Thursday, February 14, 2008

Author Eileen Cook, Katie Couric, and Win a Free Book

I'm a Katie Couric wannabe. She has great hair. She's smart. She's famous. And everybody loves her. Thanks to Eileen Cook, author of UNPREDICTABLE, who has good-naturedly agreed to answer a bunch of inane questions, today is my Couric day.

Oh wait, a short commercial before we start. If you want the chance to win a copy of Eileen's brand new ultra hilarious romantic comedy, UNPREDICTABLE, (and who wouldn't?), comment on today's or yesterday's post on this blog or on today's or yesterday's post on Eileen's blog or, for double the chance to win, on BOTH blogs. Alright then, freebie book business out of the way, let's go straight to the interview extraordinaire.

Do you outline before starting a book?

I'm a fly by the seat of my pants writer who secretly wishes she was a plotter. I have plotter envy- it goes well with my office supply fetish. I love the idea of binders with color-coded tabs and Post it Note flags. Instead I practice the time-honored tradition on beating my head on the desk until the story falls out. I am attempting to do more outlining, but it remains to be seen if these outlines provide me with a map or just a nice reminder of where I thought the book would go back before the head beating began.

I’ve met writers that do detailed 100 pages plus outlines with binders for all the main characters and writers who start with Chapter One and see where the story goes from there. I saw John Irving (author of A Prayer for Owen Meany) speak and he likes to write by starting with the end and working backwards. Sometimes new writers want to know “what works” and it is a tricky answer as what works for one person will completely block another. You have to find your own way into your story.

Are you part of a critique group?

I used to belong to a writer’s group that met on a monthly. Eventually due to people’s schedule the group disbanded. I now belong to an online writer’s critique group where we post scenes. I also use a group of early readers made up of both writers and readers to critique my draft. When I have a manuscript ready to go I pass it out to all of them and collect their comments before heading into the final revision stage.

In addition to getting feedback, I think it is important for writers to give feedback. It can sometimes be easier to pick apart someone else’s writing, looking at what works and what doesn’t work because you aren’t involved in the story. Once you can see it in someone else’s writing it is easier to look at your own and see if you are guilty of the same mistakes. If you don’t have a regular group of writers that you meet with I often suggest people pick a favorite book and a book they disliked and go chapter by chapter looking at what happens in each scene, what’s the conflict, if they liked it why, if they didn’t why? I have them highlight lines that they liked or places where they felt the story was dragging. One thing that excites me about writing is how much there is to learn. No matter how long you’ve been writing there is always a way to improve. I’m a bit geeky this way.

You are absolutely hilarious. Were you the class clown?

My parents are both funny so it may be genetic. Growing up I was mortified at my parent’s jokes and I’m pretty sure during my teen years I tried to ban them from talking at all when my friends were around.

I was a bit too shy to be the class clown, but I’m pretty sure my close friends saw me as the clown type. I’ve always tended to see things from a different angle that tends towards the humorous.

So, how'd you land Rachel Vater as your agent?

While writing Unpredictable I picked up a copy of Writer’s Digest that happened to have an interview with Rachel. I don’t recall what she said, but I remember thinking “she’s perfect for me!” I stuck the article on my bulletin board (complete with her picture) and whenever I found myself blocked I would remind myself that this fabulous agent was waiting for my masterpiece even though we had never communicated. Inside my head we were already a mean, lean writing team. I knew I wanted an agent I could connect with and who would take a career building approach to my writing.

When I finished the book I sent off a query to Rachel. I was prepared to send it out to a long list of agents if needed, but she was my top choice. People are sometimes surprised when I tell them that I didn’t have any connections or family in the business. I was a slush pile find. I can’t imagine going through the publishing process without a strong agent in your corner and Rachel has been the perfect business partner for me.

What are you working on now?

I recently signed a contract with Simon Pulse (Simon and Schuster) and am really excited to be working on some young adult novels. I always loved reading and in the past couple years have started to read all the great stuff coming out these days in the young adult and middle grade market. I love Meg Cabot and would run away in a heartbeat to be her personal assistant if she would have me.

The other area that I’ve tried out recently is writing screenplays. I’ve always been a huge movie buff and when Unpredictable was optioned by New Line I wanted a chance to write the script. For some reason the studio didn’t want someone who had never written a script before to do the job- go figure. I took some classes and am really interested in how the format is so different than novels. Scripts have to be much tighter as you typically only have 90-120 pages and the story has to be told in all action and dialog.

What is your favorite cookie?

I can pick just one favorite? Of course I am coming off the post Christmas cookie butter and sugar hangover where I made all the cookies that you never make any other time of the year.

If had to pick one favorite I would go with the traditional standby of chocolate chip. I add a touch a cinnamon in mine as the secret ingredient. Shhh don’t tell anyone.

Happy Valentine's Day, Eileen! We wish you loads of Belgium chocolate (yes, we know you love it), wheelbarrows full of chocolate chip cookies and, most of all, great big humungous book sales!


Laura said...

What a great interview...well done "Katie"!

I love learning more about writers.

One of my favorite authors is Bryce Courtenay. His real-life account of his son's life and death make up the book April Fools. Anyways, when reading his book Tandia, I got a bit confused and felt he changed style a bit...then when reading April Fools, he indicates that was the time he lost his son and his publisher was pushing a deadline and how everything got out of control. It was a real eye writers are real people too!!!!!

Thanks for sharing!

Elizabeth said...

A most interesting post on books and the publishing process.
When my book The Three Graces was published by Soho Press long ago, I was so excited. I didn't have an agent.
You must be thrilled about your book coming out.
I am in the US for a couple of weeks.
Email me via my website if you get the chance.

Rebecca said...

Damn, you gave Katie a run for her money. Great post and great interview! I am inspired to WRITE WRITE WRITE now.

lisa marie said...

I have such respect for Katie, she does so much good. Love the interview!

Family Adventure said...

Awesome interview, Katie!

I'm going to show this to my hubster, who's working on his first ever book. I'm sure he's dreaming of being a slush pile find, too!

Oh, and while I cannot offer you any Belgian chocolate, I am giving away some Norwegian chocolate if you're interested... :)


The Tomball Three said...

Oh and by the way, I am shamelessly plugging my dad's book today over on my blog!

Eileen said...

Barrie- I had no idea how much you looked like Katie. It was uncanny.

Thanks for doing this!

Patti said...

eileen, if you had my happy cookies, you would have answered that!

loved this...

Sara Hantz said...

Fab interview!!!

Bill Clark said...

Great interview! Loved the image of banging the head on the desk until the story falls out. Haven't tried that technique yet, but I'll keep it in mind. Are you allowed to wear a hockey headpad when you do this?

Was also fascinated to learn about Irving's technique of writing backwards. I used to do this on my college papers and exams, and it worked like a charm. Decide on your concluding sentence, adumbrate it in the first paragraph and write your way towards it, generously sprinkling supporting facts and quotes along the way. Made me look like a freakin' genius, it did.

One of my favorite Lewis Carroll lines is, "All have won and all shall have prizes." Any chance you can scrounge enough copies of Unpredictable so we can all be winners? :-)

brian_ohio said...

Well... you're no Babba Wawwa (Barbara Walters)... you didn't make Eileen cry. ;-(

But it was a good interview. Her insights into outlining were great... it's really an individual choice. What works... works.

Writing screenplays is very difficult. I tried once. Once.

And Eileen does have a great agent. The best.

Nice job, Barrie... er... Katie (sorry for exposing you).

Trish Ryan said...

Your questions were great...and I love that you interviewed Eileen as KC...hysterical.

Sandy Levin said...


Your hair color changed! I bet you went to your fabulous stylist to have it done just for the interview :-) Great interview Katie.

Larramie said...

Katie, you and UNPREDICTABLE'S Sophie share something in common -- great legs! ;)

And I loved the visuals in this interview, very professional.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Anonymous said...

Loved this interview, I mean Barrie. Seriously, the questions were really good, funny and the visuals that went along with the interview only added to the interesting Q & A.

Makes me want to read more of her books. Actually, I have never read any of her books, but would like to check them out.

Thanks for opening up my mind to a new author (and so great cookies)!!

Happy Valentines' Day!

Beck said...

Hey, awesome! I was really interested to read that bit about how authors plot their books - facinating.

Jessica Burkhart said...

Lovey job, Miss Katie! :)

Carleen Brice said...

Love the pic of Katie! Also love the story of Eileen keeping the article & picture of her dream agent...and then signing with her! Dreams do come true!

Barrie said...

Hi Laura, how perceptive of you to notice the change in his book. Wow!

Hi Elizabeth, I tried to email you through your website, but it didn't work. I think sometimes this Mac of mine...

Rebecca, yes go write, write, write! Gotta love that Katie Couric!

Lisa Marie, I miss her on the Today Show.

Heidi, I threw my name in the ring for some Norwegian chocolate. Tell you dh to keep plugging away. ;)

The Tomball Three, I must pop over and check out your dad's book. How good of you to shamelessly plug.

Eileen, actually it's more that Katie resembles me. :)

Patti, your happy cookies? Sounds interesting!

Bill, I have never tried writing backwards. But I wouldn't mind looking like a freakin' genius. Even for a minute or two! And, no, unfortunately, we can't scrounge enough copies for you all to be winners. We need you to buy the book so Eileen gets more and more book contracts and makes us laugh and be happy. :)

Brian, yes, Eileen does have a great agent. As do you. As do me. Tee hee. And the part where you exposed my identity? Rude, Brian, rude. :)

Sara, glad you liked the interview. Perhaps you recognized the questions from your own interview? !

Trish, glad you found this hysterical. Always a goal!

Sandy, as fate would have it, Katie and I share the same hairdresser!

Larramie, thank you for the legs insight. I'm glad you liked the visuals; they were a lot of work. But worth it.:)

Eileen, you are in great luck. This is your namesake's first book. You are jumping on the bandwagon early!

Beck, glad you liked the plotting stuff. I copied off your lentil soup recipe. :)

Hi Jessica, glad you liked the interview!

Carleen, I know, I know. It is a great story of Eileen hanging onto Rachel's pic and article. Congrats on your book as well!

Joanne Rendell said...

my copy of eileen's book just arrived. i took it in the bathroom and ended up with those delightful red marks on the back of my thighs because i couldn't stop reading! (probably more detail than anyone really wants there!)

Alyssa Goodnight said...

Lovely interview, Eileen and Katie! I have to admit, my favorite cookie is an oatmeal chocolate chip with a touch of cinnamon, and I too am marginally clownish but shy. And I love a funny book!

So, so much in common. ;)

Jim D said...

Oh, and I know a great little spice shop in the Chicago area that has the best Saigon Cassia Cinnamon.....but I never thought of it in Chocolate chip cookies....oh wait.....its a secret.....I still haven't thought of it.

Don't worry, "Katie", the secret's still safe.

barb said...

Katie - will this be career choice number three? Or is it four after blogger? It is good to know that writers write in all different ways. It is all very interesting. I always wonder where it all comes from.