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Virtual Book Tour: Interview with Mystery Suspense Author Bruce Cook

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Bruce Cook, who also writes under the pen name Brant Randall, has earned credits as writer, producer, or director on eleven independent feature films as well as
commercials. He has written more than twenty screenplays, including the films Husbands, Wives, Money & Murder; Line of Fire; and Nightwish.

Since 1973 he has taught at a number of film schools, including USC, UCLA, and Los Angeles City College. Among his thousands of former students are Matt Groening (creator of The Simpsons), actor Laurence Fishburne, Paramount VP of Marketing Lucia Ludovico, numerous directors and producers, six Academy Award nominees and winners, and twelve Emmy nominees and winners.

In 1996 Dr. Cook was invited by ABS-CBN, the largest television network in the Philippines, to teach a series of seminars on improving the production techniques of the film and TV industry. While there, he addressed an assemblage of 2,000 Filipino film industry professionals.

He later returned to the Philippines to conduct a market study on Southeast Asian film production and helped design a motion picture soundstage. While on location, he researched the background for his novel Philippine Fever.

Dr. Cook holds degrees in Physics, Mathematics, Film Education, and Communications. He worked as a laser physicist on the Apollo Project. He and his wife live in Castaic, California.

After discovering that there were four other authors named Bruce Cook, he published his second novel, Blood Harvest, under the pseudonym Brant Randall. His third novel, Tommy Gun Tango, will be published in July 2009. Bruce and Brant will collaborate on that one.

For more information, please visit http://www.brucecookonline.com/

Welcome to Beyond the Books, Bruce! Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?

Blood Harvest is my second novel, and published under my pseudonym Brant Randall.

What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?

Philippine Fever was my first completed novel. It was preceded by two unfinished volumes.

For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?

I sent the ms to several agents who all rejected it with little or no comment. I eventually found an agent who sent it to the major publishing houses in New York. In short order I had seven rejections, but some of them included words of encouragement while claiming the project was not right for them.

How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?

I had written nearly 30 screenplays and directed six movies before I attempted my first novel. Hollywood is a very competitive place so I had already experienced dozens of rejections before I sold my first script. It was painful and ego-shrinking the first time it happened. My “child,” the offspring of my imagination, had been critiqued and criticized and cut down to size.

In fact, the first script never sold at all and I “suffered,” developing my aura as an “artist.” The aura and a part time job put groceries on the table.

After half a dozen sales of scripts that were made I finally achieved a more balanced perspective. I consider this the most important thing I have learned as a writer. Here it is—
My scripts, books and movies are not my “children.” They are creations: some good, some bad, some better than others; some ahead of their time, some behind. But in every case they were not ME, they were not my “babies.” (I have real children who are now grown men. One of them is the author Troy Cook.)

These creations exist apart from me, just as Beethoven’s symphonies are not the man and Emily Dickenson’s poems are not the woman.

Publishers are much like film producers. They may like “art” but they keep their jobs by putting out projects that appeal to a larger public than just their own tastes.

Having adjusted my attitude, I then adjusted my working pattern. I joined a writer’s critique group. I cannot overstate the value of having other writers look at, respond to, critique, and make suggestions for improvement to my work.

When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?

Philippine Fever was published by Capital Crime Press. After the majors had rejected the ms, my agent was out of ideas about seeking a publisher. I asked if she minded if I pursued small presses. She didn’t so I began talking to editors from small presses whenever I met them—usually at writer’s conferences.

Three small presses offered to publish Philippine Fever. The monetary differences in the offers were not great. I made my choice based on how well my book matched their catalog.

How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?

It felt great. It is very satisfying to see a large project completed, especially one that no one has forced you to do. It exists because of your act of will.

To celebrate I Googled myself…and discovered that there were three other authors named Bruce Cook. Surprised (and a little horrified at the coincidence) I then researched how common my name really was. My university had granted degrees to 35 other Bruce Cooks. There were four others in the film industry. There were three Bruce R. Cooks of the exact same age with PhDs.

When I got to Bruce Cook the porn star I realized it was time to come up with a pseudonym for my next novel. That pretty much ended the celebration stage.

What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?

I sent Advance Review Copies to better known writers I had met at conferences, asking for blurbs to put on the cover. A number of them were very kind in their comments. They taught me by example to lend a hand to new authors.

If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?

No. Now that I have had a chance to share war stories with numerous authors, I think small presses offer a distinct advantage over the industry giants. To wit, more personalized attention to editing, input to cover design, better attention to promotion for new authors.
And better royalties.

That’s right, better royalties. Though advances are larger for midlist authors at the big houses, the actual payout of royalties seems to be worse, because the royalty per book is less and because the big guys hold onto royalties the author has earned as a cushion against possible future returns from bookstores.

Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?

My third book, Tommy Gun Tango, is due out in July 2009. My growth as an author has come from hearing directly from readers. It has taught me what seems to connect with them and what things just irritate folks (though I thought they were precious).

Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up?

I should have adapted some of my existing screenplays, since the basic story, structure, and dialog were already there. I needed to finish a book to prove that I could do it (since they are triple the length of a script).

What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?

I should have paid more attention to writers in my critique group who were failing, analyzed why there projects were not working. I might have avoided some of those same mistakes.

What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?

My first novel, Philippine Fever, was a finalist as best mystery in 2007 at USA BookNews. It was also under consideration as a movie at Sony and New Line Cinema. Their reasons for ultimate rejection were enlightening.

My latest, Blood Harvest, was the winner of the best mystery category at USA BookNews in 2008.

If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?

I have already been a laser physicist on the Apollo Project; a mathematics professor at school specializing in aerospace engineering; a film director, writer, editor, sound designer, cameraman; a film professor. Plus the usual mix of jobs you take while in college. I think writing crime novels is finally my real job.

Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?

The jobs I had provided the grist for the writing mill.

How do you see yourself in ten years?

Older, heavier, less fleet of foot, a great-grandfather, retired from teaching aspiring film makers—but best of all I will have a backlist of 12 novels.

Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?

Stop reading this blog and start writing.


3 Comments

  1. pochp says:

    He talks like a true-blue crime-fiction writer.

  2. Bruce Cook says:

    Thanks for interviewing me. It’s a treat to be able to discuss the writing craft.

  3. Donna says:

    Great interview. Blood Harvest sounds like a very good book to read.

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