Brenda Cooper’s next novel, The Creative Fire, has been receiving a fair bit of buzz around the corner of the blogosphere that I frequent. With the arrival of a copy of the book, too, I thought it would be a great time to interview Brenda, to get some more insight into her writing and work, her thoughts on the genre and more.
Let’s ease into things: Who is Brenda Cooper?
I’m a Pacific Northwest writer who is intensely interested in the future. That curiosity drives to write about possible futures in both fiction and in non-fiction. During the day I work in technology for a local government, and at night and in the early morning I write fiction, blog posts, articles, and periodically tweet.
I love family, dogs, beaches, riding a road bicycle, and long walks.
Your next novel, The Creative Fire, will be published by Pyr Books in November. What’s your elevator pitch for the book for new readers?
The super-short version is “Evita in space” and the longer version is “What if you were born in the lowest possible level of society and lied to regularly? What if your best friend was killed in the dark under-side of your generation ship? And what if you got really pissed off about that?”
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I came up with the idea for this novel at least five years before I wrote it, but I waited until I had developed some skills by finishing other novels before I attempted The Creative Fire. The primary spark was curiosity about how a single individual becomes capable of making great change. Say Gandhi, or Martin Luther King. Since I also wanted an imperfect female to work with (which left out Mother Theresa), I chose Evita as the primary place to start with. Thus Ruby Martin, the hero of this story, is a sexy entertainer who incites a revolution.
There is no one place I draw inspiration from. I once wrote a story about robots raising a child because of a two-paragraph article about nanny-bots in Japan. I wrote my recent novel, Mayan December, because I fell in love with the Yucatan Peninsula. I never lack for inspiration – the world is full of inspiring ideas and people to write about.
I have read since I was tiny, including the whole L. Frank Baum cannon, the Just So, Stories and Rikki Tikki Tavi and The Jungle Book (all by Rudyard Kipling), The Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L’Engle, and others. These books were in the house while I was growing up and I read everything in the house, and then the library, and…
How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I write in the early mornings because I’m not yet tired or stressed from the day, and the rest of the house is asleep. I research all the time. I read the newspaper almost every morning, I read non-fiction article and books, I engage in conversations with interesting people whenever I can. I love both being a writer (which helps me know more interesting people) and also writing. I do work within the industry instead of by self-publishing because at this point that is a better balance for career and my life. Since I have a day job which I like, and which isn’t always only 40 hours a week, I far prefer having professionals to manage things like book design and distribution and sales.
I don’t remember ever not writing. The first work I published was poetry in college journals. At the time, I was living in California and I was part of a group called the Laguna Beach Poets, and we hung around this beautiful beach town on a bluff overlooking the ocean and read poetry to strangers. It was quite lovely.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
Which genre? Science fiction? I love it, I have always loved it. We have some great people working in the field right now. Kim Stanley Robinson. Karl Schroeder. Connie Willis. Neal Stephenson. Greg Bear. Nancy Kress. Catherynne Valente. Rachel Swirsky. I could list even more, but the point is that it’s a really fertile time for genre work. We’re also beginning to see more translations and more foreign-born writers being published here. I do both science fiction and occasionally fantasy, and I hope that it touches and entertains readers.
What projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?
I’m finishing up the sequel to The Creative Fire, which is currently called The Diamond Deep. After that, I have a non-fiction work I’m interested in as either a series of blog posts or a book-length work, I have a fourth book in the Silver Ship series to finish, a YA that’s just now being shopped, and I’ve just promised five different editors that I’d do short work for them. So I suspect I’ll be busy for a bit.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction and/or non-fiction)?
I always read a lot, and in parallel. Fiction: David Brin’s Existence, Mary Robinette-Kowal’s Glamour in Glass, and an anthology of speculative fiction by Africa writers which will be coming out later this year. For non-fiction, I’m reading Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, and I’m heavily researching the myriad ways in which we are taking over as gardeners and caretakers of the world’s wild places for my non-fiction project.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I’m actually often quite awkward at parties. I’d rather talk to two hundred people from a well-lit stage than sit around a table and make small talk with strangers.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
I plan to do another long bike ride this summer (roughly two-hundred miles). I’m giving a talk at the World Future Society conference in Chicago in July, and I’m looking forward to being there with so many futurists.