Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Interview with Author Mike Cooley

Mike Cooley, a 9-to-5 engineering consultant, musician, Egypt enthusiast, and husband and father, tells us how these various factors influence his writing.

Since my blog is about creativity, I'm especially interested in your creative process as a writer and also how you came to develop and believe in your creativity.

I consider my creativity and imagination to be my strongest abilities as a writer. My process has evolved over time from just having a basic idea or concept (“What if?”) and building a story around it to being more organized and character-driven. Until last year I was primarily a short story writer. I grew up reading science fiction and fantasy books, which fueled my imagination. I am attracted to writing that is very visual and deals with the nature of existence, so I try to incorporate some of those things in my own writing.

Would you describe yourself as a creative child? Did you make up stories or express creativity in other ways?

I think my parents would say I was off the charts with creativity and curiosity. I was always taking things apart and putting them back together.

My Dad loves to tell the story about when I bought my first computer (Apple II+) and the next day I had it completely apart. He was astonished when I put it back together and it still worked. I read every science fiction and fantasy book in the library while I was in grade school, and took Creative Writing (mostly because I wanted to avoid Speech Class). I wrote short stories and poetry as well. I taught myself electronics and used to build all kinds of circuits.

What inspired you to write your first book?

I started my first novel many years ago. I’ve always had a love for “artifact” stories, so I wanted to write a novel that was about magical artifacts (in this case crystals) that each had unique powers. I am also very fond of strong female characters so I wanted the story to revolve around a female warrior that would be able to use the crystals. I was excited about writing a novel set in a world that had no ties to Earth, so I could make everything up from scratch.

You're a musician as well as an author. Do you find that these creative paths affect each other in distinct ways?

Very much so. My music is all original and I primarily operate as a one-man band. I find music to be inspiring in many ways, and I find that writing lyrics IS storytelling. It’s just a lot more like poetry than novels. I think that writing music has taught me that sometimes the things you don’t say can be as important as the things you do say. You don’t have to say everything and spell everything out. Let the reader (or listener) write some of the story in their own head.

I notice your interest in Egypt. How does this involvement feed into your creative paths?

The trip to Egypt was completely due to my wife’s involvement in Middle Eastern Dance (she’s a belly dancer and instructor). I was not that enthused about going, but it was a rather amazing place. I’m glad I went. I’m writing a non-fiction book about it now called Before The Revolution – 13 Days In Egypt. I have many ties to Egypt even predating the trip.

One of my good friends had a music site called Anubes (spelled differently on purpose) where a small group of us used to hang out and work on our craft. I have worn an Eye of Horus ring for many years (along with a Thor’s Hammer necklace). That’s kind of the way I am. I don’t play by the rules.

I find various mythologies fascinating. And I experienced things in Egypt that I carry with me. It is a powerful place emotionally and intellectually.

What are your literary influences?

I have many influences. And I’ve met many writers at science fiction conventions over the years. To name just a few of my favorites, I would say: Phillip K. Dick, James Tiptree Jr., Roger Zelanzy, Theodore Sturgeon, H.P. Lovecraft, Samuel Delany, Stephen King, and Harlan Ellison. That should give you a flavor for the kind of writing I’m drawn toward.

You work as an engineering consultant during the day and write at night. How do you switch gears?

It’s not easy. The biggest challenge for me is finding time to write. I’m so busy at work and at home that often, by the time I have an hour to write, I’m too tired to concentrate. If I have time to sit down, I can fall right back into the story pretty easy. I also tend to work on three or four writing projects at a time, so I switch around a lot. I’m a terrible single-tasker, but I multi-task well. I used to get upset at not being able to concentrate on one thing at a time, but now I just accept that that is how I am and deal with it.

How does having a child in your life enhance your creativity?

Kieran constantly reminds me of the most important thing about storytelling: capturing the sense of wonder. He is so unlike me in many ways. He’s much more social than I ever was. And he needs that social feedback and support. I was a loner as a kid, and it really didn’t bother me that I didn’t fit in. It was a source of pride for me that I was different.

He is a good example for me and I draw things from his words and actions that sometimes end up in the more playful characters I write.

Do you feel that being an indie writer gives you greater scope for your creativity and literary imagination

I absolutely feel that being an indie is where I was meant to be. My story is my story. I feel very strongly about that.
Other than spelling and grammar editing, I WANT to be on the line for every word I write. I am happy that I’m not locked into deadlines (other than the ones I impose on myself), and I love that I can write in multiple genres if I want to. I cover a lot of my reasoning in my non-fiction rant Traditional Publishing Is My Bitch.

What advice would you give someone who is hesitant to express his/her creative urges?

My advice is: life is short to not do what you love. Don’t be afraid to fail. Somewhere out there are readers that will instantly understand what you are saying. They will hang on every word and make you proud. You are good enough.

And you will get better. Without risk there is no reward. Just do it! Don’t make me come over there!

Now that you've met Mike, get to know his work.

The Crystal Warrior: Legend of the Crystals.

Skin of Giants

Visit him at http://mikecooleyfiction.com

and at Twitter: @last_writes

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