Meet Isabel Cooper & W*in LESSONS AFTER DARK

Quick commercial break…First, I’m over at the Book Faery blog today, being bodily assaulted by my wizard DJ–check it out. I’m also interviewed today over at the Manga Mania Cafe. Stop by if you get a chance! But first, read on for a chance to win Isabel Cooper’s new book!

Okay, today I’d like to welcome Isabel Cooper, the author of a deliciously gothic new paranormal romance called Lessons After Dark—and she does a great interview! Isabel lives in Boston with her boyfriend and a houseplant she’s kept alive for over a year now. She maintains her guise as a mild-mannered project manager working in legal publishing; all the while, she’s writing dark, edgy and magical romance novels. Her debut novel (which I loved, by the way), No Proper Lady, was named a 2011 Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year in the romance category, a 2011 Library Journal Best Romance of the Year and received an RT Book Reviews Seal of Excellence for the month of September 2011. For more information, please visit
Want a copy of Lessons After Dark for yourself? Read on…

ABOUT LESSONS AFTER DARK  A woman with an unspeakable past…Olivia Brightmore didn’t know what to expect when she took a position to teach at Englefiend School, an academy for “gifted” children. But it wasn’t having to rescue a young girl who levitated to the ceiling. Or battling a dark mystery in the surrounding woods. And nothing could have prepared her for Dr. Gareth St. John…A man with exceptional talent…He knew all about her history and scrutinized her every move because of it. But there was more than suspicion lurking in those luscious green eyes. Even with all the strange occurrences at the school, the most unsettling of all is the attraction pulling Olivia and Gareth together with a force that cannot be denied.

Now, let’s hear from Isabel. Welcome!

Give us the “elevator pitch” for Lessons After Dark.
It’s set at this school that’s like the Victorian magical equivalent of Xavier’s Academy in the X-Men: the students mostly are going to become superheroes, or at least fight evil.  The new magic teacher there is Olivia Brightmore, this widow who used to be a fake medium and then found out how to do real magic. The school doctor, Gareth St. John, remembers her from her bilking-the-tourists days and doesn’t trust her at all; she picks up on that and doesn’t much like him—but they’re definitely attracted to each other. Then weird stuff starts happening, they have to work together, and one thing leads to another…

What’s on your nightstand or top of your TBR pile?
I’m on a YA nostalgia kick at the moment (I go through these phases, I think it has to do with the barometer or something), so I’ve got Barthe DeClements’s Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You and Maud Hart Lovelace’s Heaven to Betsy up there. I’m also looking forward to getting The Look of Love: The Art of the Romance Novel next time I go to the library, because that sounds like good fun.

Favorite book when you were a child?
A Little Princess. Absolutely. I loved the descriptions of Sarah’s ridiculous wealth, and the loss and restoration arc as well. I attempted to make the whole thing into some kind of play when I was eight or nine, but the neighborhood kids were not what you might call cooperative.
Your five favorite authors?
 Robin McKinley: she has a great writing style, creates fascinating worlds, and has written some of the only love triangle plots that I can actually enjoy.
Terry Pratchett: his sense of humor is great, but what he does with a serious moment or theme is even better in a lot of ways.
J.R.R. Tolkien: I got really into fantasy with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and still re-read it every few years.
Stephen King: for all of the gore and scariness—which is vast—I find his works both hopeful and comforting somehow, and always easy to read.
Jane Austen: even two hundred years later, her books are still accessible, and her characters are very compelling.
Book you’ve faked reading?
Ha! Quite a number of them back in my college days, let me tell you. I took a very flexible approach to homework back then. The one that comes to mind is The Blithedale Romance: like, it’s a romance, it was actually for a class on romance novels, but oh my God Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote like he was actually doing penance for something, and I just…no. Better things to do, when I was nineteen. Luckily, I bluff very well.

Book you’re an evangelist for?
…like, just one? Okay. Um. I’m gonna go with McKinley’s Hero and the Crown, on the grounds that most people talking to me probably have an opinion or five on Tolkien already. Plus, Hero is all about winning and finding where you belong—despite everyone around you being an enormous jerk, just about, oh my GOD Galanna—not so much through sparkly magic or being saved by a guy, but rather through being pigheaded and curious. Being both, I approve.

Book you’ve bought for the cover?
I actually haven’t in a while, oddly enough. These days, I buy most of my books online, so I end up flipping around a lot before I buy something, or I know that I absolutely want it now ye gods.  

Book that changed your life?
The Hobbit. Absolutely. If I didn’t read that, I probably wouldn’t have become the giant fantasy geek that I am, which has pretty much influenced everything from middle school onward. Somewhere there’s an alternate universe where I never read it and became a cheerleader or collected stamps or something. It’s a strange and creepy place, that universe. 

Favorite line from a book?
“Personal isn’t the same as important,” from Pratchett’s Men At Arms. At least where resonant-truth-type-stuff is concerned.

Book you most want to read again for the first time?
important Actually, A Countess Below Stairs, by Eva Ibbotsen. It’s pretty re-readable as well–and I do a big line in re-reading, due to childhood deprivation of some sort–but for the first time, there’s just such delight in wondering what sort of awful thing the hero’s awful fiancee is going to do next. … Most horrifying moment while reading a book? In terms of book content? Oh, man, there’s this scene in IT with a refrigerator and…bugs. I can’t even read that passage now that I’ve read it once: I skip right over it. Gah, bugs. Cannot deal.

Favorite book about books or writing?
I really enjoyed Stephen King’s On Writing, as far as advice and writing-about-the-writing-experience goes. How Not to Write a Novel is also hilarious. And I’m also going to cheat a little on the “book” thing and mention TVTropes here, because wow: in terms of breaking down the components of stories and taking a look at them, it is great. In terms of not doing any work ever for three hours, and also working your way through an entire box of Junior Mints, it is also great. Unfortunately.

Many thanks, Isabel—I don’t know TVTropes, but I’m off to look for it! You know the drill to win a copy of Lessons After Dark. One entry for comment, another for blog follow, a third for a Twitter follow @Suzanne_Johnson, and a fourth for a Tweet or Retweet. Now…Go forth and comment!

Meet Author Isabel Cooper & Win NO PROPER LADY

When I saw No Proper Lady (new from Sourcebooks on Sept. 1) described as “Terminator meets My Fair Lady,” I had to read it. Seriously. How awesome is that? And I’m happy to say it didn’t disappoint me—it’s half kickass urban fantasy with a Victorian twist and too, too fun. Today, I’m happy to welcome author Isabel Cooper to the blog—No Proper Lady is the publishing debut for this Boston author who spends her days working in legal publishing and says she has never fought a demon—although she can waltz. Read on for one of two chances to win a copy of the book!

First, about No Proper Lady: It’s Terminatormeets My Fair Lady in this fascinating debut of black magic and brilliant ball gowns, martial arts, and mysticism. England, 1888. The trees are green, the birds are singing, and in 200 years demons will destroy it all. Unless Joan, a rough-around-the-edges assassin from the future, can take out the dark magician responsible. But to get close to her target she’ll need help learning how to fit into polite Victorian society to get close to her target.Simon Grenville has his own reasons for wanting to destroy Alex Reynell. The man used to be his best friend—until his practice of the dark arts almost killed Simon’s sister. The beautiful half-naked stranger Simon meets in the woods may be the perfect instrument for his revenge. It will just take a little time to teach her the necessary etiquette and assemble a proper wardrobe. But as each day passes, Simon is less sure he wants Joan anywhere near Reynell. Because no spell in the world will save his future if she isn’t in it.
Welcome, Isabel! You work at a legal publishing firm by day; is it hard to switch gears to romance by night?
Not too often. My day job is actually the part of my life that leaves my mind the fastest: I’m out the door at 5 or 5:30 and I pretty much leave work behind. It’s one of the areas where I’ve been really fortunate—and in all honesty, when I had jobs I liked less or that involved more downtime, I did a whole bunch of writing at work!
       Actually, it’s my non-work life that tends to get in the way of my writing. If I’ve had an argument with a friend or am worried about my budget, or even if I’ve just read an article that annoyed me, I’ll find it much harder to center myself and get back into the story.
       I think the thing that helps the most there is walking. I don’t have a car, so my commute involves a 20-minute walk on either end of my workday. It’s a great opportunity to plan what’s going to happen next, imagine scenes, or just clear my mind so that I can write when I get home.
This is an amazingly fun read, with dystopian demons, evil magicians, and proper Victorian manners. What inspired you?
Thank you very much! I had a lot of inspiration for this novel. I’ve read fantasy and romance for most of my adult life, I really like post-apocalyptic weirdness, and I find both Victorian society and Victorian occultism fascinating. They’re both so intricate, with so many elaborate rules, that they become almost like games.
       Speaking of games, my hobbies were a big source of inspiration to me. Ballroom dancing obviously helps, and reading’s a given, but role-playing and video games provided very active ways for me to explore other people and worlds, and I think that really helped. There’s also a lot of genre combination in both, and that’s definitely contributed to my writing style: I like to say that I come up with plots the way some people mix cocktails!

What’s on your nightstand—or at the top of your To Read pile?
Actually, I just got an email saying that my library’s received the books I’ve requested, so I have a lot waiting for me right now—which is always good! I read very quickly, which is a questionable blessing on long trips or in dentist’s offices.
       At the moment, I’m really looking forward to Naamah’s Blessing, by Jacqueline Carey. Carey’s historical-with-high-weirdness world never fails to interest me and her prose is great. I particularly like the heroine of this third trilogy, because she’s the most plucky and down-to-earth of Carey’s protagonists, and those are qualities I love.
       I’m also going to pick up Peter Straub’s Mystery. Straub is an interesting author for me: I read The Talisman when I was young, loved it, and still do. Right out of college, I tried some of his other novels and wasn’t thrilled—but then gave Ghost Story another whirl over this Christmas, and found that it was terrific this time, and really liked Koko and A Dark Matter as well, so I decided to plunge back in. (And if the man actually writes the third Jack Sawyer novel with King, I will buy everything he writes for the rest of his life, whether I like it or not.)
Isabel Cooper
       Mercedes Lackey is always relaxing mind candy for me, and I see that Unnatural Issue, another of her Elemental Masters series, is out. I am passionately fond of the Elemental Masters series: obviously, I like Victorian/Edwardian-but-with-magic! stories, and for my money, the Elemental Masters are some of Lackey’s better work for mature readers. More interesting magical systems, fewer teenagers with low self-esteem. I approve.
This is your debut book. What has most surprised you about the publishing process?
Actually, not a great deal—but I worked in publishing for a while, so I got to see things from the other end first. I guess my biggest surprise has been how thrilling it is when it’s your book!

What’s the biggest challenge of writing a time-travel?
Figuring out how much to explain and how much to leave out. I didn’t want to put in a whole lot of theory about how time travel works in this universe—the actual mechanics of it are a pretty minor detail as far as the plot goes, since it’s a one-way trip that happens at the beginning of the story—but at the same time, I didn’t want to leave my readers wondering what was going on, how Joan could change the past without wiping out her own existence, and so forth. Readers have an irksome tendency to notice things. 😉
       In the end, I went with a fair amount of hand-waving and the knowledge that I *could* explain, if I had to. Magic’s kind of awesome like that.
Did you always think you’d write a novel? When did you start writing?
I started writing very young—in second grade or so, I believe. I remember some sort of multi-page epic about a puppy and her adventures, which mostly consisted of running around being cute, and was only slightly a blatant ripoff of Lady and the Tramp. I didn’t know that I wanted to write for a living until I was eleven or twelve—until then, I wavered between “veterinarian” and “soap opera star”.
     Once I figured out that I wanted to write professionally, and I wanted to write fantasy, it was a pretty easy jump to “and that means a novel at some point.” I managed to finish one in my senior year of high school—high melodrama and plot holes you could drive a truck convoy through—and most of my writing since then has been attempts at one novel or another. I ramble, by nature.

What’s next for you. Will we see more set in Joan and Simon’s world?
Definitely! No Honest Woman, the sequel to No Proper Lady, is scheduled for April 2012. It features one of Simon’s friends (the man has to have some friends who aren’t evil), a former army surgeon with a gift for healing, falling for a medium who started out as a fraud and discovered that she had a talent for the real thing. Meanwhile, they’re trying to cope with demonic incursions and train students with hard-to-control magical powers. It’s like Victorian mystical X-Men. No blue shapeshifters though—at least not yet.
Thanks, Isabel! Want to win a copy of No Proper Lady? Leave a comment, and you know the rest of the drill. One entry for comment, another for blog follow, a third for a Twitter follow @Suzanne_Johnson, and a fourth for a Tweet or Retweet. Be sure to include your email. Now…Go forth and comment!