An Interview With Godmaker Paul Cooley

Hello again, everyone! I know it’s been awhile, and I’ve missed you all very much, but I have a treat. This is an interview episode, people, and one that will knock your socks off. While he did get a BA in English and Theatre from Colorado State, he works as a software architect until he can write to work instead of work to write. Eschewing the commonly used effluvia of Microsoft as much as possible, he is a breathless advocate of open-source software, indeed doing all his writing in Emacs and creating his own app for writers everywhere, appropriately called MyWrite (a rather nifty tool, I must say).

When not cursing vehemently against the undeserved monopoly of Windows, he is usually found hunched over his keyboard, bringing to a macabre either semi- or short-spanned existence characters who meet gruesome and horribly delightful ends at the hands of the god Garaaga and/or his children. I’ve had the privilege of speaking to him on occasion on Facebook, getting ideas here and there about some of the things I can do with the Chronicles (which I promise I’m still working on, and I sure hope you all are ready for some shake-ups in the next two books). However, this guy has a more Lovecraftian bent, writing some incredibly detailed and wonderfully twisted stories about an uncaring god who foists half-human progeny upon an unsuspecting mortal society. And yes, said unsuspecting mortal society is completely screwed.

Of course, in his ever-present copious free time, he can also be found with Messrs. Terry Mixon and Justin Macumber, espousing the ideas that go with writing, from inspiration to critique to completion to everything in between on the Dead Robots Society podcast, available on iTunes. I’ve been an avid listener and if you haven’t taken a listen, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Ladies, gentlemen, and vedderbong, it gives me great pleasure to introduce the god of Garaaga, Paul Cooley.

 

Thanks for taking a few minutes for stopping by, Paul. I know you’re a busy guy, so this is just really awesome you’d do this. I won’t take too much of your time, I promise.

Thanks for the opportunity, mate.

1. I won’t ask the usual cliché question of where you get your ideas; I’m sure you get asked that incessantly. A better question would be why do you get your ideas, meaning what made you decide to create this idea of a god and its half-deity children causing such mayhem by their mere existence?

 

Actually, it was a rather happy accident. I was listening to an episode of Pseudopod one evening and it was boring the crap out of me. But I heard a voice starting to talk over. “Do you want to know about your father, little one?” It kept talking. I listened.

 

Garaaga was born in the modern age for me, shortly before I wrote Canvas. Once “The Things I Do For Love” was written (not yet published for my readers/listeners), I fell in love with the main character. But then I wanted to find out about this Garaaga thing. Once Closet Treats was finished, I got an idea on how to bring Garaaga and this character into my modern stories. But to make that happen, I had to go back to the beginning of civilization.

 

The idea that gods, angels, demons, and etc live among us is hardly a new one—it’s much older than the written word. But based on a few words in the Old Testament, I decided to do something crazy—create a god, create a mythology, create nephilim, and create legends. Since I like to write relatively short books, it provided the perfect means to write tales that spanned great periods of time.

 

I enjoy putting my characters into time periods I want to study. By setting things up in Mesopotamia and down through the Roman Empire, I can freely explore the interaction between today’s three major religions and those of old. So part of it is social commentary on my thoughts about the historical periods and how they relate to today. Another part is that it’s just damned fun.

 

Garaaga, like most of my stories, are born of happy accidents. And I’m lucky to have them.

 

2.  H.P. Lovecraft seems to be a slight influence in your works, at least the Cthulhu mythos, even though you took Garaaga in a totally different direction. What have been some other influences in your work, either ones that made it on the page or are still twirling in your head?

 

I know a lot of Lovecraft mythology, and it interests me to a certain degree, but it was far too nebulous. Garaaga wasn’t really knowingly influenced by those stories.

 

Other influences? Wow. Um, terrible horror movies, great books, and a love for literature. “Canvas,” for instance, was influenced by a single scene in the film “Event Horizon.” Tattoo was borne from a story one of my readers related to me. Closet Treats was kicked off by a creepy ice cream truck in my neighborhood. Well, that and my love of mental illness.

 

I guess I mainly find characters that need to have their stories told. Their dysfunction, their terrors, their difficulties in living daily life, not to mention the terrible things I do to them, fascinate me. So if I find an interesting voice, I construct a story for them. And then, hopefully, they start talking and the story goes where it needs to go.

 

3. Of course, people should go out and get all the Garaaga books and stories to find out for themselves, but for those who are still teetering on the fence, what is Garaaga?

Oh, dear. Hmm… Garaaga is a deity. Does it exist in this dimension? Dunno. Does it interact directly with the world? Not exactly. I like to think Garaaga is more of a force that influences the world. The book American Gods gave me the idea that gods only exist so long as people believe in them. The more worshipers, the stronger they become. But Garaaga is a bit different than most of the others running around.

 

Garaaga is a god of fertility, violence, and mischief. Its children subsist on human emotions, primarily sexual ones, and its worshipers…well, we’ll find out more about them. In fact, the hardcover, Garaaga’s Children: Ancients includes a story about them in the modern age. It’s the first of many that are going to be released over the next year or two.

 

I think Garaaga is actually the least intriguing part of the stories. Like most gods, it has better things to do than mess around too much with humanity. Instead, it would rather let its worshipers and children wreck the place.

 

4.  Reading through Legends, the first of the Garaaga’s Children stories, I noticed you also gave a bit of a history/anthropology lesson to the readers, which I appreciated. How much research do you generally do for a story, and do you sacrifice historical accuracy for story (excepting the whole “god and progeny” stuff)? If so, do you think that such sacrifice is necessary for the sake of the story and why?

 

I try and do a lot of research for these stories. One of the issues with the Ancients volume is so much of history is missing. Even for Scrolls, which takes place during Egyptian Ptolemic War in 48 BCE, required me to make leaps and decisions that could be historically accurate, but in no way are. If I can’t find facts, I make them up. I’ve never pretended otherwise.

With Ama, I had to make some changes to geography AND history. Why? Because it made a better story. I did, of course, include an author’s note to that effect. I wanted to place the story in Ur, which was NOT the seat of power at that time. I moved the ziggurat closer to Ur than it actually was. And I changed some terms to best suit the tale.

In short, yeah, it’s important to be as factual as you can. But I’m not writing historical fiction. I’m writing historical fantasy. I’ve got these nephilim running around. How historically accurate can it be?

For the next series of stories, that start during the First Crusade, I’m going to triple down on the research. I’m reading several books on the subject and my intention is to educate as much as entertain. It’s going to be crazy. Don’t know about the Torah? You will. Don’t much about the beginnings of Islam and Quran? Well, you’re gonna. Don’t know about the multiple popes during that time? Hah. You will. But they’re the backdrop, not the reason for the story. Regardless of how historically accurate your story is, it has to first be a good story with great characters. That’s my main focus. History is the setting, not the point.

5.  Not only are you a creator of a god, you’re also a creator of chilling tales involving, of all things, an ice cream man, tattoos, and artwork. In fact, you were nominated for the 2011 Parsec award for Best Novel for Closet Treats. Your works are both horrifying and tantalizing, and show a darker side of the world, and people keep coming back for more. Why do you think people like having the hell scared out of them?

I’m not exactly sure. I think most people live in a bathysphere of the banal. We wake up. Have breakfast. Drive in rush hour traffic. Go to work for 8-11 hours, come home, and feel like we’ve done nothing. There’s been no challenge. No danger. No excitement.

Scary tales have probably been around as long as human language. We tell our children fairy tales that are bare steps away from horror stories. In some cases, they are parables that teach us ethical lessons. Others merely tantalize or exploit our deepest fears.

I write stories that sometimes scare the hell out of me. They are borne of nightmares or natural fears. I read stories that are doubtless influenced by the same. As to why people enjoy them? I think when we’re at our lowest points, it’s always fun to read/watch/listen to tales about folks in much worse situations we are in our mundane lives.

But, of course, I could be completely wrong. Maybe we’re just a sick race that deserves extinction. Hmm… No, that would further deplete my readership. Let’s not go there.

6.  With Garaaga’s Children: Ancients dropping this month in ebook form, audiobook form in June, and limited edition hardcover in August (Congratulations, by the way), you’re definitely going all out. What do you find has been your biggest inspiration, in general, to write? Not necessarily Garaaga or Closet Treats, but just writing in general.

The voices. The images. The everyday stuff that should seem mundane but for some reason kicks off a story. I probably sound mentally ill when I say stuff about “the voices,” but we all hear them. I think I just listen and let them go on. When I write, I’m reading the story just like my readers will later. I rarely know all the bumps in the road for a particular plot—those details only reveal themselves when I’m banging on the keyboard. I might have an idea of beginning, just an ending, or only a single scene, but the large body of the tale doesn’t exist in my mind until I write it.

I want to find out what happens to these characters. And the only way to do that is to write the tale. The sharing with others is simply a bonus. It’s fun to create. I think it’s therapeutic to explore your darkest fears, your greatest hopes, and then bring them into conflict. Sometimes I want to read a story no one has written. Well, if that happens, then I have to write it.

7. Moving away from the writing for a moment, how did you get mixed up with the likes of Justin Macumber and Terry Mixon to round out the table at the Dead Robots Society podcast?

Those damned guys… Terry and Justin contacted after Elyana announced she’d be leaving the show. Terry suggested they bring me on because he thought I occasionally had intelligent things to say. Not sure where the hell he got that idea.

Justin just likes to have another Spinal Tap drummer he can execute at will. So I fit that description. I respect the hell out of both of them. It’s really interesting that the three of us write very different material and are each exploring the publishing world in different ways. The dissonance between our opinions, experience, and interests makes for a very good time and occasionally we actually do give out some great advice. In other words, I’m damned happy they chose me regardless of the actual reasons. I still think Justin just likes to torture me.

8. Your followers, or “fiends”, as you and they call themselves, are an amazing and interesting group of people. When they started following you on Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media, what was your reaction to finding out that you actually had a following, and that people were excited to find out just what was going to happen next in the world not only Garaaga, but Paul Cooley?

It’s been a strange journey and, strangely enough, I think if I started today, I wouldn’t have nearly the following. When I first began podcasting and interacting with social media, it was the hey-day of podiobooks.com and folks were putting out badass books every week. I was just an also-ran to a certain extent, but because I spent the time interacting with folks, asking questions, and commenting on other authors’ work, people started paying attention to me. It was slow and took quite a while.

Once Tattoo was put out there, and Scott Sigler kindly mentioned it several times during the “Contagious” podcast run, listeners started to listen to my stories. By and large, the result was they listened to the rest of them. That’s kind of how building an audience works—put out something great, and folks will come back to the well to see if the water is still sweet.

The Fiendlings are a great and diverse group of people. These are folks that send me whiskey, tobacco, glassware, and etc to show appreciation. They float my bar tab at cons, pay for dinners, and even contribute money to offset my hosting costs. Not only do they engage in those activities, THEY BUY BOOKS! I have the best group of patrons I could possibly hope for. And even though I’m probably never going to be an NYT Bestselling author or a household name, I feel lucky to know these people.

They like my stories. And I like to write them. If not for the podcast, and the constant WHINING of my patrons for more material, I probably wouldn’t write as much as I do. So Garaaga has blessed me and I plan on using the talent I have to entertain them.

9. When you get the chance to sit down and do something besides edit your own work or deal with your day job, what are you reading? Here’s the chance for the Paul Cooley summer reading list!

Wow. Um… Hmm… Reading… I remember those days…

 

Here’s a list of my fave books:

The Plague by Albert Camus

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

The Dresden Files by James Butcher

Needful Things by Stephen King

Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver

 

Those are all I can think of at the moment. Presently I’m beta-reading Justin Macumber’s forthcoming book.

10. Final question: For those who are trying to break into the writing for fun and semi-profit, what do you recommend besides writing the best story you can and editing it until it’s coherent? Interestingly, the creative side of the equation is the “easiest” part. What do you recommend doing as far as advertising, getting the word out, the business side of writing?

Ah, the business side. I wish I was better at it. I kind of suck at marketing, but in my opinion, here are the most important parts. Especially if you’re going indie.

First off, editors are not there to polish a turd. They exist to help you smooth out the rough patches and perhaps find inconsistencies or poor word choice. They do NOT exist as a substitute for at least using a spell-checker, let alone an actual dictionary. If you think your story is ready to be published, you’re wrong unless someone else has read it, someone you can trust to tell you the truth, and you’ve put it away for a while. Do what professional authors do– go write something else. Then come back and give your tale another inspection. You’ll be shocked at what you’ll find wrong. I still go back and read portions of my books and cringe in embarassment.

I bring all this up, because producing a “professional” product is the goal. Regardless of whether you’re submitting to a publishing company, agent, or you’re going the indie route, you need to think of this AS a business. Run it like one. Otherwise, you’ll put out mediocre material that will hardly get a second glance.

In addition, get educated. We talk on DRS all the time about what it takes to publish something. You need to know the dysfunctional business from soup to nuts. Just because “a” publisher wants your work, it doesn’t mean they’re the best home for it. Find that home lest you become very disillusioned (says the indie author).

RISK! I don’t believe in writing to the “market.” For horror, the 80s were supernatural, the 90s had serial killers, the 2ks had those goddamned sparkly things and zombies. I postulate we’re on the precipice of a major shift in horror. I think we’re do for another journey into the supernatural.

Guess what I’m trying to say is that I wrote Closet Treats because it needed to be written, loved, and experienced. I didn’t write it to match the vampire or zombie epidemic. Is it a blockbuster seller? Hell no. But it could be. Maybe in five years or so when the market is on another jag through the supernatural and “mundane” monsters, it will catch on.

But if the story is great, you might end up breaking through the layers of “fad” and rise to the top. For now. But how many readers will come back and read your next story after the fad dies? I mean, how many zombie/vampire books can you read before they all start to blend together?

Write the story you want to write, the one that needs to be told. And along with that, come up with a marketing plan for that story. Whether you create audio/video trailers for your book, work with a cover artist to come up with a badass design for your cover, or spread your wings and try and get on as many podcasts, radio shows, guest blogs, and etc, you must have a plan.

The sad truth of the publishing business is that publishers expect authors to take care of much of the marketing. They may give you a budget for book tours or whatever, but you’re the person that knows your book the best. And while they might believe in your work, that doesn’t at all guarantee they will carry through on the actual marketing bits. Don’t believe me? Check out NYT Bestselling Author Scott Sigler’s experience with Crown. They’ve dropped the ball on four of his books and will no doubt drop it on the last book in his contract.

As I said before, get educated. Just because a big publisher picks you up doesn’t mean you’re going to be a success. A lot of good books fall through the cracks. They always have. So do your homework, treat this like a profession, and prepare yourself for a hard road ahead. It’s worth it, but it takes a lot of will to keep going.

One of my friends has a mantra she constantly tells me: Just. Keep. Writing. Learn it. Believe it. Live it.

Once again, Paul, I want to thank you for coming by and giving some author’s insight to both me and my readers. It’s been an absolute pleasure, and I’m looking forward to Ancients and seeing where you’re going with this. Also, Ama is going to be awesome. I’ve heard you talk it up, and I’m sure it’s going to be amazing.

And for those wanting to get caught up on Paul’s work, you can go to his site, Shadow Publications, to buy his books and place a pre-order for Garaaga’s Children: Ancients. You can also show your fiendness by checking out his Facebook page Paul Cooley, and of course at one of the best podcasts on the whole internet, The Dead Robots Society Podcast.

Thank you all for stopping by, and I will do my best to get some more interviews and stories going on the blog. Have a great week!

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~ by Walker on May 23, 2013.

One Response to “An Interview With Godmaker Paul Cooley”

  1. […] with this missive by letting you all know just who Paul Cooley is. Some of you may remember the Ten Questions I did with him many moons ago, and hopefully have checked out his amazing stories about Garaaga and his children. I’ve been […]

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