Today we are chatting with J.R. Cooper the author of The Last Saint.
Tell us something unexpected about yourself?
My artistic endeavors began with music. I was a front man for a rock band for 10 years. We tried to get signed, make a career of it, and were very good, but never quite made it far enough to reach a critical mass. As things do, that part of my life faded away, and took my artistic outlet with it. That loss of creativity left a vacuum, a need to create something. Instead of songs, I began writing stories, which of course led to my writing of The Last Saint.
What novels affected you the most growing up?
I was always a great fan of big adventure stories. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Hatchet, Treasure Island, The Count of Monte Cristo. These were epic tales to me, that spanned far off worlds and the gravest circumstances. There was courage, and tenacity, and within them I found the romance of living outside of safety, was taught the danger of freedom, but also what awaits those who face there fear. I dreamed of one day being as bold as the characters in those books.
Where did the idea for your current book come from?
After years of studying and teaching apologetics, and Creation vs Evolution, and after the aforementioned band break up, there was a perfect storm of knowledge and the need to create. In Christian Fiction, post-rapture stories were popular, but there wasn’t much about the events leading up to the end, and I had my own ideas about how that would look. Early on I wanted a strong female character, someone who was empowered, and yet challenged by the danger and chaos she was perceiving all around her. The events had to take me on a journey like those novels of old, but they had to also be true to Christian doctrines. Often we have seen Christians portrayed as horrible people in literature and in film. I wanted to paint a truer vision of what reasonable, loving Christianity was, rather than this skewed Hollywood version of faith.
Do you think there’s any way you could ever run out of ideas for books?
Sure, I suppose the well of ideas can dry up from time to time. It isn’t something to be scared of though. I think ideas come from experience, and love, and emotion. In the band, it was always harder writing songs when life was content. The three basic conflicts, right? Man vs Man, Man Vs Nature, and Man vs Self. If there isn’t a premise for conflict, something you can latch on to that is salty enough, intense enough, if a writer struggles with contentment, then it is possible he/she would have to wait for that conflict to arise organically so that there is passion behind the idea. Sure, and idea can be forced, but that isn’t art. That’s fulfilling a contract.
What is your routine for writing and has this method changed over the span of your career?
I wrote my novel the same way I wrote lyrics to my songs. I would concentrate on an emotion or a setting, and then crank up the intensity. I would approach it manic, reveling in the emotions of a character in order to decide dialect and direction. After that, and the basic conflict was decided, I simply experiment forward, feel out how to get from one circumstance to the next. Most important thing for me is to take copious notes. I always have an alternate outline/notes page up, and if I get an idea, I bullet point it, so I can make sure it makes it into the story. A good plot is wonderful, but if you add in the details that render nice full characters, and have tied up loose ends that even your reader has forgotten about, it makes, in my opinion, for a much more satisfying journey.
How important is marketing and social media for you?
I have to say, I am embracing it. I understand why, in this day and age, it is so important. I have a lot to learn, and I, like most writers I’m sure, would rather gain kudos from the trade craft itself. But the truth is, it is simply another part of the writer’s journey, and not without its own reward. Relationships and dialogue with fans can be developed, and other opportunities to network with guilds, promoters, business people, and the like can be discovered, where as without social media, opportunities would have stayed unrealized. Plus, for me personally, I have a publishing company who has put there faith in me, and I owe it to them to market my book as well. It’s about doing honor to the blessings you’ve been given.
What advice would you have for other writers?
I don’t think at this point I am qualified to give advice to other writers. There is much I still have to refine. But I will say that there is a world full of joylessness out there. A world full of the anonymous negative, who hate that they have not risked, or that they have never tried, because they think if it doesn’t work out, if the world doesn’t make them ‘go viral’, it is tantamount to being nothing. Those people will attack, they will use the anonymity of the web, or the distance between your effort and theirs to berate and slander and cut down who you are. And I understand that not everyone has the self-confidence to face such a world. That doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. But, as a man who has written songs I feared people would hate, and stepped on stage to sing when I knew that I wasn’t one of the vocally blessed, and written a novel half convinced I wasn’t qualified to write, I will say that following through is an awakening of self-discovery. Each show, or story, both the good and bad, has forced me to reflect upon my path, and honestly assess who I am and where my power lies to affect others for the better.
I would encourage you all to try and push the boundaries of those passions you love, those things you spend hours doing, perfecting, and to then put that love into the world. The world will never get better by taking from it, only by giving to it, and you all have something unique to give. Let it fly, and do your best to not just hear the negative joyless, but look beyond to the courage you have to love the world in a way only you could.
What are you reading now?
Right now my studies continue, and I am reading along with my Bible, Frank Turek’s “Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case.” And Gary Bates. “Alien Intrusion.” And for pleasure, I am re-reading my childhood favorite, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, but the unabridged version this time, which is adding an element to it that I must say has me positively excited.
What’s your next step?
We have pulled the trigger on releasing my novel, The Last Saint, and I will divide my time between marketing it, and finishing the first draft of my second novel, which I hope to have out in 2017. I find the premise to be extremely exciting, but it is a much different tone than The Last Saint. So I am studying a great amount, to not only get the science and theology correct in it, but also to develop my craft enough to keep the reader engaged using more subtle elements than action, such as tension, inner turmoil, and suspense. I love the challenge my new idea has brought me, and I hope that it is as rich and fun to read as my first. I hope those who have read this interview will follow me in that journey, and I look forward to finding out what God has in store for me.
The Last Saint by J R Cooper is available here