Today I welcome L. Andrew Cooper to the FlipSide in support of his book Burning the Middle Ground. Hello L., why don’t you introduce yourself to the captive audience that you now have before you.
I’m paying back my parents for me insisting on watching horror movies during the day and then keeping them up all night with my nightmares. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with the dark stuff, but I couldn’t handle it. My parents put up with it. When I wanted to start reading Stephen King at age nine—after I’d proven I could handle a night on my own after a scary movie—they said okay, but they preferred for me to read the classics. I didn’t want to… until later… as an English major at Harvard… then, as a PhD student at Princeton, it was back to the dark stuff. Did my dissertation on horror since the 18th century. Now, I teach film and media, and horror is my research specialty. In addition to my fiction, I’ve published two non-fiction books on horror. The latest is Dario Argento (2012). I also co-edited a textbook called Monsters, which came out last year. I was born with scary in my bones, and I’ve spent my life learning about it. I know fear.
Tell us about your writing process?
- Fantasize. Stories exist in my head for months or years before I write them.
- Find time. My main job involves a lot of writing, so I can’t have a novel actually in the typing phase at all times. Fantasy phase lasts until a chunk of months—summer, a slower semester—presents a few reliable blocks of hours per week.
- Draft. I write pretty fast. I outline less these days, but I always have a skeleton, either in my head or in a sketch. Usually I start each drafting session by reading and revising the previous day’s new material.
- First revision. Shortly after the first draft is complete, I do a complete pass.
- First share. Circulate to inner circle of readers. Take criticism. Revise based on criticism.
- Time passes. Might send out to a few people, just to test the water.
- Second revision. Revise, often with deep cuts, (up to 25% of first manuscript usually gone by this point).
That’s pretty thorough! It might be the most thorough answer anyone has given me to date. Is there a genre, other than the one you currently write in, that you wish you could break into?
My main goal is to establish myself with horror and supernatural thrillers, and that’s what I’m doing. I hate that “literary” is a genre, but some of the stuff I do is “literary,” more realist drama stuff.
What are the 5 books that have influenced you the most, and why?
The first two that come to mind are Henry James’s The Golden Bowl and Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. James and Woolf are beyond my limit, and they influence me hugely by helping me see my limit.
I can’t say I’d ever be as good as William Faulkner, whose The Sound and the Fury is on the list because I was obsessed with Quentin Compson from age 17, but as a craftsperson, I understand what he’s up to. Why was I obsessed with Quentin Compson? He was a moody Southern teenager who went off to Harvard and had trouble relating to those around him. Cf moi. Note that the epigraph from Burning the Middle Ground, which is from the novel Absalom, Absalom!, is spoken by Quentin Compson.
Two more. I think I have to say Matthew Lewis’s The Monk and William Godwin’s Caleb Williams. They’re both late 18th-century Gothic. The former is about pushing representation toward its limits, and the latter is about inescapable paranoia. Kind of my things, and though I think it’s the lesser of the two books, Caleb Williams is far more important for Burning the Middle Ground.
If you could cast one of your works, who would you choose to play your main characters?
Brian McCullough: Josh Hutcherson (or some newcomer)
Ronald Glassner: Seth Green
Jeanne Harper: Susan Sarandon
Michael Cox: Sean Patrick Flannery? Bill Moseley?
Jake Warren: Bruce Davison
Melanie Grayson: newcomer
What is the first thing you would do if you woke up one morning to find one of your books on the NY Times Bestsellers List?
Find another copy—online or in print—to confirm the information. Contact partner. Clear calendars. Contact publishers to clarify significance. Procure sparkling wine. (These actions would all occur on one trip, using the phone while driving to the beverage store, so it all counts as one thing.)
Do you have any vices that you turn to while you are writing?
During the actual writing, I allow myself to be a little rude to people who interrupt. I feel guilty later, but at the time, I have the defense of being involved in a sacred activity.
I suppose this question could be about nail-chewing and the like. I may pull at my hair a bit. Balding is taking care of that problem.
I will say that when I wrote my first forever-to-be-unpublished novel, I wore a leather vest every time I wrote a certain character.
Or is this question looking for the naughty chemical stuff? I do enjoy wine and a few other deviant tidbits, and while certainly deplorable by some standards, I’m boring by others. I don’t see myself working up to the pouring-whiskey-on-Faulkner’s-grave sort of legend. Which is too bad, really. I should try to be more interesting.
I maintain I was not looking for ‘naughty chemical stuff’, just a question of what bad habits do you find yourself falling into as the muse takes over. What do you do when you’re not writing?
I teach, research, and write about movies. I hang out with my partner and cat, which involves video games, TV, and more movies. Sometimes, theater. A lot of travel for business and family. Really, we work a lot.
Please share with us the first nine lines of your current work-in-progress.
I’m in “fantasize” phase right now, so I don’t even have nine lines to give you. So let me give you nine fantasies about Age of Miracles, the book to follow Burning the Middle Ground (all fantasies subject to change):
- Settings include Miami, Atlanta, Louisville, Los Angeles, and New York.
- All surviving characters reappear. Note meanings of “surviving” vary.
- At least two surviving characters are in hiding.
- A new journalist character, an Indian American woman from LA, is significant.
- The American Value Federation’s New York Office introduces several important colleagues of Jake Warren and Elijah Eagleton.
- The plot of Burning the Middle Ground’s relationship with larger national concerns becomes clearer.
- More about The Alchemy of Will, its writing, and its history, will be discovered.
- Whether Dr. Fincher remains active, and whether current events relate to The Fate of Man’s Essence, becomes clearer.
- As my friends keep asking me—do I get to do Empire? People know I love dark endings, and the second book is the place in a trilogy to do it… who far will I go? I’ll tell you this: I’ve never seen anything like what I have in mind for ending this book.
Now let’s take a sneak peek into Burning the Middle Ground…
Burning the Middle Ground is a dark fantasy about small-town America that transforms readers’ fears about the country’s direction into a haunting tale of religious conspiracy and supernatural mind control. A character-driven sensibility like Stephen King’s and a flair for the bizarre like Bentley Little’s delivers as much appeal for dedicated fans of fantasy and horror as for mainstream readers looking for an exciting ride.
Brian McCullough comes home from school and discovers that his ten-year-old sister Fran has murdered their parents. Five years later, a journalist, Ronald Glassner, finds Brian living at the same house in the small town of Kenning, Georgia. Planning a book on the McCullough Tragedy, Ronald stumbles into a struggle between Kenning’s First Church, run by the mysterious Reverend Michael Cox, and the New Church, run by the rebellious Jeanne Harper. At the same time, Kenning’s pets go berserk, and dead bodies, with the eyes and tongues removed from their heads, begin to appear.
Don’t forget that clicking on the cover will take you straight to Amazon!
Join me next week for an interview with Nicole Storey!