Ian Nathaniel Cohen is a Book Country writer, and has a number of writing projects of different genres in various states of progress, ranging from historical adventure fiction to fantasy to mysteries. His first complete manuscript is The Brotherhood of the Black Flag, which he’s currently shopping to agents.
NG: How did you find your calling as a writer?
IC: Writing is something that I’ve always liked doing, and I’ve always had story ideas floating around in my head. I started writing fanfiction in college, using it to practice writing stories in various genres – romantic comedy, adventure, drama, and so on. Also, as a Radio/Television major, I was better at conceptualizing and the writing aspects than any technical production aspect. Then at some point after college, particularly when I was job hunting, I decided I’d take the various ideas I had for stories and have a real go at turning them into novels.
NG: You’re a history buff: you read and write historical fiction. What is it about “history” that wakens the muse in you?
IC: History is full of intrigues, triumphs, tragedies, and adventures that many people aren’t aware ever happened that are just as exciting as any work of fiction, if not more so. It’s interesting as a writer to spotlight less mainstream historical eras or events, and use them as the basis for adventure fiction. I also hope that a reader might find a less familiar historical setting more unique.
Oh, and it’s easier to work swordfights into historical fiction than a contemporary setting.
NG: Swordfights get a thumbs up from us! Now tell us more about your novel, Brotherhood of the Black Flag. How did it evolve from an idea to a finished book?
IC: Set in 1721, The Brotherhood of the Black Flag follows the adventures of Michael McNamara, a former British naval officer who’s trying to figure out what he wants to do with the rest of his life. He signs on with Captain Stephen Reynard, an ex-pirate turned pirate hunter trying to earn himself a royal pardon. However, McNamara discovers that Reynard’s mission is a cover for a diabolical scheme that threatens thousands of innocent lives.
Black Flag is a tribute to the classic swashbuckler films I’ve always loved, which in turn inspired my interest in literary historical fiction. The process from turning Black Flag from an idea into an actual book was a very gradual one, and I spent years planning and researching before I first started the actual writing (which also took several years). I had my villain in place before anything else, and I just worked from there.
The toughest part of plotting the story was trying to come up with something interesting for McNamara’s story arc. For a long time, I didn’t know what McNamara wanted, what he was striving for. Somehow, I decided to turn this into a plot point, thinking to myself, “What if HE doesn’t know what he wants?” Everything mostly came together after that.
NG: So his story is one of self-discovery, too. What is your writing process like?
The closest thing I have to a defined process is that I don’t write in order. When I reach a brick wall, I’ll move on to other scenes I have ideas for. I’ll even move on to other books or short stories in progress, if I have ideas for them. I find that this is a huge time saver.
Also, I’m very meticulous about my wording and phrasing, and want to make sure a scene comes out just the way I picture it playing in my head.
In addition to this, I have a couple close friends, also writers, whom I collaborate with throughout the whole process. I bounce general ideas off of them or get them to serve as a second pair of eyes when I actually get around to writing.
NG: Finding a community of writers is so important. How about your reading process while you’re writing – what is that like?
IC: When I’m writing historical adventure fiction, I try to read adventure fiction and nothing else. Same with fantasy and mystery. I have a tendency to idea-hop, so I need to do this to keep myself focused on the type of story I’m working on for as long as possible. I do the same thing with movies and video games.
NG: What’s the book that has taught you the most about the craft of writing, and why?
IC: As far as Black Flag is concerned, Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood was definitely one of them, especially when it came to the scenes that took place at sea. Also, it was a good lesson on what to kinds of scenes to include (or not include) in the dreaded middle of the book. However, I dislike the lack of historical context in Captain Blood, so that was an example I avoided following.
NG: So you used a famous book in your genre as a yardstick for your project – very interesting!
If you had to give one piece of advice to a writer who’s just getting started, what would it be?
IC: Make your main characters interesting. Give them likes and dislikes, friends, hobbies, that sort of thing. You don’t want your protagonist to be overshadowed by supporting cast members or villains.
Also, when doing research, never overlook the minor details. During my research for Black Flag, a number of random pieces of information were responsible for key plot points and entire character arcs. And speaking of research, forums and message boards dedicated to your topic, or re-enactment societies, are great places to go for information or resource hunting.
NG: Great advice! So how did you become part of Book Country? What’s your favorite part?
IC: Someone on WAE Network recommended Book Country as a place where I could get query letter help. My favorite part is the discussions about the practice of writing, comparing and debating approaches (although query and hook feedback is nice too).
NG: Is there anything else you want the community to know about you?
IC: Because I don’t write in order, it can take a while for me to share what I’m working on. My in-progress drafts are very fragmented, and I prefer to wait until all the pieces fit together to start showing people other than my regular collaborators what I have. Besides, when you get it all at once, you have context, which is important for understanding plot and character progression.
NG: Thanks for being on the spotlight, Ian!