I love the way that Eileen Cook can tell a story. Her book “What Would Emma Do” is laugh-out-loud funny. The characters in the book are quirky and realistic. She makes it easy from the first sentence to get drawn into their world. One of her books, “Unpredictable”, is under option as a possible movie.
1. What started your career as a writer?
My parents have homework that I did in second grade. We were supposed to write sentences to practice our handwriting, but I strung mine together to make it a story.
Apparently I started young! The first time that I can actually remember thinking that I wanted to be a writer was when I was 12. I’d wandered into the adult section of the library and decided I wanted to check out a Stephen King book, Salem’s Lot.
The librarian didn’t want me to check it out because she thought it would be too scary. I convinced her to let me read it because after all- I knew it was fictional. How scary could things that were made up be? Turns out REALLY scary.
I thought it was amazing that I could read something, that I knew was made up, and still feel real emotion. It seemed like magic to me. I wanted to do that- make things up and make it feel real to other people. I still love that.
2. How do you keep going when you’re working on a book that just won’t come together?
The first thing that I remind myself is that this happens all the time. I don’t think I’ve written a book and not had a moment (or two or three or a dozen) where it seemed like the book wasn’t going to work at all, or where I convinced myself it was actually horrid. Every other published writer I know has had these moments. It’s normal. It’s part of the process, even though that I hate this part of the process. Then I back up and try and figure out why I’m stuck.
Sometimes what I need to do is turn off the computer and interview the character using paper and pencil. For some reason, switching how I write often shakes something free. This is also a good time to get together with a writer friend or two and talk through the story, sometimes fresh eyes sees a direction that I’ve missed. The most important this is to keep working away- as they say, you can’t fix a blank page.
3. Which one of your novels was the toughest to write and why?
The most difficult book is always the book I’m currently writing. Once the book is done I tend to forget how hard it was. Then I only remember the good parts. I’m very good at lying to myself.
4. What do you think is the key to writing characters that readers can’t forget?
The most important thing is to write characters that you find interesting. If you are writing who you think will be interesting to other people you will almost certainly miss the mark. The second advice I give is to remember that your characters don’t know they are characters. They shouldn’t do things because you as the writer need them to do something. They should do something because they are motivated to do it.
5. How do you get inside your character’s head?
Getting inside my characters is one of my favorite parts of the process. I spend a lot of time trying to understand what it is my character wants (something they can see, hear, do) versus something they need (often an emotional thing- like learning to trust.) i worked as a counselor for a long time so I understand that every person sees the world differently based in part on where they come from and the experiences they’ve already had.
If someone has grown up in a loving home with great parents and lots of friends they will see things differently from someone who grew up nearly homeless with parents who might have substance abuse issues. I enjoy getting to know them so I know better how they will respond when I get them into all sorts of trouble.
6. What is your biggest triumph as a writer?
This is hard, can I pick two things? The first time I saw my book on a shelf at a bookstore it felt as if I’d crossed the finish line of a million mile marathon. I almost couldn’t believe it. I’d dreamed about that moment for so long and there it was. However, overall the best thing in the world as a writer is hearing from a reader who has loved your book. Especially if they aren’t family or friends!
7. In your opinion, what’s the worst thing a new writer can do when writing?
The worst thing a new writer can do is give up. I won’t lie. Writing is a hard business. There’s lots of rejection and plenty of people who will tell you that you should do something else. It is much easier for someone to tear down someone else’s dream than it is for them to build their own. It’s very easy as a new writer to compare yourself to your favorite writer and decide that you aren’t good enough, you’ll never be good enough, and you might as well quit.
What is important to remember is that your favorite writer took a LONG time to get to that book. It takes patience and practice. You wouldn’t say that you wanted to learn to play the piano and then sit down for the first time and expect to play Mozart. It’s the same with writing. It will take you time to get good. Keep writing. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.
8. What are you currently working on?
I am currently putting the finishing touches on a book that will be out in February called The Year of Mistaken Identities, which is about a girl who after a childhood friend dies, decides to look for her own birth mom. I’ve also started the writing process of a new book. With me there is always a new book!
You can check out more about Eileen at her website