Faith in Your Convictions: An Interview with Tom Cooper
Get a sneak peek of the 2015 edition of Pembroke Magazine with this excerpt of Forrest Anderson's interview with Tom Cooper, whose debut novel The Marauders will be released by Random House on Feb. 3.
Stephen King describes Tom Cooper’s debut novel as “a little Elmore Leonard, a little Charles Portis, and very much its own uniquely American self.” Writers like Nic Pizzolatto, John Dufresne, and Donald Ray Pollack have responded in kind with generous reviews.
Cooper lives in New Orleans, where he writes and teaches. His stories have been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize, and have appeared in Oxford American, Mid-American Review, Gulf Coast, Boulevard, and Willow Springs.
Forrest Anderson: Tom, if I recall, you used to write music reviews for newspapers in Florida. Could you tell me about your time as a reviewer? Was it good preparation for the life of a novelist?
Tom Cooper: I did. For a short while. Any writing, like exercise, is good for you. Keeps you limber.
I’m not even sure what the life of a novelist is. I sit around. I stare at walls. I check my email. I look up ailments on WEB MD and wonder if I have a brain tumor. So, if that’s the life of a novelist. If that’s even a life. Ha.
FA: Music doesn’t play much of a role in your novel, The Marauders, but one band in particular makes a repeat appearance thanks to a small time criminal named, Hanson, “a bantam-bodied man” who wears a “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers T-shirt and frayed denim shorts two or three sizes too large.” What do you have against Tom Petty?
TC: What? I love Tom Petty. Tom Petty’s great. I mention AC/DC in the book too. Love them even more. No ballads. You have to love that. Screw ballads.
Weird story: after someone I know read the book—a waitress at my neighborhood pizza parlor—she told me, “Yeah, that guy you based Hanson on walked in here the other day. Tom Petty t-shirt, shorts, ponytail, everything.”
I told her, “I got news for you, I didn’t base Hanson on anybody.”
So, there’s a guy who looks exactly like Hanson walking around, ordering pizza, doing what he does, in New Orleans.
FA: I’d like to start at the beginning of your writing career. You found early success publishing flash fiction in journals and in a collection, Phantasmagoria, published by Keyhole Press. What drew you to start writing flash fiction?
TC: Well, that was some time ago. I haven’t written a flash in half a decade. I haven’t written a short story in about two years. That part of my life seems over. Maybe this means I’ve officially entered the life of a novelist after all? Ha.
FA: Did flash teach you anything in terms of your novel writing? Or is there something about flash that doesn’t translate to the novel?
TC: Sure, I think it did. Flash taught me how to pay attention to the details and, most of all, how to sift out unnecessary stuff. What you leave out is just as important as you put in. The old Hemingway iceberg deal.
FA: When I picked up your novel and saw that each chapter followed a character or a pair of characters—The Toup Brothers, Lindquist, Wes Trench, Grimes, Cosgrove and Hanson—I wondered if this might be a lesson from flash and your short story writing. Were the alternating chapters a way to control scene or section length or a way to work modularly?
TC: I have particular and peculiar methods of working, none of which I’d elaborate on in any great detail because they wouldn’t work for anyone else. And they’d make me sound a little crazy. Plus, a lot of writing, I believe, is an unconscious process.
Eventually, you find your own way of working, your own process, and I’m sure any kind of writing I’ve done, including flash, has contributed to that. Every project has its own metabolism, its own gestation period. You just need to put in the time. After ten years or so, you begin to develop and discover your voice, your way of working, not to mention faith in your convictions.
To read the rest, check out Pembroke Magazine #47, coming soon and available for purchase via Tell It Slant.