Irene Cooper is the author of Found, a crime thriller noir set in Colorado, Committal, a poet-friendly spy-fy about family, and Spare Change, a finalist for the Stafford/Hall Award for poetry. Writings appear in Denver Quarterly, The Feminist Wire, The Rumpus, streetcake, Witness, and elsewhere. Irene supports AIC-directed creative writing at a regional prison and lives with her people in Oregon.
Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?
As with my first novel, Committal (VA Press), the title for Found came early and provided a kind of lodestar for how I wanted to think about the book as it developed. I would say that’s coincidental, or an accident, but a short story collection I’ve written follows the same pattern. Must be a fiction thing, as titles for my nonfiction work prove way more elusive! And now that I see that written down, I might believe it—long-form fiction, for me, requires me to stay aware of the “aboutness” of the piece, so I don’t let all the moving parts and voices take me too far out of the story, or away from its purpose.
How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?
Fabulous! The design team at Atmosphere was great (shout out to Ronaldo Alves!). The actual cover art is the genius of a friend, fellow writer, and all-around creative, Brigitte Lewis. There is no feeling quite like holding the physical, beautiful thing that was once a whisper of an idea in one’s imagination. For the reader, the book is a fully formed entity, to be accessed or not, liked or not, kept on the shelf or not. For the writer, it represents the whole journey—the struggle, the learning, the achievement, the letting go. It’s a lot to put on a little bundle of paper, haha!
What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?
Why do I suddenly have Frank Sinatra’s That’s Life in my head? “…a puppet, a poet, a pirate, a poet…”
No mystery: I’ve had a lot of jobs! I am a trained chef, and worked every position, front and back of house, in my days in the restaurant business. One of my favorite gigs was the last one in that industry: after I earned my MFA, I returned to the low-residency program as the residency chef. We took an all-hands-on-deck approach to meal prep, which meant I supervised writers in the kitchen, where they helped prep the meals I cooked. It was a wonderful model that gave everyone a friendly space to convene, discuss, and support one another in all kinds of ways.
What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?
Though I find it hard to identify a perfect reader, I can say without a doubt that Atmosphere Press made finding a readership for Found possible. I’d shopped the manuscript out to agents and publishers numbering in the triple digits, and while many people had wonderful things to say about the writing and the concept (it even placed highly in a couple of competitions), no one made an offer to represent or publish it. Atmosphere provided a supportive, professional, affordable, and effective path to publication, and in so doing, made it possible for my perfect reader, whoever they are, to get a copy.
What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?
I continue to work on a series of linked short stories that speculate a post-plague, edge-of-anthropocene world in which people and other entities try to reconnect to one another and to the earth. A new collection of poems is due to come out in 2024. In life, I teach creative writing and am part of a small group that supports creative writing in a regional prison, a program that was founded by a formerly incarcerated writer. As you can see, I really only do the one thing.
How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?
To echo the mission of the press itself, working with Atmosphere was a very human experience. The editing process was particularly rewarding, in that I felt my work had been read closely and considered deeply. I got excellent feedback on how to strengthen the story, which I did, and so felt all the more confident in releasing Found, knowing it was ready. I also want to offer a round of applause to the publicity and marketing team (Cameron Finch! Hayla Alawi!), who got Found in front of reviewers and other folks of impact.