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Feature on Bev Cooke, author of historical fiction, fantasy, and other genres

Photo of Author Bev Cooke
Author Bev Cooke

Author Bev Cook writes in many genres, from fantasy to mainstream fiction, and has written many Orthodox Christian works. When asked why she writes, she said, “It hurts less when I write than when I don’t. Honestly, I don’t know. It’s something I’m driven to do, that I love having done (the doing is not so much fun), and I can’t ever see stopping. I noticed a while ago during a dry spell that I got fairly depressed, and once I started writing again, the depression lifted. When I looked back, I realized that if I don’t write regularly, I suffer and so does everyone around me.”

Cooke started writing in the 1980s and was first published about five years later. Her writing habits include coffee and clothing. “I like to drink coffee while I work. I can’t think without the stuff!” With large windows and close neighbors, being fully clothed is a necessity.

Cooke writes in her head before putting it down on paper, often taking walks to think. “For some reason, walking outside, with music just loud enough to hear, but not to obscure the sounds around me, with things I can see and smell and feel—things that distract my conscious mind—really help the below-the-stairs thinking.

Fantasy writing

“I’ve always written in my head. But it took me a long time to make the connection between my stories with the published books I read—that you could actually do this, get paid for it, and see it in a bookstore somewhere. And I was very isolated; it took me a long time to find other people who wanted to do, for a living, what I wanted. When that happened, I decided to try to make a career out of writing.”

We always ask, “If you were a character from something Legendarium covers, who would you be, and why?”

Cooke responds, “I used to imagine that I was Aragorn’s sister and had wonderful adventures with the fellowship. So, not an actual character, but in that world.”

Her favorite things to read, watch, and listen to are fantasy, sci-fi, costume dramas (such as Downton Abbey), and documentaries on math, science, history, and nature. “At present, I’m rereading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, for a talk I’m giving on him at a convention in June (Doxacon Seattle, June 24-26), a couple of books about writing poetry, and some books about needlework.”

When asked about her secret talents, Cooke guffawed and said, “If I tell you, it’s not a secret! But because it’s you. . . . I’m a marvelous forgetter. I can forget my own name, if I’m not careful. I can’t remember my kids names—I’ve been known to call them by the cats’ names. I forget words all the time, which is not fun for a writer. I kid around that I have a memory elf, who is supposed to get the words for things when I need them, and this gal is a stoned-out, boozed-up, lazy good-for-nothing, who’s always off on a bender when I need her.”

If her characters could talk to her or to readers, they would say, “Love God, love your neighbor, love your enemies, and remember to laugh and look at sunsets. Also dance. Dancing is good. Sing. Sing and dance together. Hug a lot.”

If one of her characters ended up in another fictional world, Cooke says, “Little Cat from Feral would faint at the sight of the snow in Narnia. She’d probably cower and run away for a while, then try to stake out some territory, and she’d be in awe when she saw Aslan. She doesn’t know, you see, that there are cats that big and fearsome and gentle and amazing. He would just bowl her over, and the fact that she’d be able to talk would amaze her. Kote from Tuya, if he were in Middle Earth, would have a ball—he’d immediately pick up on any of the musical instruments and songs and try and absorb all of them. He’d compose terrific ballads for the battles and the trials the Fellowship went through, and he’d march along with them, defending them as best he could and he’d learn to hunt and cook rabbits with Sam. He’d love the Ents.”

Many books contain jargon or terminology that is unfamiliar to readers. Cooke confirmed that her books do. Here are a few examples.

From Tuya:

Blifs: Bioengineered LIfe Forms.

Spare: explosively angry;

Slick: a drug known to mess up a person’s mind and perceptions permanently.”

From Feral:

Bare-tails: rats.

Two-legs: humans.

Earth-shaker ear breakers: subway trains.

Candlewax Sleepsmell: The human she adopts; he smells of candlewax (he steals candles from a church to earn money by selling them) and sleep (weed).

Names do more than tell readers what to call a character. “I give a lot of thought to names, and what they mean and what they signify in the story. The name has to suit the character I envision, what their job in the story is, or give a clue to what and who they are. It has to feel right on a very unconscious level.”

Writing influences

Big influences in Cooke’s life have been Kenneth Oppel, Arthur Slade, Diana Wynne Jones, Neil Gaimen, Terry Pratchett, Madeleine L’Engle, Stephen King, Peter Straub. “Gaimen’s Graveyard Book, Stardust and Everwhen are ones that echo for me constantly. Dogstar by Diana Wynne Jones, as well as her Enchanted Glass are ones I keep thinking about, and I’m a huge fan of Discworld and all of the books by Terry Pratchett. I want to be Granny Weatherwax when I get old(er).”

In any field, there are things that outsiders think they know, but really don’t. We asked Cooke, “What do people think they know about your genre, that isn’t actually true?”

In her typical candid style, she replied, “Writing for young adults and kids isn’t easier than writing for grownups. The books for young adults aren’t simpler, they aren’t easy to read and forget, they’re excellent writing and they’re as complex and as hard-edged as the kids themselves. Same with midgrade – the books are beautifully written, and as varied as the people who read them.”
For people interested in exploring her genre, Cooke suggests starting with:

Young adult: Chris Crutcher, Neil Gaiman, Beth Goobie, Robin Stevenson.
Midgrade: Diana Wynne Jones, Kelly Milner Halls (nonfiction), Terry Pratchett’s kid books (The Amazing Maurice, and the Tiffany Aching series).

Bev Cooke’s favorite motivational phrases:

Just get it written down; you can change it later.
Only a little more to go! There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, you just can’t see it yet.
To get through it, you have to go through it. Keep going.
Two steps forward, one step back, cha, cha, cha. Remember to wiggle those hips.

When asked what she’d like to tell readers, Cooke was ready with encouragement. “It’s okay not to have a passion, and it’s okay to love something and not do it to support yourself. There’s no shame in hard work done because it needs to be done, and that you don’t love to do. Most people won’t be in the enviable position of being able to support themselves with what they love to do, and to say you have to love what you do or you’re somehow a failure or lesser isn’t right. Working to support yourself and your family is honorable, admirable and a great thing, and it’s something to take pride in. I’ve been extremely fortunate that I’ve been able to write, and not have to work for pay, because to support yourself with writing or any of the arts is almost impossible. I know a lot of writers—hundreds of them—and very, very few can do that. Fewer than 10 and I’m not one of them. When I have had to work for pay, I do the best job I’m capable of, and take pride in that and take the joy that appears in the job I’m being paid to do. There’s always joy if you remember to look for it.”

To connect with Bev Cooke:

Blog: Bevnal Abbey Scriptorium:
Facebook: Bev. Cooke
Amazon Author Page: Bev. Cooke

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