You Owe Me…
Just this month, the amazing and prolific author Eileen Cook has released her latest salvo onto the YA market. Eileen’s novels are available in eight languages, and have been optioned for film and TV. She remembers spending most of her teen years wishing she were someone else or somewhere else, which turned out to be great training to become a writer! In addition to writing, Eileen is also an instructor/mentor with The Creative Academy and Simon Fraser University Writer’s Studio Program where she loves helping other writers find their unique story to tell. She lives in Vancouver with two very naughty dogs.
Her latest book, YOU OWE ME A MURDER is a reimagining of Patricia Highsmith’s ‘STRANGERS ON A TRAIN’, with the contemporary, youthful twistiness that is so typical of Eileen Cook’s thrillers. I was lucky enough to have her agree to sit down for a chat about the book. Care to listen in?
kc: Hey Eileen — welcome! Shall we just jump right in? Let’s talk about your protagonist in You Owe Me a Murder. Did Kim walk fully formed into your head, or was it more of a process of discovery as the story unfolded?
EC: As with many of my characters, I think I know them at the start of the story, but they have a tendency to evolve and change on me. They are very sneaky that way. Kim has that insecurity that’s common when you’re a teen and is trying to figure out what she wants from her life. She has the problem of getting herself into a difficult situation and making some bad decisions in an effort to get herself out of it. Not that I’ve ever done that, (feel free to laugh here) but I’ve at least never accidently gotten myself in a murder scheme.
kc: Heh. Can’t tell you how glad I am to hear that. So — tell me a bit about Nicki. She is so different from Kim — how was she to write? Fun? Scary?
EC: I’m not sure what it says about me, but I found writing Nicki to be so much fun. She’s deliciously evil. Writing villains gives me a chance to let out my dark side.
kc: You? Dark side? No way! Although, come to think of it, your last few titles have explored the dark side of the teen psyche. You have a background in counselling yourself. Does what you learned in your old day job come into play in your writing at all?
EC: I would love to say that I had chosen the field of counselling because I knew it would be helpful to me when writing, but that was a happy accident. Working as a counsellor is all about understanding and having empathy for people who may be making difficult choices as they navigate challenging times in their lives. I studied and explored how people make decisions and why they behave in the way that they do. This has become hugely important as I focused more on writing and I find it useful much more than I ever expected.
kc: That really shows, I have to say. Okay, let’s talk about research. What kind of research does one have to do to write about committing murder?
EC: I’m quite certain that my online search history is going to result in me being on some kind of watch list. Research, be it on murder, or any other area, from historical period details to how DNA sequencing works, serves two purposes. It allows you to immerse yourself in the world, even if specifics don’t end up in the story and it is also important to readers. I guarantee there is a reader out there who will be an expert in the area and if you get a detail wildly wrong it can throw them right out of the story.
kc: Yes — As a reader, I really hate that. On the other hand, you and I share the same problem with our search histories! So, what about travel? YOMAM is set mostly in London — did you go there — or anywhere else — to get a feel for the background of this story?
EC: London is one of my favorite cities in the world. I’ve been several times and I feel like I could go a million times more and never grow bored. I did go when I was researching this book. Although I had been several times, I wanted to go again to check some details. When I was in university, I did a semester in London and I wanted to recreate several of my experiences as a student, but without disclosing how long it’s been, I had to update a few things.
kc: Ha! The good thing is that London is always London, right? Okay, let’s step away from this book for a moment. Can you talk about the challenges of writing in different genres? How do love stories compare with thrillers?
EC: If I was a “brand savvy” writer I would choose a genre and write in it consistently, but I tend to follow my heart. I find a topic interesting and I run off to write a book about it. I don’t think it’s easier to write in any one genre, each one has different kinds of challenges. For me, writing thrillers/mysteries was harder because it required paying attention with plotting. When I started writing, this was the area that was the most difficult. Having to make sure I wove together all the different story lines was my biggest challenge. The desire to beat that hurdle was partly what made me want to write in that genre. On the upside, writing thrillers and murders is a great way to work out some aggression!
kc: Ah — that explains why you are always so calm and collected these days! How did writing this story compare with your earlier books? Does it get any easier with each new project?
EC: I live in constant hope that things are going to get easier. Alas, so far it hasn’t. What I feel has become easier is the realization that there are some things I can count on. These include an initial wave of excitement for a story, then the dreaded three-quarter point where I’m certain the story is horrid and that no one will ever want to read it and that I’ve written myself into some type of dark hole corner for which there is no escape, but then, it does work out in the end. That’s the miracle, not that the process is easier, but that I can have faith that things will work out because I’ve been here before.
kc: Yeah, I think as writers, we tend to under-rate the value of our subconscious minds for pulling us through those dark holes. So, what’s got you excited right now? Can you tell us something about your next project?
EC: I have several projects on the go. I’m moving soon so that consumes a lot of my time. Who knew so many things bred in closets and drawers? You pack it up, turn around and somehow more things are there.
On the writing front, I’ve just started working on an adult novel. It’s funny (or at least I hope it is!) with a twist of darkness.
Lastly, I’ve always known that I enjoy working with other writers, so I’ve started offering coaching and mentorship with The Creative Academy an online community for writers at all different stages.
kc: That’s amazing! I know how a move can eat your head, so having everything else on the go right now might at least distract you from the horrors inside the closets. If readers — or other writers — are looking for you, where can they find you online?
Thank you so much for sharing your time with us today, Eileen! To celebrate, we’re going to offer two copies of YOU OWE ME A MURDER to readers of this blog — International included! To enter, tell me your fave Eileen Cook title in the comments below, on Twitter or FB. We’ll do a draw from all the names entered on Sunday, March 31, and announce the winners on April first — no foolin’!
Edited to add: Thanks to all who shared and tweeted this post. Congratulations to book winners Janet Oakley and Sarah Meral. Email me with your addresses, and the books will be on their way!