I had the privilege of interviewing Joshua C. Cohen, author of Leverage!
You've always been an avid athlete interested in gymnastics and football, so where did your writing interest come from and what made you want to write a book?
When I was growing up, I liked coming up with different endings to stories I read or movies I watched, trying to make them sadder or funnier or crazier. I think, at some point, when I was in college, I really wanted to create a complete story from beginning to end. That was the first time I sat down and put all my ideas and thoughts on paper. It followed that when I saw I could string together a story, I wanted to create a complete novel.
So why gymnastics?
When I was in grade school, I was into karate and I really loved it. I think I started seeing these showy karate tricks in the kung-fu movies where the guy would do a flip and then incorporate a kick and, being a young boy, I thought that was the coolest thing in the world and would be a great way to impress girls. Looking back, I'm guessing the girls could not have cared less. Anyway, I started getting more interested in performing the flips and less interested in the kicks and punches. That's when I found out our junior high school had a gymnastics program. Budget cuts have eliminated that program and many other programs like it which is really a shame. Students should have the chance to discover new sports and hobbies. Without that after school program, I probably never would have been a gymnast.
Do you see any of yourself in your characters?
Excellent question! I've definitely exaggerated the trials and tribulations that both the characters Kurt and Danny face in Leverage. The incidents that surround the two boys are complete fiction. Having said that, as I wrote the story, I tried to put myself in both boys' place and imagine how would I face bullies if I was still in a tiny body or if I stuttered and felt trapped by my voice. So, yes, in that regard, the choices that both boys make--specifically to stay silent when that is probably the worst choice--are a character flaw I'm capable of possessing myself at times--or at least it was when I was 16. I'd like to think that part of becoming a full-fledged adult is that you make better choices when you are confronted with heavy moral choices and obstacles. That's part of the challenge of writing in the voice of a teenager when you no longer are one.
Leverage deals with some pretty serious issues. Was it difficult to write about these heavy topics? What was the hardest part about writing your novel?
The topic was both difficult and compelling. I really felt I had this story that I needed to get out. I'd written many drafts trying to get certain parts just right. I'd think I had them and then re-read what I'd written and know they were still not right. The hardest part about writing the novel was pacing. My editor worked with me to cut out lots of extra stuff. There was a secondary love story between Danny and Indira but it was adding to the already hefty page count and was taking away from the central conflict so that was cut out. Also, trying to build the prank wars and keep layering the tension was a hard balancing act to perform on paper. Writing any specific scene for me is usually not difficult but making those scenes blend smoothly is where I need help.
If your life was made into a movie, what actor would play you? What would be the title?
Doesn't every guy pick Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Johnny Depp to this question? :-) I've been told I resemble Elijah Wood a bit so maybe him. But I like George Clooney even though I'm not as charming or good looking as he is. My life, like others, has so many different aspects to it that any one title would be really difficult but since I just finished reading Johathan Franzen's novel, Freedom, and felt a real empathy with a number of the characters in that book (plus it's partially set in Minnesota and NYC) I'll go with that title at the moment. Freedom.
If you could meet any author (alive or dead) who would it be and why?
Hmmmm.... I have dozens I'd love to talk to but I think I might pick Jodi Picoult at the moment to find out how she managed to juggle parenting and writing. I love her work and could use her advice in that balancing act now that I'm a new father. I love being a new father, by the way. It's fantastic!
What do you hope your readers will take away with them after reading Leverage?
First and foremost, I want them to be gripped by the novel and come away thinking "that was a great page-turner." But I also want them to maybe see something through the eyes of another human and empathise with a different person's predicament. Growing up, I felt like books really opened up my world and I want to return that favor to the next generation of readers.
Have an interesting fact about yourself that not too many people know?
When I'm feeling stressed out or cooped up (which happens after doing a lot of sitting in front of the computer for both work and my own writing) I'll break out into spontaneous handstands in my living room. It feels good.
I'll wrap up this interview with a little bit of "This Or That":
Thunderstorms or sunshine? Sunshine! But a summer thunderstorm that cools everything off is great, too! (Yes, I'm a total wavering politician here with my answer).
Summer or winter? Summer! Growing up in Minnesota, it either makes you hate winter or embrace it. It made me hate winter.
Mountains or beach? The older I get the more I like the mountains better because they offer so much to see. But growing up, I adored the beach. I still do. I love swimming in the ocean and snorkeling.
Computer or television? Computer. I'm addicted to internet news surfing.
Coffee or tea? Tea in the morning. Coffee in the afternoon with chocolate covered almonds to help me stay awake.
Thank you so much for the great answers, Joshua!