Today I have A.R. Cook with me for an author interview. A native of Riverside, Illinois, A.R. Cook currently resides in Gainesville, Georgia, and is the author of The Scholar and the Sphinx YA book series from Mithras Books / Knox Robinson Publishing, as well as the recently release The Scale Seekers series.
She also has short stories published in the anthology "The Kress Project" from the Georgia Museum of Art, and the fairy-tale collection "Willow Weep No More" from Tenebris Books. Several of A.R.'s short stories and short plays have been awarded honorable mentions in various magazines, such as Toasted Cheese Literary Journal and Writer's Digest. From 2009-2013, A.R. was the book review columnist for the Gainesville Times, one of the most widely distributed newspapers in northeastern Georgia.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
It was probably in high school when it dawned on me that I wanted to make writing my career, but I’ve been writing since first grade. I remember, at the beginning of the year, all the first graders were given a sheet that had about 20 lines on it, so every time we wrote a story, we’d put the story’s title on one of the lines. The idea was to fill it up by the end of the year. I had not only filled out the front, but then flipped the sheet over, drew about 30 more lines and filled those out too. I was constantly inventing stories (keep in mind, a story for a first grader can be one paragraph long, if we wanted).
How long does it take you to write a book?
Really depends on the book. “Shades of Nyx” was a work over 15 years in the making – it was originally a short story I submitted to Writers of the Future back in high school, and it was a very different story, more of a straight-up medieval fantasy. Then it sat untouched for years on a floppy disk (yes, a floppy... how old school) and eventually I picked it back up and gave it a complete makeover. I expanded on it, gave it new characters, and it became what it is today. The subsequent books, “Fang of Fenrir” and “Threads of Fate,” were maybe around 8-10 months (since I have a day job, could only work on them in the evenings) because I was on deadlines to get those into my publisher. I just wrote a novella that took me only 3 weeks. So it depends.
What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I write when I can. Usually in the evenings after work, but sometimes if it’s really quiet at work, I’ll sneak in some writing time (don’t tell!) I’m not one of those writers who can write for 15-20 minute spurts and be okay. Once I sit down, I’ll lose track of time for hours – and if someone tries to interrupt me, I’m like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” (my husband learned this the hard way).
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I wouldn’t say I have many “quirks”…I prefer to write in my patchwork “hippie” pants but that’s about it.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
I read a lot of books growing up, and I was particularly drawn to fantasy and mythology as a kid. In college, I took course on Greek mythology and creative writing. So the research I did for my books stemmed from what I was already passionate about and had some knowledge to begin with. But learning about other mythologies – Japanese, Native American, Norse, Russian, African – was a fun part of the process.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
If you mean published book, “Shades of Nyx” is my first, at age 30…if you mean story in general, I wrote a full-length storybook at age six or seven that was Halloween-themed. My first novel was in about fourth or fifth grade and I was writing it all out by hand. I got to about page 80 when someone told me, “You know you’re going to have to type all that out if anyone’s going to read it,” to which I didn’t feel like starting over and I put it aside. Maybe someday, if I find wherever I put those original 80 pages (and can still read them) maybe I’ll type it out.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Thinking about writing (no kidding). I work at a university during the daytime, but I also exercise, cook, sketch, and I have been attending author events and conventions to promote my books.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
I will often look back on what I’ve written and honestly wonder where the “voice” came from. Sometimes it seems like I write in a way I don’t normally talk or think, as if it’s a separate person from me. Someone once said, “Writers have very good ‘ears’,” meaning our characters whisper things to their authors. It is surprising how our characters can take hold of a story and lead it in directions you never expected.
Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
One of the first authors that got me into the fantasy genre was Lloyd Alexander, and his book “The Cat Who Wished to be a Man.” It was a fun and inventive story. Over the years I’ve read Neil Gaiman, Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, John Irving, Terry Brooks, all of who have inspired stories for me. I also became fond of Oscar Wilde after reading “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” I’ve read quite a few Gothic classics and love the language of the time they were written in.
What do you think makes a good story?
I think it ultimately boils down to your characters. You may have the most gripping plot, a flowery vocabulary, and an amazing world you’ve built, but if your characters are flat, cliché or too over-the-top, it spoils the whole thing. Some of the best stories don’t even have much plot – they focus on developing rich, fully-realized characters and their relationships. It’s also one of the hardest things to do, creating characters that truly act and talk like real people, especially in fantasy when you have all kinds of wild and imaginative creatures. But even a five-headed dragon with wheels for feet still needs to feel like a real person. That’s how readers connect to the story, being able to understand what it’s like to be in these characters’ shoes.
1854, France. David Sandoval wakes up on the outskirts of Le Havre, with no memory of what he has been through and who he has left behind– not of Fenrir the world-devouring wolf, not Baba Yaga the witch, Tanuki the shape-shifter, not even Acacia the Sphinx, who has held a place in his heart for years. It is not only his memory that is gone, for his existence has been erased by Lord Nyx, the incarnation of the Night, and no one in the human world can see or hear him.
Yet something still ties David to the magical world, keeping alive a glimmer of hope that he can be restored. With the help of the storyteller Anansi and Baba’s cat Vasilisa, David traverses the places and people of his past, gradually regaining his memory and his existence. But old enemies start to pick up on his trail, including Madness itself and Nico the Teumessian, who blames David for his “undead” state of being. To complete his restoration, David must face the Moirai, the weavers of the magical Curtain that not only separates the worlds of humans and of mythical creatures, but also holds everyone’s destinies.
Can David have a new fate woven for him, and will the price be higher than he is willing to pay? Meanwhile, Acacia finds herself in league with the Asgardian warrior Tyr and the vengeful Fenrir to defeat Lord Nyx once and for all, and an old friend of hers, Alasdair Gullin, is coming with a league of Master Huntsmen to side with her in the final battle. What Gullin will have to sacrifice to do so, however, may spell his doom, and may not be enough to take down the night god and save all worlds from falling under Lord Nyx’s shadow.