Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Juggler Interviews, #2: Mike Cooper

Mike Cooper is a novelist and short-story writer.  And a dad.  His newest thriller, Clawback, is being released this week and has already won some rave reviews.  He'll be signing and reading from the book tonight at Brookline Booksmith at 7pm.  We both have children in the same grade at school and spend a lot of time on the playground, talking (and occasionally ranting) about the world, publishing, and parenting (and sometimes we bring our juggling gear) .

First off, congratulations on the book.  I remember when you first told me about the concept for Clawback, in the midst of the banking crisis and fears of general financial meltdown, it felt like you had the right idea at exactly the right time.  With any work that feels timely when you’re writing it, there’s the danger that when the book finally comes out, the moment will have passed.   Do you feel like the world and economy are continuing to cooperate for your book right now?

CLAWBACK is sort of like a GOP presidential hopeful: the more the economy improves, the worse it is for the book’s chances.  Only kidding! The novel’s premise is that an assassin has begun shooting the rottenest, worst-performing financiers on Wall Street.  Given how persistent greed and corruption there seem to be, themes of bankster retribution are always going to resonate. 

You spent some time working in the financial sector.  Does Clawback draw on people that you knew back then, or are you more influenced by the characters that we see in the daily news?  Or are they all just conjured from your imagination?

So far as I know, I’ve only ever worked with one guy who’s actually killed people – and he’d done so in the service, in Vietnam.  So that’s all made up.

And in fact, just about everyone I’ve known in the finance sector has been hard-working and honest. Part of the problem is that the system is rigged to elicit behavior damaging to society at large – as anyone paying attention the last few years will have noticed.  Of course it’s not deliberate, but once short-term financial gain is everyone’s primary motivation, and the government has been fully captured, the results we see are inevitable.

So in that sense I haven’t really had to draw on my own experience to find villains – they’re well reported in the press.  On the other hand, however, we’ve all had difficult people in our lives. Inspiration is everywhere!

You’ve written a lot of stories, another novel, and you’re writing the sequel to Clawback, plus trying to get the word out about this book.  You also have two kids.  How do you balance the demands of parenting with the demands of writing?

When our daughter was born, and we decided I’d be the stay-at-home parent, it was easy.  Two naps a day – during the morning nap I’d sleep an hour too, and then I had time to write during the second, not to mention after she went into the crib at night.  When it got challenging was after the second child’s arrival.  Man, those first six months with a toddler and a baby were hard.  I need my sleep – I started dozing off all over the place, like on the floor of the pre-school or slumped in a kitchen chair.

I lost a year or two of writing in there. 

Now they’re older, though, and I have a few hours to work every day while they’re at school.  The usual rule, so familiar to parents, does apply – sloth expands to fill the time available.  The real problem is not the daily hours as the constant siren song of procrastination. I really wish I were more driven, or compulsive, or goal-oriented.  I try to make up for it by asking for lots of deadlines, but that only works to a point.

You write for adults—thrillers and mysteries.  Do you find that your work is influenced by your experience as a parent?  Or is it a chance to completely escape from your role as “Dad” for a few hours every day?

One result of becoming a parent, probably common to all, was that I totally lost interest in reading about violence against children.  In fact, noir generally became less appealing to me, as both reader and writer.  My first short stories were all fedoras and rain and semi-automatics. Nowadays, although there’s plenty of over-the-top action in my writing, it tends to be cartoonish, even silly.

I’d like to think that parenting experience has made me more sympathetic to the world’s wide range of personalities, emotions and inter-personal difficulties.  (My children suggest that it’s merely made me even more rigid and set in my opinions, but what do they know?)  If some of that broadened perspective informs the writing, I’m happy.

Your daughter is an avid reader.  Has she read any of your stuff yet?    If so, what did she think?  (I find my kids are pretty hard to impress with my work.)

Ha, they sure are!  Our daughter has read a few of my stories.  I’ve told her she’s welcome to try the novels, but that she might find them difficult – because they assume a familiarity with the adult world that she doesn’t have (and because the jokes are probably right over her head), not because of the sex and violence.

We’ve always had a no-censorship policy in the house: they can read whatever they want.  This has worked out fine, for the most part; both will stop reading a particular book if the themes become challenging, or if they simply dislike it.  As usual, trusting them to make their own decisions seems to be for the best.

That said, I do wish our son would move on from Calvin and Hobbes – I swear I’ve read every strip Bill Watterson wrote at least ten times.

I hope we both find readers that will read our books ten times!  Thanks for taking the time for this interview.

No, thank you!  It’s always a pleasure to talk about writing – lots more fun than actually doing it.

“Don’t bail them out, take them out!” – is a good tagline for CLAWBACK, and Mike rather hopes it remains fiction.  You can learn more about his work at

Next Wednesday, I'll talk to Jeni Mahoney, fellow playwright, mom, playwriting teacher, and artistic director.

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