1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
Barb’s answer: I’m Barb Lien-Cooper. My writing partner is my husband, Park Cooper, an English professor.
As for how I got into writing: as a child I was always daydreaming, writing stories in my head. Later, for a while, I was a singer-songwriter in Minneapolis, but just as I was starting to get somewhere, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, so that dream died a sad, lonely little death. Then I got into comics and graphic novels. There was one comic I loved more than any other, named Hellblazer. I read that series and said “I want to write that character so badly…” There I was, just some punk gal, thinking I would be allowed to write a major character like John Constantine! In retrospect, what was I thinking? But, that desire led me into writing for a women-in-comics site that I co-founded that they named Sequential Tart.
I had nibbles here and there concerning writing comics, but not a lot panned out. After a while, I said “I don’t really want to write someone else’s characters, I want to write my own characters,” so I wrote a webcomic called Gun Street Girl with artist Ryan Howe. I also did a graphic novel called Half Dead with my husband and artist, Jimmy Bott. I did a one-year stint as the managing editor of the award-winning magazine Comic Book Artist (one of the awards was for the time I was working there), and then I got a job in manga as a manga adapter for Tokyopop and Viz. After the manga boom went bust, I started writing prose, which eventually led to writing novels.
Park’s answer: I wrote a thing in 9th grade about how I’d like to be a writer– a science-fiction writer, specifically, as I recall. I wrote things now and then, just a little, in high school and especially college, small things, just because it was something I felt I had to do now and then, but I didn’t really take it seriously as something I should do until I met Barb. Even then, I started just editing her stuff– if she needed a monster described, or a fight scene, I’d write that for the artist… and I slowly started doing more and more until finally, by the time she was writing prose stories, I was basically co-writing stuff with her, and then I started writing some projects myself, too, like my cyberpunk comic Swipe and some prose novels.
2) What inspired you to write your book?
Barb’s answer: Well, I have loved world mythology since I was around eight years old. I also developed an interest in comparative religions around that time. I was a weird kid, let me tell you. A little later, I developed an interest in supernatural literature, which led to a love for the horror genre, particularly quiet horror, and folk horror. I have a great fondness for horror films, especially foreign horror such as Asian horror films like R-Point and A Tale of Two Sisters, horror from Mexico such as Carlos Enrique Taboada’s films, and Giallo films such as Deep Red, Lisa and the Devil, and The Psychic. From those films, I realized that horror and urban fantasy could be the most imaginative genres because anything could happen in them.
When my webcomic Gun Street Girl couldn’t find a publisher, it distressed me quite a bit. I was told that it was “excellent” but publishers just “couldn’t take a risk” (possibly because the lead character was a lesbian??). So, when Ryan and I started pursuing separate career paths, I had a ton of excellent GSG stories just sitting there. Since I couldn’t in good conscience ask my artist to continue on with the series, I thought that maybe some of the plots might work better as prose. I mulled over the stories a lot, then said: “Hey, what if I had a supernatural investigator go to a psychiatrist about his problems, and have his therapy sessions be his caseload and his past cases?”
From there, I had to really think about my world-building, who my characters would be, etc. After I got into the groove, I realized that I had a lot more story ideas than just my old GSG scripts, so I kept writing until I had a series of books.
3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
Barb’s answer: I am not a writer with any kind of agenda except entertaining my readership. Having said that, I guess there are two themes in my book that I hope readers will pick up on:
1/ World mythology is wonderful. It’s always entertained me. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.
2/ Writers don’t have to use the same genre tropes over and over again. We can make new tropes. We can subvert the cliches of the genre. We live in a postmodern age. We can do anything now, as long as we use our imaginations to entertain our readership.
Park’s answer: Since The Talking Cure is a novel of magic and psychiatry, I will add, actually, that there is a message that I hope readers take away from reading it, which is that mental illness isn’t anything to be ashamed of– that sometimes people have emotional problems or other kinds of problems, and that it’s good to talk to professionals about it and seek help from other people. Sometimes these problems have a medical basis involving brain chemistry, and sometimes they don’t, but it doesn’t matter– there’s an old stigma about reaching out for help, and since the world is creating more and more situations to give us emotional problems, it’s past time to get rid of the stigma.
4) What drew you into this particular genre?
Barb’s answer: Well, as I said, I’ve loved horror and dark/urban fantasy all of my life. But as for being attracted to writing in these genres, it comes down to the freedom I find in writing supernatural literature. Unlike in other genres like mystery and science fiction, I am not bound by sciences like physics or forensics. I make the rules of my world building. I always say that if a writer writes characters that the readers care about, in fantasy, you can take the characters anywhere and have them do anything, and the audience will be there with the characters…as long as they act in character. A lot of viewers hated the end of Game of Thrones because a certain character had to act out of character to move the plot forward, for instance. I always say that if a character has to act out of character to advance a plot, change the plot, not the character.
Park’s answer: I started reading at a ridiculously young age, and found it more engaging than the real world, so I guess it’s just what I grew up with, in books, comic books, and television and movies– when I was a kid someone gave me a video tape with three movies on it: Tron, Time Bandits, and Disney’s original Alice in Wonderland. This was before there was a Blockbuster in our town, so I watched those over and over… and then when you could rent movies, I went for more sci-fi and fantasy…
5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?
Barb’s answer: Fitzgerald once said that he wrote because he wanted to know what he felt about this subject or that. Well, I write to find out what my characters think, feel, and do. My stories are me sitting down with my characters and asking them questions, really. Oh, I’d love to sit down with my supernatural investigator, Zach Cutter, and just let him talk about his caseload. But I can’t do that– another story would pop up instead, and then I’d have to write it.
6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?
Barb’s answer: We’ll see once the work gets out there. Promoting our work is a whole new world for me.
7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
Barb’s answer: John Cage said, “Begin Anywhere.” To me, that means, don’t wait until you have the time to write a thousand words a day, every day. It means, write when you can and however you can, then build from there.
I will tell those just starting out: please don’t despair if your first story isn’t very good. Writing is a skill. It takes time to learn. That first story of yours is no indication of who you may become as a writer. The truth is that most writers’ early stories are mediocre at best. You’ll get better at it if you keep going.
Park’s answer: Barb has thought about this question far more over the years than have I, so I feel there’s nothing I can add as far as “just starting” authors. But for “aspiring” authors– people who want to start writing, but know they’re not there yet– my advice is to practice writing by writing down what happens to you every day. Specifically, don’t just write down what happened to you every day, or it’ll get like “ate, worked, ate, slept, ate, worked, ate, watched TV, slept.” Instead, write down how you FEEL about what happened that day, and why. Use complete sentences and paragraphs. That’ll start getting you practice that you need.
8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?
Barb’s answer: I don’t know what the future holds for me personally, but there are other volumes in the Cutter and Mann series that will come out in the months and years to come. I also have some comic book projects that I hope come to life in terms of publishing. Finally, I have a paranormal novel called Song to the Siren that we plan to get out there before the end of the year.
About the Authors
Barb is originally from Minnesota. She was a radio DJ for a while in college, and then she grew up to become a guitarist/singer-songwriter and got an album put out on the Imp label. However, she also had health issues: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and fibromyalgia and extreme environmental sensitivities and allergies. (She also has Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder due to issues involving her family of origin.)
For a while, brain fog from the CFS and the fibro made it harder for her to read long and involved works of fiction… So (since she’d always loved them in her childhood) she got into reading comics and graphic novels, particularly the comparatively avant-garde work coming out at that time from DC Comics.
Now we pop over to Park, in central Texas. Like Barb, Park also read comics (and a LOT of books) in his youth as well (a lot more sci-fi and fantasy books than Barb, and a lot more Marvel comics than Barb). Then he started college and said “I need an extra hobby or something. Maybe I’ll get back into comics again.” He started doing so, including reading the comparatively avant-garde work coming out at that time from DC Comics…
Then someone in the letter columns of the comic Sandman announced that they were doing a fanzine for readers of that comic. Barb and Park both wrote in.
Barb and Park became aware of one another… Park liked the writing Barb submitted to the fanzine, and he wrote to Barb, and they began writing to each other. Then they started talking on the phone… they fell in love… they started visiting one another…
Reader, they got married (to each other).
Barb wrote for the award-winning website Sequential Tart, made by women about comics and other popular culture things, and Barb wrote a lot of reviews and articles (especially articles)
Park and Barb had a column online for a now-defunct website entitled The Park and Barb show (about the same sorts of things) for 12 years…
A little after they started those things, Barb started writing her comic Gun Street Girl…
A little after that, they started adapting and editing manga for major American publishers importing manga (and sometimes their South Korean and Chinese counterparts) from the far side of the Pacific. Honestly, there were too many to keep track of… lots and lots of titles. Near the end of this, Barb and Park wrote the manga pitch The Hidden for TokyoPop, perfectly timed to appear the week that that company fell apart.
Then Barb and Park wrote the sci-fi vampire graphic novel Half Dead.
Somewhere around this time, Park successfully completed his Ph.D. in literature, and then Barb and Park wrote the vampire prose novel Something More Than Blood.
Eventually Park started writing his cyberpunk comic Swipe for Angry Viking Press.
(You can read more about all of the above projects elsewhere on this website!)
There were also other various short stories (and a novel, in one case) and non-manga-related editing jobs, too many to bother counting here…
These days, Barb and Park live happily together in Austin, Texas.