Brenda Cooper is the author of nine science fiction and fantasy books. Her most recent novel is Spear of Light (Pyr, 2016). Her other works include the P.K. Dick nominated Edge of Dark (Pyr, 2015) The Creative Fire (Pyr, 2012) and The Diamond Deep (Pyr, 2013) as well as the Silver Ship and the Sea series (Tor Books) and Building Harlequin’s Moon, with Larry Niven (Tor, 2005). Her most recent short fiction includes Elephant Angels (Heiroglyph, 2014) and Biology at the End of the World (Asimov’s, August 2015).
Winner of the 2007 Endeavor Award for a distinguished science fiction or fantasy book written by a Pacific Northwest author or authors Brenda lives in Bellevue, Washington with her wife and three dogs.
Find her at: http://www.brenda-cooper.com/
Talking with Brenda Cooper
S&S: What started your love of reading and writing?
Brenda Cooper (BC:) I’m sure it was my parents. They read to me regularly as a child, and I have many memories of mom reading me books and Dad and I reading the newspaper. In fact, I really don’t have any recall of a time when I didn’t read and write.
S&S: You’ve got several works under your belt. Do you feel your writing style has changed since you first got something published? If so, in what way?
BC: I have the perfect example right now. I’m editing my 2007 book, The Silver Ship and the Sea, since it is about to be re-released by Wordfire Press. I write much better sentences – they are crisper and clearer. The story held up rather well, and I’m not changing it in the light edit that I’m doing, but I’m often turning one long sentence into three shorter ones, and deleting a lot of unnecessary words. Also, I can handle a more difficult story now, with more characters and more nuanced points of view. But Silver Ship tells the story of some of my favorite characters, and talks a lot about being ‘the other,’ and I’m excited about getting it back out there.
S&S: Do you have a favorite story of all your works? Obviously, we’re here to talk about POST, but is there another one that holds a special place in your mind?
BC: My favorite story is a short one – a piece of flash fiction that came out in Nature magazine called “My Grandfather’s River.” It’s a favorite because it’s one of my first environmental stories. It was inspired by a talk I attended – a keynote speech by Michael Fay who went through the Congo mapping it before it was developed, so that in some future when it no longer exists, it can still be seen, and maybe at least partly re-recreated. The talk made me cry, and so did writing the story. It’s quite short – just about 950 words.
S&S: What was the hardest part of writing POST?
BC: That’s easy. The book is in first-person present tense. I’d never done a novel-length work in that voice, and boy it is hard! Almost all of my writing is in some version of past tense and so I kept slipping back in ways that were hard to notice. That’s mechanical, of course, but it really was the hardest part. Another hard part was portraying the world as brutal, but full of growing hope and optimism.
S&S: How long does it take you to write out one of your novels from the first sentence to final draft?
BC: There’s no exact answer since I go over them all more than once. I also have a busy day job, and that can dictate how much writing time I actually get in any given week. In general, I can finish a first draft in three to six months, a second draft in one, and then there’s a process where the book is out to my beloved first readers who poke holes in it. How long it takes after that depends on how deep and bruising the holes are. 🙂
S&S: What’s the most constructive criticism you’ve ever been given?
BC: To write with so much emotion that I’d be sure I’d gone over the top. It’s a challenge for me to write in a way that develops a deep emotional connection for the reader, and I know it. So I work on that a lot, and I think I’ve gotten better at it. So once-upon-a-time (long, long ago, but in this galaxy) a writing group challenged me to write a story that was so over-the-top over-wrought that no one would buy it, and people might even laugh at me. I did that. That story became the first story of mine to make it into a Year’s Best anthology.
S&S: What made you choose the Oregon Botanical Gardens for the setting of POST?
BC: POST came out of a short story, and the project I was working on for that short story was learning to use more precise detail (That story also made it into a Year’s Best anthology). I set POST in a botanical garden because the story started there. The story started there because I was travelling and I wandered into a B & N looking for a how–to book with exquisite details in it, and the one that caught my eye was about Japanese Gardens.
S&S: What drew you to writing post-apocalyptic fiction?
BC: Well, normally I don’t. I really just wanted to tell this story. I loved writing POST and I hope that a lot of people will have as much fun reading it as I had writing it. It’s also looking a little eerily prophetic, but that’s another topic.
S&S: What kind of reader would best identify with Sage, the main character in POST?
BC: I hope almost anyone. POST should appeal solidly to teens, but I wrote it to interest a 9-90 audience. Sage has a problem – she needs to grow up. Not only were all of us there, but at some level we keep re-arriving there and finding new boxes to climb out of and new habits of thinking to break. I also worked hard to build a world that is complex enough for adults. Lastly, I think it might interest people from the Northwest in some particular ways. I think people like to read about places they love.
S&S: If you could collaborate with an author, who would it be?
BC: Well, I already did collaborate with a favorite author. Larry Niven and I wrote Building Harlequin’s Moon together, and quite a few short stories. That was wonderful! Today? Maybe Brad Beaulieu since I love his writing and I think he’s a wonderful human. He also has a great work ethic, and that really important in a collaborator.
S&S: Have you ever memorialized someone (be it human, dog, or kitty, etc) that you loved in one of your works?
BC: POST is one of the very few books of mine that doesn’t have a favorite pet in it. Sasha (a border collie who has now passed on) is in the last two books in the series that start with The Silver Ship and the Sea. Cricket (another border collie) is in Edge of Dark and Spear of Light. A human character in Mayan December is named after Nixie, our Golden Retriever. Aspen (an Aussie) is in Wilders, which is forthcoming from Pyr.
S&S: As prolific as you’ve been, do you have any advice to aspiring writers who struggle to get their stories out of their head and onto paper?
BC: I am not that prolific! I write one novel and a few short stories a year; I have many friends who write far more than that. My advice for aspiring writers is write. Write a lot. Work on your skills. Almost every book or story I’ve written has in some ways been an exercise to learn some skill I felt a need to get better at. Lastly – have fun. A lot of people make this into really serious business, but writing should be fun, at least most days.
S&S: Have you ever had anyone tell you that one of your works affected them in any way?
BC: I’ve had people email me often about my books and stories. I always appreciate that a lot. Some have said there was a specific way that story touched them or changes how they think, but even for those who don’t, people wouldn’t write about a story that didn’t affect them somehow.
S&S: What’s the best thing a reader can do for a writer?
BC: Besides send along a personal note? Write a review or recommend a book to others.
The world, for some, has crumbled.
Disease and natural disasters have brought on social collapse in the Pacific Northwest.
For Sage, born and raised in the safe haven of the Oregon Botanical Gardens, that has never been more than academic. What more could she ask for than to be safe and fed?
But life in the Garden is static.
Sage longs to experience the world beyond the Garden walls as society climbs from the chaos. Her reckless exploration forces her elders to give her a choice: Stay here, hidden in safety, or go and never return.
Sage chooses to leave.
Will she learn soon enough on her journey that the world outside the Garden follows no law? That there is no predator more dangerous than man?
Will she learn soon enough that to rebuild the world one must be ready to fight for it?
She will need to if she chooses to live. – Goodreads