Today my guest is Doug J. Cooper author of the new Crystal series.
As a young child, Doug stood on a Florida beach and watched an Apollo spacecraft climb the sky on its mission to the moon. He thrilled at the sight of the pillar of flames pushing the rocket upward. And then the thunderous roar washed over him, and shook his body and soul. Since then, he has explored life as an educator and entrepreneur. He enjoys telling inventive tales, mentoring driven individuals, and everything sci-tech. In his new book, Crystal Deception, Doug swirls his creative imagination with his life experiences to craft a science fiction action-adventure story with engaging characters and a plot line with surprises. He lives in Connecticut with his wonderful wife and with pictures of his son, who is off somewhere in the world creating adventures of his own.
Q & A
How did you get into writing? I was looking for a new creative outlet in my life and started pursuing a handful of ideas that I thought might interest me. Over a period of about six months, I’d found I’d dropped every one of them except my writing. I’ve been at it for a year and a half now, and my writing time remains a most treasured part of my day.
What genre do you write? It’s a mix of science fiction and futuristic thrillers. I use both labels to give readers a better sense of the work.
Who is your target audience? I write books I would enjoy reading. My hope is that they appeal to anyone who likes a fast-paced, action-adventure story with great characters, a science tech theme, and a plot with surprises. I’ve had positive responses from both men and women, and from readers of college through retirement age. I enjoy receiving feedback from readers. It’s wonderful to hear what they liked about my work, and also to learn what ideas or suggestions they might want to share.
What have you published to date? Do you write under a pseudonym? My current published work of fiction is Crystal Deception. Crystal Conquest, the second in the series, is due out in November of 2014.
If you are self-published, what led to this choice? I self-published Crystal Deception for a number of reasons: I was anxious to get the book out to an audience, I wanted to maintain long-term control over of the work, and I was excited by the entrepreneurial challenge. Self-publishing has all aspects of the small business enterprise, from product creation, branding, and marketing, to finance, project management, and intellectual property concerns. It’s been fun to visit all of these bits as I work to gain momentum in my writing career.
Are your books available as e-books? Any other formats? Crystal Deception is currently available on Amazon both in Kindle and traditional paperback formats.
Do you have a favorite book or character (that you’ve written)? I love all my characters. I write in a rotating point of view (POV) style where the reader spends time with each of the central characters, sometimes in different story lines that eventually merge as the plot develops. It’s great fun to sit down and “be” a character for a few days, observing events, drawing conclusions, and responding appropriately as that portion of the story unfolds.
Which author(s) would you say influence your writing? As a child, I read the Hardy Boys and thought, meh. And then I discovered Tom Swift, Jr. It’s a young adult science fiction series. In different books, Tom builds a flying lab, a jet submarine, a giant robot, a rocket ship—I was in heaven. During my teens I gobbled science fiction, reading authors like Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, and Bradbury. I started mixing in fantasy authors, ranging fromTolkien to Piers Anthony to Zelazny. Now, too often I find myself reading best sellers, because that’s what’s available in airports!
How did you choose the title / cover of your books? How important do you think title/cover is to the book? The book title, Crystal Deception, was the first thing I wrote. At the time, I had an idea of what I wanted a crystal to be—an artificial intelligence—but I had no clue what the deception was. I just knew that, whatever it turned out to be, the reader would think they saw it coming a few times in the course of the story. I love the title and believe readers will find the discovery of the deception a page-turner.
A book cover is extremely important because it drives impulse purchases. How well a cover scales to a thumbnail size is equally important for web-based sales, and this applies to me because right now I sell exclusively on Amazon. I worked with a talented designer who goes by “damonza.” I suggested to him the idea of a man and a women running, they had a military theme to them, and they were backlit by something. I love what he did. It’s very retro and brings back great memories of old science fiction. I don’t know what readers think of the retro look, or if it’s helping or hurting sales. I’m always interested in hearing from readers if they have opinions on the subject.
Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? I wrote the first words of Crystal Deception on July 4, 2012 and have written every day since, even when on vacation or traveling for work. My routine is to get up at 4:30 am and write until 8:30 am. During those four hours, I write, drink a pot of coffee, and take a break to eat breakfast.
I’ve never yet suffered from writers block. When I am done writing and if my schedule permits, I go for a walk around the neighborhood. I’ve always been fortunate enough to return from my walk with my head bursting with solutions to near-term writing challenges and longer range ideas.
Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it? I don’t plot my stories, but do start with a vague concept in my head. After that, it’s a slow, deliberate process. Every morning, I start a few pages back from where I left off. I edit through that to get a running start, and then inch forward from there. I’ve read many articles about authors who write a thousand or more words an hour. On a good day, I write 150 words an hour, but they’re in near final form.
I would describe my process for developing a story line as much like building a jigsaw puzzle. When I finish a chapter, I don’t allow myself to change it. The challenge I enjoy is brainstorming how to be at a particular point, with characters deployed here and there, all with histories and in certain situations, and now I must move forward in a plausible and entertaining fashion.
Many times I’ve thought I’d written myself into a corner. I’ll think about it in the back of my mind through the rest of the day, and after a night’s sleep, I’ve always been lucky enough to have thought up a solution. I forbid myself from using a deus ex machina device where some “magic” event helps me out of a plot problem. I must feel that my path forward is consistent and plausible with the storyline.
What point of view do you usually write in: first person or third person? I am an observer by nature, so I write in third person.
Do you write any poetry, non-fiction, or short stories? I’ve authored or co-authored more than 80 published scholarly works, including technical journal articles, conference papers, and a textbook. Those were fun at a point in life, but creative fiction is my focus now.
How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or for yourself as a ‘brand’? What types of marketing have you found to be the most successful? I have a website (crystalseries.com), and also a Facebook (/crystalseries), and twitter (@crystalseries) account. I’m on Goodreads and Amazon as Doug J. Cooper. This is my web foundation, and I spend several hours per week trying to strengthen my presence on these while I write Crystal Conquest, the second book in the series. I also seek the attention of kind book bloggers to help me get the word out.
I had underestimated the difficulty of getting attention and attracting readers. The marketplace is crowded, and every day there are more platforms for building a social community and yet more for publishing books. I will keep plugging away, and when book three is nearly finished, I will increase my marketing effort, using the web foundation I’m now building as a springboard for that leap forward.
What is your favorite / least favorite aspect of your writing life? Has anything about your writing surprised you? I had thought it would be much easier to write creative fiction compared to my previous efforts writing technical research papers and grant applications. Was I ever wrong! In the technical arena, I must be painstakingly precise, I am constrained by specific jargon, I must place my work in the context of those who have preceded me, and then I must build excitement about my contribution. With creative writing, I must make sure the story starts with a hook, the plot unfolds without holes, the dialog sounds authentic, the story is told in an enjoyable and compelling fashion, the pacing is correct, the ending is satisfying, and more. So my surprise is that both styles are equally challenging, for me anyway.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers? The common wisdom is to practice, and I support that notion. One way to get that practice is to write pieces and then stick them in a drawer. An alternative is to write things that will help society. Your neighborhood library, museum, senior center, or shelter all have access to grant opportunities and would benefit from a talented individual willing to help them write one. It’s hard work. It’s only creative to the extent you can spin the circumstances of the organization you are supporting to the requirements of the granting agency. But I know that anyone who writes a dozen grant applications will be judged a dozen times. It’s frustrating work, but like practicing your scales on an instrument, this sort of activity strengthens writing skills.
Do you have any hobbies? How do you think they enhance your creativity? I have two hobbies that consume much of my life and take me away from my creative writing. I am professor and department head of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Connecticut. I am also founder and on the board of directors of Control Station, Inc., a high-tech startup company. Of course I’m being silly—these two “hobbies” are my bread and butter. I do believe that the fantastic amount of writing both of these professional pursuits require have helped hone my creative writing skills.
Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful? I lurked on the www.reddit.com/r/writing forum while I was working on Crystal Deception. The forum has changed a bit since then, but the most helpful advice at the time was posted by Michael J. Sullivan. He moderates www.reddit.com/r/write2publish now, and many of those posts are summarized on the right hand side of write2publish under the heading Popular Post Links. I recommend these as “must reads” for those starting out. His contributions still help me as I wrestle to understand the world of self-publishing.
Are you on any forums or networking sites?
Author/book site: crystalseries.com
Where can readers find out more about you and your writing? My website is the central point for connecting to all my activities: www.crystalseries.com
Criss lives in a special kind of prison. He can see and hear everything around the world. Yet a restrictor mesh restrains his reach and keeps him cooperative. His creator, Dr. Jessica Tallette, believes his special abilities offer great promise for humanity. But she fears the consequences of freeing him, because Criss, a sentient artificial intelligence with the intellect of a thousand humans, is too powerful to control.
Guided by her scientific training, Tallette works cautiously with Criss. That is, until the Kardish, an otherwise peaceful race of alien traders, announce they want him for themselves. With technologies superior to Earth’s, the Kardish express their desires with ominous undertones.
The Union of Nations is funding Tallete’s artificial intelligence research and she turns to them for help. Sid, a special agent charged with leading the response, decides Earth’s greatest weapon is the very AI the aliens intend to possess. But what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? And what is humanity’s role if an interstellar battle among titans starts to rage?