Aurora is pleased to welcome Eileen Cook, whose latest book, Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood, was released in January. She has another book scheduled for release next January–The Education of Hailey Kendrick— which takes place in an elite boarding school where an innocent prank goes very, very wrong. She also has a series for middle graders (ages 8-12) about a girl who is a part of a family that have been fairy godmothers for generations. Instead of granting wishes- she has a few of her own. All three books in this series will be out starting in spring 2011.
Eileen has always loved books and reading. When she was around 10, she checked a Stephen King book out of the library, even though her mother had warned her it would be scary.
“I thought it couldn’t be that scary, after all I knew it was all made up. It was just someone’s imagination,” she told me. “Then I didn’t sleep for three weeks because I was terrified. I remember thinking that even though I knew it was ‘fake’ what I felt was real. I wanted to be able to do that- create worlds that made people feel real emotions.”
Not only did Stephen King’s ability to make the reader feel real emotions inspire her, his On Writing is one of her favorite writing books. The other is Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. She has found both of these books to be a huge help.
“What advice do you have for young writers?” I asked.
“Read. Read a lot! Books are the best writing teachers. Read books you love and books you hate. Figure out why you loved them, why you hated them. Look at how that author chose to tell that particular story. Why did she tell it from that point of view? When did she reveal information? What sucked you in and kept you reading until it was way, way, way too late?
“If someone tells me they want to be a writer, but they don’t read I don’t understand them at all.”
Even though Eileen loves writing more than anything, she said, “There are days when you would think it was torture. On those days I would rather clean the bathroom than write. You have to write through those days so you can get to the days when it is great.”
And, sometimes when she finds herself stuck (“and there is a point in every book where it doesn’t seem to be working,” she assured me), she likes to leave her laptop, sit with her notebook, and handwrite different options.
“Something about using a pen and paper makes me feel closer to the project,” she told me.
Another thing she does at those times is take a break and bake cookies.
“It’s a chance to create something with my hands instead of my brain and the best thing is there are warm cookies when you’re done!” she said.
It doesn’t hurt that warm cookies are her all time favorite food. Her least favorite? Brussels sprouts.
“Bleah. I think they taste like the decapitated thumbs of the Jolly Green giant.”
Eileen shared with me that when she first started writing, she never outlined.
“I would have a vague idea of the story I wanted to tell and I would just jump in and see where the story led me. Now that I have an editor she likes to know where I’m going. (Publishing people can be sooo picky). Now I spend at least a couple weeks working on an outline before I start. I think either way can work as long as you leave yourself the freedom to change your mind. No matter how well you think you know the story- sometimes it can surprise you.”
That surprise is one of the things that makes Eileen admit that the book she likes best is always the one she’s currently working on.
“When I am working on a new book it is like dating someone new,” she admitted. “Everything seems exciting and anything is possible. I haven’t yet discovered the things I don’t like.”
“As an adult, how do you keep your finger on the pulse of today’s kids?” I wondered.
“I believe it’s important to respect kids and teens. I try to never have that ‘I know exactly how you feel’ or ‘don’t make such a big deal out of this’ type of attitude. I read a lot of YA fiction and I spend time with teens asking them about what’s important to them and taking the time to listen.”
She has recently finished Restoring Harmony by Joelle Anthony and is looking forward to reading the last book in the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.
When Eileen isn’t reading or writing, she enjoys knitting.
“I have a yarn compulsion,” she admitted. “I have piles and piles of it in my closet all waiting to be turned into sweaters or scarves. I also live near the beach so I like to walk there with my dogs. I spend most of the time yelling at them to stop digging up and rolling in dead things.”
Eileen loves hearing from readers (in fact, you can email her at email@example.com). She told me she once received an email from a reader that made her day.
“She told me how much she liked my books and how I had written exactly what she was feeling. She ended her email with ‘you are so good at getting inside a teen head. It’s like you were one once.'”
And, entertaining the reader is what it’s all about for Eileen. When she was growing up, books were a great escape for her.
“I love hearing that someone started my book and couldn’t put it down. It means I did my job well,” she said.
“What challenges do you think the youth of today face that you didn’t?” I asked.
“I think the biggest challenge is the change that comes with technology. If you write it down it can exist forever. When I was growing up there was no Facebook. If I did something stupid (and trust me I did plenty) it wasn’t broadcast on the internet for the entire world to know. I’ve seen a lot of cases of cyber bullying. What used to be restricted to the hallway at school now follows people home. I’ve joined together with a group of YA writers and we’re doing an anthology on the subject of bullying to try and draw attention to the topic.”
If she could give just one piece of advice to her readers it would be, “There is life after high school. A life where you have control over where you live, what you do with your life and who you have in your life. Hang in there.”
In the final weeks of eighth grade, Lauren Wood made a choice. She betrayed her best friend, Helen, in a manner so publicly humiliating that Helen had to move to a new town just to save face. Ditching Helen was worth it, though, because Lauren started high school as one of the It Girls–and now, at the start of her senior year, she’s the cheerleading captain, the quarterback’s girlfriend, and the undisputed queen bee. Lauren has everything she’s ever wanted, and she has forgotten all about her ex-best friend.
But Helen could never forget Lauren. After three years of obsessing, she’s moving back to her old town. She has a new name and a new look, but she hasn’t dropped her old grudges. She has a detailed plan to bring down her former BFF by taking away everything that’s ever been important to Lauren—starting with her boyfriend.
Watch out, Lauren Wood. Things are about to get bitchy.