Friday, September 10, 2010

A Conversation with Genius: Stacey Cochran

A Conversation with Genius: Stacey Cochran

By J.E. Taylor

JET: First of all, let me say thank you for joining me on my blog. I really enjoy your guest blog spot over on Joe Konrath’s blog and wanted to spread the word about Claws and Claws 2. Can you tell us a little about the series and what prompted you to settle on the titles?

STACEY COCHRAN: Well, thank you for having me. It’s my pleasure to be here. CLAWS is a wildlife thriller series featuring biologist Dr. Angie Rippard who gets drawn into police investigations when folks are attacked by large predators. Mountain lions in the first book; grizzly bears in the second.

The titles were meant to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Here’s something I’ve never revealed before about these books: they were intended as satire.

Though they’re certainly readable as de facto thriller novels (and thousands of people have read them as such), I came from a post-modern grad school Creative Writing background, and so had David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, and Don Delillo very clearly in mind as I conceived of and wrote the novels.

My goal was to satirize the entire cookie-cutter, formulaic industry of cranking out novels. All the while, I wanted to tell a damn good story.

It’s remarkable. Out of the hundreds of reviews I’ve gotten, no one has overtly “gotten” that these books were intended as satire of consumer culture and the role that publishing and the entertainment industry plays in that.

JET: Was writing thrillers a conscious choice or was it just a natural affinity? Why do you think that is?

STACEY COCHRAN: I definitely wanted to write a thriller. But at the same time, I didn’t want to contribute to a culture of fear. As I see it, entertainers have one of two choices: make people happy, or make people afraid. In the end, every conceivable story boils down to that atomic level. What I wanted to do with CLAWS was split the atom. Write a novel that was both funny. And terrifying.

JET: What’s been your most challenging hurdle on the road to publication?

STACEY COCHRAN: Learning to be content with reality.

JET: What was your favorite moment in the journey?

STACEY COCHRAN: Maybe right this moment. As I’m writing down the word “word.” Seriously. I’m pretty happy right now. For some reason.

JET: Which authors had the most influence over you growing up?

STACEY COCHRAN: Well, the first books I really remember enjoying were the Encyclopedia Brown series. Later, I enjoyed A Wrinkle in Time, then like Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Sphere. Once I got to college, everything became kind of self-referential, and I got into Salinger, Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, Keirkegaard, Camus, Hemingway. Shit like that. In my late twenties, I’d won a few awards for my fiction and so started thinking about how to invent something entirely “new” in a novel. I read a lot of comic books, pulp novels, crime fiction… anything that seemed subversive or counter-culture. Nowadays, I just want to read something that makes me give a damn about taking another breath.

JET: When did you know you wanted to take the plunge into the writing world?

STACEY COCHRAN: That’s hard to pin-point. I was a big comics fan in my teens, and even before that I’d tried writing Westerns in my earliest years. Hell, I don’t know exactly. I definitely think getting nominated for the 1998 Isaac Asimov Award set me on my course. I met Peter Straub and Joe Haldeman, and I realized that “holy shit” people actually do this. People actually waste their entire lives word-smithing.

Sign me up!

JET: What’s the craziest thing you’ve done in the name of book research? Most interesting fact you uncovered?

STACEY COCHRAN: Well, I don’t know if it’s “research” per se, but I’ve actually had several encounters with bears and a mountain lion in the wild. Probably the most dangerous was in Alaska near the little town of Seward. Got right up on a bear mother with cubs. Less than ten feet. Those situations can turn ugly fast. Fortunately there were dumber people than me pushing in even closer on the bear mom. I would have merely been the 3rd or 4th person in line to be attacked.

JET: Of all the novels and stories you’ve written - which one is your favorite? Why?

STACEY COCHRAN: I enjoyed writing The Colorado Sequence more than any other novel I’ve ever written. It was a weird combination of I-knew-what-I-was-doing combined with total naïveté about how this industry functions. Once you learn how fucked up this industry is, you have to find other reasons to enjoy the writing that have nothing to do with what you once thought writing was supposed to be. Maybe you can even learn to be selfless, compassionate, and actually make a fucking difference in other people’s lives. When the writing is driven by that spirit, you can enjoy it a little more.

JET: Any advice for the novices out there?

STACEY COCHRAN: Go into non-profit work and help in your communities. Help with homelessness or clean drinking water in 3rd-world countries. Publishing is an ego-driven, self-absorbed world of self-important upper middle class white kids. You can do much better things in this world that contribute to our bullshit.

JET: All right - now that I’ve hammered you with the big questions, let’s tackle my favorite (and geeky) quick ten. . . starting with Paper or Plastic?

STACEY COCHRAN: We use re-usuable tote bags.

JET: Steak or Tofu?

STACEY COCHRAN: Tofu in my hot ‘n spicy soup. Steak on the grill. I am an omnivore.

JET: Beach or Mountains?

STACEY COCHRAN: Mountains. Anywhere above 5,000 feet with a campfire, a tent, and my three-year-old son. It’s an absolute travesty what real estate development has done to our beaches.

JET: Country or Rock-n-Roll?

STACEY COCHRAN: Country. Most of the time. Sometimes a good ol’ gangsta rap does it for me. Sometimes I’ll leave it on the Spanish-speaking station, even though I have no fucking clue what they’re singing about. But who can beat a kick-ass early Boston riff, too? Or the Beatles. God, don’t get me started. I love music!

JET: Classics or Modern?

STACEY COCHRAN: Are we talking about birth-control options?

JET: Silent Film Classics or Cheesy B Rated Horror?

STACEY COCHRAN: Now you’re just taunting me.

JET: Zombies or Demons?

STACEY COCHRAN: Before I was married, I dated both. Yes.

JET: Paper or Digital?


JET: Salty or Sweet?

STACEY COCHRAN: Fucking salt.

JET: Coffee or Tea?


JET: Thank you for indulging me. Before we wrap this up, can you tell us what you're working on now? What's next?

STACEY COCHRAN: I am working on revising my latest novel THE ETERNALIST. I had a conversation with God for three years. The novel is the result.


Stacey Cochran was born in the Carolinas, where his family traces its roots to the mid 1800s. In 1998 he was selected as a finalist in the Dell Magazines undergraduate fiction competition, and he made his first professional short story sale to CutBank in 2001. In 2004, he was selected as a finalist in the St. Martin's Press/PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Contest. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife Dr. Susan K. Miller-Cochran and their son Sam, and he teaches writing at North Carolina State University.

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GABixler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GABixler said...

Stacey, I think many of us don't understand or even want to contemplate

But at least you've taken advantage of our lack! Good for you!

Enjoyed the chatter!

Nicole H. said...

I absolutely loved the "chat"! Very nicely done J.E.

And Stacey, while I have yet to read your books, I am sure to now! I enjoy satire, and so am looking forward to it! Are they by chance on Kindle?

Stacey Cochran said...

You guys are awesome! Thanks so much.