Capilano professor finds value in young adult fiction
// Alecia Casselman

Teen fiction is often underestimated in the literary world, but for some people it provides an avenue to write about what they really love. Capilano University Continuing Education professor Eileen Cook held a reading of her newest novel Unraveling Isobel at the North Vancouver Public Library on Jan. 18. This will be Eileen's ninth published novel, while she continues to work as a career counselor and writing instructor.

Unraveling Isobel is the story of a young girl whose life has been dramatically changed by her mother's marriage and their move to a spooky manor on an isolated island. Isobel questions her own grip on reality as strange things start happening all around her. It is told in first person by the book's heroine, and follows her personal adventures as she takes on a new school, a cranky step brother, and creepy estate with a dark history. Bestselling author Lisa McMann of the Wake trilogy calls Unraveling Isobel “thrilling and creepy, super sexy, and so very hilarious.”

Cook’s first novel, Unpredictable, an adult romantic comedy about a woman who poses as a psychic in an attempt to win back her boyfriend, has even been optioned for film by New Line Cinema. Even though her first book was for adults, Cook has mainly switched over to the teen genre: “I think the most exciting stuff that's happening is happening in teen literature,” she says. “There's an intensity that comes with being a teen that goes away as an adult. I love writing for teens because of that intensity.”
Eileen grew up in an era where there was no teen fiction. As an early lover of reading, she talked about how she had to walk from the children's section into the adult section because there really was nothing in between. Her first experience with the supernatural genre was when she read Stephen King's Salem's Lot. She was drawn to it because the librarian warned her that it would be too scary. While she wound up sleeping with the lights on, she also had an important realization: “I wanted to make people feel something real with something I had made up.” It was the first time she knew she wanted to be a writer; she was ten years old.

Of course, there is quite a difference between dreaming of writing and actually getting published. Cook explains, “Being a writer was like being a princess or an astronaut; I needed to get a real job.” She became a career counselor, specializing in helping people with injuries return to the work force. It's a job she enjoys and maintains even now, but she still felt the need to write.

Cook enrolled at Capilano University after being encouraged by her husband to take writing classes. There she was given some very helpful advice by one the professors. When she expressed nervousness at sending in her work, she was told, “You're already not published, the worst thing that can happen is you'll still not be published.” It was this advice that motivated her to submit her work.
The very first novel that Cook wrote was rejected by the publishers, but rather than letting it defeat her, she takes a stance of acceptance, advising young writers, “Rejection is just part of the process.” Cook also warns students that they will need to have a “thick skin” in order to survive. “It takes a period of time to learn to write,” she says.

Cook also emphasizes the importance of staying true to one’s own method. “Be careful as a new writer about people telling you what to do; you have to figure out what works for you,” she says. Overall, the most important thing is to take the time to write. Cook’s personal method is to have a word count for every week. If she completes her word count early, she can take a break from writing and go out on the weekends; if not, she stays in.

What's next for Eileen Cook? Well, she has a new book that will be coming out in December called Almost Truth. It is the story of a teenage con artist and her scheme to pose as a missing girl, which leads to discoveries about her own past. It will be out in December 2012.

To find out more about Eileen Cook and her books, check her website eileencook.com. Follow her on her blog to check for updates on upcoming releases. You can also sign up for her upcoming workshop “Character Creation” through Capilano University.

//Alecia Casselman, writer

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com