Eileen Cook


The Value of Editing and Revision



Joining LitPick today for an Extra Credit interview is author Eileen Cook. Eileen is the author of several books including Remember, The Almost Truth, and Used to Be. When Eileen isn’t writing, editing or speaking at a conference, you might find her knitting, reading, watching hockey, or filling the holes dug by her dogs.

Do you have a solid outline before writing, or do you usually get ideas as you go along?

The first two books that I wrote I did by having a vague general idea and then making the story up as I went along. Slowly over the next couple of books I became an outliner. Now I tend to spend a month or two playing with the outline and thinking about the story before I start writing. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to write a story- it depends on what works for you. I find taking time to think through all the different ways the story might evolve before I get too far into it makes it easier for me to write. Having said that- I leave space to be flexible- an outline is just a guide. If I get a great idea as I write, or if a character evolves and changes, then I change the outline 

Has someone you knew ever appeared as a character in a book (consciously or subconsciously)?

The largest danger of being friends with a writer (or being anywhere near us) is that you run the risk of showing up in a book. I’ve never based a character 100% on a real person- but I have definitely stolen traits to use in my fiction. One reason I love writing is the chance to explore why people behave the way they do, so looking at how real people act and react gives me a place to start that exploration. 

What do you do when you get writer's block?

I am lucky in that I’m one of those people who enjoys the process of writing. When I do bump into writer’s block it is usually due to one of two things. Either it is because I need a break or I’ve headed down the wrong path and am trying to force a story. As much as I love the process of writing, every so often I have to be reminded that I need to also take some space to let creativity happen. If I have writer’s block I might take it as a sign that I need time off. I’ll read, travel, binge watch something on Netflix, or spend more time with friends. Taking some time away from writing lets my brain sort out where I need to go next. The other reason I might get writer’s block is because I am trying to shove the story in a direction that isn’t right. My gut may recognize that I’m wrong before the rest of me does. 

If you could live in a book's world, which would you choose?

Harry Potter!  I am still annoyed that I haven’t gotten my owl with an invite to attend Hogwarts. 

What is your favorite book-to-movie adaptation?

Oh, this is hard! I think of movies and books being completely different creatures. I loved Harry Potter and The Godfather (how is that for very different books/movies!) However, if I have to name one favorite it would be To Kill a Mockingbird. I could watch that movie over and over. 

If you could have lunch with one other author (dead or alive!), who would it be?

I feel as if I might need to rent a large room so I can have a huge dinner party. There are so many writers I would love to sit down with and talk about books. If I can choose only one I’m going to go with Gillian Flynn. I recently re-read Gone Girl and am still blown away with how she created all the twists and turns. 

Wild Card Question: Before becoming an author, you were a counsellor working with individuals with catastrophic injuries and illnesses. Do you think your experience helps you with your writing? 

Working as a counsellor had a few benefits that helped with writing. Psychology training is all about understanding people and their motivations. Working with people who are going through catastrophic health issues means they aren’t in a great place- their entire lives are in upheaval. This is similar to the kind of stress I am trying to put characters through when writing. I have a book coming out in June called WITH MALICE. It is the first book that I set in the world that I used to work in.  

While on a school trip in Italy, Jill is in a horrible car accident. She wakes up in the hospital with no memory of the accident or the six weeks before due to a brain injury. Jill is devastated to hear that her best friend died in the accident and horrified that the police don’t believe it was an accident. Instead, they’re trying to prove Jill murdered Simone. Jill has to fill in the missing time while trying to decipher if other people’s stories of what happened are accurate before she’s forced back to Italy and a trial. She’s forced to question her friendship and more importantly what she’s capable of doing. Writing about Jill meant I could use my knowledge of head injury in a new way. 


Eileen, thank you for spending time with LitPick! We’re looking forward to the release of With Malice.

We do have one more question. May we please come to your dinner party?



How did you get started writing?


As long as I can remember I loved books and telling stories. My parents had a homework assignment I did in second grade where we were supposed to practice writing sentences. I strung mine together so they made a story. My teacher wrote at the bottom: "I'm sure someday you'll be an author!" I now have this homework framed and hanging in my office.


The first time it occurred to me that I wanted to be a writer as a job when I was around eleven. I wanted to check out a Stephen King book from the library. The librarian didn't want me to check it out because she thought it would be too scary. I thought it was ridiculous because even though I was only eleven I understood that the book was made up - how scary could it be? Turns out - REALLY SCARY. I was amazed that someone could make something up, that even though I knew it was fictional, could still make me feel real emotion. It seemed like magic. I knew I wanted to do the same thing.


Who influenced you?


I would say one of my biggest influences were my parents. They were total library junkies. We used to go every week to the library and we would all check out big stacks of books. They are responsible for fostering my love of reading. Now I am one of those people who can't imagine not having a book around.  When my stack of to-be-read gets too small I get antsy.


Books I loved growing up included The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Phantom Tollbooth, anything by Roald Dahl or Judy Blume.  I wanted to grow up to be Judy Blume.


Do you have a favorite book/subject/character/setting?


I love reading everything. If you were to look on my bookshelves you would see everything from YA, to historical novels, to thrillers, to murder mysteries, to paranormal books,  to the classics, to non fiction books on everything from champagne to the history of New York City.  I like reading a bit of everything depending on my mood. I am one of those annoying people that if you come over I want to know what you like to read and then I start recommending other books for you to try.


What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an author?


Read!  Books are the best teachers for someone who wants to write. Read your favorite books and figure out why you like them. Look at how the author set up the story - whose point of view did she take? How did she unravel the story? If there is a book you hate - why don't you like it?  The next thing is to write a lot and give yourself permission for it to be bad. If you decided to play the piano you wouldn't expect to sit down and start  playing Mozart, but for some reason we are really hard on ourselves when the first draft of a story isn't as good as one of our favorite books.  It takes practice to get better at writing, which means you need to do a lot of it!


Where is your favorite place to write?


I have an office in my home that looks out onto our backyard.  (This way I can watch my dog Cairo dig holes in the backyard while I write.)  I sometimes sit at the desk, but if I'm honest, I do more writing sitting in my comfortable chair with my feet up.  I find when I'm having a hard time with a book it can do me a lot of good to get out and write in public.  I take my laptop and head out to the coffee shop or library, something about being out of my usual space seems to shake things free.


What else would you like to tell us?


I know how many great books are out there, so I really appreciate when people take the time to read one of mine. I love hearing from readers. You can find me on Twitter and Facebook, and if you are interested I have a newsletter that comes out a couple of times of year that you can sign up for on my website.


Eileen Cook