Genre of the Month, November - Science Fantasy

Interview: Jeffrey Cook

For our Science Fantasy month, we are joined by Jeffrey Cook, author of the Dawn of Steam series, the Fair Folk Chronicles, and a contributor/organizer of the Writerpunk series.

Kayla Perisho-Denley:  First, I want to thank you again for agreeing to this interview!

Jeffrey Cook:  Absolutely. I love what all of you have done with Books & Quills, and I’ve loved the features so far. I’d love to see you do well with it.

Perisho-Denley:  Thank you! So, to start, I want to talk about your amazing Punk series you’re a part of. Can you just briefly tell us about that?

Cook:  Sure. So, Writerpunk originally began, similar to Books & Quills, out of the Nanowrimo facebook group. An author named John Wesley Hawthorne is the main culprit — he noticed whenever ‘punk’ scifi came up, steampunk, cyberpunk, dieselpunk, etc., there were a handful of us responding regularly. So he started a group and invited a few people to join. After a while, between John, and Esaias Glaster, the suggestion came up that we could write some ‘punk’ anthologies. Maybe adaptations of classic works or something. So, already a full-time author, I jumped at it. When it was agreed Shakespeare would be a good opening theme, I took ‘The Winter’s Tale’ and gave it a steampunk twist. After it had been edited, cleaned up, rewritten, etc., I went back to the group and asked how everyone else was doing… and there were crickets. From there, I kind of took up some of the organizational reins. We set a deadline, put some phenomenal folks in charge of different areas: Carol Gyzander, JL Sarchet, Lia Rees, Katherine Perkins — all have been really essential to it. But we put out Sound & Fury: Shakespeare Goes Punk, with 5 stories. We’ve done 2 more volumes since — with all profits going to help PAWS Animal Rescue in Lynwood, WA — a charity I’m pretty passionate about. Each book contains ‘punk’ sci-fi adaptations of public domain works. Right now, we have 2 volumes of Shakespeare adaptations, and Poe is the newest. We’re starting the build-up towards next year’s, which will be ‘English Class Goes Punk’.

Perisho-Denley:  Awesome! I am a huge fan of Poe, so I’m glad he’s been “writerpunked.” I think the punk subgenres are some of the best examples of Science Fantasy. Can you tell us what originally drew you to these genres?

Cook:  I started writing the Dawn of Steam series of steampunk novels due to a waking dream. I had two of the characters mostly fleshed out, and started building a world around them. A friend, who was already a steampunk fan, mostly from the perspective of her dressmaking, Victorian manners and tea parties, etc., suggested it as a genre to look into for the series. I’d previously read and enjoyed some of the classics of both cyberpunk and steampunk. But writing my own ‘punk’ series, with heavy doses of real history, exploration, parts of the world that don’t get a lot of attention in US history books, etc., with some Jules Verne-esque sci-fi involved was what really got me fully immersed. When Writerpunk started, I had the first two books out, and the third in editing.

Perisho-Denley:  I know there is a pretty vibrant community surrounding these genres, conventions, etc. Do you draw a lot of inspiration from the subculture?

Cook:  I love the subculture out here and have the good fortune to get to interact with it quite a bit. I sell books every year at Steamposium here in Seattle, Gearcon in Portland, the Fairhaven Steampunk Festival up in Bellingham — where I graduated — and a couple other events. A lot of the steampunk folks show up at other events as well. I’m not sure I’d say I draw a ton of inspiration specifically for the books — a lot of my steampunk tends to be earlier era, heavily based on history and historical events, and a little more sci-fi-light than a lot of it. But the community certainly helps inspire me to keep writing in the genre, and enjoying what I do.

Perisho-Denley:  That’s an awesome way to connect with fans, for sure. How long have you been writing, or is it something you’ve always wanted to do?

Cook:  My mother likes to tell the story about how I first declared I wanted to be an author when I was about 6 years old. It’s certainly something I’ve been hoping and working towards since the last couple years of high school. I spent a lot of years doing some writing on the side while focusing on paying the bills. Then, after being laid off from a job in the insurance industry, I started focusing on it full time.I put out my first novel in 2014, with a few more first drafts done, but in editing and rewrites, and have 11 books out now, not counting the contributions to the anthologies or short stories.

Perisho-Denley:  That’s pretty awesome. Do you remember which book or author inspired that first declaration?

Cook:  When I was 6, I think that’d most likely be either CS Lewis, James Howe, or some combinations. Those were my favorite authors at the time.

Perisho-Denley:  What about your favorite author or books now? I know to a writer that’s like asking them to choose a favorite child, but I have to ask!

Cook:  My favorite book of all time is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I have some nods to it in Dawn of Steam, since those books are set to be contemporary with her. I love James Clavell — especially Shogun. William Gibson, JRR Tolkien, Asimov, Shakespeare, Pratchett. Kind of eclectic. The last couple years, I’ve been reading almost solely indie works, with the exception of Shiv Ramdas’s Domechild — amazing book. But also finding some fantastic indies that I’ve been really enjoying.

Perisho-Denley:  That is a very respectable list. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? Is there a specific time and place you write best at, or do you prefer to write anytime?

Cook:  Writing has become a full-time job. I work pretty extensively with my editor and fairly regular co-author now throughout most days. I do a lot of my new writing once my wife and the dogs go to bed, usually around 11, but that’s shifting at times currently, with conventions on most weekends requiring me to get ready to be up by 7ish.

Perisho-Denley:  Sounds like a pretty full schedule. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Cook:  I have way too many hobbies for my own good. I’m a table-top role-playing game player, I attend a live-action role play when I can, which is about 1 weekend in 4. I love watching sports, especially American football. I get into the occasional computer games as well. I also have 3 large dogs who occupy a lot of time, but it’s well worth it.

Perisho-Denley:  That is awesome that you role play!  Do you find that role playing games help your writing?

Cook:  Oh, most definitely. I love the creativity involved. It helps a lot with character and world building, certainly. But yeah, I started role-playing when I was 8 — and it’s become a life-long thing.

Perisho-Denley:  That is fantastic. Do you have any advice for someone wanting to get into writing punk or other Sci-Fan genres?

Cook:  #1 piece of advice: read. Read the classics of the genre. If it’s ‘punk’, read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, read Neuromancer, read The Anubis Gates, read Morlock Night, and particularly read The Difference Engine. Then look at some of the more modern stuff. Read indie stuff, go to a convention and engage with the fans, go to panels. Much the same with general sci-fi — read Asimov, read Bradbury, watch some movies, and then take a look at the newer stuff and indie stuff. Get familiar with things like the Mohs scale, because if you’re selling sci-fi books, people will want to know if you’re more space opera, more hard sci-fi, etc. And then, my advice to anyone wanting to write in any genre: it’s a job. The inspirations can be a lot of fun. But there’s days it’s hard, and times you need to put a lot of hours in too. It’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had — but it’s still a job.

Perisho-Denley:  That is excellent advice. One last question before I let you go. What is your best piece of advice for surviving NaNoWriMo?

Cook:  Provide yourself with incentives — carrots instead of sticks. Pick out things you like or like to do. Food, tv shows, etc., and tell yourself that if you get your word count in, you can have that dessert, or watch your show, and if you don’t, then you can’t. It can be small things — but it really can help, as long as you stick to it.

Perisho-Denley:  Awesome! Thank you so much! What do readers need to look out for coming from you and/or Writerpunk?

Cook:  My next few projects involve finishing the Angel’s Grace urban fantasy trilogy, putting out a collection of steampunk short stories (historical event-heavy, action-adventure, lesbian steampunk shorts), and then getting to work on a new YA Fantasy, Unchosen, which approaches the question “What happens when the Chosen One dies in Chapter 1?” And then Writerpunk is gearing up for our 4th release, coming next May, of ‘What We’ve Unlearned: English Class Goes Punk’, keeping to our one-book-a-year plan.

Perisho-Denley:  Fantastic! Thanks again for joining me today, and I look forward to reading more of your stories!

Cook:  Very welcome, and thank you!

Writerpunk books:

Dawn of Steam:  https://goo.gl/SSpuAZ

Fair Folk Chronicles:  https://goo.gl/MW4m6A

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/dawnofsteamtrilogy/?fref=ts

Twitter:  @JeffreyCook74