Please welcome Tom Cooper to the blog! His new book, The Marauders, just came out this week, and he was kind enough to stop by and answer a few of my questions.
The Marauders has gotten amazing buzz already! Will you tell us a bit about it and what inspired you to write it?
I’m still just a big goofy kid, really. I loved treasure hunt stories when I was a boy, and I still do. I think we all do.
When I arrived in Louisiana, 2010, it was right in the middle of the spill. I got to know some people, mostly kids, students of mine, who were experiencing first-hand the devastation. It made me angry, very angry. The way these companies screw people over: Kafkaesque. Anger is a terrific motivator, in my experience, as long as you harness it and focus it in a constructive direction. As long as you shoot your arrows at the right people. Remember that old PIL song, John Lydon? “Anger is an energy.”
Tell us more about your unusual protagonist, Gus Lindquist. Why do you think readers will root for him?
I don’t see why they wouldn’t. I mean, the guy’s lost an arm, his wife has left him, he’s broke, out of a job, and he’s not clubbing old ladies over the head for their purse money. He likes to tell jokes. He’s a little out of his mind. He’s generous with his employees and family, perhaps to a fault. I think at very least they’d want to share a beer with him. If they’re uppity, maybe one barstool removed.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
Aside from exploring the Barataria? A lot. I read books about the history of the area, about Jean Lafitte, about ecology, about boat building. I would say about thirty books in all, but it was enjoyable work.
One unusual thing, too: the character of Lindquist was not originally one-armed. But my right arm was paralyzed for a few months—long story, I’m fine now—and oh man, was it frustrating. Nightmarish. You have to learn a whole new way of interacting with your environment, living your life. I can only imagine knowing it would be permanent.
You’re from Florida, but now live in New Orleans. What do you think makes Louisiana such a great setting for a novel?
One of my future books, at least one, will be set in Florida. I grew up near the Everglades, which strikes me as very similar in some ways to Louisiana’s swamps. It sparks the imagination, going out there, into this wild immensity. I say wild, but soon both places will be carved and hacked away into drainage canals. It’s already happened.
I’m forty-one—not sure how this happened, except slowly and quickly as the old Hemingway quote goes—and I’m old enough to remember when the intercostal waterways of Ft. Lauderdale were mostly clear. Now they’re this toxic green-black, turd-colored. It’s a shame, because some of my best boyhood memories are of fishing in my grandparents’ backyard, not knowing what I was going to pull up.
Have you always wanted to write? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
I always have written. Always. And always from day one wanted to be a writer. I’m just delusional enough to have continued doing it even when people told me, “You stink.” They were right at the time.
I lived in Florida for about thirty years, on and off. Everywhere in Florida. Ft. Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Melbourne, Tampa, Tallahassee, Gainesville, St. Pete, Largo. I have also lived in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. I’ve lived in Louisiana for half a decade.
I hope I’m done moving. I’m tired.
What are a few of your favorite authors or novels?
Cormac McCarthy. William Gay. William Faulkner. Joy Williams. Denis Johnson. Kevin Canty. Charles Bukowski.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Suttree by Cormac McCarthy.
What are you currently reading?
My brother’s novel, actually. Michael Cooper. It’s a third or fourth draft. It’s called, tentatively, If There Were an Animal a Thousand Miles Long. He never showed me a word before he was on the third or fourth iteration. Never spoke about it. He’s far more disciplined than I.
So, I’m in the middle of that. It’s excellent. Of course I’m biased, but we’re very objective about one another’s work. He helped me to a tremendous degree with The Marauders.
What’s next for you?
I’m outlining a few television series, spec. If no one is interested, that’s fine, because I think one of them will make a pretty good book. I’m working on several novels, but that sounds misleading. It’s only bits and scraps. Post-it notes in file cabinets, scraps of dialogue, character sketches. One or two might take root. I know the title of my next novel, which I hope to complete by this summer. I can’t share the title, because it might give too much away. Anyway, it’s set in New Orleans, and features primarily women characters, and is Satanically dark, and I’ll probably have to leave this city for fear of my life if it ever comes out. Ha!
About The Marauders:
When the BP oil spill devastates the Gulf coast, those who made a living by shrimping find themselves in dire straits. For the oddballs and lowlifes who inhabit the sleepy, working class bayou town of Jeannette, these desperate circumstances serve as the catalyst that pushes them to enact whatever risky schemes they can dream up to reverse their fortunes. At the center of it all is Gus Lindquist, a pill-addicted, one armed treasure hunter obsessed with finding the lost treasure of pirate Jean Lafitte. His quest brings him into contact with a wide array of memorable characters, ranging from a couple of small time criminal potheads prone to hysterical banter, to the smooth-talking Oil company middleman out to bamboozle his own mother, to some drug smuggling psychopath twins, to a young man estranged from his father since his mother died in Hurricane Katrina. As the story progresses, these characters find themselves on a collision course with each other, and as the tension and action ramp up, it becomes clear that not all of them will survive these events.