Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Interview with 'Bad Taste in Men' Lana Cooper

Lana Cooper was born and raised in Scranton, PA and currently resides in Philadelphia. A graduate of Temple University, she doesn't usually talk about herself in the first person, but makes an exception when writing an author bio. Cooper has written extensively on a variety of pop culture topics and has been a critic for such sites as PopMatters and Ghouls On Film. She's also written news stories for EDGE Media, a leading nationwide network devoted to LGBT news and issues. Cooper enjoys spending time with her family, reading comic books, books with lots of words and no pictures, and avoiding eye-contact with strangers on public transportation. "Bad Taste In Men" is her first full-length novel.

Her latest book is the humorous nonfiction, Bad Taste in Men.

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Q: Thank you for this interview. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing background?

Thank YOU for interviewing me! Ever since I was a kid, I loved writing. When I was in elementary school, I would write short stories and "screenplays" with characters based on
my favorite cartoons. I was obsessed with television shows and had a huge binder full of TV show recaps I wrote. Just for kicks, I'd write about plotlines and character development in great detail for shows like The Golden Girls, Married… With Children, and Gilligan's Island. On one hand, it spoke volumes about my rank on the elementary school social ladder. But on the other hand, I was ahead of my time and recapping before recapping was "a thing."

During high school, I wrote my share of not-too-shabby short stories and some bad poetry and lyrics. After college, I let my writing fall by the wayside until 2006. I was pretty entrenched in a day job that wasn't exactly giving me a creative outlet. Like many a 9 to 5-er, I developed a combination of complacency and Stockholm Syndrome, which pretty much dampened my creative spark.

I got a hard wakeup call in 2005 after my mother passed away. She had been an English teacher and was always supportive of me honing my talents. After she passed, I felt pretty directionless. Somehow, I decided that I needed more direction… And a tattoo. I decided I wanted a small, colorful bat since bats have internal radar to navigate through the darkness. Sounded like what I needed. While I was in the chair getting my tattoo, I had a great conversation with my artist. He told me, point blank, that I needed to get up off my ass and start writing.

It was as simple as that. I began combing Craigslist and other websites for writing opportunities. Within that first year, I kept my day job and began a career as a freelancer on the side. I ended up writing a syndicated professional wrestling column, recapping TV shows for a website (it all comes full circle, eh?), and became a music and pop culture critic for – a site I still contribute to today.  Later on, I branched out into freelance journalism and had a chance to interview several musicians, sports figures, and activists. Freelancing eventually led me to my current job as a copywriter / editor with a digital marketing firm here in Philly.

It's been a long and winding road. There were some times in my life where it seems I "lost the plot," but it always circles back to writing for me. I love playing with the written word. It doesn't matter if it's ad copy, reviewing someone else's art, or creating new stories and characters of my own. It's something I really love doing and I kick myself for those years where I did more dreaming than doing.

Q: What fact about yourself would really surprise people?

I'm actually a lot nicer and friendlier than I appear on the surface. I think sometimes people see a girl with long black hair and a few tattoos and automatically assume I have an edge. In reality, I love meeting new people and hearing their stories – where they came from, what they love. I'm the type of person who can get very attached to people. I just want to take them all under my wing, buy them coffee, chat and help them out with whatever I can. I know life has a tendency to throw people curveballs, so if I can help them swing back and give 'em a few pointers, that's cool. I try to be a little bit more reserved with that since I've gotten burned a few times in that department, but I really do like people a lot more than I let on.

Q: What scares you the most?

Utter and abject failure. A little failure is good for the soul. No one ever learned anything from winning all the time. But when it's a failure so epic and monumental that makes you feel like you can't do anything right, that's a dark, scary feeling.

Q: What makes you happiest?

Hanging out with my family and friends and doing nothing in particular besides having a good laugh.

Q: What are you most proud of in your personal life?

That I got as far as I have in life without being fake or kissing ass. When I was a kid, my mother always told me, "You have to play the game" and appear a certain way to people in order to get ahead. While she was always very supportive of my creative pursuits, this was one area where she and I butted heads.

It never felt right to me to try to put on a false front just to get my foot in the door someplace. If you do that, people will eventually find you out. I'd rather be myself and have people not like me for whatever reason than to pretend to be someone else and be found out later.

I'm not saying that you should go into a job interview wearing a Slayer t-shirt and then proceed to fart and belch your way through your resume. There are certain professional courtesies you need to adhere to. Everyone deserves to be shown respect. You gotta dress the part for the job you want, but you should never fudge your credentials or claim to like something you really don't care for. Always be yourself. Otherwise, you'll just be miserable.

Q: What is hardest – getting published, writing or marketing?

Marketing! The self-publishing revolution has made it a little easier to get published than the traditional route, but if you're going down the self-publishing path, you've got to be prepared to be your own merciless editor and proofreader. However, even if you are a traditionally published author or self-published, there's a lot more required of authors from a marketing perspective than you'd think. It's not always easy to take off your creative writer hat and get in the mindset of speaking to specific readership demographics or figuring out a way to align your book with what's currently popular on the literary landscape. Marketing is definitely the hardest part.

Q: Every writer has their own idea of what a successful career in writing is, what does success in writing look like to you? 

To me, success in writing would mean being able to wake up and have the luxury of sitting down at my computer to create for a solid eight hours.  I'd love to have a fan base – small, large, somewhere in between – that enjoys what I write and gets something positive out of it. I'd define success as being able to write safe in the knowledge that I can keep a roof over my head and still have a little left over to put in the bank or share with family and friends.  I don't live extravagantly. My main vices are yerba mate, comic books, and binge-watching Netflix. I grew up in a household where, if you made $40k a year, you were filthy, stinkin' rich. If I could net $40k a year and do nothing but write, I'm down with that. Who needs a 401k or retirement fund when you love what you do? Hell, most of my generation will probably wind up eating cat food anyway, so you may as well chow down on Fancy Feast while you're doing something you enjoy.

Q: Tell us about your new book? What’s it about and why did you write it?

My new book is called Bad Taste In Men. It's a coming of age novel told from the perspective of a geeky, awkward female metalhead who's more of a tomboy than a girly-girl. The story follows a girl named Nova Porter through her pre-teen years through young adulthood and her attempts at getting dudes to dig her – often with disastrous results. Pope Francis would have an easier time scoring a date than Nova Porter.
The bulk of the story is set in the mid-'90s, but the themes and events of the novel are something that just about anyone from any generation can relate to. Almost everyone has dealt with unrequited love or has felt rejected or awkward at some point in their lives.
I wrote the novel because I felt that there weren't many books for those rough-and-tumble chicks with a crude sense of humor who still had a soft side. I came of age in the '90s and that era is experiencing a nostalgic renaissance right now. It's a throwback what life in the '90s was really like for the teens that couldn't identify with the 90210 scene. (And it's a great way to show these young whippersnappers today how you had to stalk your high school crush without the benefit of cell phones and social media!)

Q: When you are not writing, how do you relax?

I love to hang out with family and friends. And I like to curl up with a nice cup of tea, snuggle with my favorite stuffed animal (don't judge me, man!), and mainline TV shows and old movies on Netflix. I love reading, too.

Q: Please tell us why we should read your book?

Bad Taste In Men is a good read for people who grew up in the '90s and want to relive – and laugh at – some of the awkward moments from their own teen years. It's also a good read for teens and young adults who are currently going through their own dating disasters or who feel like they don't fit in. Sometimes, it's reassuring to hear another voice (even if it's in the form of a fictional character) echo your own sentiments and make you realize that "Hey! Maybe there's nothing wrong with me after all." The book has a good degree of snarky humor, but it's also got a lot of heart and genuinely emotional moments, too.

Q: What kind of advice would you give other authors just getting their feet wet?

Don't be afraid of rejection. Sure, those first few rejection letters might sting, but keep creating and keep going out there swinging. Some of the best writers have been rejected. Very often, it's a matter of being the guy or gal who hangs in there the longest. If you stick around long enough and keep trying, you not only get better at writing, but you increase the odds of someone discovering your work. And if you keep getting rejected, find a way to create new opportunities for yourself. Never give up!

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