Interview with the Fabulous & Funny YA Author Eileen Cook

Eileen Cook
Eileen Cook

Her new YA thriller WITH MALICE comes out in June and it’s quite a twisted psychological ride!

For fans of We Were Liars and The Girl on the Train comes a chilling, addictive, compulsive read-–

18 year-old Jill wakes up in a hospital room, leg in a cast, stitches in her face and a big blank canvas where the last 6 weeks should be. She comes to discover she was involved in a fatal accident while on a school trip in Italy three days previous but was jetted home by her affluent father in order to receive quality care. Care that includes a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident…wasn’t an accident. Wondering not just what happened but what she did, Jill tries to piece together the events of the past six weeks before she loses her thin hold on her once-perfect life.

Where did the idea for WITH MALICE come from? What was the inspiration behind it?

There were a few things that came together to form the idea of this book. I’m fascinated with long-term friendships and how they survive and evolve, or don’t. I knew I wanted to write about two friends who had been in a relationship for so long that at times it was hard to tell where the good parts and the bad intersected. I’d also worked for over twenty years in the field of vocational rehabilitation assisting with people with injuries and illnesses as an expert for the BC Supreme Court. I had done a lot of work with individuals with brain injury and taking the opportunity to explore identity and relationships when you can’t trust your own memory was exciting.

Once I wrote a full draft of the manuscript I knew it was missing something and two other pieces of inspiration fell into place. The first was that I was planning a trip to Italy and it occurred to me to set the book there. I did a semester abroad while in college. It was an amazing experience, but there is something very disorienting about being so far away from home and your own culture. I felt it would give Jill an extra push to explore her friendship if they were out of their current element. As I prepared for the trip I started to read more about the Amanda Knox trial and that motivated me to add the pressure coming from the media- where everyone else is deciding your guilt or innocence based on very little information.

The final bit of inspiration came from the first season of the Serial podcast by NPR. (If you haven’t listened- download it- you’ll thank me.) It’s a true crime story about a murder trial that happened in the 1990s. With each person that told their story I would shift my feelings. “He’s totally innocent! He’s guilty! Wait-he’s innocent!” I wanted to see if I could recreate that feeling for readers by providing them with new perspectives that might change how they felt about the storyline.

WithMaliceThe main character in WITH MALICE has a head injury- what made you want to write about that?

My day job for a long period of time was as a counselor for people with catastrophic injuries and illness, including brain injury. I find the brain fascinating in how it works and makes sense of reality.

I dislike being out of control. One thing that scares me the most is the idea of not being able to trust my own perceptions. What if I wasn’t sure if what I saw or heard was real, or if my own memories were accurate? Giving Jill those doubts made her already bad situation worse- which is horrible in real life, but great for fiction.

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you start?

I grew up as a huge reader. My parents have a homework assignment I did in second grade. Apparently we were supposed to practice writing sentences, but I strung mine together to make them into a story. The teacher wrote on the bottom: I’m sure someday you’ll be an author. As long as I can remember I’ve enjoyed telling and writing down stories and knew this was something that I wanted to do. The first time I saw my book in print was one of the happiest times of my life.

What genre(s) do you write in? What is it that you love about them?

I write YA (young adult) novels primarily, but I’ve also written one adult novel and a three book series for younger readers. My latest books have leaned toward the thriller genre. I love the intensity that comes with these books; they’re one of my favourites to read, so it’s not surprising that I want to write them.

Who are some of your favorite authors? Why?

I always wonder how to answer this question- there are so many great writers that I love. One writer that was a huge influence on me was Stephen King. I grew up reading his novels (and frequently sleeping with the light on as a result.) While I don’t have an interest in writing horror, what I always enjoyed about his books was how the characters and dialogue felt so true to life. When I started to write his book, On Writing, became a favorite. I have recommended this book to so many people.

Another writer I have huge admiration for is JK Rowling. I would love to crawl inside her brain- her imagination is amazing.

What inspires the bulk of your ideas? How do you come up with them?

I’ve been lucky that I typically have more ideas than time to write them. The more difficult process is trying to figure out which ideas are worth spending three hundred pages on! Most of my ideas start with something that I’ve observed, an overheard conversation, something in the news, or a discussion with friends. I find myself going back to those ideas and building on them by asking a writer’s favourite question- what if? What if this happened to a teen versus an adult? What if things hadn’t turned out well? What if this happened in the past or future? If you set your imagination free you never know where it might lead you.

I always suggest that writers keep a notebook around to write down things that catch their attention. Often I go back to things months or even years later- combining ideas to make a new, bigger and better, idea.

What does a typical writing look like for you/what is your process?

I try a bit every day when I’m in the middle of a manuscript. If I don’t write frequently I lose track of story. I can’t remember where I was going and more importantly- why I was going in that direction. I have about 2-3 hours of creative time when I can come up with new scenes. I may work longer, but I am better off to use that time for edits, marketing, or research. I’ve tried to write for longer days, but it doesn’t work for me.

If one of your novels was made into a movie, which would you choose and what actors would you cast to play the three main roles?

I would absolutely love to see WITH MALICE made into a movie. However I am HORRIBLE at coming up with who should be in it- I want to cast actors that I want to meet (hello Colin Firth I am looking at you) versus actors that would be best suited to the role. One thing I am looking forward to if WITH MALICE is ever filmed is seeing how different actors would take on the characters. I think it would be fascinating to see a character that at one time only existed in my head actually on the screen.

What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned on your writing journey so far?

I can think of so many things that I’ve learned, but one of the most valuable has been the understanding that I can always get better. I read constantly and when I find a book I really love I spend the time exploring how that writer put the book together, what was the POV they used, how did they structure the novel, why did I love it so much? I never want to feel like I’ve learned it all- I want to keep pushing myself to get better.

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What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

This is a very difficult business. There is a lot of rejection and it is far easier to quit than to keep going. If this is something that you really want to do as a job my best suggestion is to surround yourself with a positive group. People who will cheer you on as you need it, and be willing to tell you the truth when you require honest feedback. If you find yourself surrounded by writers who tear down other writers or their work- find a new group. Writing success isn’t a winner take all event. There’s room on the shelves for all of us. You don’t need negative people to pull you down. Writing is supposed to be fun. We’re making things up for a living! Make sure you’re enjoying it.

Anything else you would like to add or talk about?

I can’t think of anything- but thanks for having me on your blog!

 

Thank you so much! Where can people find out more about you and your books?

Website: http://www.eileencook.com

Online at: I spend entirely too much time on Twitter and can be found procrastinating there at @eileenwriter

 

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