Doug Cooper interview with Karen Stefano
Doug Cooper interview with Karen Stefano
“Vacant” is a piece that stayed with me for days. The dialogue is masterful and it’s loaded with stunning lines:
“Her lover’s knock bounced through the room like the first notes of a favorite song.”
“Alice wasn’t miserable in her marriage. She just needed more excitement –she deserved more excitement.”
“Doubt sprouted after all three kids were in school, her days decelerating without having to chase them around. As life stalled, the questions increased.”
Doug, what was the inspiration for this piece?
I was living in New York City and out quite a bit. For a while, it seemed like every woman I met, whether she was local, on a business trip, or a girls weekend, was married or in a serious relationship, and, let’s put it this way, their commitments didn’t limit their experiences. Being a good Midwestern boy (haha), I was surprised by the volume and frequency of affairs. Through these interactions, I became fascinated in why they were so open to infidelity and talked to them about it. The story really comes from those conversations. I can tell you this much, after hearing all the stories and finishing the writing, I did feel kind of dirty from it all. Think I went on a 72-hour Disney movie binge to cleanse myself afterward.
One of your characters in this story remarks that “Guilt is a powerful motivator.” Have you ever been motivated by guilt? If so, can you tell us about it?
Of course. Most of my guilt, though, is around past relationships. I’ve been blessed to have had some amazing women in my life – a fact I didn’t always realize in the moment but have come to appreciate over time. I play the “what-if” game quite a bit but usually talk myself off the ledge by trusting things turned out the way they did for a reason. Overall if I feel guilty after doing something or not doing something, I view it as more of a signal than anything. It tells me that I have to reevaluate a choice I made. Sometimes I recognize it as a bad decision and know that I need to make a different choice next time. Others it can be an indication of some psychic or karmic debt that needs to be reckoned. Overall I think of guilt as a basis and fuel for change. In life we know what to do by learning what not to do.
In this piece, Alice is having an affair. Why do you think people have affairs?
I look at affairs as another vice. Similar to other temptations, like alcohol, drugs, gambling, they are an escape—a symptom that something is missing and an attempt to fill that void. That’s where the title “Vacant” and the symbolism in the story comes from. It’s all about filling emptiness.
One of your characters asks a woman at a bar, “What interests you?” I want to pose that same question to you, if I may. Writing and reading, obviously, but what else?
Been blessed with amazing family and friends so important for me to make sure I am giving back to them. I know it’s cliched for a writer, but I’m a total cat guy as well. Have had two for over sixteen years and believe the internet was invented mostly to share cat videos. With so much of my life in front of a computer, I also really enjoy working out, mostly at a gym. It really helps me create structure in my day, to get out of my head and have some social interaction, which I need because if I’m not careful, I can go days without any face to face time.
You are the author not just of novels and short stories, but also of some wonderful quotes. One you posted on Facebook was “Identity can't be found or fabricated but emerges from within when we have the courage to let go.” What inspired this quote?
This quote is actually the theme of my first novel Outside In, which is about a person becoming the opposite to understand who he truly is. I just think w ith our increased awareness and access now to so much outside of ourselves through technology and media, our inner lives, who we are, our identities are even more important than ever. How else do we navigate the dynamic, turbulent landscape of our lives without a strong sense of self? The general belief is that our identity is something that can be discovered or even created based on the person we want to become or think we should be. We can’t let our identity become another mask we show to the world to protect who we really are. We must develop the strength to allow our true selves to emerge.
What is your writing ritual? Do you have a set schedule?
I’m a morning person so I’m writing within a half hour to hour of getting up. I set a weekly page goal, which is usally twenty-five pages a week, rather than a daily one. Ideally I do five pages a day Monday to Friday and can take weekends off, but if something comes up during the week or I am behind, I have the weekend to catch up. I think the weekly goal takes pressure off and provides flexibility. Usually later in the morning or in the afternoons or if I’m editing, I go out somewhere public—café, restaurant, bar—and work with headphones on. I find the movement and the faces stimulate me.
Who are your literary idols --and why?
I have a masters in American Studies so I’m a big fan of all the American classics: Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Melville, Hawthorne, Poe, etc. Valley of the Dolls by Jaqueline Susann is an all time favorite too. So honest and far ahead of its time. Contemporary authors I enjoy are Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahniuk, and Jerry Stahl. I just really admire the topics they take on and their depth of experience and command of language to spin these into entertaining and mythic tales.
Doug, thank you so much for sharing your work and yourself with Connotation Press!
In order to preserve the artistic arrangement of the writing, this piece has been created with Print2Flash Flashpaper.