Laura van den Berg interviews Thomas Cooper:
The creative process is never the same for me, maybe because so much of it is fortuitous. So much depends on who I’m talking to that day, what I’m reading and watching and listening to, what I overhear at the grocery store or podiatrist’s office. No different from most writers, I’m sure.
I remember flipping through a Frederick Barthelme collection and spotting a story called Larroquette. I made a mental note to get back to it, because the title struck me as strange, a little funny. I wondered, Is this about the John Larroquette, from Night Court? Like, fan fiction? But that seemed more something Donald Barthelme would do. Then I wondered, Is it about some guy with an obsession with Larroquette? Or about a guy who has a horrible misunderstanding with Larroquette? Is it about Larroquette’s bodyguard, and how much he’s sick of Larroquette?
A few possibilities stuck in mind, coalescing. By the time I did read the story, my conception of what it might be differed so wildly from the actual that I had my own piece. I started with a voice and followed it.
Out of respect to Barthelme, I even tried switching Larroquette to Bud Cort, but Larroquette was there to stay at that point.
Sorry. Probably more than you asked for, but there you go.
Favorite first line of a work of fiction?
I don’t think I have a favorite first line, but those that appeal to me hook in obliquely, those sneaky side attack lines. Unassuming. A little odd, but not too odd. Off the top of my head, I’m thinking of Padgett Powell’s “Scarliotti and the Sinkhole,” which begins, “In the Pic N’ Save Green Room, grits were free.” Or Jim Shepard’s novel Project X, which begins, “First day of FS and where are my good green pants?” Or Amy Hempel’s “The Most Girl Part of You,” which begins, “Jack ‘Big Guy’ Fitch is trying to crack his teeth’.”
In other words, lines that make you wonder, “Grits? Good green pants? Cracking teeth? What? Why?”
What are you reading now?
Love and Hydrogen, by Jim Shepard. Trampoline, edited by Kelly Link. Poe’s Children, edited by Peter Straub. I just grabbed all the out-of-print Barry Hannah novels, so I’m probably going to make May my Barry Hannah Month.
What are you working on now?
I wish I could just stick to one thing and work on that consistently, but I can’t. I juggle. Probably out of panic and restlessness. In January I started a novel, and I’m about 30,000 words into that. But it’s so weird and dark that I started another on the side. A hedge bet, I guess. Eventually I hope to focus on whichever seems most promising and see it through.
Aside from that, I’m nitpicking at a full-length story collection I’ve been working on since forever. And I just completed a fifty or sixty page collection of new short-shorts, a kind of follow-up to Phantasmagoria, though I don’t know what will become of it, if anything.