Back in March, Stephanie and I had the chance to interview the amazing thriller writer, Eileen Cook. She has written many incredible books, such as The Hanging Girl, You Owe Me A Murder, and With Malice, so we were so excited to talk to her!
We had a blast learning about everything from where she gets her inspiration and how she builds suspense to the tips she has for emerging writers!
Read on for a few of our favourite highlights:
Rosie: So, what got you into writing and when did you first develop more of an interest in doing it seriously?
Eileen: Well, I absolutely loved the library, and I’d go with my family every week to check out huge stacks of books. So very early on, I realized that somebody must actually write all of these stories! And I used to go and find where my book would go on the shelf if I ever wrote one, and make a little space for it there. Then, when I was 10, I discovered a book in the adult section of the library called Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King, and I went to check it out, along with my little pile of Nancy Drews and Judy Blume… and despite a warning from the librarian, I still ended up taking it home. It was terribly scary and I slept with the lights on for a while after that… but I remember thinking it was really cool! The fact that I knew it was make believe but that it was still able to make me so terrified? And that was the first time I realized, yes, I want to do this.
Rosie: I can totally relate to that! I think it’s so crazy how books are literally just words on a page, but somehow they can still make you feel so many different emotions, and so strongly too!
Stephanie: True. And speaking of the thriller and adventure genre, how do you create such suspense in your books?
Eileen: Well let me tell you, it’s a lot harder than it seems. Especially because readers are getting a lot better at solving these mysteries than they used to be. Anyway, what I play with most often is: what do people see versus what really happened? For example, say you have a crush on someone, and you decide to tell them, but then you see them hugging someone else in the cafeteria and you’re like… NOOOO! I’ll never talk to them again! But later, it turns out they had just been hugging a cousin or something. So the suspense comes from convincing people that they see one thing, when they might actually be seeing something else. It’s a little bit like magic, almost!
Rosie: That’s so cool! And speaking of ways to create suspense and make your books more thrilling, what do you think makes a good story?
Eileen: I think a good story is something that makes you want to understand the characters better. Not anything to do with the plot, it’s the person. I have to care about the characters or at least find them interesting, which can definitely pull me into the story!
Rosie: Yes I completely agree. With amazing books, I just end up wanting to be friends with them or get to know them better.
Stephanie: And they’re really able to drive the story forward, especially in your books, I’ve noticed! Like all the actions and the plot is driven forward BY the character.
Eileen: And something else! I used to think that when writing was hard, it meant that it was bad… but in reality, sometimes writing is just difficult. Just like how any other job is just hard on some days. It’s important to just keep pushing through, and pursue your passion!
Rosie: That’s so true! And on this same topic of overcoming obstacles in writing… Do you have any general tips for becoming a writer? As I know many members of our audience are likely aspiring writers, myself included!
Eileen: Ooh… I have many tips, but I’ll just give you the most important ones; the first of these is: read a LOT of books, because sometimes they really are the best teachers. When you finish a book, open it back up and read it again. Think about potential changes you could make and how that’d affect the story! Read like a writer. Another piece of advice would be to be nice to yourself. When I first began, I’d have amazing ideas for a book but I’d start writing and just never finish because it always ended up lousy on the page. What I had to learn was that everybody writes terrible first drafts. And we often compare our rough drafts to published novels… which is not realistic at all! So yes, be nice to yourself.
Eileen Cook is currently working on another thriller with lots of mayhem, a possible accidental murder, and maybe even poison, so keep an eye out for that — it sounds deliciously suspenseful!
Once again, a huge thank you to Ms. Cook for taking the time to talk to Stephanie and I. Our discussion was so intriguing and we definitely learned a lot!