I had the pleasure of talking with aspiring Author Mathew Cook. He is very down to earth, and practical… not always a common trait with authors 🙂
NUT AND BOLTS:
I have been interested in stories all my life. I was reading novels at a young age and can even remember trying my hand at writing from elementary school. But I never took it seriously until one day in Pakistan. I was on a rickety old bus in the middle of the night on my way home. As I sat there I looked around at the bus and started building a narrative in my head about it. It wasn’t much more than an info-dump about the vehicle – the broken windows patched together with plastic and rivets. The seats far too small for a normal-sized person. The wildly old Hindi music blaring. When I finally got home I threw the narrative down on my computer. The next day I looked at it again and built on it a little. A year later the tiny narrative had become my first novel. I look back at that bus as my ‘ah ha’ moment.
I’m a normal guy in my late twenties who almost got a BA in a field that has nearly nothing to do with writing. I lived in rural Pakistan for four years with my wife and kids but I was raised in Canada. I live in Toronto right now and miss Pakistan so much that it hurts.
My first novel was a general fiction. I write fantasy now because it’s the genre I enjoy most. I already have my sights on the next work and it will either be science fiction or another general fiction. I love the idea of embracing many genres.
I’m writing an epic fantasy that started out as a tiny serial I was writing for my wife. After about 18 episodes I realized it was way too big for a bunch of short stories. I’m at 105k words and about half done, I think. It follows the tragedies of a handful of characters that eventually culminate in a struggle against a powerful being enslaved by Shadow.
THE ART OF WRITING:
Pantser or Planner?
I have experimented with both forms of writing. I find I work best when I dwell somewhere in the middle. I outline some parts with a merciless specificity and on others I just wander around on the page until something valuable is born. Outlining and free-writing both have their pros and cons. I’m still learning which side suits me best but I’m pretty sure I’ll be living somewhere between the two forever.
BUILDING FROM THE GROUND UP.
Most of my characters have long histories, in my mind if not always on paper. It gets to the point where I have a strong emotional attachment to them. So much that it becomes hard to allow them to take the consequences of their actions. Characters are much more important than plot. True, living characters can make their own plot. And those plots always turn out to be the most interesting.
I try to force them into my plots a lot, but they always protest and I eventually relent and let them make their own choices. And it’s always better that way, even when their choices lead them straight to tragedy.
World building is an art form, even if you book isn’t science fiction or paranormal. How do you make your world believable?
It’s the small things. Using a real Toronto coffee shop instead of making one up. Mentioning news stories. Creating cultural quirks that are not really part of the story but are in there anyway. Cultures and people are interesting and real because of the tiny things. When you throw a bit of focus on tiny, seemingly irrelevant things, the whole story gets richer.
Where do you get your ideas?
My story ideas come from everywhere. A ricky bus flying through the night. A discussion about politics and religion. A film. A book. A game. Ideas are flying all over the universe. Sometimes it seems like they just come out of nowhere. If you’re always looking for ideas, they clamber to comes to you.
What keeps you going?
The memory of how wonderful it feels to finish. I think creation is one of the most central parts of a person. When we create we are fulfilling one of our most sacred, god-like purposes. So it only makes sense that we achieve great satisfaction when we finally churn out something good and true. That and the support of my wife and friends. The people I live with completely understand and support my need to write.
What is it like to know that a draft is finally done?
It’s like having the heavens open, the face of God looking down upon me and a voice whispering “Good freakin’ job”.
Any tricks you have learned about writing a query?
Alas! Not yet! Writing hundreds of thousands of words about a world I have built from scratch is child’s play compared to writing an effective query!
Talk about some of the emotions you went through (or are going through) that you have experienced.
Writing is a perfect roller coaster of intense emotions. Sometimes I want to crawl into a ball on the floor. Sometimes I get up and dance around the room laughing. Fiction writing does not a stable person make!
What is one piece of advice that you have received that you thought was good?
Resistance is after you every day. Kill it dead every day.
What advice do you have for others that are considering joining you on this rocky path?
Watch out for resistance. Don’t worry about being the best, because if only the best birds in the forest sang, it would be a pretty quiet place. Get your first draft down as quick as you can and make it shine later.
Where do you see yourself in one year?
Sitting underneath a neem tree in rural Pakistan, putting my last edit on the fantasy I’m creating right now.
How about 5?
Writing something new, maybe under that same tree.
Tell us where and how we find you. Twitter, face book, blogs, websites, etc.
BOOKS OR SITES THAT YOU HAVE FOUND HELPFUL:
On Writing – Stephen King
The War of Art – Steven Pressfield