We are lucky to sit down with author, Jessica Cooper, today. Thanks for coming on, Jess! We are having fun together in the Novel in 9 Months Class led by authors Jonathan Maberry and Marie Lamba. Visit her at:
www.rem-jmcooper.blogspot.com and www.inexperiencedhousewife.blogspot.com
Describe your book R.E.M. It sounds like a fascinating concept. Plus R.E.M. was just named in the top 50 of the Amazon 2011 Breakthrough Novel Award. Exciting!
REM had an interesting beginning! My husband teaches AP Psychology and I have a Social Welfare degree and therefore a psychology background, as well. We were just chatting about how awesome it would be if we could watch our dreams while we were awake and Wah-lah! I had my “What if”. From there it turned into the premise for REM where these (super-smart) kids away at a premier boarding school discover a machine that allows them to watch their dreams. It quickly turns into a student-run experiment spearheaded by Charlene “Charlie” Abbott, the brightest of the group. On one hand it has amazing results for the athletes, musicians, scholars and more—they all become phenoms literally overnight. It’s all very much a dream come true. But on the other hand, some strange things begin to happen. Some kids start to show signs of psychological problems, some develop some super-natural ability. Charlie has to make some pretty big decisions as to whether or not her experiment is worth it. Plus there’s a bit of romance—a little love triangle—and some issues of grief and drugs and other real-to-life things that kids have to deal with. I enjoy the blend of reality with a touch of sci-fi.
Contest. How exciting! Give us details!
Amazon and Penguin books run the Breakthrough Novel Award every year. (I’m uncertain how many years it’s been running.) In January, you submit your pitch, a synopsis, an excerpt, and the entire manuscript in separate files. Each month is a new phase of the contest and each of your files is evaluated individually—with no names on them. So, it’s encouraging to make it through each round because different things are evaluated each time. There were 5000 entries in which the top 1000 pitches were chosen. Then it gradually whittled down to 50. The top 50 are considered “Semi-finalists” and Second Place Winners. We all received reviews from Publisher’s Weekly—what an amazing prize that was! This was the nicest thing they said: “overall this is well-written. The characters are vivid and the exploration of the power of dreams is compelling.” Sadly, I did not make the top three—which would have been fantastic as they are going to NYC! But, I am thrilled to have made it as far as I did. For a manuscript that I wrote in three weeks, it speaks volumes. It was an amazing confidence booster for me.
What inspired you to write this book?
I am fascinated by dreams and what goes on in your brain during the dreaming process. I am always writing mine down because they frequently turn into amazing stories! (At least I think they’re amazing…)
How much of R.E.M. is realistic?
Well, the world my characters live in is realistic. It’s not a typical Sci-fi where the characters are in another world or go to another world. As far as the power of dreams, it has its roots in a lot of amazing facts. When we dream, our body can actually learn. This was how I got the idea of the students turning into phenoms. I mean, if we can learn from our dreams while we are sleeping how much more could we learn if we watched them while we were awake? Scientists are breaking ground currently with recording dreams as well, which just fed my story even more. While we are probably far away from actually recording the image of our dream, scientists are able to record a pattern of lights based on our dream image. AMAZING! REM goes a bit further however, and explores the idea that we’d access abilities that we don’t even know we have—ESP, super-senses, and possibly even flying. I’d say that’s where the reality ends.
What’s your writing process?
HA! Well…er…I sit down every day at 7am and write until….nah. Doesn’t look like that! I have been writing exclusively for the last seven years. And when I say exclusively, I mean while raising three children, working part time, and going to school part time. Therefore, I don’t really have a schedule. I do write every day. I research every day. I have several projects going at once. I’ve learned that if I have an idea I better write it out ASAP no matter what time of day it is, no matter what else I might be doing at that time. After my family, writing is priority one. I am fortunate to have several days a week to myself in which I can write while my kids are at school. I hope this arrangement never changes! Flexibility for me, is crucial. Sometimes I wake up at 2am and HAVE to write. But then I have to take a nap the next day and fortunately I can. I wouldn’t trade my current situation for anything. Except maybe getting paid to do it.
Do fads/trends affect your writing?
Yes and no. Yes because I’m inspired by them. I started my first book seven years ago because I fell in love with Lord of the Rings—movies and book. I wrote a fantasy novel that led to three more. I never did much with those books, but they showed me that I could do it and that was invaluable time spent. Then I say no because I tend to jump all over the place. Which leads to your next question…
How did you choose the genre you write in?
I’ve written all YA, but in the genres of fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian, and mainstream. I also just finished a short story that reads like a fairy tale. It’s like Jane Austen meets bedtime stories. I have no idea what genre that is! I just write whatever strikes me as interesting. Until I publish a novel, I consider it all improving my craft.
Did you learn anything from writing your first book and what was it? What projects are you working on now?
I will probably repeat myself here, but my first book taught me that I am capable of physically writing a book. I had taken a Write Your First Novel Class taught by a now good friend and mentor and it just set me on the right track! Ironically, my first book centered around dreams as well, although is nothing like REM. It was a fantasy and it’s a four book series—two of which I completed and two I wrote about half. Someday I may return to them, but I’ve come so far in my ability, that I believe I’d have to rewrite them at this point. Currently I’m working on outlining a second and third book for REM, which came about after not making it to the top three, I’m about 1/3 of the way through a dystopian, and I am on the outskirts of an idea involving a local fair, the Lindberg baby, and a fictional character I dreamed about. (See! Dreams rock!)
What do you do to keep growing as a writer and improving your craft?
I have continued to take classes, workshops, attend conferences and now I’m pursuing a second degree in Creative Writing. I’m considering an MFA, but the cost may keep me away from that for a while. Regardless…I’m in this for life, now!
Can you share one of your writing quirks? (or any quirk!)
Do you mean besides all of the scraps of paper that litter my car, purse, and desk with notes and ideas that I jot down at any given moment? I also have really big feet. Size 10.5
Who is your favorite author and why?
I’ll tell you who my favorite author was as a kid. Judy Blume. Hands down. She taught me everything my parents wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. Although I haven’t written novels like Judy Blume’s, I hope to someday strike a chord with kids like that. Be it an interest in something scientific, falling in love with a character, or just being entertained for a few hundred pages. Books were magic for me—still are—and I want to create that and give it back.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Much to my family’s dismay it’s not cooking. Or cleaning. But I love to garden. I am also involved in Community Theater from time to time—another love of my life. I am also learning photography—on my own. And to be honest, I love going back to school. I love learning. Perfect for a writer!
What one marketing tip would you share with a new author?
Get your butt out of your house and meet people who know what they are doing. This was a hard step for me—one I’ve really only taken in this last year, but I believe it’s going to make a world of difference for me. I am a typical recluse writer, but I’ve found that I’m also pretty good at meeting new people—especially those in the writing world—and that other writers offer not only good advice, but support and encouragement. So, now I don’t feel quite as crazy.
My website can be found on both of those links—it’s pretty cheesy. I’m hoping some amazing website builder will contact me and offer to do it for free.
Also on Facebook and Twitter, but I’m so naïve, I have no idea how to link you to that! My name on Twitter is jmcooper5.
Thank you sooo much, Donna!