Interview Throwback: Tom Cooper of The Marauders
Another gothic favorite. Tom was so awesome during this interview. Here’s another classic from those Novel Enthusiast days:
Tom, thank you for agreeing to spend some time with us here at Novel Enthusiasts. Congratulations on the success of The Marauders. I think it’s a great novel. It’s such a timely story, and I think that kind of immediacy of it is what makes people eager to read it. You’ve had some pretty amazing reviews from critics and readers. How does it feel to be a new writer and to receive such positive feedback?
Oh, thanks, Bradley! That’s very kind to say.
Well, it feels fantastic. I have absolutely nothing to complain about. Sometimes, I wonder, “Do they have the right Tom Cooper? The right Marauders?” Ha.
One endorsement that has to be really cool is the one from Stephen King. He called The Marauders “one hell of a novel.” What was your reaction when you learned that the master himself would be providing that kind of blurb for your first novel?
I had just woken up, and it was a Sunday, I believe. No, I’m certain it was a Sunday. A few days before the New Year. I checked my email on my cellphone while still in bed and there was an email with the subject “STEPHEN KING BLURB.” You have to understand: for me, this was like one of the Beatles endorsing your album, something like that. I was elated and went out that day to celebrate. A few beers with my brother and a few other friends. It was a terrific day, one I’ll remember, I’m sure, for the rest of my life.
Getting into discussing your book, the atmosphere of The Marauders is incredible. Of all of the novels I’ve read this year, the bayou you write of is the place I feel like I know the best. Since you live in Louisiana, was it easy for you to write about your state? Or was it extra pressure to make sure that you had it captured perfectly?
This is a good question. I can go and on about this one. I don’t feel any pressure, really. People tried to impose that on me in the beginning, locals here in New Orleans. A few people, natives, asked, “Well, but you’ve never shrimped, right?” My answer: hell no, I’ve never shrimped. Look at me. I’m built like Don Knotts. The shrimp would laugh their asses off.
But I’ve lived here five years now, and I’ve gotten to know the area fairly well. I’ll never be a local as long as I live here. The local question is, “Where’d you go to school?” Meaning high school. Then there are the Katrina locals, people who were here during the storm. Then there are the old money locals, a different species of native altogether. I’m far away from that circle.
Anyway, about verisimilitude. I’ve been a resident long enough to know local details. You’re always going to make mistakes, though. I made the fatal error of responding to a criticism, very harsh of my book, on a website. The guy pointed out that shrimpers only wear white boots. In turn I pointed out that there was never any reference to the boots colored otherwise. There’s a reference to black boots, yes, but that’s what the Toup twins are wearing when they go out at night. Of course they’re not going to wear white boots in the dead of night.
My point being: there’s always going to be a nitpicker out there. I’m sure one or two details are off in a book. There are---what? Ten, twenty thousand details in a novel? And here I am trying to reason online with this 50-year-old guy, clearly on the wrong meds, about shrimping boots. When I pointed out to him that I did, in fact, get this detail right, he turned around and said that I was pompous and had no sense of humor. He demoted me from three stars to one star. Hilarious.
The Marauders is grim and full of savagery. However, you also add plenty of humor. When you first set out to write your book, did you know what tone you wanted to establish or did it kind of build itself as your story went along?
No, it wasn’t self-conscious. It’s my voice, for better or worse. I used to think about tone and voice a lot, but then you research a point where you realize there’s no escaping yourself. If you’re writing honestly, then your worldview, for want of a better term, is going to pervade the work. It’s a bit like being a stand-up comedian in a way. All my favorites---Pryor, Louis C.K., Bill Hicks, George Carlin---they all spoke of a long apprenticeship, fumbling around for a unique voice for several years. It’s strange, how hard it is learning to be yourself in public. I still slip into phoniness. We all do. It’s good to have that built-in bullshit detector, as Hemingway put it.
You populate your novel with a diverse and interesting cast of characters. Some are violent. Others are greedy. Many of them are troubled. I think Gus Lindquist is, at least arguably, the most complex character. He’s a man who is trapped in a boyhood fantasy of finding lost treasure. He’s addicted to pills. He has a lousy shrimp boat. Oh, and he’s missing an arm. I’m curious as to what inspired Gus?
Gus is a complex amalgamation of many people I know. There’s a little of me there too. Maybe---I hope this doesn’t sound pretentious---a little of everyone. Sometimes, hope can be a form of insanity, of delusion. Yet, hope we must. Because what’s the alternative?
The character I like the most is Wes Trench. He seems like a truly good person. He’s flawed like anyone else, but he tries to do the right thing. His life is hard. He watches his mom die in the flood from Hurricane Katrina. He blames his father. But, with that darkness, he also has dreams. He wants something better. What did you want readers to take away from Wes’ story?
I worked in Thibodaux, Louisiana, for a while as a teacher. But I still lived---and continue to live--- in New Orleans, in a neighborhood populated with a bunch of rich Tulane and Loyola kids. Renters. These kids are very well-to-do. Some of these kids are fantastic. No problems. Others are absolutely awful human beings. They drive around BMWs, rack up hundred dollar bar tabs, snap their fingers at waiters and waitresses, act with a sense of entitlement I’ve never before encountered. One of them, a medical student, totaled my car and laughed about it. The first new car I bought myself, ever, and this girl wrecks it and then laughs about it like it’s nothing. Mind you, I was parked. In my driveway. The car was a week old. Nothing fancy. A Honda, but it was my first new car. I asked her, “What’s your insurance information?” She asked, “What’s insurance?” A medical student, mind you, asked this. I said, “Just call your parents. Please.” This is a twenty-five-year old woman I’m talking about. I should be calling her a woman. Not a girl. Hell, twenty-five-years is middle aged in some places.
Anyway, I was teaching in Thibodaux, and the kids couldn’t be any more different over there. By twenty-five, people are mothers and fathers. By forty, grandmothers and grandfathers. 45 minutes away, there’s this different universe. Kids helping out their families, working odd jobs. Wes is one of these kids. They’d never laugh if they wrecked your car. They’d die of humility and shock.
As I was moving through your novel, I kept thinking about how you present masculinity. All of these men are lost. They are separated from their families in some way. They aren’t good fathers or husbands—obviously. Yet, they still seem to have a sense of pride. These are bold, ambitious men who seem to have a hard time admitting their flaws not only to themselves but also to those people who are around them. What do you think about the masculinity of your characters?
I don’t think about it all, to be honest, Bradley. I see all these book author photographs, guys scowling, showing biceps, holding axes, wrestling buffalo. I’m not this type of guy. I’m not Little Lord Faulteroy either, but jeez, shove me into an asylum if I ever pose with a rifle and a dead elephant. Lunacy.
Two nights ago I was mugged in Portland. I’ve lived in New Orleans for five years, walk dangerous streets at night, hang out in dives with known criminals: nothing. A few hours off the plane in Portland: mugged. I was downtown, in a pretty seedy area by accident, and these six guys surround me, start shoving me around. It was orchestrated like a Blue Man Group skit. Something from a talent show. The Icecapades. A total shake down. Anyway, one of them just takes my wallet and runs. Everything---gone like that. For a split second---that split second of pure animal reaction--- I was about to chase him, and my brother, thank goodness, talked some sense into me. “What the hell’re you doing, Tom?”
I brooded about it for a few hours. Dumb guy stuff. Every guy fancies himself a John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. Dumb as hell. Movie stuff. Hollywood junk. Meanwhile, they’re probably closer to Pee Wee Herman. I am.
I had the victim mentality. “I deserved it,” I thought. “It was my fault.” Then I had these fantasies: I should have chased that guy, cracked his head open on the pavement, riverdanced on his windpipe. For a half hour I was pacing the hotel room, saying stuff like, “I’ll go back with a bazooka, show those sons-of-bitches.” Typical guy stuff, right? But how incredibly stupid would that have been? He might have had a gun, and he certainly had a knife. Sorry, if I’m Little Lord Faulteroy because I don’t tackle a knife-wielding drug addict who’d decapitate me for a Snicker’s Bar: hey, color me Faultleroy.
I think these guys in the book are simply lost and confused. Everyone needs to feel useful, to feel wanted, to feel needed. There’s a sense of pride and identity that comes with that. If somebody came up to you and said, “You can never do the one thing you do exceptionally well ever again,” then that’s going to screw with your head, your pride.
I read that you and your brother, Michael, are working on a script for a television series based on The Marauders. What’s that experience been like? Will you add additional characters to the television series?
Man, it’s been a blast. The series will be very different from the book. An exponentially expanded examination of the novel’s universe. That’s assuming it’ll be made. You never know. I try to be pessimistically optimistic about these things. That is to say, I usually assume that I’ll never hear back from producers when I send them the scripts they ask for. It’s like that old Woody Allen joke. “Hollywood’s worse than dog eat dog. It’s dog doesn’t return other dog’s phone calls.”
But there are a few very interested studios and producers, whose names I cannot disclose, who are aggressively pursuing getting the project off the ground. So much depends on timing and luck. As for my part, I make sure all the work is ready from day one if someone asks. I try always to be prepared.
Have you had time to think about what you next novel might be about?
I have. It’s called Southern Hospitality. To your last question, if someone asked to see this novel in the next few months, I’d rally and finish it. But the inducement from television is much stronger now. Writing is my main income, so I have to be practical. I have several show ideas, and now is the time to get them out there, what with the paradigm shift between terrestrial television and online a la carte. Network, cable, they know they’re all screwed if they don’t have a solid scripted drama on their dossiers.
Southern Hospitality, if I ever get around to finishing it, centers around a failing restaurant in New Orleans, and it follows closely several of the people who work there. It’s shorter, darker, and disturbing, so much so I fear that the publisher will ask me to tone things down a bit.
Thank you again for taking time out of your schedule to talk with us. Congratulations on your success, and best of luck with your upcoming projects.
My pleasure, of course.