DIANNIKA ALYSE STAR: To start off with, could you tell us a little bit about your sci-fi books?
JEFFREY COOK: So, I have three different sci-fi projects. The first were my original books: the Dawn of Steam trilogy. These are my ‘heavy readers’ books, as the entire series is set up as letters and journal entries from a group of explorer-adventurers that were written from 1815-1819 during a world-spanning journey, being collected in the more typical steampunk-era in the Victorian by one character’s widow.
The second was my first venture into YA — Mina Cortez: From Bouquets to Bullets is a YA sci-fi set in a future Seattle, where jobs are assigned based on aptitudes via microchips that give you all the knowledge to do a chosen job. Mina assumes she’s going to end up taking over her parents’ landscaping and flower business, even though she’s hoped to become a ballerina. She ends up being given the chip that makes her, essentially, a spy, instead, and gets plunged into working on a major kidnapping case, with some help from her best friend, and said friend’s ‘undead’ Chevy.
And finally, there’s the Writerpunk Project. A couple years ago, it grew out of the Nanowrimo boards. A number of us kept talking science fiction — so one member, John Weley Hawthorne, started a new group. Eventually the idea was put forward we could do some writing together. This turned into doing science fiction adaptations of Shakespeare. I wrote my eventual story, a steampunk version of ‘The Winter’s Tale’, and went back to the group to see how people were doing… to find no one else had even started. So, I sort of took an administrative role, set a deadline, helped recruit editors, proofers, and so on to make sure things happened, and were professional quality.
And last year, we put out Sound & Fury: Shakespeare Goes Punk early in the year, and eventually added Once More Unto the Breach: Shakespeare Goes Punk 2. This weekend, we’re holding the release party for Merely This and Nothing More: Edgar Allen Poe Goes Punk.
So, that pretty much covers the 7 sci-fi works I wrote, or have a story in/hand in. I’m working on more, and have some short stories floating out there, but for now, those are the big ones.
STAR: I know the most recent anthology, Merely This and Nothing More, is at least partially for charity. How did that come about, and do the others also raise money for charity?
COOK: It’s entirely for charity. No one in Writerpunk is making any money on it. Everyone involved, artists, authors, proofreaders, etc. are donating their time. We were looking at it early, and realizing we had no idea how much money these would make, recognizing taxes were an issue, etc., so the main people involved ultimately decided to donate to charity. We decided it had to be something the whole group could agree on — non-religious, non-political, etc. Ultimately, since I was handling the money side, we went with a charity that’s local to me, though many members, when they sell live copies, donate to animal shelters near them instead. But all the ebook profits, and the copies I sell live, the profits go to PAWS Animal Rescue in Lynwood, WA. All 3 of the Writerpunk books are solely charity projects.
STAR: Wow, that’s impressive, and a wonderful thing for you all to do!
To bring this back to you, when did you first realize you wanted to be an author?
COOK: My mother says I first started writing my own stories and insisting I wanted to be an author when I was 6. That sounds about right. I’ve loved stories and storytelling for as long as I can remember. Both of my parents fueled and encouraged my reading habit. Even at our poorest, I always had books. I also did a lot of cooperative storytelling with my Dad, going back and forth to pass the time on long road trips.
STAR: It sounds like your parents were very supportive. I think anyone who has read your works owes them a huge thanks!
Was there anything specific that inspired you to write the books that you have published?
COOK: A few different things. Dawn of Steam and the Fair Folk Chronicles both started with dreams. I woke up with ideas centered around a couple of the characters. Dawn of Steam grew out of feeling a need to make this high tech inventor with a mechanical battlesuit fit in the same world as a throwback explorer who favored knives because guns were ‘too easy’. Fair Folk began with thinking about how being half-fae could actually manifest itself, hence opening with Megan, and dealing with her severe ADHD issues….
Writerpunk, the story I wrote for Sound & Fury was just because I really, really wanted to make the bear in The Winter’s Tale a full character. And then Mina began in conversation with friends. We were hanging out, waiting for people — and someone quoted Monty Python, for whatever reason. And the other person there responded with ‘So, what if no one really did expect the Spanish Inquisition? Including the Inquisition? How would that work?’ — and the world building wheels started turning.
STAR: Ok, now I REALLY need to add the Mina books to my TBR list. 🙂
I know that you also write fantasy books (the Fair Folk Chronicles you mentioned). Is it difficult keeping the fantasy and sci-fi elements separate?
COOK: Not really. Dawn of Steam even has a little, tiny bit of fantasy in there, mostly based around some of the very big superstitions of the time. Fortune telling, and a couple of legendary mystical sites are mentioned, for example, but mostly take a back seat. Mina and Megan are very different characters, in very different Seattles.
The Winter’s Tale, on the other hand, freely mixes magic and science fiction elements.
Sometimes that’s part of the fun. And sometimes a story really needs to be mostly one or the other.
STAR: So, My next question was going to be whether you have ever been tempted to write science fantasy, as an author of both genres, but it sounds like The Winter’s Tale is just that.
Is science fantasy something you are considering doing more of for future books?
JEFFREY COOK: Sure. I have a science fantasy planned for next year’s Writerpunk Press release. My next novel is pure fantasy, but some of the potential plans have elements of both. I also do plan to do more Dawn of Steam, with about the same balance of about 90% science fiction, decorated with a little early 1800’s fantasy.
STAR: I love science fantasy, so I will definitely have to check those out, too.🙂
Who has inspired you most in your writing?
COOK: My very first novels were the Chronicles of Narnia, when I was 5. I was way too young to read any subtext in, they were just fantasy novels. My parents took me to a children’s theater production of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and I loved it — so they bought a series set. They’d intended to read it to me, though I’d been reading children’s books for a while. By the end of the week, I’d read Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and Reepicheep was my favorite character in anything now. I just kept devouring books from there — but in terms of making me gravitate to fantasy/want to write fantasy, I’d have to go with the first reads… with the additional note — the other thing that really got me delving into reading, and inspired my lifelong love of myth was reading Thor #279, around the same time. Sure, Marvel’s mythology is terrible, but it’s fun, and it got me reading the real Norse myths, and going to lots of others from there.
STAR: And what made you start writing sci-fi?
COOK: I read Aasimov and a bit of Heinlein, and enjoyed Aasimov in particular. But what really got me into reading scifi more heavily was ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ by Philip K. Dick. Outside of authors, though, my first, great fandom was Star Wars. Which, sure, is pretty ‘soft’ as sci-fi goes, but that’s okay. My earliest memory in life is watching the Star Destroyer coming on screen in Episode IV, when I was 2 1/2. I’ve seen all 7 movies opening night now. The first one by chance, entirely intentional ever since.
STAR: And do you read the Star Wars novels?
COOK: I’ve read some of them, yeah. I love Zahn’s books in general. I usually read most of the Jedi-centric stuff. I hadn’t cared for some of the direction of the main plotline for a while, going into the later New Jedi Order and Vong War stuff. So, I know what happened, just didn’t care to read it. I’ll probably pick up some of the new books as the post Force Awakens universe develops. I’ve also read a lot of the comics and graphic novels.
STAR: Some of those new post-Force Awakens books are already out, in fact.
I know I’ve taken up quite a bit of your time, so just one last question to wrap up with.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
COOK: Take up all the time you like. I’m happy to do it. And a few things, I suppose. First — I wish I’d listened to my editor more during those early books. Not that I dislike them. They’ve reviewed very well and earned an award — but some of the trouble of the process, early promotion, etc. could have been better, as well as some bits of the books as well. So there’s that. Sometimes perspective from a little distance can be good. The other one, which I tell aspiring authors all the time: build your discipline. Writing is a job like any other. There’s days it’s no fun at all, and really difficult. Do something writing related for 15 minutes a day, every day. Most people can find 15 minutes. And second, /finish/. Other projects will sound like more fun, or easier. You will hate your work. But keep at it. I know too many people with a dozen novels partly started, and then when it gets hard, they go to the next project, and despite best intent, never return. If you really want to put books out there, keep at it. Third and finally: the first draft is just you telling yourself the story (thank you Terry Pratchett) — your book /should/ go through rewrites and edits. First drafts shouldn’t be the final product. Put your best work out there — starting by doing the no-fun process of clean up editing, content editing, rewriting, etc.
STAR: Thank you so much for sharing with us and our readers!
COOK: Very welcome! Thanks for the interview!