- Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It depends on the day. In general, it energizes me. I’m fortunate that I’m not one of those people who feels tortured by my muse. I rarely pound my head on the keyboard in frustration- most of the time I recognize that my job is essentially making stuff up for living. That’s a pretty amazing and given that this is what I’ve always wanted to do, I’m grateful. However, I’d be lying if I said it was all puppies, unicorns, and high word counts. There are days when the story doesn’t flow. The trick is to remember those days end.
- Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Never say never, but in general I enjoy having my books under my own name. Growing up I always dreamed of being a writer. As a kid (okay, I did this as an adult too) I used to go into bookstores or libraries, run my fingers along the shelf and when I found the spot where I would be shelved, I would shove the books on either side over just a tiny bit to make space for my future books. Now that I have something real to go on the shelf I love seeing it there where I always imagined it.
- What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
The best money I ever spent was when I started to go to the Surrey International Writer’s Conference (www.siwc.ca). This was for three main reasons. First, they have great content with a mix of craft topics and information on publishing. Secondly, the chance to meet and interact with so many other writers was amazing. It was as if I’d finally found my people. Writing is such a solo thing- it was nice to be a part of a bigger group. Thirdly, it was the first real significant investment I made in my own writing career. It made me take myself more seriously. I became more committed to deadlines- if I was going to spend the money to go, then I had to follow through on what I learned.
- As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
I want to have a spirit animal like a wolf or an owl, something mystical and wise. However, I suspect the truth is any spirit animal of mine is more like a scrappy terrier. I don’t give up easily- I’ve long believed that the difference between published authors and unpublished, is in part persistence. Like a small dog who is delusional as to how big they are- I have a habit of taking on larger challenges than I realized at the start. And at the end of the day, I like to snuggle up with a snack, a warm blanket and take a nap.
- How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
How high can you count? I had five full completed novels that I tried to sell prior to selling my first book. I had, give or take, one zillion uncompleted projects. I still save everything- you never know when it might come in handy.
- What does literary success look like to you?
This is a changing goal post. For a period of time it was finishing a manuscript all the way to the end. Then finishing a manuscript that I was proud of. Then it moved to selling a novel. Then to selling another, and now I want to continue to sell and grow my readership.
Ultimately, the best success is hearing from a reader who’s enjoyed my work. I write because I have a story I want to share. When someone connects with that story, it feels like the best win ever.
- What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I’ll start by freely admitting that I love the research aspect of things. (Yes, I am slightly weird.) I usually spend 2-4 months outlining and preparing to write including doing research. I’ve interviewed everyone from police detectives to convicted con-artists. I learned how to read tarot cards and had a library do a search for me on various poison options. Thanks to book research, I now know that more people are killed by being crushed by a falling vending machine than by shark attacks. (It makes scoring that Diet Coke at lunch take on a whole new level of tension.)
I do most of my research before starting to write, but if I hit a point in the manuscript where I don’t know something I put in a place marker (usually just a XXX) so I can find it easy in the revision process and worry about it later. The good news is that between librarians (superheroes IMHO), online research and the chance to speak to people about any number of topics- research is easier than ever.
- How many hours a day/week do you write?
I love the idea of having a typical day, but unless you count me yelling at my dogs for barking at the back gate, it’s always hard to know what it will be like around here. I do set weekly writing goals- where I block out time on my calendar. I find if it isn’t on my list then it doesn’t get done. I need to make writing a priority- the same as getting to the dentist or walking the dog.
Until three years ago I was still working while writing. As a result, I did the bulk of my writing in the evenings and on weekends. Now that writing is my full-time job I’m able to write on my schedule and I find my most creative time is late morning through the afternoon. When I’m not writing I spend time doing research for other books, marketing and also teaching.
- Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
There is a school of thought that you should build a brand in one genre, so readers know what to expect. So, if you write thrillers, keep writing thrillers. Build a fan base and only then consider branching out.
This advice makes a lot of sense, and I’ve never listened to it. I tend to write what I find interesting. I feel that if I’m passionate about a topic that will come through to the reader. I enjoy experimenting because I love so many different genres. When I have a story idea I don’t want to be constrained that I can’t pursue it because it isn’t “my brand.” When I got the idea for my book, With Malice, I worried that a thriller was too big of a jump from what I’d been doing. I wrote it anyway and it ended up becoming my break out book.
I was once told at a conference- “You seem too nice to write about murder.” I think it was meant to be a compliment. I write mystery and thrillers because I enjoy reading those genres. I believe it’s easier to write in a genre that you read because you understand reader expectations and you have a sense if your idea is something new or fresh. I also enjoy the process of twisting reader expectations- leading them to believe the story is going one way and then taking it in an unexpected direction- while not cheating.
- How long have you been writing?
It depends when you want to start the clock ticking. 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 teacher wrote on it: I’m sure someday you’ll be an author. This is proof that teachers are both inspiring and partly psychic.
The first time I can remember thinking that writing books was something I wanted to do was when I was eleven or twelve. 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. I figured how scary could it 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. I wanted to create stories that made readers feel real emotions. There were years of filled notebooks, started novels, completed novels, a period of REALLY bad poetry and slowly over time I felt like I found my voice. I sold my first novel in late 2006 and it came out in 2008.
- What inspires you?
I have no clue at times where ideas and inspiration will come from. They pop into my head, a snippet of overheard conversation, something in the news, a discussion with a friend, an old photograph- you name it- they show up and slowly begin to morph into their own thing. I believe there are millions of ideas out there all the time. The trick is to pause long enough to hear them. Then, when you do get one, spend some time trying to figure out if it is a good idea. Is it worth months (or years) of your time, hundreds of pages, and a reader’s attention?
It took me a long time to become more patient with ideas. I used to get them and then run to my computer to start writing as if I was afraid it was going to get away from me. Now I slow down, turn the idea over in my head, ask a lot of “what if” questions. What would make this situation worse? What if this character didn’t know X or Y? What if this new thing suddenly happened? If I give ideas a bit of a chance to grow they evolve into much more interesting concepts.
- What projects are you working on at the present?
To be honest I am always happiest when I have a project on the go. I love the process of making things up. My current project is called YOU OWE ME A MURDER. It’s a bit of a homage to Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train (You may have seen the Hitchcock film.) A chance encounter on a flight to London England between two young women leads to murder. The main character must determine how far she’ll go to get herself out of that situation.
- Share a link to your author website.
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 Simon Fraser University Writer’s Studio Program.
She grew up in a small town in Michigan, but would go on to live in Boston and Belgium before settling in Vancouver, Canada with her husband and two very naughty dogs.
In second grade Eileen’s teacher wrote on a homework assignment “I am sure someday you will be an author” which is a tribute to the psychic abilities of elementary school teachers, as well as Eileen penchant for making things up. While she would go on to fill endless notebooks with really bad poetry, short stories, and the occasional start to a novel, she would first go on to pursue a career as a counsellor working with individuals with catastrophic injuries and illness.
Eileen quickly discovered that the challenge of working with real people is that they have real problems and she returned to writing where she could make her characters do what she wanted. Her first novel was published in 2008. Entertainment Weekly called her novel WITH MALICE a “seriously creepy thriller” which pretty much made her entire year.
When not planning murder and mayhem on the computer, Eileen enjoys reading, knitting, yelling at her dogs to stop digging holes and watching hockey (which she is required to do as a new Canadian.)