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An interview with NYTimes Bestselling Author J.S. Cooper

J. S. Cooper was born in London, England and moved to Florida her last year of high school. After completing law school at the University of Iowa (from the sunshine to cold) she moved to Los Angeles to work for a Literacy nonprofit as an Americorp Vista. She then moved to New York to study the History of Education at Columbia University and took a job at a workers rights nonprofit upon graduation.

Last week she had five (five!) titles on the IR (and The New York Times) bestseller list, a record for an author.

Loren Kleinman (LK): Why write about love? Why is it so powerful? Talk about some books that inspired your work?

J. S. Cooper (JSC): This might sound cliché, but love is what makes the world go around. It is the most important emotion in our lives and it shapes everyone. Love from our parents, our friends, our families, our teachers, our partners and the type of love we receive makes a huge impact on the people we become.

I write about love because for all its power, there is no rhyme or reason as to what makes people fall in romantic love. We can’t make people love us and I like dealing with complex emotions. I also like writing about the transformative power love can have on characters.

Growing up I loved to read. There are three books in my life that have really inspired my love of reading, love of writing and trying to touch that spot in a reader. Those books are Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Homecoming by Cynthia Voight and The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. Each book deals with situations, not directly related to romantic love, but ultimately their stories are love stories to the core.

LK: Why write New Adult (NA)? What’s the appeal of angsty literature?

JSC: Anyone that knows me knows that I’m a lover of angst. I always have been. I’m the girl that loves hard and fast. I love New Adult because it really let’s me explore the emotions that come along with that hard broken love. Why do people do what they do? For me, there is always a reason behind the angst and that is what I love to explore.

LK: Let’s talk about your books. Heartbreak can be devastating, and in Heartbreaker, a girl has a job where she breaks men’s hearts for a living. Why break men’s hearts? Why break anyone’s heart for that matter?

JSC: Heartbreaker is a book that hasn’t yet been released. However, the reason behind the book is because she has been broken. When people have been broken by love too many times, they sometimes become jaded, bitter, uncaring. The main character in Heartbreaker wants to hurt like she has been hurt, because she doesn’t believe or trust in guys anymore. The book is about her journey into realizing one bad doesn’t and shouldn’t beget another bad.

LK: How do you represent sex within the text, especially in NA?

JSC: Sex is an act that truly drives relationships. There is plenty of sex without love. There is plenty of sex that is done in the hopes of finding love. The act of sex is about lust, passion, desire, and ultimately love. I try to represent the good, the bad, and the ugly about sex in my books. My characters, just like humans, sometimes have regrets and sometimes jump in too soon. When writing an NA book, I try to not have too much sex as I do not want that to drive the story and I am careful to not make it too graphic.

LK: Are your stories meant to be didactic or just instill a heart flutter among your audience?

JSC: My stories are definitely meant to be didactic. I use every book as an opportunity to teach a lesson or impart some information. For example, in Scarred, I try to impart the message that you can’t allow a negative past to make you a bitter person, in The Last Boyfriend, I have the characters making a documentary on segregation during the Jim Crow years and talk about residential and educational segregation (my background is in history).

LK: Talk about craft in relationship to your writing process. What’s the hardest part? What’s the part where you fly?

JSC: The hardest part about writing for me is trying to make myself write when I’m not in the mood mentally or when my mind is on another idea. I’ve learned that I shouldn’t push myself writing a book when I’m really not feeling it that day.

These days I work on several books at one time and make sure that I am writing the book that is foremost in my mind. And that is when my words fly.

LK: You are originally a Londoner. Do you miss it? How has the sense of place inspired your writing?

JSC: I was born and grew up in London. My formative memories are happy ones and I miss London greatly. I still have family there and I try and go back every year or so. However, I also lived in Guyana, South America for four years as a teenager.

I think that sense of place has inspired my writing because I have been exposed to a lot of great writing from British, American, African and Caribbean authors and have also been able to soak in the different cultures, attitudes and lifestyles from living in and traveling to so many places in the world.

I know firsthand, that while we all have differences, every culture is ultimately guided by the same wants and wishes. The same dreams and goals for themselves and their children. The language of love is universal, but so is the language of fear and poverty, heartbreak and depression. Every human being in the world is subject to the same emotions, unless they are sociopaths, and that common bond is what inspires me when I’m writing.

LK: Respond to this statement: Inspiration is for amateurs.

JSC: At first glance, the statement strikes me as fairly superior in that a real writer, or rather, a seasoned writer doesn’t wait for inspiration to strike, he just writes because he can and always has that ability.

Inspiration is a two-edged sword in my personal opinion. When inspiration strikes, it is like digging and finding gold. I say this because writing when inspired is easy. The words seem to fly onto the page and the fast pumping of your heart as you type only reinforces the fact that you are writing something good, something you are inspired about.

However, if a writer only wrote when inspiration struck then there could be some long periods of time, where no writing is taking place. I believe that writing is about consistency, whether or not you’re feeling inspired by the scene or book you’re writing.

Ultimately, I believe that inspiration has to be a part of the writing process for all writers, but we cannot always wait for inspiration to hit before we put pen to paper.