We’re thrilled to have Robert Cochran on Mixed-Up Files today. Robert co-created the international hit television series 24, for which he received six Emmy nominations and two wins. Before that, he had written and/or produced a number of other popular shows, including L.A. Law, Falcon Crest, JAG, The Commish, and La Femme Nikita. Prior to becoming a writer, he was a lawyer and a management consultant, careers he considers highly useful because they convinced him that he didn’t want to be a lawyer or a management consultant. He lives with his wife in Monterey, California.
Robert talks to us about The Sword and the Dagger – his first novel and his career of writing for TV. Be sure to check out the giveaway at the end of the post.
- How did you start your career in tv and writing in general?
From as early as I can remember, I always wanted to be a writer, though I have to say it took me a while to get started! I was a lawyer for several years, then a management consultant, but always writing in my spare time. One day, a friend of mine, a screenwriter, showed me one of his scripts. It was the first time I’d seen the screenwriting format, and I instinctively felt it was something that would come more naturally to me than prose fiction, which I’d been concentrating on previously. This turned out to be true, and after a few false starts, it eventually led to a career in television. Now, with The Sword and the Dagger, I feel I’ve come full circle back to prose fiction.
- Tell us about the first time you thought about writing for children and young adults. What made you decide that, yes, this is a story I want to write for a broader audience?
I’d come across the historical figure of the Old Man of the Mountain and found him and his era fascinating. His trained assassins were mostly quite young, and I wondered what would happen if one of them became emotionally involved with the intended victim and couldn’t bring himself to carry out the assassination. It seemed probable that the intended victim would also be young (making the bond more likely), so the main points of view were those of young people, and it just seemed natural to write the story for young people as well. You might say, I didn’t really make the decision to write for young adults — the story made it for me!
- Can we look forward to more novels from you in the children and young adult space? What are you excited about?
I don’t have any immediate plans for another novel — at least nothing specific. I love history, though, and if I write another young adult novel, it will probably be historical and probably again set during the Middle Ages, or perhaps a little earlier — maybe about Vikings. They did some pretty crazy things and are easy to get excited about!
- Tell us about your protagonist. How long did it take for you to figure out your main character and her motivations?
It took a while! I think you only really get to “know” your characters by writing them — your view of them changes as the story goes along. Elaine is born to privilege, but it’s privilege that feels like a cage. She’s surrounded by people, mainly men, telling her how she should behave and how she should think, and she sees no chance that this will ever change. She wants to rebel, to be free, to have adventures! And she does — she breaks free of her cage. But the adventures she has help her to understand that her privilege also carries obligations. Many people, an entire nation, will be affected by the decisions she makes. She has to find a way to be true to herself while still protecting those who depend on her, and this struggle forms her character and leads to decisions that change her life and the lives of her companions.
- How does your experience in TV affect your process of writing for young adults?
Writing for television teaches you about structure and keeping the story moving — you don’t want people changing the channel! But all adults, of whatever age, are interested in the same fundamental things: love, relationships, loyalty, courage, family, a person’s place in society, how to find purpose and meaning in life, and so forth. A story geared for young adults may tend to delve into such themes slightly less deeply than works targeted at an older audience, and while violence and sexuality aren’t ignored by any means, scenes involving them are presented less graphically. (I’d point out that there are many books and movies intended for young adults that older adults enjoy just as much, and vice-versa!)
- What advice would you give writers who want to write novels that have the potential to be made into movies or TV shows?
I actually think that just about any novel with a good story and strong characters has the potential to be made into a movie or TV show. So I would advise writers not to write with that goal in mind but just write the best novel they can possibly write. I’d also suggest, especially when you’re starting out, don’t worry too much about what’s popular or what’s selling at the moment. Write what moves you, what interests you, what you believe in, what you feel passionate about. That’s your best chance of coming up with something that’s authentic and original, and, therefore, your best chance of getting interest from film or television!
- Is there anything you’d like to say to readers?
Keep reading — then read some more! We don’t all have the time or the resources to visit different places or meet people who live different lives than ours, but the next best thing is to read about them, whether in fiction or nonfiction. Every time we experience the world through the eyes of another, we gain a little more understanding and compassion. It may sound corny, but I really believe a world full of readers is a better world.
Want to have your own copy of The Sword And The Dagger? Enter our giveaway by leaving a comment below!
You may earn extra entries by blogging/tweeting/facebooking the interview and letting us know. The winner will be announced here on Friday, August 30, 2019 and will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US/Canada only) to receive the book.