Monday Meet: JoAnne Soper-Cook

Today, my guess is JoAnne Soper-Cook.  I asked her more general questions, about her career as a whole, but she has several books that you can find here:

B:  What inspired you to write your first book?

J:  I wrote my first novel when I was 13. My mom and dad gave me a typewriter for Christmas. At the time I was very interested in street gangs (or what I imagined street gangs were like) in New York City, so I wrote these novels where two gangs went up against each other and there were lots of bloody brawls and people promising to cut each other, and violent confrontations, and sudden death. Seeing as how I lived in a fishing village in Newfoundland, you can imagine my knowledge of the ghetto was quite realistic. (LOL) I guess what inspired me was I really liked the stories. Most of the books I’d read were about young men who crawled out of the gutter, who’d grown up with abuse or neglect, and who took to the streets as their only refuge. They clawed their way up in a world that didn’t give two hoots about them. Of course, the idea of control, of being in control of their own destiny, was false. The streets owned them. That whole milieu fascinated me, so I started trying to mimic the books I’d read. That introduced me to the phenomenon of being able to create and manipulate your own inner reality.

B: Do you have a specific writing style?

J:  I would say yes, but I would also say it changes depending on the subject matter. For the vampire stories I’ve written, I try to adhere to a style and a narrative voice that does the subject justice, especially if the story is set in a historical period. For my noir titles (But Not For Me, A Little Night Murder, Valley of the Dead) I write in what I guess you’d call a classic hardboiled style: the main protagonist has a cynical, world-weary attitude; he often talks directly to the reader; the prose style is relatively unadorned, with short, punchy sentences. Humor – usually of the self-mocking kind – is a big part of it. Right now I’m working on a book called When the Devil Drives, which is a noir. In one scene the main character is abducted at gunpoint by two thugs. He says, “A tower of empty beer bottles jiggled when we went past, and something furry shot out of the darkness and zipped past my ankles. I told myself it was only a cat. There was a door directly in front of us, painted purple. The big guy shoved me; I opened it with my face.”

B:  How much of your books are based on real people or events?

J:  Very little. It’s a horrible thing to say, but most people aren’t complex enough to become literary characters. I usually graft the characteristics of several people onto a basic character ‘template’ and massage it till I get it how I want it. Real events generally make up the backdrop of my novels. For instance, in A Little Night Murder, World War II is raging, Pearl Harbor has just happened, there is wartime rationing, blackouts, etc. I’m very particular about the background; it has to be as correct as I can make it, especially in the historical novels.

B: What books have most influenced your life most?

J:  Growing up in a traditional Protestant home, I would have to say the Bible, first and foremost. I don’t practice my childhood religion anymore and haven’t been to church for quite some time, but there are narratives and characters in the Bible that stay with you.  The story of Job, for instance, is very dramatic, and there’s some gorgeously poetic language there, especially in the King James version.  Judy Blume’s Blubber – as a pudgy kid, this book really resonated with me. The Great Gatsby, because in my opinion it’s as close to perfect as a novel gets, and he did that in 45,000 words. The themes of wealth, of longing and misbegotten love, are treated as the birthright of all of us, not just the wealthy. He makes the point that Gatsby slept with Daisy (before her marriage to Tom) even though – or especially because – he ‘had no real right to touch her hand’. That is some powerful commentary on society and the human species. The Odes of John Keats – so beautiful, so evocative, and written by a young man who died at the age of 25. Kafka’s Metamorphosis because it’s so weird but very frightening because at some level of our consciousness, we fear that our exoskeleton of culture and technology might be hiding something horrific. John Ball’s In the Heat of the Night – not a perfect novel, according to some people not even a good novel but the commentary it makes about the civil rights movement of the 1960s is worth paying attention to. I love the Harry Potter novels. Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Sheridan le Fanu’s Carmilla. The Lord of the Rings. To Kill a Mockingbird. I could go on, but I’ll spare you. I love good books, books that have a great story and some literary value. I have no patience for rubbishy erotica done up as literature.

B:  Wow, that’s a fantastic selection of great literature (I, myself, went through three copies of To Kill a Mockingbird because I read it so much the first two fell apart). If you had to choose just one or two writers, though, which writer would you consider the most major influence?

J: F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Keats.

B: What are your current projects?

J:  Right now I’m in the middle of another noir novel about a tough NYC taxi driver and the lawyer he rescues from Manhattan traffic, When the Devil Drives. It takes place in 1946 and the lawyer is what they used to call shell-shocked – PTSD, we would call it. I am polishing a vampire novel that I wrote a couple years ago, and I’m in the incubation stage of a book about a post-Puritan minister in New England who has to come to terms with his own desires and so on.

B:  Do you see writing as a career?

J: Absolutely.

B: Do you recall how your interest in writing professionally originated?

J:  I was always an avid reader, and I guess it came out of that. I started by imitating books and authors I admired.  Some of the first ‘serious’ fiction I ever wrote was World War II adventure stuff about commandos. I loved it.

B: Every author, it seems, has at least one part of the writing process that they find harder than others. What is that part for you?

J:  For me the hardest part of any book is the outline. I hate doing them, but I need to do them because otherwise I go off on weird tangents and get nothing done.

B:  What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing each book to life?

J: I love doing research, so I wouldn’t call that a challenge, as such. The psychological is usually the most difficult for me. I have a vicious little censor in my head that keeps telling me that everything I write is rubbish.

B: Tell us anything you want us to know about your newest release.

It’s a really great book! You should buy it. J

Next week’s guest: Jessica Davies

Past guests:

October 7 – Garrett Leigh

September 30 – Andrew Gordon

September 23 – Lane Hayes

September 16 – Nicole Forcine

September 9 – Jacob Florez

September 2 – JP Barnaby

August 26 – Posy Roberts

August 19 – Charley Descoteaux (my very first blog guest)



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