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Interview with Joyce Cooper, March 12, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Joyce Cooper, March 12, 2008
March 12, 2008
In this interview, technical and creative writer Joyce Cooper discusses her background and writing life, including the interplay between the various genres she writes in and the experience of collaborating with Ellen Bache on a stage musical.
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Interviewee:  Cooper, Joyce Interviewer:  Diesenhaus, Doug Date of Interview:  3/12/2008 Series:  SENC Writers Length  60 minutes


Diesenhaus: Hello, I'm Doug Diesenhaus and today, March 12, 2008 I'll be interviewing Joyce Cooper for the Randall Library Oral History Project on creative writers. And usually the best place to start is to ask people how they've gotten started writing, how they've come to this life.

Cooper: Well, growing up actually I always thought that I wanted to write, but I didn't really know how to go about doing that. I started writing a novel when I was in the seventh grade and I just didn't really know you could make a career of this. And then I think it was around 1984 I started writing short stories just because I wanted to write them. And soon after that I saw something in the paper where Ellen Bache was having a creative writing class and I just sort of got my nerve up because I thought, "Well, I'm not a writer, I'm just playing around with this," but I took her class and that was the beginning of everything. First of all, they didn't laugh at me, they actually thought I could write a short story, and from that class about ten of us continued to meet and critique each other's work for many years. In fact, that writer's group sort of disbanded actually a couple years ago, so it went on for a long time. And that was very helpful and I joined the North Carolina Writer's Network took and went to conferences and found out more about how to get your work out there, and I just really enjoyed writing. And somewhere in there, I think in 1988, I started work as a freelance technical writer, which I also didn't know that was a career. I had majored in music in college and I had a career as a systems analyst and worked with computers and stuff, but I really liked the technical writing too. So my life really did change and I became a writer instead of a computer person.

Diesenhaus: You talked about getting started early on in seventh grade or so and I wondered were there people who were influential for you, teachers or family members who encouraged you to do that?

Cooper: Really, I just love to read, I've always loved to read, and I just took it into my head one day well maybe I could write something as good as I was reading. And I didn't really let anybody know I was doing that, no one really knew.

Diesenhaus: Were there particular books or writers that you were fond of at that point in your life?

Cooper: I really liked science fiction a lot back then. I don't read science fiction now. But I read about anything. I love mysteries.

Diesenhaus: And I wonder, you said talking about the writing group and Ellen, and that's come up a lot with some of the people I spoke with.

Cooper: She's been very influential in this town with the writers.

Diesenhaus: It seems so. It seems that there's really a core group, but I wondered, I think you said some paraphrasing, "I could be a real writer," and I wondered, you were doing the writing before, what was it, did you need a type of legitimization?

Cooper: I needed to feel that someone else thought I could write, because writing for the most part is you sitting at a computer by yourself and if no one ever reads what you've written, you have no idea, there's nothing, there's no, I didn't feel like I was a real writer until other people said, "Oh yeah, this is a short story. Oh yes, I enjoyed reading this."

Diesenhaus: Were there other ways that either that group or any other support cadre as you may have had, how have they been helpful to you besides the direct response, is there like a confidence issue or getting through blocks, that kind of thing?

Cooper: Well, that writer's group has been, I can't tell you how much value there was in that group, and the North Carolina Writer's Network was also very good at building confidence and at getting you with the people that you needed to be with, whether it was just to talk about writing and the writer's life or to get feedback about what you're writing or, as I said, finding out how to get published, which is always hard.

Diesenhaus: After that group, you said that group with Ellen disbanded a few years ago, have you tried to reconstitute with other?

Cooper: Well, the core members of those groups are still in contact, and if I write something I'll call them and say "Give this a look," we just don't formally meet anymore.

Diesenhaus: Given your early interest in writing, I wondered if you could talk just a bit about how you came to music as your major, what kind of music, and then you said, "Well then I became a systems analyst," and I wondered where does that fit in?

Cooper: I've done a lot of different things. I started taking piano lessons when I was nine years old and I very much enjoyed music and I was good at it, and so I continued on with that. I went to UNCG and majored in piano, in applied piano, and then I got married, my husband was a guitarist, we went to Berkeley College of Music in Boston, and I guess I was more interested in classical music, because Berkeley is more of a jazz improv type school and I really didn't like that too much, but anyway, then we came back after a year in Boston we moved back to Greensboro and I was the lead singer in a rock and roll band and we traveled around for, you know, a couple of years. Then my husband and I divorced and I was like a secretary, you know, I was doing normal things, and then I moved to Wrightsville Beach and had a computer job because everyone said, "Oh, you've got to get a job while you have a job," and I hated the job and I ended up playing the piano bar at a place that used to be Captain John's, was a restaurant and a piano bar, and then through the interest of an agent ended up being the lead singer in another rock and roll band that was all women and traveled around with that and then that's not always the fun, exciting life that it appears to be, it's a lot of hard work and a lot of travel, so I ended up coming back here and staying here, being a systems analyst for Merritt-Holland [ph?] that used to be here in Wilmington. And I studied with computers for awhile, went to Atlanta, worked for Sperry Univac, but I always had a piano and music was always important to me, and after my divorce during the time in Greensboro, I started writing songs myself. And so I've just always had that interest in music. Ellen Bache and I wrote a musical comedy that debuted in 2003 on the main stage at Thalian Hall, which was very exciting, so the writing and the music came together.

Diesenhaus: Yeah, I wonder, I want to ask about both things, but are there corollaries between, you know, your interest in piano or interest in music in general and the ways that you've approached writing in any way?

Cooper: I think if you're a creative person, it's got to go somewhere, and it depends on what your focus is. Since I've redone this house, I've started painting. I've never painted before in my life, but doing, you know, decorative painting. I don't know, it's just there, and the times when I've gone and worked with computers or gone and done other things, it's because you don't make a lot of money writing fiction and playing the piano, and I didn't like teaching piano lessons, I've tried that for awhile.

Diesenhaus: And then the flip side is I wondered as a systems analyst, are there any corollaries there? I guess I'm wondering, you know, anything like mathematics or structure, anything like that?

Cooper: I realize they don't seem to go together. I've had friends say "I don't know how you can go from one to the other," but being a systems analyst and a computer programmer is also I think a creative thing to do, because you've got a big piece of machinery and you're telling it how to do what you want it to do. And math is not my strong suit. I suppose logic plays a big part in that, but I've enjoyed doing most of the things I've done. The different jobs I haven't really liked because of where I was, but I enjoy programming computers and that to me is creative also.

Diesenhaus: Is there anything with, I'm not sure what computer language or programming language you might've used, but are there any relationships between using computer language and using written English language, or have you ever tried to kind of mimic in some ways in your writing some of that process?

Cooper: No, I mostly did in the years I was doing that RPG, Report Program Generator was the big language for businesses that I worked for. When I was in Atlanta with Sperry Univac, they did come up with a user friendly programming system, which was more like speaking English, it was more for people who didn't know the computer languages. But no, because when you're programming, everything you put down, that word is important and it makes no sense to anyone else except to the computer.

Diesenhaus: Can you talk a bit kind of coming off of that, the technical writing that you've done, can you talk about what kind of writing it's been and how you've come to that?

Cooper: Well now, the technical writing actually helped my fiction writing I truly believe because it just got better, it got somewhat easier. And it's different because when I'm doing technical writing, I'm usually going from a blueprint. The company I do most of this work with does training in paper and pulp mills around the United States and Canada and we also branch out and do some other things. I've done some work for Corning. It's a different thought process, because when I was writing on, I was working on my novel, I would stop and think, "Oh, I wish I was doing technical writing because then I would have a blueprint, I would know, you know, what's got to be said next or where we're going next," so I don't know how to say how different it is. I mean fiction you're just of course making it totally out of your mind, up out of your head. With technical writing, you've got blueprints, you've got vendor information and you have to make it make sense to instruct someone on how to use this system or this piece of equipment in the mill.

Diesenhaus: And can you talk about that actual process, because I'm interested in the correlation to your fiction writing but I'm also just generally interested in the actual technical writing, the kind of process of working in all those facts or the blueprints, how do you kind of organize that to make something make sense?

Cooper: Well, usually you start out with an overview of the system, like if you're doing stock prep system, you would start with an overview of the system and there may be 20 books in the system, 20 lessons in the system, and then you go to your what you're starting out with and you talk about the piece of equipment, how it operates, and then you go to the flows, what's coming into this piece of equipment and what's going out of the piece of equipment and where is it going to, and you talk about how that piece of equipment needs to be controlled. Most things, and here's where the computer part comes back in, most of mills and other processes are now controlled by computers, and so you talk about what the limits are and different scenarios, what happens if this happens. And then there's usually operating instructions that go along with that. And I remember soon after I started doing the technical writing, I was in a meeting about a new project we were starting and I said, "You know, this is taking up all my time, I haven't done any, I haven't written any fiction since I started doing this," and one of the men I was working with said, "Oh yes you have, because if you had all the pieces and someone could look at them and know exactly what needed to be done, they wouldn't need a person like me to put it all in some logical flow." And so you do, so it's not that you make things up, but you think logically how would this work, and I think just in doing the technical writing, it tightened up my fiction because, you know, we tend to write a whole lot of words and a lot of them don't need to be there. So I think that helped the most with the fiction.

Diesenhaus: And have you, have you done other-besides the technical writing, have you done other kinds of freelancing or has it been mostly focused on that kind of work?

Cooper: It's mostly on that because they have kept me as busy as I want to be. I'm sort of semi-retired now and they call me in when they have special projects. I've done some editing that I got paid for.

Diesenhaus: Was that technical editing, or-?

Cooper: No, that was actually nonfiction.

Diesenhaus: What was that, for what kind of writing was it or what was the work?

Cooper: I edited the, I can't remember the exact title of it now, but it was about the hauntings on the U.S.S. North Carolina, which was a nonfiction book and very interesting, and I think I'll be editing Bonnie Weiss' next novel that's coming out.

Diesenhaus: And either with that first project or maybe what you envision with the next one, are you in kind of line editing or are you also restructuring in some way?

Cooper: Usually by the time I get to that I'm line editing, because they say I'm very good at picking up where the period is not there or if there's a pronoun that refers back to the wrong noun.

Diesenhaus: I want to just go back to what you said about talking about essentially blueprints or overviews, and I think you kind of touched on some of the ways that that kind of writing has helped your fiction, but I wonder when you set out with a short story or a novel, are you creating a kind of outline, or you talk about how some of the technical limitations, sort of like these rules or boundaries, and I wondered do you try to recreate that at all when you're working creatively?

Cooper: I really don't. The novel that I wrote, which was accepted for publication and then the publisher went out of business, it's been awful, but you have to look at it as "Oh, I wrote a novel," you know, I did get from beginning to end. I didn't outline that. I really don't. I kind of knew where it was going to end up. I tend to not outline. I sort of start at the beginning and go through. And I've written two murder mystery plays that Tapestry Theater was doing around town in many locations. That was a lot of fun. I probably outlined more with that because, I don't know, I'd never written a play before and I wasn't really sure how that would all go, but I kind of knew in each scene what needed to happen.

Diesenhaus: I don't mean to kind of force it, I'm just as interested that you're able to take such different approaches to different ways of doing things, so I'm just curious about how. It seems like almost like you put on a different suit when you get to it.

Cooper: Right.

Diesenhaus: Could you talk a bit about, you said your novel, you had some trouble with the publisher, are you pursuing it with another publisher? What are your hopes for that?

Cooper: After that, I really haven't, I'm just taking some time and I think, you know, and later on I'll get back to it.

Diesenhaus: Yeah. And then the work that you've done with the plays or the musical, those I imagine tend to be much more dialogue heavy.

Cooper: Yes.

Diesenhaus: How has that-is that something that you feel comfortable in or is that a shift from maybe the work you've done with your fictional?

Cooper: No, I really felt very comfortable with that. I mean I hadn't really thought about that until you said it, but no, I didn't have any problem just thinking in terms of lines.

Diesenhaus: And just one more, last connection back, but you talked about how you wrote a song, I mean you've described a pretty fascinating life it seems like.

Cooper: It has been.

Diesenhaus: But it did seem like, just like you said, sort of being involved in creative life, but you also talked about writing lyrics and I just wondered about that. Is that in any way related to the type of work you do when you're doing fiction or is that more like a poetry kind of thing or the rhythm of it.

Cooper: I suppose it would be more like poetry because well, when you're writing a song it has to rhyme. What happens with me, and this is from the very beginning when I started writing songs, is that the words and the music sort of come at the same time to me, because when Ellen and I were writing this novel, you know, I was going to do the music and she would sort of think of some lyrics or something, it just, and I can't take someone's lyrics and then make up the song. It just all comes to me at the same time. The difference in writing my own music and writing this musical was that when I'm writing my own music, it's my own feelings, my own what I want to say. It was a different thing that I didn't realize until I started writing the songs for the musical to think of the characters' feelings and emotions and what they want to say, and another thing I tried to be very conscious of was that each song move the play along, not just "Oh, I'm going to stop and sing a song now" but that the audience got something from that song that moved the plot along or told you more about the character or something. It was harder to write for a character than it is to write something myself.

Diesenhaus: And then I guess I wonder among those different types of writing, do you tend to prefer one over the other, is one of them seemingly easier for you or more natural?

Cooper: The musical was not more natural, that was the most work I've ever done and I don't know that I will ever write another one, because it was much more fun writing the book of the musical and, you know, Ellen and I would get together and bounce ideas off and we laughed a lot, and then I was here by myself at the computer sometimes at 4:00 in the morning going "What is he going to say now?" That was a lot of work. Probably the most fun to write were the murder mystery plays.

Diesenhaus: Yeah. Why do you think?

Cooper: I could just so easily see these characters in my head and it's a murder mystery but it's comedy and these characters are just so over the top that it was just a lot of fun and very easy to imagine what they might say or do next.

Diesenhaus: Were they connected in any way, the characters?

Cooper: The two plays?

Diesenhaus: Yeah, the two murder mysteries.

Cooper: No, one was about a singing group. The way these work is that people come to dinner, whether they start out on the Henrietta or the resort down at the beach and the Hilton, different places, and people come for dinner and the characters stay in character throughout the entire evening. So people can ask them questions and then you have scenes that happen that get people's attention, and they see what's going on, and then someone in the cast is murdered and falls to their death, and then dinner happens and as I say, the characters eat at different tables and stay in character, and you have to give the audience enough clues so that if they think about it, they get to vote, not vote, but everyone writes down who they think did it. And then the detective comes in and goes through each thing that's happened and says "This is why this person did it." And so that was just a lot of fun. And the second one I wrote was about a director named Halloweeny Fellini and he and his crew were in town to film one of those Halloween type movies and they were staying at the Hilton or they were staying wherever they were and people came in and had dinner with them and one of those people got murdered.

Diesenhaus: I wonder, it sounds like it's almost like a genre in a way, that there are certain, there's almost is like an outline, I mean you know that you have to reveal X to get to Y.

Cooper: Yeah.

Diesenhaus: Is that, I guess I've asked this question a couple different ways, but I just wonder do you like that, having those outlines and boundaries or is it liberating in any way?

Cooper: Yes, I just really enjoyed writing those. I didn't have a problem with the outlines and boundaries, and also in doing that with the characters having to stay in character, I also had to write a synopsis, like a two-page synopsis for each character so-to give them the background they needed to answer questions that anyone in the audience might ask.

Diesenhaus: I want to talk a bit about-more about kind of short stories and novels, and I wonder, the short form versus the long form, do you have preferences or, I want to think of the best way to say it, do you prefer one over the other?

Cooper: I would say the differences are, I think you can, I don't know they're both hard in a different way. In a short story, because of its length, you have to get everything in there as concisely and I don't know, it's like almost every thing's more important in the short story, and I work in a novel and I think my novel was about 600 pages, there's a lot more to keep in your mind and a lot more, you know, going on, but I think it almost seems like each and every little word is not as important as in the short story, because you only have so many words you can say in a short story.

Diesenhaus: And did you, it sounds like you had some experience in the short form and then you tried the novel.

Cooper: Right, I started out with short stories.

Diesenhaus: What was the experience like stretching out like that to a longer form.

Cooper: I actually thought it would be easier and maybe in some ways it was. It's just such a big work compared to the short story. And I had taken some workshops on the novel before I got started in it and once again Ellen Bache was very helpful in making the transition.

Diesenhaus: And have you shifted back and forth, like after writing the novel, did you go back to short stories?

Cooper: Yes, but I have not written another novel.

Diesenhaus: I just want to pause for one second.

Cooper: Okay.

(tape break)

Diesenhaus: Just to start up again, I wanted to ask about the process of writing the musical that you did with Ellen. And I wondered if you could talk a bit more about collaborating with her. Did you guys each write certain parts and then discuss them? Or did one of you focus at one time and then the other one would review it and work with it?

Cooper: We worked on the book together. We would meet for lunch, at what used to be The Wrightsville Café, I think, down at the beach, once a week. And we wrote it completely together. I don't know how that would've worked to have written-- we just didn't approach it that way. In doing that, I'd say, "Well, you know, this might be a good place for a song." So then I would wor-- it took a lot longer to write the music and lyrics than it did to write the book. But then I would be here by myself, and I would write a song. And once I got it where I thought it was good, I would tape it. And then the next time we were meeting, at The Wrightsville Café, it was like we were doing a drug deal. She would get out of her car and get into my car, listen to the tapes. And then we'd come in and have our lunch and write some more. I had not wor-- it was very different, because I hadn't worked with anyone on anything else. And it was a lot more fun having someone else there. But then there were also-- there were times when we didn't agree on things. And I would think, well, I just don't play well with others, this isn't going to work out. But you get through it all. And Ellen's a dear friend of mine. It was fun working with someone else.

Diesenhaus: I guess in somewhat the same way, even though the writing group has partially disbanded, do you show your work to people along the way or do you have certain reviewers that you ask to look at what you've worked on and give their thoughts?

Cooper: With a short story, I'll give someone the whole story and ask for their comments. With a novel, I haven't written a novel since we disbanded, what seemed to work well was to give other people the first four or five chapters and see if you were kind of starting out right, people were interested in the characters or interested in what was happening. And then we'd usually wait until the novel was written and give them the whole thing. I have done it with people who handed out chapters at the time, but it depends on how often you're meeting and how much-- always feel better if I have the whole thing to critique, because I may forget what happened earlier.

Diesenhaus: And I wondered, you talked about not having written another novel since. Is it something you look to want to try in the future or kind of take a break from that?

Cooper: I've sort of been taking a break lately just because of a lot of other things going on in my life. The next thing I would probably do is take one of my murder mystery plays and turn it into a novel.

Diesenhaus: Do you think that they would be easily adaptable? What kind of things do you think you might have to change?

Cooper: I think I would have to make the characters not so over-the-top. I would have to change some of the names. Because the names of the characters give a person immediately, in the play, an idea of who that person is, like Halloweeny Fellini, like Nan Rice. And I would just have to kind of take them down a notch I think. I'm not sure that would work on the written page as it did with the char-- when you can see the characters. In some ways, I think it would be easier because I already know the plot. I know who done it. But it'd have to be a much longer work.

Diesenhaus: Yeah, I wondered, you talked about having gone to workshops and conferences, and I imagine even the writing group maybe sometimes felt like a class.

Cooper: Oh, absolutely.

Diesenhaus: Is there times at which you thought about the more formal schooling, like I'm pursuing now, either MFA or other types of writing classes?

Cooper: No. I would not go back to school. And I went to-- when I first started writing in Gonbondallen's [ph?] class and then this group and with the North Carolina Writers' Network, most of the conferences and stuff that I attended were through-- they had a conference every fall. And I think now they do it twice a year. I used to go to a place called Wildacres, which is up in the mountains of North Carolina, for a week. And that was just a wonderful experience to be with so many writers, and they had workshops. And you would bring your work and have it critiqued. But as time goes on, I just felt like I wasn't really getting any more out of it. I'd kind of gotten to a point where I didn't feel they were as useful anymore.

Diesenhaus: I guess there's always that general-people kind of have that general question, can writing be taught. If you were someone who wasn't coming into it with some of the experiences that you had, do you think you can kind of learn the process through those or through more formalized classes?

Cooper: I think you can learn technical writing, that type of writing. I'm not sure that you can teach creative writing. For one thing, I mean, I don't know-- I guess if a person really, really wanted to learn, the will to learn would make a big difference. But I don't think you can just take someone off the street, sit them down and say I'm going to make you into a writer.

Diesenhaus: I heard you're not interested in going back to school. But I wondered, especially since you talked about, I think you talked about teaching piano. Have you ever been interested in teaching some of the kinds of technical writing that you're very skilled at?

Cooper: Not really, not in a classroom formal setting. Because I taught piano. I didn't like that. I taught at Miller-Motte College. I taught data processing for couple semesters. I didn't really like that. One-on-one, like with the company that I do the technical writing for, someone new comes in and they ask me to, you know, guide them along, I'm happy to do that. I find that rewarding. But I don't think I'll be teaching.

Diesenhaus: I want to ask a few questions about your process, about the mechanics of your process. Just very concretely, is there a particular place in the house that you write or a particular time of day that you find is most fruitful for you?

Cooper: I tend to do my technical writing on the dining room table, because I have all these big blueprints that I have to sit around me. I always write fiction in my office upstairs. I write fiction always in the night. I probably start around 10:00 or 11:00 at night when I was working on my novel, working on short stories. And it's kind of nice feeling when the birds start chirping and you think, oh, I've done a good night's work. I'm a night person. I'm much more creative at night. With the technical writing, I try to keep more normal hours although no one really cares. It's just usually, as the project goes on, someone from the mill eventually gets my number. And they don't know why you're not, you know, really hardworking at nine o'clock in the morning. But, you know, that varies.

Diesenhaus: Is there something about the nighttime? You think that makes it-

Cooper: I think I'm more creative at night. Whereas most people are ready to go to bed at eleven o'clock, I'm ready to start a new project. That's just my private time.

Diesenhaus: For either of the two types, are you always working on a computer, or do you-?

Cooper: Yes.

Diesenhaus: Do you find that, maybe more even so in the creative side, the kind of things that the computer allows, like cut and paste, is something that comes into play a lot for you, or do things sort of feel solid when you put them down?

Cooper: I think the cut and paste just is so easy to just back up and redo that sentence, even as you're writing along. I started out writing by hand on, you know, on paper, on a pad, because I didn't have a typewriter. I didn't have a computer then, and then I got a typewriter that had memory. And I thought, oh, this is going to be so great, I can do my short stories, and I can just print them out as many times as I wanted to. And that was nice, but it took me a while. Even then, I would start out writing everything down and then take it to the typewriter. And probably what helped me just do everything on the computer was when I started doing the technical writing. Just did it all on the computer.

Diesenhaus: And you talked about the dining room table being, 'cause it was open with the materials you had. I wonder either with the table or upstairs with the fiction writing. Are there any kind of rituals or things you need, clean desk, or things that you do to kind of get into the mode?

Cooper: No.

Diesenhaus: Do you have specific goals? Are you trying to write a certain amount each time you sit down, or is it just kind of informal?

Cooper: No. I've talked to other writers, and everyone has their own way of doing it. Some people are going to write something every day no matter what it is. I have to be inspired. When I was working on the novel, I didn't say, okay, every night, at eleven o'clock, I'm going right here and pick up where I left off. I have to think I'm ready to go forward. Because, for me, just sitting at the computer isn't going to get anything done. I kind of think about it, and I might jot down some notes. And then I'm ready to go to computer, carry on. And with the novel, I would try to, unless I just had to get started, I would-- kind of help me to read the latest chapter of what I had written before, kind of get back in the flow.

Diesenhaus: You talked about if you sat down you'd just be staring. Have you experienced block or frustration at times about getting started?

Cooper: Oh, yes.

Diesenhaus: How have you-do you have ways of getting around that or fighting it?

Cooper: Well, you just hope it's going to go away. Sometimes I think it's helpful to just stop thinking about that and go to something else you want to start on. It's not uncommon to be writing different things at the same time. The name of our musical is Writer's Bloc.

Diesenhaus: Was there a certain inspiration for that or just kind of a play on the words?

Cooper: Well, it's about a writing group, and they're all different genre of writers. And there's romance and intrigue and all this other stuff going on. And I think, in the beginning, we called it Sex, Lies and Laptops. I don't remember how we-- we just played around with a lot of things. One of the characters has writer's block. But this is spelled, Writer's Bloc, B-l-o-c, because that's the name of the last song, because they come together as a group. They fall apart, come back together.

Diesenhaus: One of the questions I try to ask everyone just to kind of hear the different opinions, when you're writing upstairs at your desk, do you happen to be either facing a window or away from a window?

Cooper: Facing a window, looking out over the street.

Diesenhaus: Is that something that you like? If you've had other office spaces, have you tried to replicate that?

Cooper: I kind of like that because I'm also looking out over into the big tree out front. But I'm not too-- it doesn't really make a whole lot of difference to me where my-- I have friends who need the light to be right. It doesn't matter to me. I could live in a cave.

Diesenhaus: Another question I try to ask everyone, if you're in a social situation, meeting someone new, they ask maybe what you do, what do you say?

Cooper: I say, "I'm a writer."

Diesenhaus: Do they then kind of ask follow-up questions about what kind of writer, "Have I read you?" How do you-?

Cooper: Well, I tell them I'm a fiction writer and, also, a freelance technical writer. They're usually more interested in the fiction writing. But yeah.

Diesenhaus: Regarding freelance technical, do they kind of look confused and say, "What exactly does that mean?"

Cooper: Yes.

Diesenhaus: You talked about earlier on you were into science fiction and you said not anymore. Are there certain kinds of writing or certain writers that you're a fan of now, that you're reading?

Cooper: Yes. I read commercial fiction, a lot of Jackie Collins. I read a lot of mysteries, because I like that suspense. I read an awful lot. It's hard for me to even think of favorite writers. I am reading a Stephen Ki-- I like Stephen King, which is sort of on the sci-fi edge. I don't know. I just read a lot.

Diesenhaus: I've always thought that sometimes you might feel guilty, I might feel guilty about not writing. And then if I'm reading, I think, oh, well, that's good, because that's feeding my writing. Do you feel that way, that it's kind of giving you ideas or keeping you in those rhythms?

Cooper: Yeah, but I just enjoy reading so much. I have a friend who's also a writer, Maggie Grace. And I was just going through this time when I said, you know, "I haven't done anything all week. All I've done is read." And she said, "Well, that was doing something." And that made me feel better. I said, "Yes, it was. I could've just been laying on the couch doing absolutely nothing." I went through spells, especially when I was working on the novel, where I would feel guilty about not writing or trying to do the music for the musical. But I don't feel guilty about that anymore. You're going to do what you're going to do when you're going to do it. It just took some time.

Diesenhaus: I think I just have one more question and it's a question I try to ask everyone. I wonder, do you have any advice for other writers, who are doing the kind of things that you're doing, either from the technical side or the fiction side, things that have kept you working well that you might want to share?

Cooper: I would say definitely keep at it, keep trying, because, as far as the musical, we started working on that ten years before it ever got to the stage. We rewrote and rewrote. We had different people come in and listen and all that. And there are times when it's easy to say I give-- another theater company was going to do it. And I remember telling Ellen, that fell through, and I remember telling her, "I'll believe this is going to happen when I see it on the stage." I was over it. Every time someone thought they might be interested, they would come over here. I'd have to play and sing the whole thing. It just got to be too much. And I remember the night of the dress rehearsal Ellen looked at me and said, "Do you believe it's happening now?" And I said, "Well, yeah, I guess I do now." It kind of brought a tear to my eye. So don't give up. You have to keep going. It's very, very hard to get published. It's very hard to get any acclaim for what you're doing. But the only way to do that is to keep going and keep writing. I have so many people, when they find out I'm a writer, they go, "Oh, I've always wanted to write. I'm going to write this and write that." And I tell them, you know, "Then you've got to do it." People have great ideas, but the work-- it's a lot of fun to think of the ideas. The work is getting it in a computer or putting pen to paper and writing.

Diesenhaus: Thank you very much.

Cooper: You're welcome.

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