Author Jeffrey Cook lives in Maple Valley, Washington, with his wife and three large dogs. He was born in Boulder, Colorado, but has lived all over the United States. He’s contributed to a number of role-playing game books for Deep7 Press out of Seattle, Washington, but the Dawn of Steam series are his first novels.
When not reading, researching or writing, Jeffrey enjoys role-playing games and watching football.
Title of Work: Mina Cortez: From Bouquets to Bullets
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Tagline: She’d never said, “I want to join the Secret Police when I grow up.”
Intended Audience: 14+ Audiences, fans of science fiction and mysteries, and especially those who would like to see more female/minority leads in YA.
Provide an enticing, titillating, interesting, or fun fact about your book or series: My wife’s favorite character in the story is Amiko Kimura’s ‘Undead’ Chevrolet, Vlad.
- Is this your first book? How many books have you written prior (if any?) List other titles if applicable.
This is my fourth book, though it will be released a little bit before the third in my alternate-history/steampunk series. I’m also the author of the Dawn of Steam series, a trilogy of regency-voiced novels set from 1815-1819.
and the upcoming Dawn of Steam: Rising Suns.
Co-contributor Sarah Symonds also lives in Washington. Born and raised in Seattle, she left for college and promptly came back. Sarah has been writing for fun since high school and tends towards short-shorts or novels. When not working on her own novels, Sarah enjoys costuming, fiber arts, and making Jeff explain football.
- What does your writing process look like?
I work closely with my editor, and sometime co-writer. By her preference, rather than getting things to the second or third draft, I send things to her as each chapter is done, and she does the clean-up work while I’m working on the next chapter. By the time I see it again, the work is usually up to third-draft quality. Then I start on re-writes.
- Where do you write?
I have an old armchair in the living room. (Which is in desperate need of replacement.)
- Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?
Most of my odd habits center around having three large dogs. I get a lot of the busy-work, like social media things, done during the day when they’re most active and excitable, and then actually do new writing once they’ve gone to bed.
- Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I’m a hybrid. I work up an outline that gives me a rough idea for each chapter. Then, I let the characters and story take the lead, and scrap the outline every week or so and do a new one. I find that having the guide and end-goal is helpful, as long as I don’t let it get too restrictive.
- Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Love? Action? Racy?
I haven’t done any love stories. Eventually, that may change, but so far, I’ve felt like there was enough of those out there in my genres, and I wanted to focus this book, in particular, on being more of a buddy-story between the two female leads.
- Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
There’s plenty of subjects I haven’t written about, but none that I can think of that I definitely wouldn’t. That said, I’m a fiction writer and happy that way. The only non-fiction even remotely on the agenda is an eventual book explaining American football in plain, easy-to-follow language, targeted at people who are curious, but not comfortable talking to the fandom crowd. As such, there’s probably a number of topics that will never come up.
- How did you come up with the title of your book or series?
This book actually originally started with the title “The Accidental Inquisitor”, because of the origins of the inspiration for the book. The publisher didn’t care for the title, feeling it would put off the YA audience, so there was a lot of discussion on their message boards looking for alternate ideas. I eventually went with the one that stayed mostly true to the sci-fi/action nature of the book, while alluding to the main character starting as a flower delivery girl.
- What book do you wish you could have written?
I’d have loved to have written something like the Lord of the Rings, laying the foundations and world-building for a genre.
- What other books/authors are similar to your own? What makes them similar?
For betas and advance reviewers, I’ve gotten the most comparisons, in terms of Mina Cortez, to the Nancy Drew mysteries. The Dawn of Steam novels are compared most often to Jules Verne’s stories. I’m quite happy with both comparisons.
- Tell us a little bit about your cover art. Who designed it? Why did you go with that particular image/artwork?
Caroline Andrus with Melange Books/Fire & Ice YA designed the cover, as part of the contract agreement. Her work was better than anything I’d imagined, and I was especially pleased with the atmosphere, method of highlighting Mina, and that she found an Asian girl in a fedora. All in all, she did great work.
- Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you to write?
My favorite authors include Clavell, Mary Shelley and Tolkien. At the time I first began wanting to write books myself, my biggest influences were C.S. Lewis and James Howe.
- Who is your favorite character from your book and why? How about your least favorite character? What makes them less appealing to you?
From this book, Amiko Kimura (Miko) was the most fun and the easiest to write. She has a lot of the best lines, and brings a lot of the snark and high-energy approach that Mina lacks.
I’m not sure I have a least favorite, per se, though writing Mina’s parents, and having them involved, without making them “the bad guys” or too one-dimensional was a challenge, with the time they do have. On the other hand, I really wanted them to exist and have a place in Mina’s life, as parents are often very absent in YA.
- If you could cast your characters in the Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play your characters?
This is somewhat tough, as there’s a limited number of young, Hispanic actresses, and just as much of a lack of young Japanese actresses. If it ever happened, I’d really prefer the actresses be of the right ethnicities. Hollywood does enough white-washing. Victoria Justice or Selina Gomez could probably play Mina. Fumi Nikaido would make a great Amiko. Aoi Miyazaki would normally be too old, but she loves the bouncy, geeky girl roles, and looks very young for her age.
- How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?
I try to choose names pretty carefully. Sometimes it’s for meaning, sometimes for just sounding right. In Mina Cortez, I wanted to make sure I chose names that would give a little bit of idea of the characters right away. In some other books, like Dawn of Steam, the character Sam Bowe got the name both from wanting something nice and simple and plain, but also drawing on old west history – mixing Samuel Colt and Jim Bowie.
- If you could change ONE thing about your novel, what would it be?
I’d have loved to have had more chances to show the world, and world-building that went into the book, as the idea for the setting actually happened before the characters came about to populate it, and a lot of time and discussion and speculation went into creating it. I sacrificed a lot of exposition for a tighter narrative (with tremendous thanks to my initial editor on that) – and I’m glad I did, it improves the story. But I’d also have loved to share the many hours that went into building the post-post-apocalyptic setting of Mina Cortez. (The book is set 114 years after a global disaster. It was catastrophic, and changed the world – but to the teenagers in the book, it’s as remote a time as the Victorian Age is for modern teens.)
- What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
I’m still very proud of having accomplished my dream of becoming a published author before I turned 40. There is nothing I’ve wanted to do more, but it just kept feeling delayed due to the necessities of paying the bills and the like. When I was laid off a few years ago, I decided there was no time like the present, and devoted myself to getting the Dawn of Steam series written.
- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years, I hope to have about 15-20 books out on the market, and hopefully to have built up a reasonable fan following. I love what I’m doing, and don’t plan to stop any time soon.
- Have you always enjoyed writing?
My mother says she first heard my claims of wanting to be an author at 6 years old. I know it’s been my dream for most of my life.
- What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
Write, or do something writing related every single day. It’s the one piece of advice I wish I’d followed better back when I was working the soul-and-creativity-killing customer service job. Do it enough, it becomes habit. Even if you don’t have a lot of time, finding that 15 minutes builds good habits and keeps stuff from just sitting in a lost file forever.
- Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
I read every single review. I do not respond to them, ever, on the review boards. I always write an e-mail or social media post thanking the reviewer for taking the time to write a detailed review if I know who it was.
Beyond that, I don’t think I have ever seen anything good come of engaging reviewers, especially over bad reviews. Those areas are for readers and potential readers.
For bad reviews, there’s two main things to remember. One is that having a few less-than-stellar reviews is actually good. If people see nothing but 5-star reviews, the assumption is you have nothing but friends and family reviewing your book.
Secondly, sometimes there is something to be learned from negative reviews. Not everyone will enjoy everything, and sometimes, constructive criticism helps in writing something better later.
That said, if you’re aspiring to be an author: develop a thick skin. If you put yourself out there to the public, they will have opinions, and you won’t like all of them. If you cannot take having your work criticized, this is not the right career path.
- What (when not writing) do you do to support yourself?
I do a little bit of tech writing, and write for a local role-playing game company. I worked for years in customer service and online trouble shooting, and before that, I worked as a sports reporter. Even before that, I worked as a bouncer and in home health care to help put myself through college. For the most part, since being laid off from the customer service job in the insurance industry, I’ve been devoting myself to my writing as much as I can.
- Do you have any other talents or hobbies?
I’m a huge football fan (Go Seahawks!). I do watch soccer, hockey and baseball as well, but not as fanatically or consistently as football. I’ve also been into role-playing games since I was 8, and continue to play table top games with a local group.
- What is your least favorite part of the publishing / writing process?
It used to be editing. I love writing, and I can put a lot of words on the page pretty quickly. Now that I have a professional editor who helps tremendously with my work, and that I work well with, marketing is quickly taking up the ‘least favorite’ spot. I do enjoy events and getting out and meeting people, but a lot of the social media parts and other aspects of trying to figure out how to sell books are not a lot of fun. It doesn’t help that they take up a lot of the time I could spend on writing.
- What can readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful?
The very biggest thing any reader can do to help an author they enjoy is recommend the book to friends. There is absolutely no better advertising than word-of-mouth, and one word from a friend on how good a book is means far more than a thousand words from the author.
- What is your best marketing tip?
Put out your very best work. Have it edited by an unbiased editor. Get it beta read. Do rewrites. Edit some more. And then have a professional looking cover put on it. While there are thousands of factors, including luck, that go into making a book successful or not, and any author these days will have to do almost all of their own marketing without much support, the very best thing you can do for yourself is doing all the things you have total control of in order to set yourself up for success.
- Do you have a favorite conference to attend? What is it?
I love Norwescon. I used to go to the con before I had books out, just as a fan. Now, I can go, enjoy the people, hang out with friends, and get something I’d want to go to anyway to pay for itself.
- What are you working on now?
I’m working on the final rewrites and clean-up for the finale (for now) of the Dawn of Steam series, I’m working on a short story for the Northwest Independent Writers Association (NIWA) anthology, and I’m working on the third draft and first round of major rewrites on the first of a book series being co-written with my editor – the YA Urban Fantasy stories of The Fair Folk Chronicles. Finally, I’m heading up a charity anthology of adaptations of Shakespeare stories into other genres, with all money going to benefit a local animal rescue.
- What is your next project?
The next two things on the agenda are the second book of the Fair Folk Chronicles, and the start of Unchosen – a YA fantasy that starts out with “What happens when the Chosen One dies in chapter 1?”
- What can we expect from you in the future?
I’ll be starting talks on a new project with author A.J. Downey in April. Right now, I mostly know it involves angels in an urban fantasy. The Fair Folk Chronicles are planned for 4 books, and will probably be a heavy focus for a while, with other projects interspersed with them.
And now for some fun!
1. Do you have a pet or pets?
I have three large dogs, and always will have dogs around. All of them are rescue dogs, and the anthology I have coming up will go to benefit the rescue. My first book is, in part, dedicated to my beloved and much-missed four-legged sidekick. Khaya used to snooze at my feet while I was writing, waking to growl at her brothers when they got too close and threatened to interrupt my writing time.
- Have you ever gotten into a bar fight?
I used to get paid for it, sort of. One of my favorite jobs was working as a bouncer and sometime event security guard, hiring out to work at various places that had live music events in Seattle, Tacoma, and points in between.
3. If you had a supernatural power, what would it be?
I think my friend, Patrick Lohkamp’s work-in-progress kind of nails it. In his post-apocalyptic world, he’s re-imagining me as a giant-hammer-wielding barbarian who rides a triceratops. Five-year-old-me could not possibly be happier.
- What is something you want to accomplish before you die?
I’ve accomplished my first, great life goal. Now, the next one is to add best-selling to the front of that ‘Author’ title, even once.
- What were you like as a child? What was your favorite toy?
My mother liked to say I was three-going-on-thirty. My favorite activity was reading. Being asthmatic probably helped with preferring indoor, quiet activity at times, but I also really started reading really early.
Please describe something (significant number of words/a character/entire scene) you “deleted” from your work and why. Because a real writer knows when to hit THE DELETE KEY!
The original five chapters of this story were rewritten numerous times. They were mostly exposition and world-building, trying to get all the key concepts in. Eventually, they were entirely scrapped and the most critical information was worked into dialogue and snippets, spread out through the early story. It takes longer to get to some of the key ideas, like the skill chips, but the characters come into their own much earlier, and the story is better for it.
Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/dawnofsteamtrilogy
Publisher’s Website: http://www.fireandiceya.com/
Awards & Speaking engagements:
Moonrise Book blog’s Best Science Fiction of 2014.
Jan 14, 2015
Regular readings and signing events at the AFK Elixirs & Eatery in Renton, WA
I’ve really enjoyed this opportunity to get to know Jeffrey and his work!