Meet the Author - Bev. Cooke
Bev. Cooke has been writing for publication since 1989. Her first love is writing for young adults, and she has three YA books on the market: Keeper of the Light, a historical fiction about St. Macrina the Elder and Royal Monastic, a biography of Mother Alexander (Princess Ileana of Romania), both published by Ancient Faith Ministries. Feral, an edgy mainstream novel was released by Orca Book Publishers. The Akathist to St. Mary of Egypt, came out in 2010 and her second Akathist, Theotokos, Healer of Hardened Hearts, is in the publishing pipeline now. Both Akathists are published by Alexander Press.
Bev. and her husband live in Victoria, BC, Canada, where they enjoy two seasons: wet and road construction. They have two adult children, are enslaved by two demanding, drama-queen cats, and attend All Saints of Alaska OCA parish.
Bev's very out-of-date webpage is bevcooke.ca and her blog is Bevnal Abbey Scriptorium, also very out-of-date, but she's planning to update both in the next little while, so keep checking back to them.
1. What's the best piece of writing advice you were ever given?
"Keep Writing." There have been a couple of times in my life when I was just about ready to give up. I'd received setbacks, I'd been rejected (in a couple of cases, not because the work was wrong or bad, but because the market wasn't there), I was blocked, I couldn't come up with anything, or what I wrote was awful, and this had gone on for months, and I was ready to throw in the towel. But at the right time, the message came, Stick with it. Keep writing. Keep submitting. It will happen. And it has. And will again.
2. You've been published by Orthodox and non-Orthodox publishers. Talk about those two worlds. What's it like being in both of them?
Odd. I feel split. A lot of my life has been learning that my life is not compartmentalized - that my faith informs everything I do, and affects every area of my life. But in my writing, it's still split in two. I can't write "secular" stories and include overt religion or religious main characters (unless it's making fun or taking potshots at religion, which I'm not going to do), and in the religious area, the stories that have worked have been based in fact, not fiction (Keeper of the Light is historical fiction - about a real person and based on what we know about St. Macrina's life). So I haven't been able to explore some of the things I'd like to in my pure fiction that are faith-based.
But as I get older, and less engaged with the secular world, I feel the less connection to it. I don't reject the secular world, I think there's a lot of beauty and God is certainly there, and we can learn a lot about faith and God through secular culture, but I just don't understand a lot of it anymore. Things have changed so much in the last few years that I just haven't kept up with, and it seems as though issues and people are so much more polarized and angry now. I don't understand it, and it makes me feel disconnected from the larger culture. How can I write for kids if I don't understand the world they live in and talk about what's important to me, like my faith?
3. Storytelling about saints is a specialty of yours. What do you enjoy about that?
It's a way of drawing closer to God through learning about the very real and broken people who loved Him too.
It's learning about older times that seem a lot different from our times, but actually have a lot in common with our era. In some ways, living now is like living in the 4th century - there are places in the world where we are being persecuted and killed for our faith, as was true then, and there are places in the world, like North America, where we're not being persecuted, by any means, but where the prevailing culture isn't oriented around the Judeo-Christian values and thinking anymore, and that makes it somewhat hostile to us and the way we want and need to live our lives.
We haven't been outlawed, but the popular culture isn't sympathetic to people of faith, and that brings discomfort and fear. We are, more and more, having to be very careful about our faith and how we express it, and in many situations, our actions and words are being misinterpreted and misunderstood, which causes problems, and that was certainly true in the 4th century as well.
It's also true that there were varying understandings of the faith, both back then and today and that also caused problems, both within the faith and in engaging with the larger culture. The larger culture doesn't see us as we are, either in the 4th century or now, and there's a stereotype of what a "Christian" is (and was). But it's assumed we all are that stereotype, if we say we're Christian, and that shuts down any kind of real engagement in many situations.
And in that disconnection, that separation from the larger culture, the stories of the saints are very relevant - not just the martyrs, but anyone who has lived a deeply faithful life. We seem to see saints as perfect people, who never had a doubt or a moment of weakness, and so they're removed from us, they aren't like us and I've heard some people, and some kids say they can't really relate to saints because of that, yet it's just not true. They're as human, as broken and as fallible as we are, and for me, that makes it easier to pray (or talk) to them, to ask them to pray for us. They know what it's like to be weak, to doubt, to have times when it's all dry and dark and gloomy, when people haven't understood what they're doing or the way they're living, even their brothers and sisters in faith, and that makes it easier to talk to them, because they've been there too. So they pray hard for us, because they know we can come through it. They did.
4. Who's your favorite character, of the ones you've written about?
Oh, my. I still love Little Cat and Candlewax from Feral, and there's an unpublished book with Koteke Jones whom I am really fond of. And Mother Alexandra - she's a beacon to me. The things she went through and experienced and just kept on doing what was put in front of her to do - and her faith just kept growing and growing.
5. What are you working on now?
I've just finished another Akathist, which will be published at some point (no date yet).
I'm working on a non-fiction book about my name saint and her brothers, St. Macrina the Younger, St. Basil the Great, and St. Gregory of Nyssa, that I'm hoping will be good. They, especially St. Basil and St. Gregory, are such giants of our faith, but nobody, unless they're a theologian or an historian, really knows what their lives were like. Because their contributions were so huge, we rightly and naturally focus on that, but I was always interested in who these giants were when they were at home with their feet up. I think what got me interested was realizing that all the history I read about St. Macrina said she'd become a monastic and joined her brother's monastery, yet if you read St. Gregory's biography/hagiography of her, it's very clear that she began the monastic push in her family. She vowed herself to God when she was twelve years old. Basil was less than 10 then. The rest of her life was a gradual growth toward monasticism, and she ended up starting the monastery, not Basil! Historians know that, and theologians, but most of the rest of us still think that he, St. Anthony and St. Pachomius basically invented monasticism.
As I read more of the Desert Fathers and early monasticism, I realized that the popular understanding of how monasticism developed in the early church has been very distorted and misunderstood. So I'm trying, in my non-theologian, non-historian way, to kind of show who these three people were and how they and the interactions they had throughout their lives contributed to the development of the monastic life that we know today.
And I'm working on a kid's story involving a secular kid named Toby, an old lady named Baba Ana who he thinks is a witch, and his Orthodox friends. And I'm still poking around with a book about the Alaskan saints, based on talks that Fr. Michael Oleksa has given.