"New Worlds Are Our Oyster."
Deborah Cooke has always been fascinated with dragons, although she has never understood why they have to be the bad guys. She has an honors degree in history, with a focus on medieval studies. She is an avid reader of medieval vernacular literature, fairy tales and fantasy novels, and has written over thirty romance novels under the names Claire Cross and Claire Delacroix.
Deborah makes her home in Canada with her husband. When she isn't writing, she can be found knitting, sewing or hunting for vintage patterns.
An Interview with Deborah Cooke
PNR: Can you tell us a little about how you started writing; was it something you have always wanted to do?
Deborah C.: I always wrote stories. When I was a kid, though, I was persuaded that real people didn’t become writers – they got jobs. So, I did a lot of different jobs and didn’t like any of them as much as I liked writing stories. I still made up stories at work. Finally, I decided to start writing my stories, just to see if I could actually write a book. It was a personal challenge. I soon realized that all of my stories were love stories, or focused on love, so I focused on writing romance. I wrote three different romances, revising and submitting them regularly until one of them sold. It was the historical romance – ROMANCE OF THE ROSE – that sold first and it sold to Harlequin Historicals, so after that I wrote more historicals. The other two manuscripts, which were contemporaries, never did sell - that’s probably a good thing!
PNR: Are you able to write as much as you would like? Could you tell us about your writing schedule? What do you enjoy doing when not writing?
Deborah C.: I write full time and have been doing that for about 15 years. I love writing stories and I love working at home as well as being self-employed. I write from Monday to Friday, for two three-hour stretches a day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I’m a morning person, so tend to write new work in the morning and edit in the afternoons. I usually get some exercise at lunch. I’ll often write for a half day on the weekends when I’m writing the last third of the book or when I’m just enjoying the ride – it helps to keep the story at the fore of my thoughts in those times. I have a zillion ideas – more or less – and sometimes I wish I could clone myself so I could write more than four books a year. That’s not likely to happen anytime soon, though.
When I’m not writing, I’m usually thinking about my stories! I do a lot of needlework – somehow playing with the colours and texture helps me come up with solutions to plot problems and questions. I sew and quilt, knit and bead. Right now, knitting is my passion.
PNR: Most writers are avid readers, is this true for you? What titles would we see in your TBR pile?
Deborah C.: I read a lot but I’m a fickle reader. It’s not common for me to read more than one book by any author – there are so many books and so many authors that I want to sample them all! I like anthologies for that reason and short stories. There are some authors whose short stories I prefer over their novels – Neil Gaiman, Patricia Highsmith and Angela Carter would be good examples of that. I wander all over the bookstore too and will read pretty much any genre or author once. I also read a lot of non-fiction – I like encyclopedias and dictionaries, for example.
Right now, I’m reading THE THIRTEENTH TALE and really enjoying it. It’s making me want to reread a lot of classic 19th century books – like JANE EYRE and WUTHERING HEIGHTS – as well as 20th century Gothics. Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney will be back in my TBR soon. I was on a mystery binge last month and there’s still some Donna Leon and Minette Walters in my TBR pile. Then there’s the usual stacks of books that appear (from publishers, conferences, friends) and which I know nothing about. Those are always intriguing and full of surprises.
PNR: What are the greatest challenges to you as an author?
Deborah C.: Writing is never the challenge for me - or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I love it so much that I embrace its challenges. I like learning craft and refining my skills, exploring different kinds of stories and different structures. The business of writing, though, can be very challenging, as publishing is not always about the book itself. It’s one of those things, though, that you learn to work with.
PNR: What do you feel are the essential elements of a great story?
Deborah C.: A good story must have a compelling protagonist – and in a romance, there must be two compelling characters. This protagonist doesn’t have to be either good or bad morally, just interesting – and that usually means conflicted internally. There has to be a genuine external conflict facing this protagonist, one that can’t be easily resolved. I dislike books in which the character doesn’t undergo a transformation of some kind in order to resolve the conflict. I like active protagonists who take risks – those are the books with satisfying endings. I also like stories written in an engaging voice – I want the author to have a charm and character of his/her own, as well as the skill to lead me on a vicarious adventure.
PNR: You have been very successful writing fantasy and historical romance as Claire Delacroix and contemporary and time travel romance as Claire Cross. What influenced your decision to use a pseudonym for your Dragonfire series?
Deborah C.: Essentially, the new name is a branding tool, to let readers know that this is different work from me – and Dragonfire is very different from what I’ve published in the past. It has a lot in common with my books that haven’t been published or my proposals that never sold, but that’s invisible to readers. I like the idea of indicating to readers that the work is different, because there’s nothing that annoys me more than spending my money on a book that isn’t what I expected it to be. At the same time, I’m not interested in hiding my identity, or pretending to be a brand new debut author.
PNR: Readers , as well as myself, are very excited about the upcoming February 2008 release of KISS OF FIRE from Signet Eclipse; this is the first in your new Dragonfire series. Could you tell us what inspired this dragon-shifter fantasy series and a little about your vision for the project? A sneak peek perhaps?
Deborah C.: Well, what’s funny is that a lot of my unsold proposals featured dragons. I can’t even count how many editors have told me that dragons aren’t sexy – and this mystifies me. A dragon-shape-shifting hero sounds like a perfect package of testosterone to me – he’s strong, gorgeous, ferocious, determined to defend damsels in distress and rich, too, given that hoard of gold. That makes me think of the Greek shipping magnate heroes that used to star in the Mills & Boon romances I stole from my mother’s shelf when I was a teenager! How can that not be sexy?
My love of all things medieval and my fascination with dragons initially inspired the series. Then my astrologer friend told me one day that the moon had changed nodes, entering the Dragon’s Tail, and that there was trouble coming as karmic balance was restored. That got me to thinking about dragons and what their role might really be in our world. There’s an old and persistent association around the world between dragons and the four elements of the earth, so I took that a step further. My dragons as warriors fighting in defense of the planet, some of whom (the Pyr) see humans as a treasure of the earth and others of whom (the Slayers) see humans as the parasites responsible for the earth’s sorry state. My vision is that this is the beginning of an age that has been prophesied for a long time by the Pyr, a time when the Pyr and the Slayers will fight it out for the last time. I can tell you that there’s a big nasty war coming in the Dragonfire world, but maybe you guessed that already.
PNR: The Dragonfire series is a paranormal in a contemporary setting: tell us about the challenges you face in world building and making it work with the ideas you have in mind for the progression of your characters and the series?
Deborah C.: The idea that there’s more to the world than is readily visible is a persistent one in the fantasy genre, especially that there are parallel universes or worlds hidden in the shadows. I’ve read a lot of fantasy over the years because I love the unmasking of those layers of secrecy and the richness of the world revealed. I’ve always enjoyed worldbuilding in my books, but this series requires another level of organization, planning and thought to what I’ve done in the past. I’ve started to keep a binder of organized notes, kind of A GUIDE TO THE WORLD OF THE PYR, as a reference for myself. I’ve done this before with my historicals, but on a much smaller scale. It’s a fun challenge to keep it all straight, keep it linked to the world we know, and to push deeper into the Pyr world with each successive book.
PNR: Do you feel your writing is character driven or plot driven? How do you balance these two elements?
Deborah C.: I believe that good stories are both plot and character driven, that there has to be something special about this character being in this situation. The action then is the character’s response to the situation based on his/her nature, and then the action of the plot compels the character to learn and grow and undergo a transformation. I can’t explain how to do it, but I know when it’s working.
PNR: Sara and Quinn are destined mates that must battle the fates to be together. Could you tell us a little about how you developed their characters? Who has been your favorite character to write? The most challenging?
Deborah C.: Well, I always start with the hero and once I have a good idea of who he is, I can think about what kind of person would complement his nature best. Part of what’s going on in the firestorm is the old idea of two halves coming together and their union being more than the sum of the whole. I also have the four elements to work with – since the Pyr are the guardians of the elements, it makes sense to me that each destined match will bring together those four elements, the macrocosm reflected in the microcosm kind of thing. So, I had Quinn, who was pragmatic and solitary and strong, and a blacksmith, too. He had fire and earth covered. I thought that a woman who was more intuitive (air) and compassionate (water) would balance his strengths – I twisted that one step further and made Sara unaware of her psychic abilities, to give her an internal conflict. Quinn’s conflict was more external – his issues with rejoining the ranks of the other Pyr are key – so that gives more balance and dimension to the book.
The funny thing is that I can explain my choices logically to you now, but at the time of writing the book, I run on my own intuition. I just knew that Sara had to be psychic and unaware of it, and didn’t worry about why. That’s part of the adventure of storytelling for me – following those instincts, then later seeing why the choices that were right felt so right at the time.
Every character is a challenge. They’re like people. They take time to get to know; they each have their strengths and weaknesses; all of my characters have secrets, and all of them are reluctant to surrender them. That said, I adore my heroes and am usually smitten with the one I’m writing at the moment. I’m really enjoying Erik and his story right now.
PNR: How would you describe the sensuality level of your books; do you find it challenging to write the love/sex scenes?
Deborah C.: I always think my books are in the middle on the continuum of sexuality – they’re not sweet and they’re not erotic, but somewhere in between. There’s a range within my own work, too, as some of my books are more sensual than others. That comes from character. Quinn and Sara, for example, were very thoughtful about sexual intimacy, so there are fewer explicit sex scenes in their book (KISS OF FIRE). They’re also kind of private people and I felt nosy being in the bedroom with them! Donovan and Alex, on the other hand, are quite spontaneous about sexual intimacy – it’s emotional intimacy that they hold back – so their book (KISS OF FURY) is more sensual. Erik (KISS OF FATE) is proving to be similar to Donovan but much much worse – he really has his heart barricaded away, but is quite happy to quickly create another Pyr then move on. Eileen isn’t letting him go, though, which is fun.
PNR: You have written in the fantasy, historical, contemporary and time travel genres; what is it about the paranormal romance genre that captures your imagination? Is there a genre you haven’t written but would like to try?
Deborah C.: These two questions are knotted together in a way. What I like about fantasy romance is that it adds another dimension to the conflict and to the story. It makes the romantic union more epic, because the hero and heroine become something greater than themselves or conquer something beyond themselves. That happens in “straight” romance too, but it’s a more subtle transformation – banishing the shadows of your own past isn’t nearly as dramatic as conquering evil in the world. I think that’s fun, and that the added dimension of mythology or legend puts more meat on the bone of the story. Using mythology gives the author the bones of an alternate world, a suite of common language and concepts, that can be twisted and reshaped into something fresh and exciting.
For example, I really enjoy taking an old story that already exists, like one from the mythology of dragons, and giving it a twist to mean something else. In KISS OF FURY, I play with the oldest recorded story of dragons – that makes my Pyr a hidden facet of the mythology we know, a secret universe that could have been there all along. I like that kind of storytelling game a lot so you’ll see it again and again in this series.
PNR: Could you tell us about your current projects, what can readers expect to see in the coming months?
Deborah C.: There’s more Dragonfire, of course – the initial three books are scheduled to be published at 6 month intervals. Look for KISS OF FIRE in February, KISS OF FURY in August and KISS OF FATE in February 2009.
I have another new series beginning in 2008 as well – these are also fantasy romances which feature angel heroes. The series is set in 2099 in a grim little vision of the future – our world is post-nuclear but on the cusp of the Apocalypse. Angels choose to sacrifice their wings and descend to earth to try to save humans from ourselves. The series will be published by Tor. The first book is FALLEN, which will be out in October 2008, followed by GUARDIAN in May 2009 and REBEL in October 2009.
For the sake of creativity, I like to always work on a project that isn’t contracted – this gives me a place to play without concern about marketing or the market. Sometimes these books make it to publication and sometimes they don’t – FALLEN is a recent example of one of my creative-play books. I’m currently playing with a mainstream novel with romantic elements. It has no paranormal or fantasy elements at all – at least not so far! - and I’m interested to see where it goes.
PNR: Thank you, Deborah, for taking time out to talk to us. Where can readers find out what’s new and how can they contact you?
Deborah C.: I have three websites:Château Delacroix (http://www.delacroix.net) Claire Cross (http://www.clairecross.com) Deborah Cooke (http://www.deborahcooke.com)
I keep a blog called Alive and Knitting (http://www.delacroix.net/blog) That’s probably the quickest and easiest place to get in touch with me.
For those who just want reminders, I post an update on the first of each month through my listserve at yahoogroups. It’s called Chestwick and there’s a hotlink to subscribe to it on the Delacroix site.
Thanks for having me, Dee. It’s been a fun chat!
For millennia, the shape-shifting dragon warriors known as the Pyr have lived peacefully as commanders of the four elements and guardians of the earth's treasures. But now the final reckoning between the Pyr, who count humans among the earth's treasures, and the Slayers, who would eradicate both humans and the Pyr who protect them, is about to begin…
February 5, 2008
Dragonfire: Book 1
One kiss can change the course of destiny...
When ace accountant Sara Keegan decides to settle down and run her quirky aunt's New Age bookstore, she’s not looking for adventure. She doesn’t believe in fate or the magic of the tarot—but when she’s saved from a vicious attack by a man who has the ability to turn into a fire-breathing dragon, she questions whether she’s losing her mind—or about to lose her heart…
Quinn Tyrrell has long been distrustful of his fellow Pyr and a self-reliant loner. When he feels the firestorm that signals his destined mate, he's determined to protect and possess Sara, regardless of the cost to himself. Then Sara’s true destiny is revealed—and Quinn realizes he must risk everything—even Sara’s love—to fulfill their entwined destinies...
August 1, 2008
One act of passion can change the world...
Scientist Alexandra Madison was on the verge of unveiling an invention that would change the world—then her partner was murdered, their lab burned and their prototype destroyed. When recurring dragon-haunted nightmares threaten to land her in a psychiatric hospital, Alex knows she has to escape to rebuild her prototype in time. But first she must return to her ruined lab…
Handsome, daring, and impulsive, Donovan Shea is more than willing to do his part in the Pyr/Slayer war and save The Madison Project. Assigned to kidnap Alex, Donovan is shocked when her presence ignites the firestorm. He has no desire for a destined mate, but when Alex is attacked by a Slayer, Donovan finds himself meeting fire with fire in her defense. Won over by Alex's intelligence and determination, Donovan fights to rebuild her invention in a race against time. By the time the Slayers close in on their prey, Donovan knows he'll surrender his life to protect Alex, --but will have to lose his heart to possess her...
Look for Erik's story in "Kiss of Fate" February 2009
For Additional Titles from Deborah Cooke
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