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Author Joan Cooper to discuss work during 2nd Friday event

(Oct. 8, 2015) Baltimore native Joan Cooper said she can’t imagine life without writing.
A veteran school teacher, Cooper has written more than a dozen novels and has published two, with another two on the way through Salt Water Media in Berlin.
This Friday, she will be one of two artists to be featured at Salt Water, located at 29 Broad Street.
Cooper began writing in seventh grade, when she put together a short story collection that was widely circulated in the area. Like many writers, she struggled to find an agent and a publisher, and was scared of self-publishing.
That changed when a friend sent her a mysterious invitation to dinner last year.
“They basically lured me to what I thought was going to be dinner at the Globe, and it turned out to be an introduction to [Salt Water owner] Stephanie Fowler,” Cooper said. “I had been a little worried about self-publishing. I had been submitting lots of short stories to magazines and to journals and had been looking for an agent, but she talked me through it.”
As a trial run, Cooper agreed to hire Salt Water to publish “Finding Home at Lilac Hill.”
The book was a success and she published “Return to Lilac Hill,” a follow-up collection of short stories, six months later.
“They’ve been received well,” Cooper said. “I’ve had a good time with it so far. I’m still looking for an agent, but it’s opened up a whole new group of friends and connections.”
Cooper described her two most recent books as “women’s literature,” with a strong central female character.
“You could say that they’re romances, but my favorite thing about my main character is, sure, she winds up with a guy at the end, but if she didn’t, she’d be perfectly fine,” Cooper said.
Sarah Monroe, the lead character, struggles with depression and anxiety, something with which Cooper is familiar.
“I had experience and I had quite a few very good friends – and students – who’d experienced really severe anxiety disorder and depression,” she said. “They might try a medication for a while, but they wind up figuring out ways of figuring it out themselves, whether it’s through therapy or they just figure it out.
“This particular character has had a time of being on medication and decides to go without and to handle it herself because she’s a very private person,” Cooper said.
Cooper teaches 12th grade English and creative writing at Bennett High School in Salisbury, where she sees many of the same struggles every day.
“It’s surprising how common it is and everybody thinks they’ve done it on their own for the first time, that they’re the only person that’s ever managed it like this,” Cooper said.
Cooper added a layer to Sarah by incorporating into the character her husband’s experiences as a chef.
“We’ve talked and argued recipes for years, so Sarah evolved into being a cook, and so everything she makes in the book we’ve actually made,” Cooper said.
Last week, while participating in the Baltimore book festival, Cooper said she reread several sections from the “Lilac” books, and was pleasantly surprised by how much she still enjoyed them.
“I thought, ‘Boy, I really do like this book,’” she said. “I’m happy that she’s out there, living without me. That’s what it’s like when you write these books – it’s your own little family and then you release them out to the public and out to the wild and they take on their own life.”
Cooper will read selections from the series during 2nd Friday. She also will promote the new chapter of the Maryland Writer’s Association she established with Fowler.
“We’re kind of in our own way being silly with it and calling it the ‘Lower, Slower Shore Chapter,’ because there’s a very strong upper shore group called the Eastern Shore Writer’s Association,” Cooper said. “I was on their board last year, and nothing negative about them at all, but they have a tendency to want to meet in the upper areas – St. Michael’s, Easton.
“I work a day job – I’m a five-day-a-week teacher, and to sacrifice writing time and family time to drive to Easton once a month is almost too much. So we decided to start this chapter,” Cooper added she said.
The group held its first meeting Oct. 2.
“The goal is to meet, network, do readings and just talk, basically, and have fun. You know – wine, beer, cheese, crackers and chocolates,” Cooper said.
“As a writer, you have a tendency to feel like you’re out there by yourself. You’re interfacing with a computer screen. It’s nice to get out there and talk about craft without the big pressure of a high-ticket speaker or having to buy a big lunch or anything like that,” Cooper added.
The group plans to meet the first Friday of each month.
Berlin’s 2nd Friday festivities will feature more than a dozen art displays in shops throughout the downtown area, along with sales and specials in area restaurants from 5-8 p.m.
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