Stacey Cochran Interview
1: What is the most productive time of the day for you to write?
I get my best writing done between 10 AM and 4 PM in the middle of the week. I teach writing at North Carolina State University two nights per week in the spring and fall, and my three-year-old is in school himself from 9-5 from Monday through Friday.
2: Do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer?
I write almost entirely on the computer.
3: What do you draw inspiration from?
When I’m doing my best work, I think I draw inspiration from the people around me and from the aspects of my own life I wouldn’t ordinarily think of as remarkable (my own faults, the landscape around me, etc.). In the past two-three years, I’ve turned my attention to trying to write a thriller novel with a working class (even lower working class) protagonist. Most “thrillers” feature exceptionally well-educated, heroic characters in lavish, non-pedestrian settings (Paris, jungles, yachts, etc.) and function as a form of escapism (a la James Bond). In the novel I’m just wrapping up the first draft of, I wanted to write a thriller with recognizable genre tropes (24-hour timeline plot, alternating POV, multiple red herrings, an And-Then-There-Were-None mystery) but to set significant parts of it in a trailer park, with characters who are unemployed and struggling with depression, substance abuse, guilt, and the need to find love again. In other words, people like you and me.
4: Do you set yourself goals when you sit down to write such as word count?
Good question. Word count has become intuitive, so I think about it when I write but it’s more-or-less subconsciously. What I’m really working for is a scene arc, an emotional arc of some sort. Each chapter has to end with some kind of emotional punch, or a plot twist, or a character’s realization of something that propels the story forward. And I have a broader vision (generally) for how each of these scenes fits within the overall story, its theme, its purpose, and what the likely expectations are of an audience.
5: Being a self published author how do you come up with your cover art?
Every book is a little different. The first novel I published simply featured a stock cover. The Kiribati Test (my second effort) was largely the concept of a graphic designer friend based on her reading of the title story. Amber Page (the first edition) took nearly nine months to complete. I worked with an artist who drew up the central comic book image, which I had suggested after seeing a Getty Image photo of a girl leaping out of the water. Once we had the comic book image of Amber Page, I then had to create a cover around that. This was before PhotoShop was popular, and I used a program on an old desktop computer that I no longer have. It was not easy. The Colorado Sequence came about by working with the graphic designer from The Kiribati Test. We had a lunch meeting and brainstormed ideas and concepts from the novel. After a number of unsuccessful drafts, I found the background image of the ancient lettering on istockphoto.com and the GD came up with (entirely on her own, based on our lunch meeting notes) the hanging keys. I think I had suggested the Impact font, but even that went through a number of drafts. That cover is my most successful to date, I think. It has moved a good number of books.
6: What drives you to chose the career of being a writer?
Another great question. Considering I’ve been doing this pretty much fulltime since I was about twenty, and I haven’t secured a major publishing contract for my fiction you have to wonder why I stay at this. The reason is that I grew up in a household with poor communicators. My family has very intense, loyal, compassionate love, but they are not born communicators. Somewhere in my early twenties I recognized that I could learn to be a better communicator by writing and studying the art and craft of writing, storytelling, rhetoric, and communication. The need to prove to myself that I’m actually capable of self-improvement has sustained me through 3,000 rejections over the course of 11 novels. If I fail to ever become a published novelist, it will be because I failed to truly improve my ability to communicate with others. The stakes are high -- because we’re talking about one of my central reasons to be on this earth -- and as the years tick by the urgency to succeed increases.
When I get a negative review on Amazon, for example, I try to take it the best way possible. That is, I want to learn as much as I can from what the reader suggests. But it has become increasingly difficult to separate my own personal failings from someone saying, “this novel is a horrible” or “it’s not worth ten cents” or “it’s a complete waste of time.” To me, I read that and think that all these years of striving for self-improvement has been a waste. I have to struggle to stay focused on trying to get better. It’s not always easy.
7: Do you own an ebook reading devise?
I read eBooks on my BlackBerry Storm mobile device. It has a Kindle app.
8: Who are some of your favorite authors and What are you reading now?
Well, this changes all the time. In the past month, I’ve been reading three out-of-print Charles Williams novels: Dead Calm, Aground, and Scorpion Reef. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of thriller, suspense writers who are writing blue-collar characters with compassion and respect. Or at least it doesn’t get picked up my big New York publishing. Stephen King did it well in the horror genre. Some of Scott Nicholson’s work goes there. Simon Wood is good. John Rector. Allan Guthrie. Dennis Lehane should have maybe stopped writing after Mystic River; that novel is perfect in every way. I love reading the occasional self-published novel with all its warts and bumps and imperfections. I’ve said this before in other contexts: you can learn a hell of a lot more about good writing by reading bad writing than you can by reading good writing alone. It’s hard to critique the masters, but a novel with a lot of bumps gets you to think about how you would do it differently and why.
9: What do you think of book trailers and do you have any plans to have any?
99.9% of the people who do book trailers have no idea how to make them work. A successful book trailer in 2010 on YouTube has to be short (less than 30 seconds) and should be shocking, hilarious, bizarre, or brilliant. The CLAWS trailer is 22 seconds long, features a man being attacked a mountain lion, and has received 750,000 views on YouTube. If you can get a trailer to get close to a million views, it’s worth your time.
10: What are you working on now that you can talk about?
The novel I’ve just finished the first draft of is titled THE ETERNALIST. It has taken two years to write, and I am nearly completely drained emotionally and spiritually as a result of it. In the short term, I would like to push CLAWS 2 on through to publication this year (2010). I have another thriller THE LONELIEST, which my wife has suggested I self publish as well (it was rejected by everybody in the business). I have an idea for the characters of the next novel I’d like to write, but I don’t have a clear plot yet. I would like the central characters to be a small family (husband, wife, and one young kid) who start the novel homeless. They literally live in their van, have absolutely nothing, and are seemingly of no worth to anyone on this planet. But they absolutely are in their situation together. They love one another, respect one another, and are tender and kind and thoughtful. They live by a code and with integrity that should be admirable, even noble. The irony of their own worth to one another set against their worthlessness to the rest of the world seems like fertile ground, and it’s probably a pretty universal feeling we all share. I want to come at homelessness with compassion, love, and respect for the lives it touches.
My filmmaking is also starting to gain momentum, and I think some really interesting stuff could be done in the next 5-10 years in the DIY independent film world. Bypass film festivals, major studios, and go straight for your consumers via the Internet, Direct-to-TV downloads, and Amazon.com