Author Robert Cook is a member of the South Jersey Writers' Group and a very talented writer. Learn about him and the two stories in our anthology Tall Tales and Short Stories from South Jersey. The Book can be found on Amazon.com. So with great pleasure, let me introduce you to Robert Cook.
Stories: A Christmas Story and Beach Morning
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m not sure how to define myself. I suppose the best generalization is “war-baby”, that’s the Second World War. I was born in Long Beach, California in January of 1944. When the War ended my mother and father returned to their hometown, Haddonfield, New Jersey where they had grew up, went to school, and married. I too, am a product of the Haddonfield school system, including Elizabeth Haddon grammar school, then the old Brown Stone Middle School, and finally HMHS (Haddonfield Memorial High School, class of ’61.)
Since then I have given my life to the United States Navy, then a job at a chemical company making embalming fluid, and finally to the telephone company. At the phone company, I worked my way through several positions including: switching office technician (electro-mechanical and electronic), instructor in the Plant Training Center, a manager in the Engineering Department, and finally into the world of computers as a Systems Analyst. All in all, I spent 35 years at Bell, retiring in December of 2001.
What got you interested in writing and when did you start?
I started writing when I was in grade school, but my work was poorly received. To say the least, I was not encouraged to continue with my writing. My writing for corporate America was strictly non-fiction business writing. During most of my life I have kept diaries that came and went as my interest wavered, and life sort of took over.
The in 2001, shortly before I retired, I discovered that one of my fellow workers was a writer of poetry and the occasional prose. Somehow, she ignited the spark that had lain dormant for all those years. We began meeting every few week to read each other’s stuff and offering constructive criticism, encouraging each other to do better. It wasn’t until I took two creative writing courses at the Gloucester County Community College’s Adult Education series conducted by Mr. David Lloyd, an established artist, poet, and playwright, that I became serious. He remained my mentor for several years after the courses were over. I lost contact with David in 2005 when he was forced to follow a teaching position to a distant place.
3. What type of stories do you enjoy writing?
I’m not sure “enjoy” is the proper word. I suppose it all depends on how you define hard-work. Invariably, my stories tend to be of the short story length; mainly because I don’t seem to have the stamina for longer works. Though, I have several stories that are of novella length. There are also a smattering of poems that have found their way into my notebooks. I never start out to write poetry. Though, if pushed to explain what I’ve written I must admit that there are several series of Haiku that were purposely written, mainly in response to David Lloyd’s tutelage.
Where do you get your inspiration for your stories?
The original inspiration for my stories comes from three sources: my own life experiences (especially the things that make me angry), books of writing prompts, and Bonnie Neubauer’s Story Spinner. The prompts gets me started with an image which I riff on to create the initial story lines. Then I am able to access my own memories and my own fabrications to develop a story. What that means is that the majority of my stores have some small part of an auto-biographical aspect. After all, what do we have to draw on except our life experiences?
Why did you pick this particular story for our anthology?
To be honest, I had chosen five stories to offer to the anthology. Why did I choose them? Because those were the ones I considered the closest to being publishable, I was surprised when Beach Morning, was selected. It was simply a memoir of my life as a child, with much of it being fictionalized. I cannot call it a memoir, since it is made up of so many snippets from my life over the years, and the rest is made up. Second, and I am honored to have two of my stories selected, the second being, What of Dreams?, originally titled A Christmas Story. It was, like so much of my work, part biographical and part pure musings upon life. The only real disappointment was the failure of Etude to find a place. I have to admit that it is a difficult piece to place for publishing, despite the fact that Etude won the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference first prize for Literary Short Fiction in 2009.
What advice can you give to our readers who are interested in writing and getting their book published?
It’s simple. There are two parts to my advice: First, learn as much as you can absorb of the craft of writing and never stop learning. Second, forget the craft books and write, write, write some more. Write from your heart for the first draft, your head for the revisions that will invariably follow.
Is it important for new writers to join a writer’s group and why?
It all depends on how you define a writer’s group. It is generally a group of writers who have a common interest in writing, the art, and the craft. It can be a trusted friendly writer, or it can be a larger group.
Writing groups are not for everybody. I would recommend that a new writer, who is interested in joining a writing group, search out the ones in their area. Don’t settle for just any group. Attend several meetings before you decide if the dynamic of a certain group fits your needs. A good writer’s group can be a tremendous benefit in the knowledge that is available and the contacts that can be made. A poor writer’s group can destroy you, and you would be better off running away as fast as you can.