Tuesday, April 8, 2014

L. Andrew Cooper: The Extreme Side of Horror

Most writers I know I get to know as people first and as writers second. What I mean by that is I meet them personally before I've ever heard them talk about the craft or read their work. Not so with Andrew Cooper. At the most recent Connooga, I sat in on a panel on world building, and as I listened to his responses to the questions from the moderator, I knew he was a writer who "got it." You know, "it" -- that secret, hidden, mysterious thing that only some writers can use to see and hear the world and then convey those things in words. 

You really need to get to know him and read his work. Trust me. Read this interview, then read his stuff. You owe it to yourself.

Tell us a bit about your latest work. 

My most recent novel, Descending Lines, is on the extreme side of horror. It begins with what seems like a concept-driven burn: Megan and Carter Anderson’s 6-year-old daughter is dying of cancer, and they know a supernatural ritual to cure her. They have to conceive, bear, and sacrifice a second child. Their relationship and everything around them falls apart during the pregnancy, which readers expect to be the whole novel… but I answer the question of whether Megan and Carter go through with the sacrifice halfway through. Then I shift from escalating thriller to full-throttle horror-action. After the birth, anyone who happens to be in the wrong place… well, I’ve told readers that I’m not sure how many deaths I describe in the second half. Sooner or later, someone will count the bodies for me.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work? 

I try to keep my professor hat hidden when I’m wearing my creative writer hat, but of course my non-fiction books—Gothic Realities and Dario Argento as well as my co-edited textbook Monsters, not to mention various articles I’ve published on movies like Cabin in the Woods—share some of the obsessions in my fiction. Behind both of my published novels, Burning the Middle Ground and Descending Lines, lies the work of Dr. Allen V. Fincher’s The Alchemy of Will, a comparative study of world religions, published circa 1900, that describes how the universal key to the miraculous or the magical is the human will, unleashed and directed through rituals Fincher condenses and specifies. So more or less I’ve got a book-driven mythos that invites comparison to H.P. Lovecraft and the Necronomicon or Book of Eibon (cf my for love the Lovecraftian in Joss Whedon’s work), but with Dr. Fincher, I’m more interested in the modern than the ancient. What Megan and Carter do with Dr. Fincher’s work in Descending Lines is very different from what Michael Cox and Jake Warren do with it in Burning the Middle Ground (you don’t have to read either to understand the other), but in both novels, having Dr. Fincher in the background allows me to keep some of my obsessions with philosophy, morality, and religion going as well as an obsession—the subject of my very first book, Gothic Realities—with how books and other texts might affect the “real” world. Oh, and Dr. Fincher’s rituals are, of course, invariably nasty, if not in their ingredients then in their outcomes; my obsession with extreme aesthetics plays out in Dario Argento as well.

What would be your dream project? 

I’ve got to admit that I like everything I’m working on right now—an essay about A Serbian Film, a non-fiction book about movie remakes (definitely looking at permutations of The Thing as well as Halloween and Friday the 13th), and the next novel in the series The Last World War, begun by Burning the Middle Ground. If I get to go dreamy, though, I guess I’d say that somehow I’d like the time to keep teaching (I love teaching) and write the rest of The Last World War without worrying about market realities with respect to length (Stephen King gets away with a lot) or cultural sensitivities, all the while knowing I will get top-tier, A-list publicity and a multi-movie deal over which I will have some sort of creative control (the fantasy then extends to assembling a dream team of director, cinematographer, editor, musicians, and actors and maybe a screenplay co-author and then working on the films).

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do? 

There are several easy answers to this question, but since at HorrorHound a couple of weekends ago I found myself mentioning it to people I’d just met, I suppose I’m ready to go on record about the existence of my first horror novel, Curiosity. Nowadays I feel like I have to emphasize that when I wrote it, “torture porn” hadn’t entered the vocabulary, but although operating on a different emotional register, Poppy Z. Brite and Bret Easton Ellis had been to the sorts of places I go in that novel. It wasn’t until I got a rejection from… I forget which major publisher… I had an agent at the time… which compared the book to Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door that I learned about Ketchum, whom I now adore and yes, absolutely, the comparison is apt. Except the rejection was right about another thing, too: Ketchum provides psychological motivation, or at least a sense of relief for readers, by providing a grown-up on whom to shift blame. Curiosity is Lord of the Flies in the suburbs during a bad acid trip with way too many sharp weapons. A friend of mine read it and said I’d murdered my childhood. I’m honestly scared of going back to that book. But if I ever have a readership that wants it, I will revisit the manuscript’s 500+ pages of hell to make it more accessible.

What inspires you to write?

Breathing? I barely remember a time before writing. I remember first trying a novel in the second grade. I didn’t finish one until I was 18. Don’t ask. It’s unreadable.

Maybe a better answer: confusion. I start spinning out fictional scenarios when my analytical brain gets caught up on a difficulty or apparent insolubility. The problem fails to yield to reason, so I turn to horror, the result of reason’s evacuation…

What writers have influenced your style and technique? 

Stephen King was my intro to grown-up fiction; he got me reading. Ketchum somehow psychically. The 18th-century triumvirate: Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis, William Godwin. The 19th-century: James Hogg, J.S. Le Fanu, Charles Dickens (late), Henry James (late). More 20th-century: Algernon Blackwood, H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, etc. 

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why? 

Art involves crafting: knowing how to shape the medium in certain ways to elicit certain responses from the spectator, and increasing correspondence between the shaping and the desirability of the elicited response (i.e., I want to scare the crap out of you, I know tried-and-true methods, I use one, I scare you, I win) is a kind of science. However, what I craft where, and how I choose to craft it, the overall experience I create for you as a reader: that is an art. Someone can be a successful scientist without being a successful artist and vice versa, or someone can be great or crappy at both.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

At the upcoming ConGlomeration convention, April 11 – 13 (http://www.conglomeration.info/) I’ll be helping to launch Imagination Reimagined: Not Your Children’s Fairy Tales, a collection of short stories I co-edited with Georgia L. Jones and Christopher Kokoski. It includes my short “Kindertotenlieder,” a riff on the pied piper, very gruesome. 

Find Him Online :

DESCENDING LINES e-book: http://www.amazon.com/Descending-Lines-L-Andrew-Cooper-ebook/dp/B00HUC6XWA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1396287057&sr=8-1&keywords=descending+lines 

BURNING THE MIDDLE GROUND e-book: http://www.amazon.com/Burning-Middle-Ground-Andrew-Cooper-ebook/dp/B00AFHHT7K/ref=pd_sim_kstore_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=1RG6C13EDY4758T8YZHF 

DARIO ARGENTO e-book: http://www.amazon.com/Dario-Argento-Contemporary-Film-Directors-ebook/dp/B00AG82XAQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1396287204&sr=1-1&keywords=dario+argento 

GOTHIC REALITIES: http://www.amazon.com/Gothic-Realities-Impact-Fiction-Culture/dp/0786448350/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1396287255&sr=1-1&keywords=gothic+realities

MONSTERS: http://www.amazon.com/Monsters-L-Andrew-Cooper/dp/159871483X/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1396287296&sr=1-2&keywords=monsters 

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