Author Spotlight Jeffrey Cook

A good friend of mine is all published up!

Nikki McDonagh - author and photographer

Introducing debut author Jeffrey Cook and his unorthodox Steampunk novel – Dawn of Steam: First Light.


Why unorthodox? I hear you say.

Because it isn’t your usual Victorian, bodice ripping Steampunk romantic adventure. No – this is a gritty and action packed adventure. Full of historical details fact and fiction; it is entertaining, informative and funny.


In 1815, in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, two of England’s wealthiest lords place a high-stakes wager on whether a popular set of books, which claim that the author has traveled to many unknown corners of the globe, are truth or, more likely, wild fiction.

First Light is an epistolary novel, told primarily through the eyes of former aide-de-camp Gregory Conan Watts, describing the journeys of the airship Dame Fortuna and its crew through journals and letters to his beloved fiancée. 

The first recruit is, necessarily, the airship’s owner: war hero…

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Loose Ends


After having had a project to work on for the last year, I have found myself somewhat at loose ends these days. Especially towards the end of my book, I was writing in a frenzy of excitement. My beta readers now have my story in their capable hands, and I have to wait for some feedback.

One does not simply hand a novel to a person and expect a two to three day turnaround time. People have lives, and even with the best of intentions, if a person is going to give your novel actual thought and reasonable feedback, they aren’t getting back to you in a week. Of course, that makes this a really hard stage of the game. I hate waiting, I’m bad at it, and this is definitely teaching me patience.

The reason I think I’m at loose ends is because my main project is finished for now, and so I’m not coming home and writing up a storm.

There are benefits to not writing like crazy. First, I get to spend more time with Luke and Toby. Family time is important, and they are patient with me while I’m writing. They deserve the extra time as much as I do. I’ve been able to experiment more with my other interests. I’ve been trying new recipes. I’ve been visiting with girlfriends. I’ve been reading all those articles I always thought I’d get to.

You would think this luxury of time would be met with unbridled enthusiasm. This is where you would be wrong. I am driving myself into a froth for want of things to do. I am thinking about new projects already, trying to find one that is small enough to work on while waiting on my next round of Bento.

My only consolation is that lots of my friends are this way, they just happen to be that way about cooking, or knitting, or volunteering, or video games. Everyone has their passion.

It’s just another part of the process. Or so I tell myself.






It has been said that in any project, eighty percent of the work will take twenty percent of the time, and twenty percent of the work will take eighty percent of the time. I haven’t been keeping clock hours, possibly because there’s no one to bill for them, possibly because I don’t want to think about how long I’ve been pouring into my project. I will say this though.. to write a book is a project, but to publish a book is another project all together.

I have finished my rough draft! Which, of course, is misleading. I have stopped typing raw material, I guess is the best way to put it. I’ve amassed a group of willing beta readers who will read the work, and hopefully not burn it completely to the ground.

Which is pretty self-deprecating. I’m proud of this work. I’ve written two books before that I have felt moderately so-so about. It’s lovely to have a story that I feel good about. It’s a rough draft, so it still has a way to go, but that’s okay too. Developing a story is part of the fun. It would be lovely to have every word I type turn into gold, but rarely is anyone talented enough to just roll out of bed and start writing prize-winners.

It’s a bitch to write a novel. A novel is like an iceberg. For the ten percent that a reader sees, there is a vast, ninety percent that a reader doesn’t. It’s hours of toil, spent over days, weeks, months, depending on the kind of time the writer can dedicate to the story.

However, I’m finding that the other side of the novel is the tough part. I have sent out my rough draft to beta readers. While I do have people who enthusiastically supporting my effort to become a published author, these people also just happen to have lives. They have time to read, but they also have work to do, errands to run, and free time to enjoy. It’s not that my beta readers aren’t awesome. It’s just that they are busy people, like I am. I can’t finish a novel in one sitting. I don’t expect them to, either.

Then, there is the other work involved. I have had a bizarre first experience with publishing. Basically, a friend of mine wanted to learn how to publish to take the pressure off of his writing friends to do it. It wasn’t self-publishing, because I didn’t publish my book, but it’s glorified self-publishing, because we went through KDP and CreateSpace and all the self-publishing tools. I learned a lot that way, and it’s doubtful I would have gotten this far without a friend to take me by the hand, but the one way I did not go was a traditional publishing house.

I hear some of you, booing and hissing. I predate the Internet. I still respect publishing houses. I want an advance. I want someone to do my distributing. Take your pick of reasons, it’s worth it to me to at least shop my book around before I break down and run back to Amazon’s program.

Of course, this runs directly into the realm that all artists of any strip dread… the business portion. Putting together a list of arguments as to why my book rocks socks sort of goes against my personal grain.. but fortune favors the bold, and if you don’t put yourself out there to be noticed, it’s a guarantee that no one will notice you. Speaking as someone who waited their whole life to be called by a publisher to get published.. it’s better in your head. I thought I was safe, I thought that I was going to be fine because a really good friend wanted to forward my career. He did a great job, but between his inexpertise and mine, we ended up doing everything wrong. So, even if you do get the situation exactly the way you dream it to be, it’s not going to turn out the way you think it will.

Hence, why I’m working so hard this time.

So, here’s to the final twenty percent of the project, which will now take eighty percent of my time and energy. Hopefully all this work will pay off. As long as I learn something about the process, then it won’t have been a waste of time. And with luck, all my hard work will pay off.

How Do You Eat an Elephant?



I started writing Bento Box in July 2013, depending on your perspective. In April of 2013 I wrote a catchy short story that raised all kinds of fun questions, which I then decided to explore. I also decided I was going to experiment with plotter techniques; prewriting, outlines, figuring out the end before launching into the beginning. It wasn’t just a challenge, it was several challenges at once. I was so nervous about doing it right, that I paid my editor fifty bucks to edit my outline and see what she could add to it.

I don’t know if I could have said it clearly then, but now I see I was exhausted from the endless rewrites of my second story, Best Served Cold. For whatever reason, that story was simply not coming together coherently, and I had to put the concept to bed, if only to get a break from it.

I did end up ignoring my editor’s suggestions, mostly because it was obvious that she wasn’t a fan of the science fiction genre. I think she’s a fantastic person and she taught me a lot over the time we worked together with Best Served Cold. That aside, I haven’t found the genre that I’m going to settle down with yet, I’m still in the process of experimenting. And now I’ve learned, it’s important to get an editor who loves your genre as much as you do.

Two weeks ago I made it to a major milestone – the climax of the story. And let me tell you how surprised and excited I was that it went exactly as I’d outlined. Before you get too excited, that’s probably the only portion of the outline that survived contact with what actually got written, but working so hard and seeing all that work, 75 thousand words, culminate into the section I wanted it to be was very rewarding.

Previous success does not guarantee future success, however. The climax is not where you end the story. It’s where the crescendo happens, but not the denouement. So in I went again, realizing that while I had so very carefully decided where the story was going to climax, that I had no idea where it was actually going to end.

So I wrote stuff.

It was the last thing I wrote last night, so after I folded in for sleep, I didn’t think anything of it.


In the morning, I woke up to what I was convinced was an ending that sucked. It had all the tells of me being tired with a thing – flippant, sloppy, more like a sulk quit than a rage quit.

However, it was there. I could read it. I could see my hallmarks of badness. I could sift out the things that were good, lift them free, rinse them off, and start fresh with them. Before, “The End” was just a nebulous tag that I slapped on to the butt of the Heroes Win! Now, I had something to work with, even if it was to destroy it utterly and start again. I saw what didn’t work, and I could now avoid those pitfalls and use the pieces of my destroyed work to build up.

Which is of course, not what I want to be doing. I don’t want to be grown up about it. I want to fall on my couch face first like my six-year-old did when I told him his homework was only going to get harder as he got older. There’s nothing easy about writing a goddamn book. Anyone who writes to make it sound like it is easy to write a book is selling you something and wants your money. It is tough as hell to write a whole books worth of interesting characters, situations, and ideas. A novel is a lot like an iceberg. You see about 10% of what the writer’s written to make the story happen.

And only about 10% of their insanity, as well.


The Magpie and the Starlings



I made an art form out of not fitting in when I was younger. I marched to the beat of my own bagpipes, and was spectacularly awkward at it to boot. Fortunately I grew out of this when I reached my teen years and moved to Washington. I found a group of like minded, awkward, funny, brilliant individuals who bonded with me strongly and gave me the social framework I rely on today. During the time I was with them, I didn’t write a single word that wasn’t related to my drama groups and gaming that I involved myself in. I had given up my passion forever, and I was just fine with that.

Now, I’m older, and my friends have spread out from the central mass we had in college. I don’t see everyone every night, in a week long frenzy of hanging out. Obladee, obladah, I found quieter ways to spend my time, one of them being writing.

The problem with writing is that while it is a wildly creative and interesting endeavor, it’s just like any other past time. To the right people, it’s fascinating. To most of the rest of the world, it’s great if they’re in a bookstore, browsing. But no one wants to talk the craft.

I get it. I have five fast friends who are fierce knitters, and they discuss wool quality and needle gauge and patterns they’re longing to try, as well as how many projects they’ve left abandoned in their closet of shame. I can’t add anything intellectual to these discussions, because despite my beloved grandmother’s constant and patient attempts, her granddaughter proved to be a hopeless case with anything yarn related. So I smile and nod, because I know eventually the discussion will turn to other topics.

Today I went out to lunch with a person who may become a friend. I think she will, or obviously I wouldn’t have gone to lunch with her. I’ve only met her twice before, so I only had an introduction to her, but one of the things I knew was that she too is a writer. She contacted me on my FaceBook author page, asking me how I went from a pantser to a plotter. I invited her to lunch to discuss it, because the idea of typing up nine months of experience was much too daunting. People have written books about less.

I sat down and talked to her, at a pho restaurant not far from my work. We caught up a little bit, talked about people we know in common, established some basic communication. Naturally the conversation drifted into waters that bled into ink. She talked to me about her work in first person, the dual genres of paranormal romance and urban fantasy, how she poured herself into her story. I told her about how I’d done similar things, and how I’d come out displeased with my first two works. How I knew I could do better, but trying to frame an entire novel in my head was simply too much for me to manage.

The hour went by *much* too fast, and I realized that for the first time, I’d really felt allowed to speak about my craft. I had an audience who was genuinely interested in me, in the workings of what I did. I’ve joined writer’s groups around the area before, it’s not as though I haven’t tried. However, despite the three groups I joined and rapidly backed out of, I couldn’t find a group who genuinely cared about my work. They were each people who cared about their own work, and looked forward to getting their feedback, and were willing to give feedback if it meant getting what they wanted. I made no connections, and generally left feeling deeply disappointed in the communities I’d found. One was certainly came close to what I needed, but even then, I was a magpie amidst starlings.

Just before this, I had gone to lunch with two close friends of mine that I’ve known for many years. We all bemoaned our writing group experiences, when Allie hit upon the idea that we should join forces and start our own group. It’s small, and private, and exclusive as hell. It’s so new we haven’t even had a chance to talk the craft yet, despite the fact that we’ve all been writers since our early years.

It’s genuinely wonderful to find like-minded spirits to discuss the craft with. I felt like such a lone, lonely loner for such a long time. I finally feel like I’m part of a collaboration, that I fit in and can share my geek and not have to apologize for being socially awkward because I care about things like outlines and plotting.

It’s nice to come home.