Thursday, October 29, 2009

An Interview with Astrid Cooper

Hello Readers and Writers!


Our second interview of the day is with the very lovely and talented, Astrid Cooper. Please join me as I welcome her to XtraOrdinary Romance today!


At what age did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

I was writing my own stories by the age of five – and I have been writing them ever since. It was not a conscious decision to become a writer. I was born a writer.

What has been your biggest influence on becoming a writer?

Writing and publishing fan-fiction from the late 1970s and organizing numerous Star Trek and science fiction conventions. Through these I was introduced to the works of Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey and Tanith Lee (to name a few). Interestingly, it was the women speculative writers whom I read voraciously. I loved the romantic elements they included in their books. Spaceships, ray guns and galactic battles, or chivalric knights on horseback are only exciting for me if there is a deep human interest/characterization in the story. I grew up reading stories about King Arthur, so I suspect that my notions of loyalty, honour and courage were ingrained at an early age – these elements always form a layer in a story I write, no matter the genre, or setting.

How did you feel when you got your first publishing contract?

Shocked—this can’t be happening to me. Pinch me, I must be dreaming! It wasn’t until I went to the printer and saw my first book’s print run in progress that I believed it WAS happening. I have the first copy of my first book – it fell into my hands literally hot off the presses (in the days before Print on Demand).

How many novellas/novels have you published to date? When did you have your first sale?

My first sale was in 1998 and since then I have had 2 novels (plus re-prints of old titles), collections of short stories, work in anthologies and numerous novellas (I have lost count). My website has a full list of my publishing credits. www.astridcoper.com

Tell me about your latest release. Please include if it is part of a series or a standalone book.

My latest release is Starlight. This is sexy space opera (think Casanova meets Star Trek with a touch of the paranormal). Starlight is a print book published by extasybooks, and it’s a biggun (approx. 125,000 words). It was originally e-published as a series of novellas over a period of 12 months. It was a challenge to write, and the characters and the plot just diverged from the original premise. It’s about cat shifters and other shapechangers in our galaxy, 200 years in the future. The story begins with the meeting of he hero and heroine at the Saturn Hilton, then journeying outwards to other worlds and concluding at Broome, Western Australia. Consequently, there are some things that are familiar, but most often with a twist – such as ‘galaxy e-bay’. I had fun making the contemporary, futuristic. I believe that if I’m having fun writing, then I think my readers will be entertained and surprised by the twists of plot. My latest book IS sexy, but writing all those “docking maneuver” scenes, one after another can become boring (to write and to read!), so I added something new: the schahor (the starlight levels) which are stages of communication and love between the hero and heroine – a sharing of mind, body and spirit.

What was your inspiration for this book?

My cats and my publisher! One of my cats always sleeps beside me when I am writing (as well as the dog who insists on being part of the editorial team). My publisher needed a short story to fill a sudden gap in the publishing schedule and she knew I had some old material in my desk, and asked if I had anything suitable. I dug out a story and re-worked it, but as I was writing the new scenes, the character (John) said “My father is felinus and I sing opera.” Whoa now … I came out of the typing trance and l read what I had typed. What’s a felinus? I asked myself. By the end of the book I knew. My writing process and my personal beliefs about friendship, love and sentience (discussed in this article) are also expressed throughout Starlight. It was, as one of my readers told me, “A book you have needed to write for a long time!”

How do you categorize yourself: pantser or plotter?

I am both – I like to write fast and get the basics down and then go back and layer plot and character. I often find that when I am in the creative trance, I type stuff that I am not sure “fits” into the story, but my subconscious knows what it’s doing (I have learned to trust it and not to delete it from the text) and so by the end of the book the “unknown” scenes and characters that appear have fitted seamlessly into the narrative.

If readers are interested in how Starlight came about and some interesting stuff that happened, plus a discussion on the creative process and the philosophy behind the book, please go to an article I wrote at The Specusphere (a webzine):

http://www.specusphere.com/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=836&Itemid=31

How do you handle the editing/revision process?

I’m an editor and reviser, constantly tweaking, constantly wanting to improve the narrative; but every book is different. Some stories come fully realized and require little tweaking, others grow with the telling and I have to re-work from the beginning of the story to make it consistent – this happened with Starlight. Inevitably when you write a novella a month, the plot and the characters change. It’s not like writing a book at one hit, where it’s sequential. Starlight grew with the telling, so when I came to be offered a print contract, I had to start from page one and re-work Starlight for consistency. It was a challenge, but also a fascinating process to see how the story and characters had grown (and still are continuing to grow).

You’re received some fantastic reviews...how do you feel about them and why?

I’m always shocked to get good reviews. I’m always thrilled to read that reviewers have enjoyed my book and have fallen in love with the characters and/or the premise. I’ve also had a couple of negative reader responses due to the sexual content of Starlight. These readers disliked the book for the very reasons that other readers LOVED it. Just goes to show the infinite diversity of readers out there and the fact that readers will find the writers they love and vice versa. I always listen to reader and reviewer comments – good or bad – because a French philosopher (Barthes) said: the birth of the reader is the death of the author. Basically, this means that once an author releases a book, it is no longer “owned” by the author – it is now interpreted by the reader who sees the work using a different “eye”. A “bad” reaction to a work doesn’t mean that the author got it wrong (unless the comments relate to technical stuff such as grammar or spelling, etc.) there is no right or wrong way to write and create characters and a story – it is interpreted by a reader who judges it from his/her own perspective.

Did anything odd happen while you were researching this story?

Oh yes! As always: SYNCHRONICITY. I believe that some creators (whether it’s music, words or images) tap into the universal collective (call it channeling, or accessing the Akashic Records, etc.) but information and experiences appear in my narrative and I have no conscious idea of how such become incorporated into my work. I read it when I come out of my typing trance and wonder what it means, but I discover by the end of the book that this information or scene is integral to the book. (See later in this article about my introduction to opera, the relevance of the name of Kuno for my hero and its link with pearls). Synchronicity has always been part of my life, especially when I am “creating”.

The only research I did was cyber-visiting Broome. Again, this is another example of synchronicity and its importance to the book as a whole and the characters in particular. Broome is in Western Australia and the final instalment of Starlight is located in Broome with dolphins and whales – an integral part of the plot as far as my characters are concerned. And I discovered some things about myself that I didn’t know while writing the book and even when answering the questions for this blog. A writer writes both consciously and from the subconscious—all our life experiences come out in the words and images we create. That’s inescapable. Interestingly, when I had a bad reaction to Starlight from one reader, I was contacted out of the blue by another author who introduced me to Barthes and the idea of the birth of the reader is the death of the author – which helped me to put the “bad” comments into perspective. Once again, if you want to pursue this discussion, please read the article at The Specusphere.

Did you learn anything about yourself that you didn’t know while writing this book?

As related above. Also -- I was introduced to opera by John, my felinus hero. I have never listened to opera before, but I have discovered its beauty and inspiration – in particular Puccini. Every creature has its own “song” and by song I mean his/her or its own life experiences and message – how one expresses the song is as individual as its creator. For me, my song is expressed in my garden, and my books. In a fascinating example of synchronicity, John (whose felinus name is Kuno) told the heroine that he sings opera. Kuno is the name from a Steinbeck novel called ‘The Pearl”. Somehow pearls were going to be involved in the story. I also had heard a piece of music that haunted me, which I later discovered was called ‘The Temple Duet from The Pearl Fishers… and it wad this piece of opera that Kuno and his brother sing to Samantha (the heroine of Starlight). So, definitely my life has been changed by writing Starlight – I love opera and when I listen to it, I “see” new scenes and characters for future works. I discovered that other readers and writers love opera and I was asked to include a list of music that inspired me while writing Starlight – this is contained in the print edition of Starlight.

Is there a message you want the readers to take from this book?

That love is the most powerful force in the universe; that friends and family are all important. I have always been interested in the idea of different life forms, etc. – thanks to my early exposure to Star Trek. The aspect of Trek which most inspires me is the concept of IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations), which means, basically, that all life is diverse, and one cannot measure a life form according to human “standards”. What exactly IS humanity, anyway, and what is “sentience”? “It’s life Jim, but not as we know it…” to quote an oft-used line from the Original Star Trek series. Starlight has this in undercurrent through the existence of humans and shapeshifters within a galaxy of the near future, but of course there is prejudice (on both sides) against the different life forms and the expressions of sexuality. In Starlight, all my creatures have sentience: for example, the whales and dolphins which appear in the final chapters of Starlight. One of my readers wrote and told me how much she enjoyed the scene with the signing whale. It is a pivotal moment, and I cannot say much more than that or give the plot thread away for Harimal’s story (Starlight Book Two – to be out later next year). I also enjoyed creating my “artificial intelligence” creatures – Jin-Jo and his pet kitten Ginga. My aim is to entertain – as a writer/creator I want to entertain myself, but I also want to entertain readers who trust me enough to pay to read my books.

What’s your favorite scene? Most difficult? Why?

Readers asked me to give them a glossary of the felinus and other alien words and phrases I created for Starlight. Collating all the words and giving them explanations (while trying not to be boring in the process) was a real challenge! The REALLY difficult scene was the “Starlight Madness” chapter – it had dream-time and real time sequences for the characters, as well as the starlord (the villain) who manipulates the dream-scape for its own perversion. It was difficult to ensure that readers would know dream from reality. I have too many favourite scenes, but one which readers have told me they enjoyed was the first visit to the Rendezvous Bar (the raunchy hangout of the shifters). It changes decor at the whim of the sexy owners of the Bar. When the hero and heroine visit it in Starlight, it is outfitted like something from 1,001 Arabian Nights. That was a sensual delight to write – to activate the five senses of readers so that they felt they were experiencing the Bar, through the heroine’s perspective.

Why are your stories unique?

Isn’t every story unique to its creator? I like to think that I bring deeper layers to my work than the obvious. My sensual romances might appear, on first glance, to be a series of highly sexy scenes, but I believe that within the obvious, is the UNobvious – the layers and depth that are there if the reader chooses to look. One of my loyal readers is 86 years old and she has read every one of my print books. She wrote to tell me that she loved Starlight for its layers and depth. She said how much she enjoyed the loyalty, courage and sacrifice the characters in Starlight make for each other. This loyalty-at-all-costs was one of the compelling reasons I had behind writing the story (so I later discovered!) And this is a theme I explore in most of my works – whether it’s futuristic romance, or historical fantasy romance. A book can always be read on many levels – a reader interprets the work based on their own world view. As a writer, I am constantly challenged by my creations. The writing process, for me, is characterized by surprises and by synchronicity. I will always have varying degrees of sexuality in my books, since I write about relationships. I believe that fully developed relationships will always have some sort of consummation – whether the traditional human “docking maneuver” or other ways appropriate for that species. The characters in Starlight (as in other books I have written) have mind, body and spirit connections. I think many readers (and writers) explore these dimensions. Hence the popularity of ‘paranormal’ romance. Sex is fine, but there needs to be “something more”. I explore that ‘something more’ in all its infinite diversity in my books, regardless of setting or genre. And I explore new age consciousness in my works – my worldview has changed due, in part, to the many encounters I have had with life and death and spirituality in my personal and writing life. This new world view has entered the mainstream – why else are books about vampires, ghosts, etc., so popular?

What is the biggest piece of your advice you can give a beginning writer?

NEVER listen to anyone who tells you their way is the only way to write. If you encounter such an expert, please RUN don’t walk to the nearest exit. Writing to the dictates of another is the quickest way to stifle your creativity. It happened to me, I would hate for it to happen to others. NEVER be afraid to experiment with your writing and the way you construct sentences – it’s by doing this that you will find your unique style and voice.—your “song”

I am always reminded of this with one of my favourite quotes:

HONORING WHO YOU REALLY ARE. By Marianne Williamson:

Our Worst Fear

“Our worst fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
“We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, brilliant and fabulous.
Actually, who are you not to be?
“You are a child of God ... you are ... and your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
“We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
It is not just in some of us, it is in every one of us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

What’s the first thing that comes to you: the story, the setting or the characters.

Characters. Always the characters. I write about characters and relationships and love conquering all, so it always starts with a character and most often they appear to me in dreams, or when I am sitting outside on the terrace overlooking my garden. I daydream a lot in the garden (or while doing the boring housework) and I “see” flashes of characters and/or scenes. In Crystal Dreams (a futuristic romance), I woke from a vivid dream, having seen a man dressed in a kilt striding through a mist. Clich├ęd, perhaps, but I had the idea and the character and filled in the missing pieces over the next two months.

Astrid’s BIO:

Astrid Cooper is an award-winning, best-selling Australian author of romantic/sensual speculative fiction, whose fantasy romance novel hit the best-seller list twice. But forget Mr Darcy as her ‘ideal’, Astrid’s heroes are more likely to be someone who is ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know!’ Dare to be different! Astrid's motto has taken her life and career in many exciting directions: she has met Hollywood stars, a movie producer, and an Apollo astronaut. Astrid is a freelance editor, as well as a writing teacher and mentor. She currently works on the speculative fiction webzine, The Specusphere, as promotions editor for authors and publishers.

Starlight BOOK BLURB:

Two hundred years in the future, humans have spread out across the galaxy, playing and loving among the stars, their sexual appetites and willingness to experiment have become a sought-after species, taking their place among the elite of the sensualators—men and women who devote their lives and bodies to gifting pleasure and among the most coveted and the most enigmatic are the felinus—the cat shifters…

Samantha Sinclair will never trust another man, but her friends decide to lure her out of her celibacy with a special Christmas gift—a night with a sensualator. John-Kuno is no ordinary man. He takes Sam away from her fears, her homogenized, synthesized existence and introduces her to the enigmatic, sensual world of the shifters. With their starlight passion burning brighter than a supernova, John and Sam do not know that in the cold reaches of space a monster is biding his time. He demands nothing less than the universe as his due, starting with Sam, but first he must destroy John and the whole race of humans and their shifter allies.

Where can readers find out more about you and your work?

My website: http://www.astridcooper.com/

Amazon author page
http://www.amazon.com/Astrid-Cooper/e/B002DP8QUG/ref=sr_tc_2_0

extasy books (current sensual romance titles): http://www.extasybooks.com/

devine destinies (to be released titles later this year and 2010): http://www.devinedestinies.com/

Realms Beyond newsletter (my infrequent author e-newsletter) – email Astrid:) kopperkat@gmail.com if you want to be on her newsletter mailout.

Astrid prefers individual contact with readers, through email or snail mail letters, so isn’t on facebook or twitter or youtube, but is working out how to create her own blog.

Thanks for taking part in my 2 for Thursday promotion. I had a great time and learned a lot of great information about Astrid...I hope you all did too!

Lynn

4 comments:

  1. Hi Astrid,
    I really enjoyed reading your interview. I love stories that are set in the future...and with elements of paranormal abilities...loving the concept of telepathic abilities between mates...Very Cool!!!

    I'm looking forward to reading your book. It sounds like a keeper to me!!!

    Happy Samhain! Happy Halloween!

    Happy Reading!!!
    Anna Shah Hoque
    s7anna@yahoo.ca

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. What a great post; I enjoyed reading it.

    Thanks for taking the time to share with us.

    I look forward in reading your works.

    Thanks,
    Tracey D

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  4. I loved Pride's Passion by Astrid. I devoured it at work. I know I should be ashamed, but I'm not. lol

    Deidre
    deidre_durance at hotmail dot com

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