Today’s interview is a blog first — an interview and cover reveal with Elliot Cooper! I’ve got to know Elliot a little over Facebook, but this may be many readers’ first introduction to Elliot. I’m excited to learn more, not just about Elliot, but about his book and to see the cover that has him so excited. Welcome, Elliot! I’m really happy to be hosting you today.
Elliot: Thank you for having me for my first ever author interview!
I know Elliot primarily as a fellow member of the NineStar Press Author group on Facebook, where we’ve talked about writing, and our interest in paranormal and sci-fi in particular. Preparing for this interview, however, I learned more about Elliot the person and was excited to realise we have more in common than sharing the same (awesome) editor at NineStar. Elliot, please introduce yourself!
Elliot: This is the hard part lol!
Here’s the basic stuff. I’m a pop culture geek in his early 30s, a cat person, internet and caffeine addicted, and still learning how to harness creative peaks to focus creative energies for more than a month at a time. Also I’ve been married for a decade and have one kiddo.
Recently I’ve read about how sad it is that we define ourselves by what we do, not who we are. What I “do” is work at a grocery store while dealing with my family’s wildly disparate schedules and trying not to think about anything relating to finances. Who I am has a lot more to do with being a lover and creator of stories. Granted, that’s not all of me, but it’s the wildly beating heart.
The Clockwork Menagerie sounds like a lot of fun! Amazing title, a sweet steampunk romance and clockwork animals … What is not to like? Tell us about your story, please!
Elliot: Thank you! 😀
I originally wrote it for a steampunk anthology call three years ago where it (obviously) didn’t make the cut. I’d always wanted to write a story where a cat was the catalyst (lol puns) for a romance. Throw in steampunk elements and style, a down-on-his-luck artist who’d rather flounder than ask for a leg up, a man who has no idea how to communicate with his crush, and…there’s the recipe for the story. The cat who plays such an important role, Ophelia, is a mechanical one created by Clement.
I am a big fan of cats, mechanical or otherwise! But what turned The Clockwork Menagerie from ‘want to read’ to ‘must read’ for me was what you shared about the personal inspiration behind it. Would you mind sharing that story?
Elliot: Sure! I was somewhat inspired by my own real-life romance with my husband. I think one of the big themes of The Clockwork Menagerie is to not give up on love (or, in the case of the story, don’t give up when you care about someone and think there’s strong potential for love). When I came out to my husband as a transsexual man (shortly before I wrote Menagerie), it really tested us in regards to what sort of relationship we would have following my pursuit of transition, but romantic love won out. And it’s still winning for us 🙂
I am saying this a lot this interview but both Clement and Duke sound fun — I cannot wait to meet them properly when I read this story! Clement especially as a struggling artist is someone I think will resonate with a lot of readers. Did your own experiences and struggles as a writer play into his creation?
Elliot: Absolutely! I remember telling one of my critique partners about using my own experiences as a creator to help imbue Clement with depth. All of my characters have some part of my own personality or experience in them, some more so than others, and Clement definitely got the creative drive and a lot of the issues that follow it.
The Clockwork Menagerie had a three year journey to publication. Firstly, well done on not giving up on the story! It must feel fantastic to have found a publishing home for it at last. Was it difficult to come back to the story after a long time, or had you been revising it over the years? How has your perspective on the story changed in that time?
Elliot: A stack of physical copies butchered (lovingly) by my crit group sat inside a bag in my spare room for the better part of two years. When I decided I did want to start getting serious about writing again, I figured it was high time I go back over those critiques. Having let the story sit for so long, it was a lot easier to pick out which bits of criticism to put into effect and which bits to ignore. Having emotional distance was a big help, since getting rough feedback on a draft can cause a real knee-jerk reaction.
Back when I’d first got the critiques I had the knee-jerk thing going on and thought “oh no, this is crap unless I turn it into a full length novel!” But that wasn’t the story that suited Clement and Duke. It would’ve involved a lot of contrived elements that felt forced to me, which made it easier to put the manuscript aside.
Going back to the critiques first, then rereading the story with new eyes reminded me how much I loved the characters and their little tale. It only needed a few tweaks after all to feel complete 🙂
And now — the main event! Elliot, I know that you are very, very pleased with your cover so I’m going to turn announcing the cover over to you!
Elliot: I’d need at least five memes and an assortment of emoticons to really express how much I’ve flailed excitedly about this cover! Aria did an amazing job capturing Duke as I pictured him and a steampunk feel that suits the story. There are so many little details like the gear schematics, the rose window that evokes a particular scene, and Duke’s signature mustache! Plus, I’m a sucker for grunge layering on spec fic covers.
It must be incredibly satisfying to see a story you’ve worked on so long finally coming together — congratulations, Elliot! I’m really excited for you. But this is not your first story or even your first experience with publishing! Please tell us about your writing journey and your previous releases.
Using a retired pseudonym, my first forays into publication were primarily via short stories in ezines. The genres ranged from paranormal to horror, with no romance in sight. Then I had my first book — a sci-fi romance novella about space pirates — published with Dreamspinner Press, though it’s been out of print for a few years now.
Ultimately, my issues with depression and anxiety (mostly tied to my struggles with my gender identity) put me in a very non-creative place until I pushed forward with helping myself. It ended up being a good break, I think, since I’d be uncomfortable publishing going forward under a feminine moniker and it gave me time to reevaluate and rediscover my love of writing.
Recently, I’ve begun dabbling in self-publishing, under the name Xander Blythe, with a planned series of erotic shorts about a gay werewolf pack. The first is currently available for Kindle on Amazon: Stray Pup – A Pack Mentality Story. It’s interesting to handle the process on my own. And there’s definitely a steep learning curve, but it’s more of a fun side project than anything serious right now.
You’ve also got some other exciting projects in the works, right? I am particularly curious about Junk Mage — what can you tell us about that story? And are you working on anything else at the moment?
Elliot: Junk Mage is another sweet m/m romance, this time between a technomancer and a cyborg who meet while stuck on a far flung planet. It’s got a healthy dose of humor and action, too! It will be released in the coming months from Ninestar Press as well 🙂
On submission, I have a high fantasy erotic romance novel that centers around a bisexual man in a poly relationship, plus royal intrigue and orcs. And on the non-romance side of things, a horror short about zombies in the workplace.
My current works-in-progress include a sci-fi MMF menage, an m/m urban fantasy featuring a necromancer and a zombie, and a paranormal m/m involving a demon and incubus in an enemies-to-lovers plot. I’ve also been enjoying the planning/worldbuilding stage of a series that I’m collaborating on with a friend.
You mentioned that a cat plays a pivotal role in The Clockwork Menagerie and that you yourself are a cat person. I am going to assume that you have or have had cats at some point, so I am curious … How much of Clement’s mechanical cat is inspired by real life cats you have known?
Elliot: All of her lol! Ophelia’s mannerisms are most heavily inspired by one of my childhood cats in particular, Bridgette, who was a sweet-natured, talkative Balinese mix.
I currently have two kitties in residence. Padme is the queen of the house, one of the most intelligent cats I’ve ever known, and genuinely loves belly rubs. Gaius is my little shadow who must be in the same room with me. He’s terrified of everything, but never fails to yell at us when it’s time to eat. Both are accomplished at tricking one of us adults into serving them second breakfast while the other is at work or asleep. They may be part hobbit.
The Clockwork Menagerie is not your first story — is it your first steampunk story? If so, what were the challenges of writing in this genre? What do your stories, regardless of genre, have in common?
Elliot: This was my second steampunk story. The first was a flash piece titled Gear Heart that I had published on my website for years, but because it has a sad ending I’ve taken it down for the time being to avoid any confusion with Menagerie and its setting.
I think my biggest challenge for Menagerie was utilizing enough of the genre’s hallmarks while putting my own take on things. After that, I tried my best to ensure the way automatons fit into the culture made sense.
With regards to elements my stories share, I have a penchant for writing about people who experience a physical transformation. Werewolves and zombies are my favorites. I didn’t even catch my own trope until a friend pointed it out while critiquing my fantasy novel! But given The Clockwork Menagerie and Junk Mage don’t share that commonality, I’d have to go with characters learning self acceptance of some sort. Which is just as tied to my own lived experience as physical transformation.
This is where we say goodbye to Elliot — for now! I will be talking to Elliot again in May once The Clockwork Menagerie is out and I’ve been able to read it. If you have questions for Elliot, now is the time to ask them and I will include them in the interview! Until then, what is the best way for readers to keep up with you, Elliot?
Elliot: Thanks again for having me, Gillian!
You can find (and follow!) me at:
The Clockwork Menagerie
Autosmith Clement Dyer wants to create his life-like, mechanical animals in peace. He’s tired of being badgered about selling his business to his long-time rival and former lover, Duke Goodwin. He also craves appreciation for his living works of art.
Unfortunately, not all of Clement’s clients see his clockwork creations the way he does, and a prominent but dissatisfied customer threatens to sink his struggling business into the ground.
Elliot Cooper is a creativity addict who prefers writing stories that embody adventure, a hint of the taboo, and shadows that are deeper than they appear at first glance. All the better if romantic or erotic elements are key.
Elliot also enjoys video games and knitting, and lives in the southern US with his human and feline family.