- M.A. Greene: In your own words can you tell readers what You Owe Me A Murder is about?
Eileen Cook: It’s my play on Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. Kim meets a stranger, Nicki, on a flight to England. They each share their lives. Kim has an ex-boyfriend and Nicki’s mom is a huge problem for her. As a joke talk about how they could get away with the perfect murder if they killed each other’s enemy. Or at least Kim thinks it’s a joke until her ex-boyfriend ends up dead and Nicki expects her to return the favour.
- M.A. Greene: It was a great read. How did you get the idea for You Owe Me A Murder? Were you watching Hitchcock’s movie or was there another way you came up with the idea?
Eileen Cook: I’ve always loved the idea of taking classic stories as a foundation and then spinning them for a modern YA audience. I’ve always loved thrillers and Hitchcock (and Patricia Highsmith who wrote the book that the movie is based on) are a great blend of psychology and horror. I love the mental aspects of things more than “scary” thrillers.
I was playing with different ideas and then came across the book Strangers on a Train. I watched the movie again and that was all it took for my brain to start spinning. Twisted friendships are an interest area of mine so once I had the idea I was off!
- M.A. Greene: From start to finish how long did it take you to write You Owe Me A Murder?
Eileen Cook: It typically takes me about a year to write a book if you count the time trying to sort out the plot, writing drafts, throwing a draft away, crying, repeat, write a new draft, polish, and send off to my editor who then makes more changes.
M.A. Greene: Are you traditionally or self-published?
Eileen Cook: I’ve done both. I’m traditionally published with my YA and fiction, but I’ve written non-fiction books for writers. (Build Better Characters is one) and those I’ve self-published. I think the best thing about being a writer these days is that there are a lot of options and choices to get your story out into the world depending what you want and what’s important to you.
- M.A. Greene: Wow, that’s great you’re a hybrid author. Which route did you take first traditional or self-publishing?
Eileen Cook: Traditional was my first route. When I published my first book in 2008 ebooks were still just growing. In fact my first publishing contract didn’t even mention them because they weren’t a “thing.” The rise of ebooks meant that self publishing was a real viable option for a lot of writers which is great. I love working with my agent, editor and publisher, but I also love the freedom that comes with doing indie for my writer guides.
It’s important to decide that whatever route you go (or doing both) that you put out a professional product, know what you’re good at doing and where you need help and then reaching out to readers.
- M.A. Greene: When you first sent out your first manuscript into what is known among writers as the “query trenches,” when you query a book to see if you can get a literary agent to represent you, how long did you query before you found an agent?
Eileen Cook: Query trenches seems like a nice way of putting one of the levels of hell that still gives me nightmares. It depends on how you want to measure the time. I wrote and queried four full books before I wrote one that garnered an agent. However for that book she was one of the first batch of three queries that I sent out on that book.
If you count only that book that it took no time at all. I however count the other books as I still have the rejection letters! : ) Back then a lot of them still worked by mail so you had to send them a letter with your own stamp so they could mail it back to you to reject you. There is something extra horrid about having paid for the stamp that sent the message of “thanks, but no thanks.”
- M.A. Greene: That must have taken a lot of will power to keep finishing books that did not get an agent until one finally did. How did you stay motivated to continue finishing novels and submitting to agents before getting to that book that finally got you one?
Eileen Cook: Irrational optimism.
Ha Ha. I did quit a few times in the process. The problem is that I really LIKE writing and telling stories. This is what I always wanted to do and felt like I was always meant to do. That meant that while I could never be sure if I would be published, I knew if I quit there would be no chance I would publish.
So, I cried with friends sometimes. I visualized what it would be like if/when it finally happened. I kept writing and kept trying to become a better writer.
- M.A. Greene: How many years did it take from finishing the very first manuscript to the one you got an agent for?
Eileen Cook: Oh this is a harder one to remember. I’ve always been writing, but if I did my math right I finished the first book I sent off to query in 1998 or 1999. I signed with my then agent in 2007 and the book came out in 2008.
When I’m asked what makes the difference between published writers and unpublished I often say persistence. It’s not talent. (although obviously that’s a huge help) it’s a love a story and a willingness to get knocked down and then dust yourself off and get up again. It’s not easy.
That’s why every time I see someone has published a book, regardless if I like it, or it’s my kinda thing, I celebrate. A lot of sweat and effort and tears went into it.
- M.A. Greene: I’m starting to realize how much sweat and tears go into writing a book from revising my YA sci-fi/fantasy story.
Eileen Cook: I am sending you all sorts of good vibes! (Picture me cheering complete with pom-poms) It’s hard, and it’s wonderful and there’s nothing I would rather do.
- M.A. Greene: At this point in your life, are you a full time writer or is writing your second job?
Eileen Cook: Writing and teaching writing are now my full time job. I gave up my previous day job (I was a counsellor) about four years ago now. This is for me, literally living the dream. I spend my day with my imaginary friends and helping other writers with their story. I’m the mentor at The Creative Academy for Writers https://creativeacademyforwriters.com
It’s a free (yes free) online writing community, we have daily sprints, classes and accountability groups. If people are looking for a place to get some encouragement I hope you’ll join us.
- M.A. Greene: I’m already a part of a magnificent group called James River Writers. If your group is free, I’m happy to check your writing community out as well.
Eileen Cook: It is free. We have a pay what you can model where people can chip in (think like Public Television) but no one is required. We have a lot of fun so I hope you’ll check it out. We have different groups/forums for different genres, we have classes on all sorts of topics, tech support for people doing indie publishing etc. Plus we have a lot of fun. There are interviews on their with my agent and a couple other agents if people want to know more about the traditional route too
M.A. Greene: In You Owe Me A Murder, how did you develop Kim( the protagonist and Nicki (the antagonist personalities)?
Eileen Cook: Oh! I love me a twisted friendship. Kim came to me first. I could easily imagine what it must be like to be trapped on a school trip with your ex and his new girlfriend. However, I will admit that Nicki was the most fun to write. Villains are always so complicated and messy. I was a counsellor for years before I was a full time writer so human behaviour, what people do and why they do it is really interesting to me.
I don’t see anyone as all good or all bad. Kim is the protagonist, but she’s made her fair share of mistakes and hopefully with Nicki you know she’s the bad guy- but you also sense that her life has been complicated too.
- M.A. Greene: Are you a plotter or a panser?
Eileen Cook: I was born a panser- but have become more of a plotter. Now I’m plotser existing somewhere in the middle. I tend to plan out the structure of the book, but I’m also open to seeing where things go as the writing evolves. It takes me awhile to really understand the characters. Once I do they seem to have their own ideas of what should happen in the book.
Silly characters. If only they would do what I tell them the process would go much easier. Ha!
- M.A. Greene: What piece of advice would you give notice writers?
Eileen Cook: I would have a lot! First I would say READ. A lot. Books are the best teacher. Read widely in your genre and also challenge yourself to read things you might not otherwise try. I would tell them to write- being a better writer is about practice. You can learn and get better- we are all still getting better. I would tell them to surround themselves with positive people- someone who is going to cheer you on when you need it and kick you in the bum when you need that. Lastly I would tell them it’s likely going to be a bumpy journey so celebrate every small win along the way and enjoy the process as much as you can.