Author-in-Residence Dossier: Aaron Cooley – Author of ‘Shaken, Not Stirred (The Secret Files of I__ F______, Code Designate 17F, Vol. 1)’

Author-in-Residence Dossier: Aaron Cooley - Author of 'Shaken, Not Stirred (The Secret Files of I__ F______, Code Designate 17F, Vol. 1)'

Twitter is an amazing medium. Through twitter I have been fortunate enough to speak with and befriend like-minded individuals from all over the world. I speak to pug-lovers in California, book-lovers in England, and fashion aficionados in France. And through the magic of twitter, I am able to speak with and discuss stories with the authors who write the books I so love to lose myself in.

Author-in-Residence Dossier: Aaron Cooley - Author of 'Shaken, Not Stirred (The Secret Files of I__ F______, Code Designate 17F, Vol. 1)'I was so lucky to meet and speak with newly-minted author Aaron Cooley of sunny California. He and I connected over our love of spies – most specifically the most famous spy, James Bond. Aaron is a movie producer by day and an author by night. His first novel, ‘Shaken, Not Stirred (The Secret Files of I__ F______, Code Designate 17F, Vol. 1)‘ will be out later this month (a Her Literary Salon review will follow shortly as well!) and if you are a fan of spy culture, you should head right over to Amazon, pick up a copy, and get ready for a thrill.

As an added plus, Aaron was available to answer a few burning questions of mine – I always enjoy learning more about an author after I read a book I enjoy. Turns out Aaron is as interesting in real life as his characters are in his story.


CAROLANN: Why spies? You are clearly very passionate and knowledgeable about spy culture – what has sparked your passion? Have you always loved spies?

AARON: I have been fascinated with spies since I was a kid. I remember watching movies like Cloak & Dagger on our tube television in the house I grew up in, or what theatre I saw Hunt for Red October in. I remember when I first made my Mom rent Dr. No and From Russia, with Love – I had already seen A View to a Kill and The Living Daylights in the theatre for friends’ birthday parties, so I did the whole Bond thing backwards, and I remember after those four movies thinking Timothy Dalton was my favorite Bond. I probably shouldn’t admit that now, or the real Bond aficionados out there will think I’m a phony before they’ve even read my book.

But when I really felt the spy stuff in my blood was in college, when I took a Poli Sci class on the history of American espionage. It was taught by a very young professor who had just retired from Naval Intelligence. I remember we read this fantastic book called Cloak & Gown which was specifically about all the spies recruited during World War II from my school, from Yale. So I was walking around all these ancient buildings thinking, “The OSS was basically founded here. Right here.” And there were all these rumors about classmates the CIA had contacted about joining after graduation. I think deep down, I was hoping the CIA would show up outside my dorm to recruit me, but I’d be the worst spy ever so it’s probably better for America they didn’t.

Fast forward five years, and the first screenplay I decide to write is about a fictionalized version of the professor that taught that Poli Sci class. (Unfortunately for him, I was inspired to write it after he was accused of murdering one of his students, but that’s a whole other story.) I had never thought about writing about a spy before, but that first script got me representation, and a ton of meetings around town, and eventually was even optioned and we got a big director attached, so that’s when I started thinking, “Maybe I’m okay at this spy story stuff.”

I was a child actor growing up, and I think what really connects me to spies is this notion that they are playing characters, they are making up personas when they go on these missions, but if their performances suck, they don’t get tomatoes thrown at them, they get bullets.

CAROLANN: James Bond is arguably the most well-known spy ever. What made you take the tactic of writing from Ian Flemings point of view rather than just writing another Bond tale or creating an altogether new spy character? What about Fleming intrigues you so?

AARON: Well, I would love to write a Bond novel someday – and yes, Ian Fleming Publications, if you’re reading this, I do have an idea for one, so please call me! – but unfortunately at this stage in my career there’s not a chance in hell of me getting that gig. I do have plenty of “original” spy stories I want to tell. But I think the reason I chose this story as my first novel is first of all, there are already so many excellent straight-on spy books and series out there. I wanted to write something a little more self-reflective, something that’s not just a spy story, but just as much about writing itself, about the creative process, about inspiration, about figuring out what you’re really good at and what you’re meant to be doing with your life, which I think is something we all struggle with until the day we die. One thing I find fascinating – and inspiring – about Fleming is that, in this world and this business in which we’re always trying to find and laud the hot young phenom who shocks the world with his or her genius at a young age, Fleming was an artist who didn’t create the character that would define his career until he was in his 40s. He didn’t write what I think is the best of the Bond books, From Russia, with Love, until he was 47. So there’s still hope for us old guys.

Now there are probably at least a dozen men (and women) upon whom he based 007, and at first I thought I might include all of them in the book, but when I read about his encounters with Dusko Popov in World War II, I knew I had found the most interesting of the bunch. I knew this was exactly the type of story I could write, that I could make fun for the reader. Not just a book about spies, but friendship, learning a craft from a mentor, and especially, learning how to write – because I felt like I was learning along with Ian. My family members who read the first draft all said, “Love it, but the first half’s crap.” Well, cut me some slack, this is my first book, I didn’t know what I was doing for the first month! But hopefully in the rewrites I’ve cleaned up all those problems.

I knew that I would fictionalize Fleming and Popov’s characters because, unfortunately, as much as we want to believe Fleming led basically his own James Bond life before he created the character and saved the world several times over during World War II, the reality just doesn’t match that narrative. There have been several film projects about Fleming announced in recent years, one with Leonardo di Caprio attached and another with Duncan Jones directing, but it would surprise me if those movies ever happen, because if you have to stick to the reality, to the true story, you are confined to a very episodic set of missions that Fleming planned from an office. By fictionalizing him, I get to have much more fun, not only get him out of the office, but  throw in all those Bond memes whenever I want – from the Vesper martini, to the Walther PPK, to the villainous henchman to the World-Destroying McGuffin.

The first person narration is probably the craziest thing I did, and several agents passed on the book specifically because of that. But I wanted it to have this “found footage” sort of feel – this is a terrible term we’re using in the movie business right now for all these movies where the character holds the camera himself and the audience feels like this is a tape they found by accident. Like The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield. I wanted this book to feel very much like a report that had just been unearthed, like perhaps it could be real … it just makes the whole ride more fun, I thought. I hope.

CAROLANN: Your day job is working in the film industry. What made you decide to try your hand at writing instead? Are you hoping to one day adapt your novels for the big screen? In your eyes what is the greater medium … films or novels?

AARON: I moved to LA right after college to write movies, so it’s really the day job that is the surprise to me. But I do love how much I’ve been able to learn about storytelling from working with writers on projects for my boss Joel, or from seeing the many drafts a story goes through before it reaches the big screen. I have been writing screenplays for several years, some that got producers or directors or financiers attached, but it is just so damn hard to get one made. There are so many people that have to say yes to something before the cameras roll. And there’s so much money involved, people are just looking for reasons to say no. You have very little control over your own destiny. I’d say 80 percent of the time, even if you sell your script, and it gets made, and your name’s going to be on it – you still never see the set. Or not more than once, as a courtesy visit. Some directors are very collaborative, but once the movie is “real,” most are going to rewrite it themselves or bring in “their guy” to do it. So even when you’re talking about the greatest success stories in the history of screenwriting, there’s a good chance it wasn’t that gratifying for the poor writer. I mean, a good friend of mine created one of the biggest franchises created in the last 5 years, and he had to threaten legal action to get his name on it.

I got burnt out on the whole system a couple years ago and that’s when I decided to try writing a book. I was sitting at my desk one morning about to start a new script and I thought, “My most successful script was probably read by about 40 people. And they all loved it (or said they did), but it didn’t even get close to getting made.” So my goal with writing a book was to write something that more than 40 people read. That my mother can read without having to know what “INT./EXT. CAR (MOVING) – NIGHT” means.

In terms of books vs. film, I will always be a movie guy. That was my dream as a kid, to be Spielberg, to make movies. And I hope when people read my book it reads more cinematic than most books in terms of pacing and structure – that was very much by design. It’s a book about the creation of the greatest film franchise ever, so I wanted it to feel not just like Fleming’s books, but very much like one of the movies too.

But right now, today, for writers, I don’t think there’s any better medium than books. The fact that Hugh Howey can just slap Wool on the internet in five clicks, and six months later, he’s sitting in a room with Ridley Scott is a homerun for writers. I can tell you this, if he wrote Wool as a screenplay, there is a much much smaller chance Ridley Scott would ever have seen that, let alone bought the rights. Instead of a succession of about seven people having to all like it before it got to Ridley, Hugh was able to present his work to a mass audience for a plurality of approval – and that buzz eventually guided the book to the offices of Scott Free. And yeah, it’s still a longshot that the movie will ever get made – but at least this way, thousands and thousands of people have read Hugh’s writing.

Now the sad part is bookstores. I nearly broke down in tears the last time my wife and I tried to go to a bookstore and realized there’s like two still open in all of Los Angeles county – but the fact is, the more the digital world expands its scope, the more power the writer sitting at home has.

CAROLANN: Tell me a little about you – the man behind the pen. What are your hobbies? What is your favorite flavor ice cream? What is your idea of a perfect day? What do you do when you are not writing?

AARON: Unfortunately, ice cream gives me indigestion. And that’s the nice word for it. I really just love reading and watching movies. I am lucky enough to have married my best friend, and I’d say the perfect days are ones in which I get up early, write for an hour or two before she wakes, then we go do nothing at a coffee shop or the beach or the movies. Or just in our backyard with the damn cat. And then, the day ends with a Portland Trail Blazer win. I made this deal with my wife that I can watch sports whenever I want – if I’m simultaneously rubbing her feet. So it’s very important that the Blazers win or I rub too hard and give her bunions and callouses.

CAROLANN: If you could have lunch with any author – living or dead – whom would it be? Why? What would you talk about?

AARON: Dead would have to be Fleming, obviously. I’d send him my book a week ahead of time and then be very nervous as I walked the streets of London to one of those clubs he belonged to where I would be meeting him. But living would be Stephen King, and not so we could talk about all his books – I’ve actually only read 4 or 5 of them. I want to read the whole Dark Tower cycle but I feel like I have to take a year off to do that. I’d want to discuss On Writing. That’s easily the best book I’ve ever read on the craft of writing, so I’d want to talk all about that. I’d also try to get him to read my book and ask him for some personal tutelage, tell me what I can do better next time. I guess that’d be pretty selfish, to make it all about me, but I’d pick up the tab, so there.


Thanks so much to Aaron Cooley { @fleming17f } for taking the time to speak to me here at Her Literary Salon, and make sure to come back next week to read my review on this thrilling novel.

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