Jonathan Cook’s debut novel, Youth and Other Fictions looks at the horrors of a school shooting and its psychological effects on those involved. Told from two perspectives–one a student’s and one a teacher’s–the story reveals the inner concerns leading up to the moment when the world falls apart and the anxieties of coping with the broken pieces afterwards.
About the Author:
Jonathan M. Cook is a high school English teacher. He earned his MA in Literature from Eastern Illinois University. He currently lives in Robinson, IL, where he is working on his second novel and grading term papers.
I am a high school English teacher. I enjoy photography, The Vampire Diaries, penne with vodka sauce, David Lynch films, Cormac McCarthy novels, and a good single-malt Scotch. I am currently single.Do you have a day job as well?
Stand-up comedian, by which I mean high school English teacher. I also sponsor the Interact Club, which is a community service organization connected with the local Rotary chapter, as well as the Class of 2012.How did you choose the genre you write in and where do your ideas come from?
“Choose” is such a harsh word. I honestly did not set out to write anything beyond a story about a high school. Did that mean I wanted to write a young adult novel? Absolutely not. In fact, I really dislike the YA Lit I have read; far too much of it is poorly written and intellectually shallow—insulting to both young adults and the reading public at large. When I began formally revising the novel, I could see certain aspects appealing to a younger crowd, just as I could see other aspects appealing to a more mature crowd. Any genre label, in my eyes, is overly limiting; it seems to tell readers how to read the novel before they even begin. In writing this novel, I threw in references to everything and anything that interested me at the time. I want my readers to read the novel as they want to read it, not as I tell them to read it.
As for the basic idea, it really came about as a result of my own anxieties of high school and my acceptance of a teaching position. My job required me to reevaluate my high school experiences and to make sense of how much I had changed and how much education has changed.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
The biggest challenge was just getting publishers and agents to read it. I sent out letter after letter trying to find someone who was interested in at least reading my novel, but the publishing industry being what it is, very few even responded, and those who did responded with a rejection form letter (in one case, a Xeroxed form letter!). Ultimately, I decided that the e-book market had grown enough in the past few years to make it a viable alternative for new authors.
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
I would not have wasted time trying to find an agent or publisher willing to read my novel before rejecting it. I would have focused on the e-book market from the start.
Have you written a book you love that you have not been able to get published?
Youth and Other Fictions is my first novel, published or otherwise.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
I’ve found a younger audience responding most favorably to the novel, so I’ve tried to target them. I have a Twitter feed (@YOtherFictions) and a Facebook page (Youth and Other Fictions) which I regularly post updates to. Beyond that, the challenge is simply informing people about the book, getting them interested enough to try a sample, so I’ve been sending review copies to whichever reviewers would have them.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
I have three favorite sections:
Chapter 7 (“Nowhere Girl”), when Jason tends to Jamie’s injured ankle. That scene is beautiful to me because of the two characters’ interactions, his almost overwhelming sexual attraction to this woman, her subtle manipulations and coy sleight-of-hand.
Chapter 8’s (“A Short History of Decay”) philosophic speculation on the history of Jason’s generation and the anxieties with which we’ve dealt. I enjoyed that section immensely because it forced me to really explore where I, as a member of Generation Y, am today and how I arrived here.
Chapter 10 (“In Death’s Twilight Kingdom”), when Jason reads a certain website. This was fun simply because of the conspiracy theory overtones. Researching world events, American events, and popular culture events and then developing links between all three was a kind of inspired madness.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
The toughest is easy: “You need to cut this paragraph down. You’re going to lose your reader.” Balancing between pleasing your readership and pleasing yourself is always a challenge, especially when you personally find a segment to be deeply moving or inspired. Unfortunately, as much as I may love that segment, my readers may not share my enthusiasm or be willing to explore why it’s written in the way it is. Does this mean I always put my readers first? No. The novel comes first, which ultimately determines how I handle such situations. I ask myself what is best for the novel and for the story itself. If it’s the segment as written, I leave it alone; if the segment gets in the way, I rework it or cut it.
The best compliment I’ve received is on the voices of the characters: “It sounds really real.” I always try to hear in my head my characters when they speak. I like to put a famous actor behind them or a famous personality, something to animate them and ensure the voice with which they speak is authentic in some sense.
Here’s a couple of quirky questions for you, Jonathan….
What’s your favorite movie?
The Crow. I know the critics argue that the characters are one-dimensional and that the script is laughably underdeveloped, but I absolutely love the simplicity of the story, the longing for love and the desire for revenge.Cake with or without ice cream?
Without. Same with a salad: no dressing. I’m not a big fan of extras. I like food naked.Date night out, or date night in?
In, for reasons that have nothing to do with the obvious. I live in a small town with a very limited selection of locales for a romantic evening. Plus, it saves on gas. And… you know… the kitchen floor’s right there.
Thanksgiving or Christmas?
Christmas. Longer break. Presents. Turkey dinner one day, club sandwiches the next.
Physical copy of a book or eReader??
Kindle. I barely have enough room in my house for the books I own now, let alone for adding more.
Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Vote Duke Nukem 2012!
And thank you for inviting me to discuss my work in a public forum like this. It’s always rewarding to know that my work is of interest to people and to know that people want to discuss my ideas.
Thanks for stopping by!
Jonathan M. Cook’s work is fascinating. This a work of true goodness. He takes the unthinkable: teens committing horrific crimes, and turns it into a realistic fictional read for everyone. Of course, in today’s society, there really are teens who commit the said horrific crimes. It’s just unthinkable in my mind. I could never have imagined even THINKING of committing the crime when I was in high school. But, it’s reality. These things happen, and Cook portrayed it perfectly in this debut novel. School shootings. That’s what seems to be the problem with a lot schools today….including colleges. Not just high schools. But, in Youth and Other Fiction, Cook gives us a play for play breakdown of a student’s demise and what leads to the shooting. He gives us a look inside the teacher’s head. What the teacher was thinking, the reactions. The realistic feel that this book had was incredible. Cook put you in the middle of the story and kept you there until the last page. You were front and center for all the feelings, all the reactions, all the horrific details about the crime committed. I couldn’t have felt more emotion if I was in the center of a true school shooting, it was just THAT real.
If you are looking for an emotional, GRIPPING, and fantastically written novel for adults and teens alike, this is it. This is not for the faint of heart, of course. It’s REAL. These things happen every day, somewhere, in some part of the world. You’ll turn each page with a new look on life. With a knowledge that bullying and craziness can happen among our youths today. This 4 Book worthy debut is a keeper and one that should be read by everyone for a very REAL look into today’s world. Well done, Mr. Cook!