#315 – Second Chapter Authors with Maren Cooper

In this episode, we talk to author Maren Cooper, writer of literary and contemporary women’s fiction. We spoke to Maren about how she went from working in healthcare to having a writing career, her sources of inspiration, her story as a “second chapter” author, and her latest (and second) novel, Finding Grace, a coming-of-age story about a family struggling to come together again.

In this episode, we talk to author Maren Cooper, writer of literary and contemporary women’s fiction. We spoke to Maren about how she went from working in healthcare to having a writing career, her sources of inspiration, her story as a “second chapter” author, and her latest (and second) novel, Finding Grace, a coming-of-age story about a family struggling to come together again. Maren was very detailed and frank in her discussion of becoming an author, the importance of a writing community, and more; she had a lot of great advice to offer our listeners!  

Her next novel will be out this November, so be sure to check out her website to stay updated on her releases.

Content note: this episode features discussions about fictional characters and real-world populations dealing with difficult situations such as suicide and suicidal ideation and may be upsetting to some listeners. Please listen with awareness of this subject matter.

In this episode:

  • Maren tells us about her writing journey, a path she follows later in life after being an avid reader
  • She talks about her great experience with the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, and the classes she took in creative writing
  • We hear more about her second novel, Finding Grace, including an overview of the plot and all-important characters in this character-driven novel
  • Maren touches on her reading habits, reading widely, and how recently, she’s been interested in fantasy and sci-fi
  • We hear about how she started with writing classes and ended up as a twice-published author, and learn about the support she found in writing communities
  • She talks about her experience researching the business of publishing, and how she ended up finding her hybrid publisher, She Writes Press
  • We ask Maren about her characters, how she creates them, and we talk about her very character-driven narratives
  • Maren offers some insight into how she structured her novel, and why
  • We hear about Maren’s experiences with book clubs and conferences, and how they helped her build community with other authors and aspiring writers
  • We learn that Maren’s next project is in the works and will be available in November 2023
  • And much more!

Useful Links

Maren’s website

Maren on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest

Finding Grace

A Better Next

Mentioned in this episode:

The Loft Literary Center

She Writes Press

Mary Caroll Moore

William Kent Krueger

Dennis Lehane


Maren Cooper grew up in the Midwest and now resides in Minnesota.  She currently serves as a volunteer for various non-profits after a long career as a health care leader. A life-long reader, once she discovered the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, she began taking classes and slowly unearthed the aspiring writer beneath. Her debut novel, A Better Next, is available now, and Finding Grace will be published July of 2022 by She Write Press.

She writes best on the North Shore of Lake Superior where she retreats frequently to hike, needlepoint and watch the deer devour her hostas.

Episode Transcript

Transcription by www.speechpad.com

Laura: Hey, writers. You’re listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast,” where we bring you insights and inspiration for growing your self-publishing business. We’re your hosts. I’m Laura, KWL’s author engagement manager.

Rachel: And I’m Rachel, promotion specialist at Kobo Writing Life.

Laura: Today we spoke to author, Maren Cooper, a lifelong reader. Once she discovered the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, she began taking classes and slowly unearthed the aspiring writer beneath.

Rachel: We had such a lovely conversation with Maren about her journey to becoming what she called a second-chapter writer, which is a term I really enjoy. We spoke about how her debut novel “A Better Next” came to be, and then we really dug into her newest release, “Finding Grace,” which came out this past summer, and how she grappled very challenging topics in this book and how she kind of balanced that. We talked to her about the structure of this novel. And we talked about the book club questions that she has available for her readers, which I found very interesting, and I hope you do too.

We are joined today by author Maren Cooper. Maren, thank you so much for joining us.

Maren: Thanks for having me.

Rachel: Can you just kinda start us off by telling our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Maren: Sure. I am a second-chapter author, meaning, I didn’t really get into writing at all until after I had retired from kind of a long, busy career. And so, I’ve been writing for only about, oh, less than 10 years. My career was in healthcare. It was very busy. And so, when I decided that I would do something different, it was basically kind of figure out what in the world would that be? And so, I was always interested in literature, an early reader, an avid reader throughout, regardless of how busy I was. Started a book club, always supported literary pursuits of others. And so, as I was thinking about, “Well, now that you’ve got the time, what are you interested in?” Of course, that came back to me. I live in Minneapolis, St. Paul area, and we are very fortunate to have what I consider a gem in the literary community, the Loft Literary Center.

And it is a place for people to come together, enjoy literature. There’s a lot of events, but more importantly, there’s a lot of education. And so, I more or less decided that, not with the idea of writing, but with the idea that, well, here’s my chance to find out how in the world people write. Because I was always wondering, “Well, how in the world, you know, do you get an idea, and then put something on the page and develop it?” So, my curiosity led me to taking some classes, and, of course, curiosity always gets you into trouble because when you’re sitting in a class, and I was a fixture there for a while, you don’t get to just sit, they actually make you put things down on paper. And so, it was play for me, it wasn’t serious, and it brought out something in me that I didn’t know I had, which is, oh, well, this is another intellectual exercise and I’ll play with this a little bit. And so, that kinda started my journey into writing at this age.

Rachel: I think that’s so interesting because we talk to a lot of authors, obviously, on this podcast, and the writing spark tends to be something that a lot of people have from a very young age, but it sounds like for you, it was reading that really drew you in. Was there a specific author or genre that kind of grew your interest in reading?

Maren: You know, people ask me that and I wish I could just come up with a book that just did it all for me, but that is not the case. I was a kid that grew up in a house with no bookshelves and no enrichment classes in my school. It was a very small town. And so, it was kind of a…not a secret passion, so much as something that I wasn’t supported for. And so, it wasn’t until college when I was, you know, assigned, you know, books in my freshman English that opened my eyes a little bit wider. So, I would say I’m an eclectic reader. Of late, my grandchildren have really turned me on to fantasy, and I didn’t know that I would be interested in fantasy. I thought that was something kind of aside.

So, I would say, I read widely. I am not a snob. I’m not a writer snob or a reading snob. And it took me until I was about 50 before I gave myself permission to not finish a book. You know, once you start, I always thought, well, you have to commit. But, you know, I know now that some writing is not to my taste and I give myself permission not to finish it. So, there’s not a particular thing, no. And I think as I got into it more, of course, people will characterize me as a women’s fiction writer. However, my third book is turning out to be a thriller. So, I don’t know, I don’t particularly want to be characterized, but I don’t think I’ve got… I don’t know if I’ve got a fantasy book in me. I just don’t know. I’m kind of rolling with this, which is what you get to do at this age.

Rachel: That’s really cool. Is there a specific fantasy book that kind of made you go, “Oh, this could be for me”?

Maren: No. In fact, I should say book is maybe a little bit of a bridge too far to explain that. I should say I’m now going to go back to read the original books that have me clued into fantasy. “Stranger Things,” I mean, I was just quite taken with that and now I wanna go back and learn a little bit more about what’s behind that. The same thing with “Game of Thrones,” and “Lord of the…” Of course, I’ve read Tolkien. So, those are the things that kind of have me realizing, “And there’s an entire world out there.” I do know, I’ve got some sister authors through my publisher that have magical realism, and I’ve liked those books. It’s kind of a new door for me to go through, and I’m not going to be able to give you a lot of author names yet in that realm.

Rachel: Well, I’m very excited for you. I’m a very big fantasy sci-fi fan, so you’re in for a treat delving into that world. I kinda wanna go back to your writing journey for a second. You said that you started out by just taking classes out of curiosity. How did that curiosity then evolve into being a two-time published author?

Maren: Well, it wasn’t fast. You know, it took a while. And when I say I was in retirement, I also was very involved in my community. And I’ve got a lot of friends, I like to travel, so I never was just doing one thing. But, you know, the more I was getting into the watching how people craft literature, the more I was tempted to pursue a little bit of play there. And I would say that just grew. It grew to the point that I remember taking some online courses with somebody, Mary Carroll Moore, who… This is probably something that kind of unlocked a key for me because she taught, in fact, there’s a book that I’m not going to be able to call out the title for that she wrote, and it’s kind of a handbook for writing. And she uses the three-act play, screenplay kind of methodology, which was, oh my God, it was like a eureka moment to me.

Remember, I had kind of fallen into taking those classes because I was just curious about how they did it. And this was somewhat of a moment of discovery where I thought, “Well, of course, you start here, then you have a dip, then you go up there, and then you have another dip, and then you end it.” And so, that was just something that I felt was grounding and foundational for me. And that same particular coach writing instructor, Mary Carroll Moore is her name, also talked about writing islands, you know, little pieces. They may or may not even be a scene. But that kind of gave me, you know, the pebbles to start with to see where they would go. And I became braver and a little bit more courageous in, “Okay, well, I kinda like that island, and maybe I’ll write another one.” So, it was that way. And once you have enough islands, you know, you kinda have a story, especially if you’re following this kind of a screenplay or three-act play foundational script.

And so, it was about that time… And so, I was playing, and I came up with what I thought was, you know, a story that might be of interest, and that became “A Better Next,” my first novel. And the way I came out of my shell a little bit was that again, at the Loft, they are, again, in the business of helping to get authors to print, so-called authors or wanna be authors to print. And so, they sponsor an agent visit. Well, actually, not just one agent. I can’t recall if they’re still doing it on an annual basis, but in any event, there was a one day a lot of agents were in town, and many of these so-called authors to be and I were trying to figure out, well, what would we do to pitch an agent? And it was very intimidating to think about, but since my whole cohort of people were doing it, I decided, well, why wouldn’t I do it? It’s a learning. And so, I did, and I think I was able to pitch maybe five agents. I think one or two were not even open to my type of writing. I was told, I think you had three minutes to give the pitch and whatever. And so, it was quite a nerve-wracking experience, but at the same time, it was supportive because, first of all, they were all kind and gave you immediate feedback. The two that took themselves out of the running just said, “It’s not our genre.” And one of the five asked for a full chapter to follow on and another asked for the first 50 pages. So, that’s typical agent kind of follow-up expectation. And so, I thought, “Oh, well, that wasn’t so bad.” But I was also at that time, you know, not really thinking I had a real book. And so, it was, again, intimidating.

I also played around with, do I look for an agent seriously? Now, I would say that if I were a younger woman at that time, I might have really taken the time to do that more seriously. I spent about six months and I even had an app that could help me find agents. You know, I did all the discovery that you’re supposed to do, which is really quite soul-sucking, I have to say. You know, I mean, you go to your own favorite books and you look to see if there’s acknowledgements for particular agents. You go to the big agent. You know, you do it all. So, I spent about six months thinking, “Well, this is part of the business of looking for…” Never really seriously thinking I would go through with it, let’s face it. However, the more I was playing with my own manuscript and getting input on it, I thought, “Well, you know, it would be kind of fun to put it out there.” And so, around that time, again, I was reading this Mary Carroll Moore’s blog, and I found mention of a particular author who had just signed with a hybrid publisher, She Writes Press. And in the blog, it just talked about, you know, what the characteristics of a hybrid were, etc., etc. And what I saw was, “Oh, I don’t have to do this agent thing.” So, I decided to investigate that. And I did, and I was accepted. It is a juried publisher, and I was able to get in their queue. And I had some developmental editing needed, which I expected. And so, I was able to publish my first book through She Writes Press.

And for me, who had a big career with all kinds of business acumen needed in lots of different threads of work, I just wasn’t totally interested in spending a lot of time getting to that special agent and then having that special agent have to sell my book to a publisher. I just didn’t wanna spend my time that way. I wanted to spend my time writing. So, by then I had the bug, and then I had a publisher. And so, I published “A Better Next” in 2019, about six or eight months before the pandemic. So, I was able to do a real launch. I was able to do some live events. Then, of course, things closed down. And, you know, book sales were always kind of iffy during that time, especially if you’re not really a known author. So, I was still a debut author. But in 2020, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo. And I’ve got this Lake place and, you know, so, and I wasn’t able to see my, you know, family friends that well, or do some of my local business. We were doing everything by Zoom, which, you know, even in 2020 was old before it began.

So, I started writing what became my second book and was able to…you know, everything that I had learned about writing at first fell into place. So, that one went faster, and that became “Finding Grace,” which I then used the same publisher because, again, I knew the drill, I know their production cycle, I didn’t have to spend a lot more time on the business aspects. And now I’ve just, in fact, finished the copy edit approval for book number three, which will be out in November of ’23. So, for me, the hybrid publisher idea came at the right time in my lifecycle, in my lifecycle as an author. And it gives me what I need, and so, I’m pleased with where that’s at and feeling pretty supported by it.

Laura: It’s always interesting to see kind of, like, the different publishing journeys that people take on. So, it sounds like hybrid publishing was really the right fit for you, so that’s good that you were able to get started there. You spoke a little bit about your plotting process. I wanted to talk to you a little bit about your characters, because your novels really include these kind of, like, complex flawed characters. How do you develop them beforehand?

Maren: You know, it’s interesting. I do some contrivances to help me with that. And along the way of learning some of the tricks of the trade, there was some advice about, you know, you need to do the work, you need to do a backstory for each of your characters down to what was their wounding event? What became what they really are nervous about? What is their…? And then what do they look like? What kind of earrings do they wear if they’re female? What kind of crazy vices do they have? And so, once you have… And, you know, it’s on paper, it’s something you go back to. All three of my books are very character-driven, and so, that’s the basis for my stories. I start with characters and then I build around them. I’m not ever sure. Some authors actually know the ending of their books before they begin. I’ve never had that happen.

I start with characters and I let them flow. And I use, you know, this narrative thing, make sure that they stay with their backstory and characterizations that I’ve studied and developed, so they become part of, you know, they’re in my mind all the time. And so, it does take some time, and I think I’ve come up with some… Well, in “Finding Grace,” let’s just face it, there is one character that some people describe as loathsome. And, you know, I take that as a point of pride. On the page, she’s loathsome. That doesn’t mean there’s not a reason for some of what happened with her.

Rachel: You mentioned that you have kind of, like, the backstory built in, like, both in your mind and on paper before you tackle the writing. How do you decide how much of that backstory ends up on the page and how much the readers don’t really need to know?

Maren: Well, that more or less happens in that editing process. You know, if I wrote “Finding Grace” quickly in NaNoWriMo, and I did have the outline of it, my goodness, it took me a year to revise it. And every time you revise an edit and simplify, something else falls away. So, while, you know, that whole phrase of you need to kill your darlings, which I’m sure you know about, is very hard for an author to do. And on this computer that we’re Zooming on, I have lots of backstory things about various characters’ wounding events that I would’ve loved to be able to just pull right in, but instead, it has to become your inspiration, not exact from that little thing that you wrote onto the manuscript. So, you go back and forth. In fact, I just wrote a blog post. One of the characters in “Finding Grace” that somebody asked me about is the family doc for this little small town. And so, I just wrote a blog post using some of that backstory for Walt Riley who is the family doc. So, it’s not wasted, you know, it still can answer a question if somebody’s got one, or it gives me the… It enriches my understanding of what I put there, and I can be reminded of that. I never consider it to be wasted effort at all. You just never know how you’re gonna use it.

Rachel: I would like to keep kind of the discussion on “Finding Grace.” Your second novel came out over the summer. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about it?

Maren: I can. You know, actually, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll actually just read the synopsis here because sometimes I falter. “Chuck and Caroline meet in college biology lab and drift into a relationship of his design. Mesmerized by her drive, Chuck sees in Caroline an orphan like himself, a partner who will help him face the world. Chuck couldn’t be more wrong. He wants a home, a family, roots. But Caroline, a gifted ornithologist, plans a life of travel and adventure, following her heart’s desire and her birds wherever they may take her, and she expects Charlie to tag along. When Caroline gets pregnant against her wishes, Chuck assumes she will change her mind. She doesn’t. Their daughter, Grace, falls through the devastating schism that grows between her parents. When an emotionally distraught Grace finally runs away, everything becomes a bargaining chip in a very high-stakes game.” That’s the storyline, and I have been able to talk about various aspects of the story. So, I guess my question would be what part of it would you like me to talk about?

Rachel: Well, one thing I was curious about, on your website, the book is described as kind of a coming-of-age story for all of the members of the Booker family, and I’m kind of curious what you mean by this.

Maren: Oh, that’s a very good question because people are kind of tantalized by what I meant. First of all, Grace is a child born into, you know, a dysfunctional family, and given total devoted love from her father, can’t quite make up for the neglect and toxic effect of having an absent mom. So, her coming of age is to get through that, and she does. I tell people that this is an incredibly emotional book, and that it’s sometimes hard to read, but that they shouldn’t stop in the middle because they need to commit and there will be a satisfying conclusion. But it’s hard to read. It’s gut-wrenching, heart-rending. So, that’s the coming of age for Grace. She has to get over that.

For Charlie, and I’m not gonna use…I’m not gonna disclose any spoilers here, and I’m sure you didn’t want me to, but Charlie is driven. He’s just desperate to have this family, and he’ll do whatever it takes to have a child. And he gives lots of his love to Grace, and he’s just caught in a lot of guilt and angst when it comes to Caroline. That is the web that is just difficult for him to get through. But there is a coming…there is a point at which he concludes that he needs to make a break. And so, that to me is his coming of age, his maturation of getting through his own angst and figuring out that he deserves something different.

So, for Caroline, who is, you know, the most flawed character here, and I stopped short of really using the term narcissist too often because I wanted readers to recognize that difficult people abound. You know, everybody’s got difficult people that they have to work around. Now, Caroline is damaging to her daughter. And so, I don’t think she has the insight to own that, and that’s part of her own emotional makeup. But in terms of her coming of age, I can’t remember what chapter it’s in, but there’s a part in the book where distant as she is and following her heart’s desire and her birds, wherever they may take her, she has kind of a aha moment where she’s really better dealing with that kind of world than she is one-on-one relationships. So, that’s her coming of age, that’s her aha moment. And now they all come at that, their coming of age-moment. You know, it’s an aha moment in a different way, in a different timeline, but they all get to a different place by the end of the story. So, that’s what I meant by it. And so, that’s why the title “Finding Grace” was important to me because I think they all get to a point where life is something that they can face in a different way.

Laura: You mentioned that at times “Finding Grace” is hard to read because you touched on a lot of heavy topics like mental illness, drug addiction. How did you approach writing about those topics?

Maren: You know, in my professional life, I was in healthcare, and so I always have known and struggled with the stigma for mental illness and the different standards of care and access. So, one of my themes here, of course, is that you’ve got this family living in a small town. You’ve got one parent, you know, in a toxic situation, another parent doing whatever he can to figure things out, who wasn’t a very trusting person when he first came to this small town. And he had to learn that it takes a village. And he let people in. And again, there’s that small town doc who he did let in who…the doc kind of became a friend and mentor. And so, while it’s heart-rending and gut-wrenching, there was clearly a community there for him to help when things got really bad.

Now, he certainly struggled, and Grace was emotionally beside herself. I stopped short of calling it, you know, a long-lasting lifelong terrible psychotic situation, but she clearly had some episodes which were scary. She was suicidal, she was on the brink. She was at a point where intervention was really necessary. There’s a scene at which there is spoken words around, you need to be either on the brink of, you know, hurting somebody or yourself before you can actually get inpatient care. And I know this, and, of course, I wanted to use that and have it be as scary as it should be, because up until that point, that doesn’t mean you don’t need help. And how much help is there?

You know, I was very pleased, I was in the pre-pub run-up to the book when in this country, President Biden signed legislation to start a telephone number to be accessible everywhere, 988, if someone is thinking about suicide or needs help for, you know, somebody thinking about it. And I was very pleased about that because we need more help like that. And especially during the pandemic when everybody was so isolated and school wasn’t in session. And if you think about, you know, youth not having the normal social fun and flux and learning that they have, I just felt that that moment of a potential suicide was important to show on the page and have her come out from it, even after some rehab and quite a bit of time and attention. And even then, it didn’t stick the first time and she did run away. So, I thought that was important to normalize to a certain extent, or to have people see that you can get to the other side of it. But it certainly was gut-wrenching and very emotional.

I’ve had people thank me for going into so much detail about what it meant for somebody close to watch, and for the Charlie character to… You saw his struggle, how difficult it was, how frustrated he was, how angry he was. And how could he not be? I mean, it was a terrible situation, that whole notion of, you know, feeling like a jailer, and worrying about this child who was in a very precocious or, you know, precarious state. It’s a terrible thing. It is gut-wrenching and heart-rending. So, I didn’t shy away from that. I wanted to show that. But again, that isn’t necessarily going to foretell the end. So, that’s how I did that.

Rachel: Onto just a little lighter of a topic. I wanted to talk a little bit about the structure of the novel because the book starts in…like, the first chapter is in 2017, which is like the “present-day.” I’m using air quotes because, obviously, it is currently not 2017. And then it jumps back to the beginning of Charlie and Caroline’s relationship. And I’m curious, did that structure come about in the editing process or was that a device that you wanted to use from the jump, the this is where we’re at, and now I’m gonna show you how we got there?

Maren: I’m so glad you asked that because it’s kind of a sophisticated question for writers. You know, I knew that…as I was writing, I knew I was going to use a blended narrative and have all three of the principals’ stories told, but I was clueless as to how to put it together. And I remember when I came to my editor, the same one that I’d used for the first book, who I really love, Annie Tucker, and I said, you know, “Annie, I’m just…I’m so confused about how to structure this. I know it’s blended. I know that I’ve got the characters, you know, their stories, but I need present-day in here.” And so, she’s the one that helped me figure that out. So, we started with that present-day thing, having, you know, Chuck get the call, and then we go back, and then she brought me to the next place in which it can come together.

And I’m telling you, when you’re dealing with a manuscript online and you’ve got all these… It was complicated, let me just tell you. And I needed to have date and voice markers merely to help me keep track of it, and I hope that that helped with the readers. I think I’ve gotten feedback that it’s smooth, that it worked that way, but I don’t think I would’ve been able to come to it on my own during my writing process. I needed to have that person looking from a structural editor perspective. So, I think we got it figured out.

Rachel: No, I agree. And I think it’s a really effective device too because you don’t know what happened to Grace at the beginning. You just know that Charlie needs to go get her from somewhere. And I also think that having that outside perspective of the structural editor, developmental editor is also helpful. Did you enjoy the editing process? Is that something you enjoy as a writer or is it something that you dread?

Maren: Oh, I love it. You know, I think writing is a pretty insular thing. Even when you’ve got writing partners, and writing groups, and beta readers, etc., you need to have…I need to have that professional outside view looking at each of your works with new eyes. And, you know, my books are all different. You know, the first book, women’s fiction, it’s I would put it in that divorce domestic fiction category. “Finding Grace” is family saga, 20 years over the course of a family. “A Better Next” was only a year. And my third book, which I guess is a domestic thriller, is only, like, 40 days. So, they’re all so different that I loved having the same structural editor help me think that through because she knows my writing style, and so I really enjoy it. And when Annie thinks it’s okay, it means it’s okay. So, it’s that kind of permission, but it’s not like there wasn’t a lot of back and forth. I think we struggled quite a bit. You know, and it takes a special kind of an editor to let you play with a character that’s kind of distasteful, you know? So, she did.

Laura: You mentioned that you’re switching genres to thriller. How did that change come about? Was that something you’d been wanting to do for a while? Because it’s kind of a jump from your, like you said, your family sagas and your women’s fiction.

Maren: You know, again, I’ve described myself as kind of a second-chapter writer. This is what I’m doing in my retirement from, you know, a long career. And it’s not that I don’t take it seriously. I do. I’ve learned the craft. I believe I’m getting better at it every day, but it’s for me. You know, why would I stick in one particular genre if I was curious about writing in another? I am not a serial person. I would not write a series. It’s not like I don’t love my characters, it’s just that, you know, they’re in your head for quite a while, and I wanna investigate new ones. So, it’s more pleasurable for me to kind of follow my curiosity. Now, having said that, I did not know I was writing a thriller. I knew I was writing kind of a… I had a hook in my mind and I needed to follow it through. Book number three has only one character, and it’s quite a narrative arc for him. And there was a mystery that needed to be dealt with. But when you look at BISAC codes, etc., etc., you realize, is it literary mystery? Is it a suspense novel? Is it a thriller? I don’t know how it’s really going to come out because we’re still in that process, but it’s not like either the other two books.

Rachel: I love this following your curiosity methods you’re writing. I think that’s so interesting and so cool. I’m just gonna take a left turn into a very different question. On your website, you have book club questions for your readers, and I’m just really curious, what was the process of coming up with these questions, and have they given you an opportunity to engage with your readers on a different level?

Maren: It’s interesting, we just had our first session of the fall, our book club, which has been…we couldn’t remember when we started it, but it was like in the mid- ’80s. So that’s how long I’ve been with the same people talking books. Now, think about that. So, I know what book clubs struggle with, I know the issues. In fact, we’ve even come to the conclusion now. We’ve made so many changes along that time. We only meet nine times a year. We give ourselves the summer off. We fight about what’s gonna be on our list in September over a potluck dinner. And then, we’ve given ourselves the generous gift of having two books for every month. So, if you don’t like one, you know, you read the other one. So, we also know each other’s point of view about literature, and every once in a while, we just throw a new one in there to strike, you know, just a new gong so people don’t get too, you know, lazy about their reading.

So, it’s with that background that I have no problem coming up with questions for any of my books, basically, because I know what good discussions are. And in fact, I’m sure that was part of the landscape in my head when I was thinking about writing because, you know, you don’t want to bore your reader, you wanna have, you know, something jump out or something that would be worthy of discussion. So, I think, again, I’ve been an avid reader forever, and I think that, you know, informs the way you look at any kind of work that you might be interested in writing.

And I’ve got my first… Actually, I’ve been doing a fair number of events since “Finding Grace” came out, and I was just at a big festival on Saturday, and was able to put a video out, which is going to be on YouTube at some point. So, you know, I’ve done my shtick and I’ve had a lot of signings, etc., etc. But I’m gonna have my very first book club coming up early the week of November, first week of November. And I’m very excited. And I did send to the organizer the… She had been on my website and she said they’ve never had an author before, so they weren’t quite sure how to do this. And so, I kind of guided them through that. And it’s fun for me. It’s fun for me. And, you know, I said, “How about if I come about 20 minutes after you guys usually start meeting?” Because there’s always that, you know, “Hey, what’s been going on with you?” You know, and I don’t need to be there for that. I’m the guest. I’ll come in and we’ll get serious about having a good book discussion, and then I’ll leave again.

So, it’s fun. I’d like to do more of it. I’ve done some of it in Zoom. This one I get to do in person because it’s in Minnesota, not very far from me. I’m doing some library visits, one by Zoom, several by in-person, and I’ll kind of treat them like a book club where you basically are… You know, give them enough about the story, and then, you know, have them ask questions. But I use the book club questions to feed the discussion if there isn’t a question. So, it’s been very helpful to have them.

Rachel: For writers who want to either come up with their own book club questions or get involved, like, in folks’ book clubs. Do you have any advice on how to do either?

Maren: I don’t remember this when I was doing my first book, but I do know that there are online book clubs now where you can actually…in fact, there’s apps where you can go and pitch a book for a book club visit. And I think there’s something called Bookclubs, which is actually a business, and they do that. I haven’t gone that route. I may, I’m not sure. I haven’t really made that determination, but I wanna have a couple in person before I’d be thinking about that. So, my own book club readers are asking me all kinds of good questions, so I’m getting smarter as I go.

Laura: And when can we expect the thriller book from you? Where are you in that process?

Maren: The pub date is November 14th of 2023. So, we’re not that far, about a year and a month away. And I just…I think we are moving from copy edit to proofing. I’m in the process of having authors look, and read, and consider blurbs for me. I won’t really be doing much talking about it for a while, but I’m feeling pretty good about having gotten it to this point of production.

Laura: Yeah, that’s very exciting.

Maren: Yeah, it is. I was able to go to, I don’t know if you all are aware of a conference called Bouchercon, which is a worldwide suspense, thriller, mystery writer’s conference?

Laura: Mm-hmm.

Maren: And I fell into it because it happened to be in Minneapolis in September, and William Kent Krueger, who is a wonderful author of many, many books, and a Minnesota treasure, blurbed my book, told me about this conference, and I decided, “Oh, you know, I’m writing one. I should really go.” And so, because it was in my neighborhood, I just went, and it was so much fun. You know, it was kind of like people are still considering whether they go to a big venue like that, and yet, I don’t know, there were a couple thousand people at this thing. And it was over three days, and there were panels, Dennis Lehane and the guy that wrote “Razorblade Tears,” which was a book that I just read. I listened to it on audio and I was just blown away. So, it opened a world to me that was…it was timely because, you know, I had this thriller kind of in the bag. And so, I met a few people. I’ve got at least one potential blurb author out of it. And it was fun.

And I’m thinking about, there’s one in San Diego next fall, and I think I’ll probably target Nashville the following fall, really because it’s fun and there are panel discussions. It was great. So, I don’t know whether that means I’m hooked on thrillers now. You know, that’s thing, when you are with a hybrid publisher and when you are really hands-on with so much of this, I haven’t had time to think about, “Well, do I have a fourth book in me?” I don’t know yet. And I’m not even gonna consider it yet because I’m still having fun, you know, promoting “Finding Grace” while I’m getting this next one kind of moving, and I’m still selling “A Better Next.” So, I’m kind of busy, so it’s fun.

Rachel: And before we let you go, where can listeners find you online?

Maren: Oh, thanks for asking. My website is marencooper.com, and all of my handles there for everything else are there. I’m pretty active on Instagram and Facebook. I’ve got something up on Pinterest, probably need to update that. And of course, I’m on Twitter. So, thank you.

Rachel: No, thank you. And we will include links to all of those in our show notes so our listeners can find you. And Maren, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been so wonderful.

Laura: Yes, thank you.

Maren: Well, this was…

Laura: This has been great.

Maren: This was a hoot. I really enjoyed talking about my writing and my book, so thank you very much for having me.

Rachel: Thank you for listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast.” If you’re interested in picking up Maren’s books, we will include links in our show notes. And if you’re enjoying this podcast, please be sure to rate, review, and subscribe. If you’re looking for more tips on growing your self-publishing business, you can find us at kobowritinglife.com, and be sure you’re following us on socials. We are @KoboWritingLife on Facebook and Twitter, and @kobo.writing.life on Instagram.

Laura: This episode was hosted by Laura Granger and Rachel Wharton, with production by Terrence Abrahams. Editing is provided by Kelly Robotham. Our theme music is composed by Tear Jerker. And thanks to Maren Cooper for being a guest. If you’re ready to start your publishing journey, sign up today at kobo.com/writinglife. Until next time, happy writing.