Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Astrid Cooper: The Starlight Goddess

Author Interview by A.J. Llewellyn

1. Hi Astrid, thank you so much for coming to the Divas’ Den! Let me start off by saying your Starlight series for eXtasy Books has some awesome cover art and intriguing paranormal/fantasy elements. Cats are sort of the bad guys in this.

Gidday to everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here, thanks for inviting me! The cover artist, Martine Jardin and I work closely on the concept of each… I am lucky to have her.
Cats – the bad guys? Naughty, yes; irrepressible, yes; sexy, yes! But bad? No, cats are the good guys in this series. The villain of the story (apart from a despicable human) is the ‘starlord’ who is a mix of lizard with some feline traits. But definitely more lizard than cat! My cats would bite me, claw me and be very upset with me if they knew cats in my stories were anything but the heroes.

2. I really applaud your work for animals. I know you have an active bear campaign which we will discuss later, but please tell me about your cats. How many do you have and what are they all like? Where do you find them – or do they find you?

I have 23 cats (1 dog, 2 canaries, 8 fish and a rabbit and a lizard or two who visit for feeding) – most of them were rescued from abuse, or dumped on my property, or found near death on the side of the road, etc. Every cat is different – in looks and temperament: ranging from smoochy short hair tabbies, to fluffy gingers and black and whites, with one almost pure black (this is Tess and she is so traumatized by her former life that she is terrified of me some days and screams in fear if I go near her; other days she will come up to me for petting. I have to allow her to initiate contact and can never force the issue).

Jake, a recent arrival has a chronic heart murmur and is under constant medication. He was dumped by his former owner because the vet thinks that his medication was too expensive and a nuisance to give every day. He is so sweet and gentle, there can be no other reason for his being dumped. The canaries were found on my property – near death – but they both survived. The dog was adopted from a farmer who didn’t want her anymore – she was no good rounding up sheep.

I’ve never had a dog before, so I wasn’t sure how to manage her. The cats soon sorted her out and they are all devoted to each other – so much for dogs and cats not getting on. They sleep together in front of the fire, and groom one another. The animals have also adopted the rabbit, so they all get along (well most of the time – there are a few spats, as in every family!)
I have organized a couple of fund raisers among writers/reader groups – one for the animal victims of Hurricane Katrina, and then for the Bears … every little bit helps. To NOT do anything when one has the ability to do something is just unthinkable. If anyone reading this wants to help, then if they join the animal rescue site and click daily – this allows a bowl of food to be donated from the site’s sponsors to animals in shelters.
Go to: http://www.theanimalrescuesite.com

My activities sometimes get me into trouble or I get despondent about human cruelty, but then I do meet some dedicated people and being able to write a cheque to send to animals in need makes up for the hard times.

3. How did the idea for the Starlight series come about? And did you originally intend for it to be a series?

The idea for the series came through serendipity. I had this old story published many years ago here in OZ – a fluffy contemporary erotic piece. My publisher rang me and said she had an urgent spot to fill in her publishing schedule. Did I have something of approx. 5000 words that might suit? The only piece I had hanging around was Birthday Surprise. I revamped the story, added a bit of ‘space opera’ and paranormal and Starlight Ecstasy was the result.

I never intended it to be a series, but some things just appeared in that re-write of the original story – all of them surprising to me! The surprises continued during my editing – layering of plot and characterization and world building … My subconscious was already working stuff out and paving the way for more stories, before Astrid the author knew what was happening! Serendipity is one of the things I live with and accept as a wonderful gift.

After Starlight Ecstasy was published, I woke up one morning with all this material going around in my head. Felinus. Starlord. Starlight… and I sat down and began to write. It’s been a roller-coaster ride of discovery and challenges – for myself as a writer and as a person.

One of the main themes throughout the series is the love of music shared by John-Kuno and his brother Harimal. They sing opera. I never really listened to opera before writing this series, but as I became involved with the characters I decided I needed to know why they were fascinated by it. The characters led me to discover the joys of Puccini and when I want to be inspired, or get into ‘character’, I listen to certain pieces and they never fail to create more scenes and deeper character understanding, not to mention my own pleasure at hearing such wonderful music.

Most stories in the series refer to a certain piece of opera, so readers can listen to the music as they read the story, or at least discover the inspiration behind the series. The series is going to print next month, with some more scenes and stuff and is called Starlight. It will be available internationally and I will be bringing it into Australian bookshops, too!

I’m overwhelmed by reader and reviewer response for the series – books have been getting 4.5 and 5 star reviews and have been listed as best-sellers at the publisher’s site, and nominated for awards, as well as being voted “no. 1 erotic novel” at fictionwise.com (August, I think!) What a thrill! Thank you to everyone who made this possible.

4. Congrats, Astrid. The cover is gorgeous! Where did the idea for Harimal come from?

Harimal arrived of his own accord. I was writing the first draft of Ecstasy and in it John says – ‘Harimal my brother is felinus…’ What??? What’s a felinus and who the heck is Harimal? I stared at what I had typed on screen. I didn’t know, but my subconscious knew and so, Harimal arrived. Harimal has proven a challenge and a fun guy to write about – one of my readers loves him and writes poetry about him and sends it to me.

She begged for a story about Harimal, and Hari being Hari, well, you can’t keep a good felinus down, so he has to have his own adventures next year. He’s a lonely soul seeking love, his soul-mate. The face and voice of an angel…that’s Harimal. He will be in for a tough time with the woman of his choice—and I might play unfair with him and have someone arrive who hates opera, but loves heavy metal music – poor Hari! Watch the sparks and fur fly!

5. Please tell me about the upcoming book in the series, Starlight, Starfire. It’s novel-length and focuses more on Harimal doesn’t it?

Yes. The new working title is Starfire and Ice. This story is evolving as I finish the final book in the Starlight series Starlight Seduction. Harimal has survived the starlord and the disintegration of the matter transporter – against all odds. But where is he? He manages to telepathically contact John and Sam, and advises he is safe, and is working on getting home. He is of course—being a felinus—tangled up with a woman and she is going to be his soul mate, only she doesn’t want him because he is Trouble – capital ‘T’ Trouble! Too sexy for words, too naughty and he’s an alien!

A gal would have to be crazy to tangle with a guy like that. Right? Harimal knows best and decides to convince Zenna using every trick known to cat and man to ‘feegle’ her. The characters from the first series will have brief appearances, but this is Hari’s story and it will only be at the end of Starfire and Ice that loose ends from the Starlight series are finally tied up – I won’t say anything more as it would spoil the surprises! The publisher thinks that I should write Starfire and Ice as a series, rather than as a novel, but it’s too soon to tell how it will pan out. I have other works in the pipeline, too.

6. Tell me about your life in Australia. Where do you live and what is your day to day life like?

I live on a 2.5 acre property 75 kilometres north of Adelaide, South Australia. I am near the famous wine region – the Barossa Valley.

AJ says: How many churches are there? Sorry...couldn’t resist...Adelaide is after all, the city of churches...

In Adelaide????? – I have no idea. Where I live? Every denomination is covered. There is also a Buddhist Ashram in the area. I used to live in the suburbs, but decided to leave the rat race behind when 4 family members died in 3 years and my home was burgled. I bought the vacant block – much to the horror of friends and family – designed my own house along eco lines and after 6 months, moved in.

I spent the next year planting over 1000 native trees (the soil was so hard and dry I had to use a pick to break into the ground – my aching back and muscles!), then I added roses, shrubs and exotics. In 7 years a bare block bereft of life – bird and animal –has been transformed to a forest. It is now becoming a habitat/sanctuary for native creatures. I can see my overgrown garden from my office window, and beyond that the rolling hills – now brown as it is nearing summer – but in winter they are green with crops and trees.

Country living – one can be isolated due to distances to events and the city, but I have fresh air and open spaces and I know many people in the town on first name basis, which is a far cry from the city where we all live in anonymity. My day begins with feeding the animals and tending to their needs, and then MY breakfast. Several of the cats line up for their own vegemite, so I have a side serving of it on my plate for them (anyone want to know about vegemite?)

AJ says: I am all about vegemite and so is my cat. I am embarrassed to admit I know the Vegemite song...ah...the wages on a misspent youth. Do you know the lyrics?? Don’t look ‘em up!!

Yes – of course I know the lyrics?!!! What Aussie kid worth his/her vegemite would NOT know? I can sing them to you, if you like. (Trust me – you do NOT want me to sing. I am no felinus when it comes to singing!)

AJ says: Sing for me, Astrid!

We’re happy little vegemites, we’re bright as bright can be, beause we love our evegemite, we all adore our vegemite, it puts the rose in every cheek. (I think this is correct!)

AJ claps!!

Going to my office, I then check my emails and answer any requiring attention. Then I start work – writing, promoting, or preparing lessons or whatever. I have a short lunch break, then back to work until mid afternoon. I sign off from the computer and then do my housework – vacuum and wash all the floors every day – what a drag! (One of my aims is to earn enough royalties so that I can employ home help to do some of these mundane duties!) Last thing in the afternoon – more animal feedings, related chores (such as again cleaning litter trays – how glamorous is Astrid’s life! – NOT!) then my own feeding; maybe settle down to watch a DVD or go out in the garden to do a few hours of active work.

Maybe read a little before going to bed. Maybe do some editing – of my own work, or manuscripts that are sent to me by authors/new writers or from the assessment agency I work for. As for a social life – not often that my work commitments (my passion/obsession) gives me free time. How boring am I???

7. Do your friends know you write naughty novels?

I’ve been writing and published in the genre for over 10 years, so all family and friends know what I write. I am also published in mainstream fantasy/romance, but it is ‘sensual’. My erotic stories are naughty but nice with strong plots, world-building, deep characterization as well as many and varied ‘docking manoeuvres’.

8. Is there a big acceptance of erotic fiction downunder?

Yes. Quietly. It’s not on display in bookshops, but it is there on the lower shelf at the back of the store. But only the books from the bug guy publishers such as Black Lace.

The paranormal/speculative fiction (s.f. fantasy ) erotica is virtually unknown to the general public who frequent bookshops. Electronic? I don’t know how many readers of it there are down under (or who would admit to reading it!) I don’t promote my work as erotica – rather sexy space opera, or sensual romance. This is for marketing. People are OK with reading sexy stuff, but some aren’t sure about ‘erotica’. I’ve only ever had a couple of adverse reactions from fellow authors down under about what I write. I was flamed by them – go figure!

9. You recently asked me for some info on gay erotic fic for workshops. How did it go down? And what are the most popular genres for authors and readers there, judging by your experience with running the workshops?

People were very interested in gay erotica. At one workshop, a gay man wanted to write in the genre. I run workshops on erotica as well as ones for speculative fiction (with romantic elements or fantasy romance). Just about every person wants to write something with a twist – ranging from paranormal, to metaphysical to science fiction to erotica.

I tend to think that people ‘find’ me – the ones who want to write the stories that are different, not the straight contemporary stories—though some speculative stories are set in contemporary settings –I think people check out my website, see what I write and attend my workshops because of the material on my website. Like attracting like! I wanted to add a m/m scene in the Starlight series, but I couldn’t because the characters were related. I do have two gay felinus in the last instalment of my Starlight series, however, and may expand these characters’ adventures in the future. I have more spin-off stories planned …

10. I am fond of throwing quick quizzes at my captive subjects. Since your work is of an other-worldly nature, I’m wondering what planet would you be? Go to this link and fill out the brief questions. Please tell us which planet you are and give me in one paragraph an idea of what one day in your life as this planet would be like: http://www.quizilla.com/quizzes/8129070/what-planet-are-you

I did the quiz. I am from Neptune. The picture of the planet – it was a lovely shade of green. That’s probably my next favourite colour after purple. I am also ‘green’ minded and I tend to have that in my stories – environmental issues, plus my stance on animal welfare. So, the quiz was ‘spot on’. This is what the quiz site says: Neptune was named after the Greek god who was related to the ocean and waters. You are a very adventurous person and love to explore everything. You would love to travel the world and experience everything the world offers you. You are very fond of nature and care deeply about keeping it clean and beautiful.

Yes, I am a polymath – a person who does want to experience everything, to know everything. LOL! I think for a writer one has to really know a lot of stuff – some of it ‘useless’ in the real world, but necessary. I have learned a smattering of languages – Spanish, Italian, French because some of my characters originate from these countries and to get ‘into’ character one has to have some knowledge of the culture—at least I think so!

A day in the life of Astrid on Neptune:
As a human living on Neptune, I see earth, the home planet, as a very distant ‘star’ when I venture topside in my planet rover to check the relay beacons. I live underground in a carefully controlled environment, because topside the atmosphere and the cold and the pressure would kill me in a nano-second. I long for the touch of the sun on my skin and feel the warm scented breeze of earth—the holo deck can only give so much in the way of simulation.

When my tour here is over, I want to lie on a white sandy beach, and sip a tropicana and maybe call over one of the ‘cabana boys’ to keep me company. (AJ will understand this reference!)

AJ says: *perks* Did somebody mention cabana boys?

I am on Neptune as a star listener – the outpost set up to monitor star song and to send out messages to the galaxy, to attract visitors . Humans want to reach out to every species and form a galactic confederation. So my day is spent listening and watching and waiting and composing music and pictures on my holo-computer…

10. That's brilliant, Astrid! A whole new series idea, maybe? I like you, grew up in Australia and was heavily influenced by some of the gorgeous men we had there. For example, I was crushing on John Farnham and Daryl Braithwaite for years. What about you? Growing up which Aussie guys appealed to you?

Aussie guys – hmmm. I looked beyond these shores for my inspiration. Now, older and maybe wiser, I tend to think that Aussie men have evolved where before they just didn’t appeal to me. However, I enjoy their dry humour, sometimes their dark humour which can be uniquely Aussie and not understood by anyone outside of OZ (I know my own dark humour has been misunderstood on lists…until I explained).

As a writer and reader of speculative fiction since aged 5, I never really had inspiration from the real world – my characters were always out of this world. I had Star Trek the original series as my great inspiration and I think that a lot of this is coming out in my Starlight series. I’m sorry I can’t say that any Aussie guys particularly inspired me. Maybe John Waters the actor. My inspiration came from books.

Thank you for asking me to share with you and your readers. I have some pictures on my website of myself and my home with a couple of the cats. www.astridcooper.com
Drop by and visit me and sign my guestbook—please?
Too-roo! Aussie speak for goodbye!

On behalf of the Dark Diva Reviews team I would like to thank the lovely and lush Astrid Cooper for coming by today!

Astrid's books can be found right here: www.eXtasybooks.com


Jambrea said...

Very nice interview and I enjoyed the song. :)

Eliza Knight said...

Excellent interview as always! Thank you for introducing us to Astrid Cooper!