeting him somehow weren’t a very, very bad idea, I’d love for us to chat. As for another author’s character, J.D. Salinger’s Buddy Glass.
Which of your stories/books/works do you consider the best?
My answer varies from day to day. Different works are better for different audiences. My horror short story collection Leaping at Thorns is a cross-section of twenty years of my life, so I’m rather fond of it.
How much do you write each day/week?
I might write a twenty-page short story in a day and then write nothing for a week. When I’m working regularly on a book, I draft on average ten pages in a day, with editing as I go.
Can you tell about your experiences working with publishers? Any juicy or painful experiences?
I’ve known small presses and publications that folded because of economic circumstances, which sucks, but my personal dealings with publishers have been good. I’ve published in fiction, non-fiction, and textbooks, and I have and will continue to get rejections, but everyone I’ve met in publishing itself has been professional. Early in my career, I got picked up by two different agents at two different times, both of whom dropped me when they quit agenting, the first because he got into a prestigious journalism school and the second because she got her own book deal. Agents are not the same as publishing, but as a younger person trying to break in, I of course thought I was on the verge of being “discovered” and had my heart trampled. I only recently—a decade later—decided to go with an agent again, and luckily she’s the real deal.
Do you have a routine when you write?
With book-length projects, yes. After the preliminaries—outlining, research—I try to develop a rhythm so that I have a block of hours during which I sit down, usually with coffee or espresso, and read whatever I’ve last written. I do light editing as I go until all the threads are in hand, and then I write until I reach a stopping point. Characters and cadence tell me how far to go.
What is your latest project/release?
In early 2016 Seventh Star Press is re-releasing my co-edited collection Reel Dark: Twisted Projections on the Flickering Page as well as the collection of my own work, Leaping at Thorns, the new edition of which will feature three previously uncollected stories. Also in 2016, Seventh Star will release a new collection of my work, Peritoneum, which is… insane. Almost all the stories are interconnected. I think it’s like Sherwood, Ohio on acid, especially the final sequence of stories, which begins with “The Eternal Recurrence of Suburban Abortion” and ends with “The Broom Closet Where Everything Dies.”
Is there a book or book series that you recommend to people?
If people want to understand how Gothic horror has withstood time, they need to read Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho. Anyone who wants to craft disturbing fiction should read Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. One imperfect piece of writing that could be a limitless source? Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Just ask Lovecraft.
Do you have a dream project that you want to write in the future?
If I fantasize long enough about writing something, I figure I’ll write about it. I refer to it as a kind of intellectual Darwinism—if a concept survives long enough in my brain, weathering the decay of brain cells and other perils, it is likely worth recording, and perhaps worth publishing. I don’t try to publish everything I write, and not everything I try to publish makes it, so “don’t dream it, be it” doesn’t exactly “make it so,” but the philosophy tends to make action.
Do you have a special way of generating story ideas?
How much of you is in your characters?
Quite a lot, but not always (I hope) where people expect. In Burning the Middle Ground, for instance, Ronald Glassner is a snarky gay writer, and I am a snarky gay writer, so people tend to think he’s me, but I don’t identify with him that much. On some days he’s just that obnoxious guy from New York… and I’m from the South, uncomfortable when I’m in NYC… on other days he’s a hero… and I’m not. Another example is a character in a short story that will appear in my new collection Peritoneum: her name is an obvious parody of mine, and I give her about two sentences to seem important before someone bashes her head in. When I show up in my work, I’m like the other people who do. I only show up partially, and when I do, I’m in for some abuse.
If you could live the life of one of your characters, who would it be?
Susan Penser. She’s a badass grandma with a conscience, and she has a lot of money and power to help deal with the crap life throws at her. She plays an important role in my horror novel Descending Lines as well as my (hopefully) forthcoming thriller The Blue Jacket Conspiracy. She’s not done yet, either.
Do you read reviews of your books? If so, have you ever engaged a reviewer over comments they’ve made?
Yes, and unfortunately, yes. Fortunately, the only misstep I made in the engagement category involved an academic book, and while I would advise folks just to leave reviewers alone, I think that if there’s a circumstance when engaging a reviewer is appropriate, it’s this one: the reviewer made factually inaccurate claims about what my book says. I was annoyed. The review’s claims made for good soundbites, but they also made no sense given what I actually wrote. Yes, reviewers have deadlines and don’t always read carefully or read at all. It’s a reality. The writer must rise above. I did not.
What are you working on now?
Manufacturing Miracles is book two of The Last World War, the sequel to Burning the Middle Ground, which I always planned as the first installment of a series. It picks up five years after the events of the first book, with continuing characters (those who survived and otherwise kept going) scattered across the United States. Whereas the first book takes the scope of a small town, this book takes the scope of the entire nation falling into Dr. Allen Fincher’s conspiracy. Going beyond mind control, a major goal in the first book, the conspiracy is now destroying cities as the Consortium, a group of characters familiar not just from Burning but also from Leaping at Thorns and Peritoneum, hatches new plans and new monsters in Miami, Atlanta, New York, Boston, Cincinnati, Louisville, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. Not only is the range of the evil boggling, but the mayhem is the most visceral and colorful I have crafted. The work is slow but delightful, as well as seriously disturbing, so far.
Thanks Andrew. To find his books, click the link.