Your novels The Interrogator and Deadly Trust could be described as military thrillers. How useful has your military background been in your writing, and can you share a specific example of how your background has helped inform your writing?
Being an ex-interrogator like my main character is fairly handy. I believe my military background has ‘value-added’ in terms of content and also adds a certain level of ‘authenticity’ to my books.
Some examples would be the fact that, before I deployed to the Middle East in 2003, I received a series of anthrax jabs. I had no idea what was in the needles or how effective they would be if exposed to anthrax. I use real life experiences such as this as the catalyst for events in Deadly Trust and The Interrogator. I use my knowledge and experience to create authentic interrogation scenes as well. I want the reader to experience interrogation from someone who has been on both sides of the table.
What are some of the most important writing skills that you have learned and use for your fiction?
Editing. This is a skill that can be acquired through reading and persistence. If a writer submits something that isn’t quite right, regardless of plot, prose or platform, an agent or editor is likely to skip over it and send you a rejection slip (if you’re lucky). Take the time to learn. Volunteer to critique or become a BETA reader on online forums or writer’s groups to hone your skills. If you’re tempted to use a professional editing service, think it over. Firstly, there’s only one rule (in my humble opinion) to getting published – money always flows to the writer. Secondly, if someone else polishes your manuscript for you and you’re successful in obtaining an agent/publisher, who is going to work with your future editors – you or the professional editing service?
You have some advice on your website about writing first chapters for novels. What is the key to creating a great progression of chapters throughout a novel?
Each chapter should have a beginning, middle and end and finish with the reader needing to turn the page and find out more. All chapters must progress the story in some way. If you think a chapter is required to discuss a character’s background, you’re probably wrong. Sprinkle this information through the book if you really think it necessary to add to the story. And, understand that the reader has an imagination of their own – so let them use it.
What are some of your favourite novels and what makes them stand out for you?
I was very fortunate to receive an advance copy of one of my favourite authors’ new release, Fragile, by international bestseller Lisa Unger. I’m a huge fan of Lisa’s novels. She has such a ‘poetic’, narrative prose that is unique; a style that bridges the gap between traditional literature and thrillers.
There are far too many great thrillers to mention here, however, I will say that the talent coming through the debut author ranks of International Thriller Writers is amazing. I am very humbled to be featured along side these fabulous authors.
Who is one of your favourite fictional characters and why?
Jack Reacher. Lee Child has created such a great character. The books focus on Reacher’s nomadic journey through life. I think he’s the kind of character that we all envy a little – no possessions, no plans, no nine-to-five job, no worries.
You have mentioned that you prefer to write and read fiction written in a realistic, 3rd-person, past-tense style, with a logical sequence. Is this preference due to something about how a story can be told in this specific style, or more of an indication that you prefer a good story clearly told rather than manipulations of style being substituted for story?
I’m a linear thinker – just the way my brain works. I can’t follow stories that jump all over the place, stories generally written by those who are ‘mind-mappers’. In a third person limited point of view story there is no narrator intervention. Therefore, the reader discovers the story at the same time as main character/s. I find this keeps the reader on their toes and avoids the reader asking of the narrator why they weren’t informed of a twist earlier in the book.
What is the most important piece of advice you would like to give for new writers?
Polish your completed manuscript until your eyes bleed before you submit it anywhere – and stay determined. Although my journey was relatively quick in publishing terms, it’s not something that can be rushed.
What can you tell us about your upcoming novel Deadly Trust?
Deadly Trust picks up twelve months on from the first in the Jay Ryan series, The Interrogator. No longer a military interrogator, Jay’s recovery is complete and life’s good by the beach – or so he thought. After a couple of ‘near miss’ attempts on his life, coupled with the disappearance of four former colleagues, it’s more than apparent he’s being targeted for something from his past. In typical Jay Ryan style, he turns from the hunted to the hunter in this wild ride along the picturesque eastern coast of Australia. When Jay discovers he is the only one alive with the antibodies to defeat a deadly new strain of anthrax that has caused panic amongst a population apathetic to crime prevention, he enlists the assistance of a woman who appears to operate beyond the law – but can she be trusted? It’s a non-stop thrill-a-minute novel with short chapters designed to let the reader breathe.
You have said that you would like to continue writing novels as part of the same series focused on your main character Jay Ryan. Can you share any specifics about what is next for your fiction writing?
I’m hoping I’m able to continue the Jay Ryan series for a very long time. I think we’ll see the ‘military’ focus on the novels subside and align it more with crime fiction/thrillers. I do have plenty of ideas ‘floating’ around that are stand alone novels and also stories for anthologies. At the very end of Deadly Trust Jay accepts a role that defines where his future is headed. You’ll see what I mean when you reach that point in the book. Enjoy!
Further details on JJ Cooper and his fiction can be found at www.jjcooperauthor.com.
The Australian Literature Review