Cooper West writes across genres, ranging from lighthearted stories to hardcore. She is best known for her novels The Protector and Mixed Signals. In doing her best to keep the novels she writes to end on a happy note, she is rewarded by readers that are excited for each new read.
What got you interested in writing m/m fiction?
I’ve got such an ambiguous answer for that, since I came to it through slash fanfiction. I started with K/S back in the 80s (yes I’m that old) then fell out of fandom for 20 years. When I got back into it, I was shipping Nicholas/Danny from Hot Fuzz and just kept rolling out from there. I had ideas for original fiction, but it wasn’t until my friend Sarah Madison got her excellent work published that I realized I could do it to. I enjoy it so much!
How did you begin your career and how did you grow your fan base to be so humongous?
Well, I guess you could say my “career” started in fanfiction, as there is where I got back in the habit of writing every day and relearning the craft of storytelling. I’m a professional writer, but by way of technical writing and journalism, so storytelling was something I had to work on. Fanfic communities were crucial in supporting the hard work of that — honestly it wasn’t my plan, I was just enjoying writing again, but it really turned out to be an education in writing. So when I moved into getting my original work published, I was lucky that some of my readers followed along. My fan base is far, far from humongous, but it’s healthy and growing and I’m so grateful for that.
What is it like to identify as a cisgendered pansexual? Did you ever encounter someone who judged you on that fact?
As far as my own identity goes, I feel I’m still finding the words — I’m very butch in appearance, but I self-identify as a feminine cisgendered woman. I’m still deciding if I’m really pansexual or if I’m bisexual, and likewise if I’m aromantic or demiromantic. I’m pretty sure I’m polyamorous by inclination, even if my former marriage was monogamous. The triumph of all the hard work of activists for the last 50 years is that I have the opportunity to try to figure that out.
Who is the LAST person you’d want to discover you write m/m fiction and how do you think they’d respond?
Hm. I’m pretty out with friends and family, and even some co-workers. Most of them are just excited for me, so I’m lucky to have such a great support network. Even my direct supervisor knows I write M/M romance. I have a couple of co-workers who might be scandalized, but honestly, if I told anyone I know and they got all judgey about it, I’d turn my back on them. Ain’t got time for that.
What was the inspiration for The Protector, and its idea of bonded pairs where one member is a shifter and the other is the handler?
The Sentinel. Not the TV show, which I’ve never watched, but the trope that fandom created out of the premise and used in dozens if not hundreds of fusions across several fandoms, particularly in Stargate Atlantis fanfic. The Protector is, obviously, not Sentinel fanfic, but the genesis of the idea was the Guide/Sentinel relationship, which I found intriguing. On the other hand I wanted to write “domesticated werewolves” aka weredogs stories, and one day decided to marry the two general concepts. It was so much fun to write!
Why do you think so many women love to read m/m?
Gahhhhh I have read so much meta and analysis about this, and I think there are as many reasons as there are readers. There is certainly the eroticism element, two hot men together, that’s just sexy to a lot of people and you can try to logic that out but sexuality is as sexuality does. There is the power dynamic aspect, where you have to people who are “gender equal” (even if the writer makes them different by dint of race, class, etc.) experiencing romance and love, which I think for a lot of women is an incredibly appealing fantasy. Yes, there are men who treat their girlfriends/wives as equals, but socially it’s still an uphill battle and oh, so far to go. In that sense it’s a great escapist fantasy. A lot of gender role expectation is transformed in liberating ways, for writers and readers who are women. I have taken stories that started out as M/F and switched them to M/M and let me tell you, that involved a hell of a lot more than just changing pronouns, and it also completely altered the story arc.
What was it like to write former skateboarder Art Nichols?
I LOVE ART! Gosh, I love that story so much, I wish it was more popular. I’ll tell you now, I had Callum Keith Rennie in mind when I wrote him, and I just loved the idea of him wandering around his skateboarding empire being all reclusive and bitter. I wrote the story under pressure while finishing my master’s degree, and I think it reflects that — if I were writing it now, it would be twice as long with a lot more of Art being kind of a bastard, with a longer redemption arc. But I still love the story. As for the skateboarding, I know jack about it but my ex-husband was a big BMX freestyle boy and those cultures overlap a lot, so it was easy to tweak it.
What are you currently working?
The next story in the Guardsmen series, which is not about Marcus and Alex although they appear in it. The events that put everything in motion in Alex’s life continue to spiral out, affecting other people. If the series stays popular, that’s what future stories will focus on, how peoples’ lives unexpectedly and traumatically change. I’m also working on my next M/F/M story, a weredragon fantasy yarn.
Tell me about your writing process from idea to finished draft? Do you rewrite to death? Do you outline?
I am a pantser, which means I do not outline. I’m not allowed to go to bed unless I’ve written at least 1,000 words, every day, and I shoot for 3,000 (I rarely hit that, but I aim for it). So what happens is I get an idea/character I love, write a bunch of disconnected scenes out of order then cry tears of blood writing a plot around them. sighhhhh
How long does it typically take you to write a novel?
I have a really misleading answer for that: about a year. The reason that it is misleading is that I tend to write stories in stops and starts. As a pantser, I regularly write myself into corners that I have no idea how to get out of. So I’ll write 10,000 words and then stop and let the story “brew” for a month or two before I can continue. The only way I make actual progress is to have about ten stories in rotation at any one time — when one stalls, I am usually in a place to pick up on another one that had been stagnating. But yeah, the end result is that it takes a while from start to finish.
Do you find that using Tumblr helps you find a new audience for your novels?
Absolutely. I’ve gone to using tumblr as my main social media network. Facebook has been filtering too much for it to be effective for marketing, and twitter is almost hyperactively busy so it’s easy to miss things or get missed in turn. I’m working on building up my email list, but tumblr really is where I spend my energy. It’s a place where both my fandom/fanfic people and my original-fic fans can congregate, where I can talk to both comfortably. Mind you, if something else pops up, I’ll try it out; the social media landscape is constantly shifting.
What advice do you have for those thinking about writing gay romance and what advice do you have for those who are trying to build an audience from scratch?
Hate to be that cliché, but my advice is: WRITE. Write every day, write whatever you want, write a hell of a lot. This is one reason I actually think fanfic is a great practice for writers starting out: you can experiment with ideas and characters, you get immediate feedback that is almost always positive, you are in an environment that expects you to write a lot. As I’ve written elsewhere, it’s not a master class in writing, and you’ll still need to worry about good editing and finding your voice and all of that, but it’s a grand place to start.
As for building an audience from scratch, it’s mostly important to put out product that will draw an audience. One book won’t do it (unless you win the author lottery, which happens, but you can’t bank on it). Spend time on your social media network every day and blog regularly, sure, but whatever you do, WRITE MORE. Give your audience something to talk to you about, something to chase you down for. I’m just now getting to that tipping point, and it’s taken three books plus short stories.