SC: Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
EC: Hi, my name is Ethan A. Cooper. I’m married, have three kids, and I work in the IT department at a private university (LeTourneau) in Longview, TX. I’m an indie author, and I write sci-fi and horror.
SC: Your first novel What Happened On My Space Vacation – where did the idea come from for that?
EC: My dad. He was fascinated with space exploration, and he loved sci-fi. Every Saturday night, my mom would make pizza, and we’d watch Star Trek: The Next Generation as a family. He had this story idea about a family going on vacation in space that he’d always wanted to write. As he got older, it was clear that he wasn’t going to be able to write it. I had been doing Nanowrimo for several years, so one year I asked him if I could write the story for him. He agreed. We took a camping trip, and while he drove, I interrogated him about the characters and plot. By the end of that trip I had a pretty good idea of the how to tell the story. The concept was simple: a family takes a vacation to the moon and things don’t go as planned. I had a lot of fun writing that one. I’d send him daily updates on my progress during Nanowrimo. He told me that he was really interested to see where the story was going. I was like, “But, Dad, it’s your story!” The most fulfilling part, and the reason the story will always be special to me, was that I was able to read the finished version to him before he passed.
SC: Tell us about your current series, Downfall.
EC: Angel Descending is the first book in my Downfall series, a sci-fi adventure for adults. This is a dark future series that begins when, all across the world, Cyberspace (the internet) drops offline. Imagine if the internet went down, and nobody could get it back online—if the computers, for whatever reason, could not communicate with each other. We all get upset when our Netflix isn’t working, but just think about how much of a technological backstep no internet is for a society that is even more dependent on it than ours.
Even though the concept might be grandiose, I’m intentionally keeping things more personal and close to the ground in my telling of it. It’s written in first person, so we’re not going to know much about how the world at large is dealing with this crisis, but how (2)Syl, my main character, survives in that world.
The idea for the world of Downfall was conceived by me and a couple of friends after I’d graduated from college. We wanted to write an online, serialized story. Each of us would tell the story from our character’s point of view. Our characters would have their own stories, but their arcs would intersect—classic comic book storytelling methods. It’s not an uncommon happening, but the story ended up being more grandiose than we had first imagined. A couple years ago, after my good experience with Space Vacation, and with the blessing of my fellow authors (since their characters make appearances), I decided to go ahead and rework the story and publish it in novel form. I have the second and third novels already written, so I’m working on rewrites to those now. The series will have five books.
SC: You recently dropped a line on your author page about Space Vacation and Angel Descending taking place in the same world. What’s the significance to the stories? Or do they intersect at all?
EC: There’s no specific interaction, but Angel Descending is set further into our future than Space Vacation. When I made that comment, I was thinking—with a hint of sadness and melancholy—that the happiness and adventure that permeate the Space Vacation storyline ends up getting consumed as the world continues to decline. The world of Downfall is not the one of hope, advancement, and bold space exploration that exists in Space Vacation, but of one humanity on the brink of destruction.
SC: You also do some pretty kickass artwork! Tell us a little about that.
EC: I’m a doodler. I draw while on the phone, in work meetings, at church, wherever. I bring a cheap Pilot G2 gel pen and just sketch. When I was younger, I remember watching my mom talk on the phone and make little designs in a small notebook that she kept on the counter, so I probably inherited that urge from her. While I don’t remember exactly when I started to be more serious about cultivating this, comic books have been the single greatest influence on my art. A couple of friends and I started drawing our own comic books (heavily influenced by Transformers). We’d draw them on these spiral bound notepads, draw and color them, then rip the pages out and tape them all together. Eventually, I started going a more traditional route. I penciled, inked, pasted in word balloons I printed from my computer, then photocopied the whole thing at Kinkos. I put them online for archive purposes over at http://www.digitaltrouble.com/lasercomics/
For me, my art has been revolutionized by the computer. Outside of doodling, all my art is now done digitally. I use either a Surface Pro or my drawing tablet, along with a wonderful (and affordable) program called Clip Studio Paint, which is heavily marketed for manga. The ability to undo mistakes is a huge advantage. I can separate a piece into its individual components. If I don’t like part of the composition, I can remove the offending elements instead of having to start the entire piece over.
I would love to practice my color painting, but my writing currently takes that time. So, for the most part, I work in black and white.
SC: If you could only do one – write, or draw – which one could you not give up? Why?
EC: That’s like asking if you would rather get shot in the left leg or the right leg—either way, you’re getting a bullet! I’m pretty sure this is one of the choices that Saw movie victims have to make.
If you forced me to make a choice, Ms. Desiree “Jigsaw” Byars, I’d go ahead and say writing. Art is a core part of my creative expression, but I have these stories in my head that are never going to go away until I get them out. I don’t think I could give that up.
SC: I’m also from southern California, and I’m curious if you feel being in Texas reduces some of the opportunities the creator culture in California does, or if it’s easier to work here in Texas because the market is less saturated?
EC: I didn’t realize how influential Texas was (on so many things—technology, art, politics, education) until I started living here. I can’t claim to be an authority, but my opinion would be that the only true barrier to accomplishing what we want to in our chosen art field is ourselves. I personally have never felt my opportunities were restricted here in Texas. Great things are possible in both of these states, but honestly, I feel like the newbie here, only now experiencing a fraction of what’s possible as an independent artist. For me, self-publishing wasn’t possible when I was growing up in California. Now, outside of time and effort, I don’t think there are any real barriers to entry for the indie artist. You can write your book, design your cover, publish it, promote, and sell it…all by yourself. This is an amazing time, and I’m thankful that I get to experience it.
SC: Any collections?
EC: In high school I had a healthy obsession with collecting comic books—all of which I still have, but I wasn’t able to make regular comic book store runs in college, so that sort of weaned me off that habit (hm, you know…I never did complete my collection of Robotech comics…). Now, with a family and kids, there’s not a lot of room to maintain that sort of a collecting habit. That said, I’ve been improving my collection of indie author books! I’d love to have a bookshelf or two of those, but when I don’t have room for that, at the very least they’re on my Kindle, where they don’t take up any space at all! It’s important to support your community as you have the resources, and this is one way I can do that.
SC: Talk to the aspiring writer or artist out there. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten and can share with them?
EC: My wife and I once went to a book signing by Suzanne Brockmann. She said something so simple during her talk: “Writers write.” Now, this may not be original to her, but the principal stuck with me. If I’m writing, I’m a writer. Nobody can tell me that I’m not an author simply because I’m not famous or I don’t have a contract with a major publisher. This is a core part of the idea that when you write, you write for yourself first. If you’re an indie author, and you have 100% creative control of your story, then you should write what you like to read—what you love. Pay attention to being the best at your craft, and of course, know your audience, but write something that would blow your own mind if you were the reader. No matter your particular creative outlet, I think this is where truly great things come from.
As promised, Ethan’s short story Phidlestix:
This evil in your eyes is this evil in disguise.
– Legacy of the Grave
There once was a creature named Phidlestix who got around on two legs, waddling on plump feet while waving two stumpy, bendy arms with pudgy little hands. He had ten fingers, ten toes, and only a tiny ball of a head that rotated left and right and sometimes leaned this way or the other. Because he had these things he was as plain and as forgettable as you and I. Perfectly normal.
Well, except for the part of him that was a clown.
Phidlestix wasn’t all clown—not many beings are. If you know anything about clowns, then you know why that’s probably a good thing.
He lived at the carnival—where both good and bad clowns are known to live, laugh, and pile into cars made for clowns. The carnival was his home and his playground. Oh, how he loved to play! And play he did! Oh yes! Especially at night, when the carnival was all lit up with sparkly lights, glittery neon, and the glowing breath of life.
Phidlestix was particularly fond of that breath of life part—how it hung around all the people, flowing in and out of their nostrils and mouths. Sometimes it even came out the other end in multi-colored rainbows that caused Phidlestix to burst into wild laughter and open his red mouth wide—sometimes right in the middle of his act. But that was okay—people expected that sort of behavior from a clown. It’s all part of the show, folks! All part of the show!
Everybody’s breath had its own unique hue. Phidlestix could discern the subtle color variations and the different tastes that went along with them. Oh, how he loved their taste. Some breaths of life tasted better than others. But those of the children were the best—warm and soothingly sweet, with various textures: cotton candy and corn dogs, berry-berry bubblegum and sour lemon gumdrops. Consuming a child’s breath of life was so super yummy-yum-yum-yumalicious! Slurp! Ah, the breath of life! Phidlestix’s mouth watered every time he thought about it.
One cloudy day at the carnival, Phidlestix found himself cornered by several children of various ages; all had wandered away from their parents. He counted them (there were four) and asked them their names.
Timmy, the eldest by the look of him, only barely cracked a smile when Phidlestix honked his big red nose.
“Awww, is widdle Timmy too owwd for cwowns?” Phidlestix asked, dancing a Timmy-like jig, his wide red mouth forming a sad little curve. With his hand, he mimed a tear. “Does widdle Timmy-Tim-Tim not wike cwowns?”
Timmy made a rude gesture with his middle finger—which would have got him in trouble with his parents had they seen it—and took a swing at that big red nose.
Phidlestix dodged back and burst out laughing, grabbing the hands of a little six-year-old girl named Amy and dancing with her for a minute.
“Timmy’s a widdle cwanky wanky isn’t he?” Phidlestix asked the other kids.
They all nodded. Timmy was the crankiest of the bunch.
“You know what happens to cwanky wanky widdle boys?” Phidlestix asked, honking his nose and twisting his ear.
They all shook their heads.
“They get eaten!!” These words came out in a deep growl that was anything but natural. Phidlestix opened his mouth wider than would have been possible for any human dressed as a clown, and grabbed Timmy. The little boy struggled, but he couldn’t break free. Phidlestix could see the breath of life—blue with fear—pouring from Timmy’s mouth and nose. Saliva poured down Phidlestix’s chin, his mouth growing wider to encircle the boy’s head. Little Timmy was gobbled up quickly, disappearing into Phidlestix’s mouth in two quick chomps. He tasted like licorice lollipops and blue jellybeans, but with some extra special tanginess thrown in.
The other kids could only watch as Phidlestix let loose with a truly epic burp that sounded like a lion roaring. It lasted at least five seconds.
Phidlestix beamed, Timmy’s left sneaker hanging from his mouth by one of its shoelaces all the while. “He tasted even better the second time, kiddies! Now, who’s next?” He looked at their faces, trying to determine which would taste the best. Oh yes, the petite little girl named Amy—a perfectly…delicious name. Thick strands of drool clung to his chin, refusing to let go and fall to the ground.
Only, something was wrong.
Their faces. Each of them had the same look—none of them were scared.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” the nine-year-old girl named Krystal said.
“Big mistake, clowny face,” the boy named Robby said.
Phidlestix was confused, so he tried to do a silly cartwheel. Only he didn’t make it all the way around. He sat there in the dirt, looking up at the determined faces of the kids.
“You ate our leader,” Amy said. “He’s gonna be pissed. I wouldn’t want to be in those big orange shoes right now.”
Robby was laughing now. “You’re gonna have a stomachache, buddy!”
Now that Phidlestix thought about it, Timmy had tasted a little funny…
“Your leader? Who are you?” Phidlestix asked, scanning the faces of the kids.
“We’re the Clown Killer Kids,” Robby said.
“C.K.K. for short,” Amy said.
“We kill clowns,” Krystal said.
“Lots of them,” Amy said, her fists on her hips.
“Somebody’s sure gotta,” Robby said, “and you’re next, big nose. Timmy, you coming out?”
This was not how things were supposed to be! Clowns eat kids! That’s just the way the world works!
Phidlestix felt a horror take hold of him. Something in his chest gurgled. Moaning, he grabbed his stomach.
Then he exploded, splattering a ten-foot circle with clown-gore. He fell over dead, only half of him left.
Timmy crawled out of the clown’s corpse.
“Grosser than gross!” Amy said. “He was extra juicy!”
Timmy laughed, untangling himself from part of an intestine. “Extra jucilicious! Next time, it’s your turn to get eaten.”
“No way! It’s Robby’s!”
“Just like a girl to shirk her sworn duty,” Timmy said, shaking blood from his hair. “I may have to demote you!”
Amy had to stand on her tip-toes, but she took a swing at Timmy’s nose, missing it, but just barely.
Krystal jumped between the brother and sister, pushing them apart. “Hey, you two!”
“Yeah?” they asked together, still staring each other down.
Krystal wore a lopsided grin. “We’ve got more work to do! So quit clowning around!”
Robby groaned, but the standoff was broken. After a moment, Timmy put his arms around Amy and Krystal.
“Ew!” Krystal said. “You’re all icky!”
Robby took Krystal’s hand, and the Clown Killer Kids walked away, talking loudly and giggling.
Their work at the carnival was complete, but the circus was coming.
Find Ethan and his work at the links below: