|Interview With A Crazy Bastard by Tristan L. Prescott
|"This," he remarked, holding up a volume of Howard's short stories, "is how action should be written."
Robert E Howard was the creator of 'Conan the Barbarian' and several other similar characters. Every scene was desperate, the
violence, mind boggling. Invariably, a scantily clad woman of exaggerated dimensions and loose morals was somehow involved.
Howard has been roundly criticized for appealing to the baser instincts of young boys, but Taylor feels these critics are sucking on
sour grapes. They might have tried, and failed, to imitate Howard's dynamic ability to attract and hold an audience. Having read
some of Howard's work, I can attest to it's strengths, though it holds little appeal for me.
Taylor said, "Never try to write like anyone else. It's phony and only means you have no courage to write as yourself. It's too late to
be Howard, Hemingway, Dostoevsky, or Jane Austen. You've got to find your own voice, or you can't do anything but edit other
peoples writing for grammar or punctuation."
"The first things I wrote sucked. The stories were good, don't get me wrong, but everything else sucked. Grammar, punctuation,
word use, just about every rule for composition were not just broken, they were mauled and left for dead."
"I wrote my first two complete novels in longhand, in spiral bound notebooks with Bic pens. I thought I was doing my best writing."
He gestured with one hand, while installing a screw with the bare fingers of the other. "I figured the handwriting would slow me
down and force me to be careful crafting sentences. That was bullshit. The writing sucked."
|I took a shot at getting a meeting with T.L. Cooper through his Facebook
page. After several weeks, he messaged me and explained he was doing
a lot of 'moving around', which he did not explain, and I did not pursue. He
sent me the phone number of a friend, named 'Steve', who I was to
contact if and when I got to New England. This was in June. I did not
reach Boston until October.
Steve gave me the address of a marina in Lynn, a city on the
Massachusetts coast, just a few miles north of Boston. Met him there
and he greeted me with a cup of coffee. While I took a sip and looked
around, he made a call and spoke briefly to a third person.
"Tom will be here in a few minutes." Steve grinned. "I wanted to be sure
you showed up before having him leave work to come over."
Steve is a big guy, wearing leather and standing near a new Harley
|Davidson, but smiling and easy in his manner.
"How did you manage two coffee's on the bike?" I asked.
"Practise." He laughed, then took a step toward the big bagger
and opened the lid on a storage bin in the fairing. "I have these set
up to handle stuff. My girlfriend likes when I bring her coffee or ice
He nodded toward the entrance to the parking lot.
Tom parked close by and stepped out of the car. He was shorter
than Steve, dressed casual and neat, and he offered his hand,
smiling, seeming to have the same easy, affable nature as Steve.
|"Looking for Tay?" He asked.
I nodded and was about to speak, but he quickly added, "Got a warrant?
He's a crazy bastard."
At this, he and Steve laughed, and Steve nodded.
"No, he's okay." Steve said, laughed again, then grinned. "But don't be
surprised if you catch yourself wondering."
"How long have you known him?" I asked, hoping it was longer than the
"Thirty years." Steve replied.
"All my life." Tom said. He's my cousin."
|We talked briefly and Tom called Taylor and handed me the phone.
I got an address in a small New Hampshire town, expressed my
gratitude and bid farewell to Steve and Tom.
It was not long before I found myself climbing in altitude and driving
along narrow roads through beautiful woods and lakes. This
stunning view of a lake lined with brilliant foliage erased my first
question from the list.
"Why would you sell a perfectly good sailboat in the tropics and
come up here?"
Now, I sort of understand, though I am no fan of long, cold winters
and mountains of snow.
On a long, narrow road up the side of a small mountain, I pulled into
|a paved driveway and stopped halfway to the house, where a man stood waiting. When I slowed to enter the drive, he had been
crouching near the hitch on a large cargo trailer. As I entered, he stood, turned, and waited, indicating where I should park.
Almost as soon as I got out of the car, he spoke, turning at the same time back to his job on the trailer.
"What are you thinking?" He asked flatly, not smiling, but not unpleasantly.
"How do you mean?"
"Well, I mean, no pictures," he faced me and used his hands like an Italian, "no exposure that gets anyone coming around here or
following me. I prefer to stay under the radar. Having said that," he turned back to his work and squatted, "I can't stand people who
agree to an interview and turn sour when it starts. You can't fold at crunch time. You don't want to give an interview, don't say you
"Some people have second thoughts once it begins."
"Funny how second thoughts seem smarter than first thoughts, huh?"
He looked up at me and smiled.
"I gotta learn how to do this."
"Do what?" I asked the question and suddenly knew the answer before he spoke. "Oh, you mean the interview thing!"
"Yeah," he nodded. "It seems part of the whole, 'write and sell it' thing."
I did my best to do an interview for the rest of the afternoon. Taylor is an engaging and interesting man, intelligent and easily
diverted. He seldom stopped working, moving inside and out, back and forth, occasionally explaining what he was working on.
At one point, while describing leaving Naples, Florida, in the schooner he'd built, and heading straight into huge waves and howling
winds, he stopped and held up a small, orange light of some sort for the side of the trailer.
"LED's" He said, then nodded toward the wiring exiting a small hole in the side of the trailer. "All new wiring. The trailer is brand
new. Ordered it from the factory with bigger wheels, brakes, and axles, better hitch, and extra cross members on the frame. Wiring
sucked. Wires were big enough, but the connectors were shit and every fixture was grounded to the chassis. That's no good.
Rewired the whole thing with bigger wire, better connectors, and shrink-tubing everything, and running plastic conduit below.
Electric brake connector was open and unprotected, hanging over the open asphalt. Weak."
In an instant we were back aboard the boat, heading out of Naples through Gordon Pass, on an outgoing tide with 6 foot rollers and
twenty knot winds coming in.
|Taylor was born in Salem, Massachusetts, home of the
infamous Witch Trials. I could get nothing from him as to his
childhood, other than an overwhelming wanderlust which kept
him dreaming of packing a knapsack and hiking toward the
horizon. Six days after graduating High School, on his 18th
birthday, Taylor stepped off a plane in Texas and began boot
camp. Not long after he stepped off another plane in Viet Nam.
Nothing ages a person faster than war. It was here Taylor
began writing, perhaps because few things inspire the need to
escape so much as war. Fittingly, the first stories were
packed with violence, heroics, and travel to strange lands.
He discovered Robert E Howard by finding an abandoned,
tattered paperback in the day room of a barracks in Tuy Hoa,
which he read, cover to cover, in an evening. From that point
he sought out everything he could find written by the man.
|"I laid off for years." Taylor shrugged and continued. "There were issues with drugs
and alcohol. I got past it and moved on. Started writing again while I was getting
"I got a big fat book called 'The Writers Market' and started dreaming of big checks
He turned to me and chuckled.
"It's such bullshit. Beginning writers have no idea what the whole writing and
publishing world is like. It's a fucking quagmire of greedy bastards squeezing every
drop of blood out of writers they can get."
Taylor handed me a small, cheap electrical splice of some sort.
"Look at that piece of shit." He said. "How'd you like to have your life counting on
that? That's off the brake circuit."
He started in again.
"I'd already submitted my first masterpiece," he grinned and shook his head, "to one
of the big New York Publishers, then wrote a sequel and was ready to send that
off, but just for the hell of it, I looked back at the first."
|Taylor laughed and gathered up the tools outside.
"It was awful." He said, returning the small tool tray inside the trailer. "It was the worst writing I'd ever seen. I wanted it back to
start over. I got a rejection, of course. What pissed me off about the whole thing was," he used both hands to emphasize the
statement, "some sections of that crap manuscript ended up on one of the TV SciFi shows. Same names, same dialogue, same
everything. Some asshole in the slush room of the publisher was sending off other peoples work as his own. Pissed me off for a
minute. Until I realized those losers had to steal - from what I considered crap - and I can write that crap all day. It smartened me
up. Never trust big publishers, agents, or anyone else. They all suck."
From that point Taylor joined online critique groups and began submitting first chapters for examination. The results highlighted
several, what he referred to as 'critical deficiencies' in his writing.
"My female characters were men in skirts." He said. "It took years of reading women's books, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, to
begin to get a handle on developing female characters."
During this period, Cooper decided not to submit any more manuscripts to conventional publishers. He showed me a stack of over
one hundred rejections.
"It's not as simple as saying the writing is no good, because the writing now is quite good. Sometimes you're barking up the wrong tree. A
publisher my like your sub, but he's got that slot filled for at least three years. Sometimes they are thinking 'space opera' and you're
sending hard core science. Other times, the writing does suck."
"Self Publishing is booming." I offered as a way to switch gears.
"Yeah. He nodded and sat on a huge boulder in a fieldstone wall, indicating I join him on another mossy stone. "That's why I went
this way. More control, less bullshit, and a bigger slice of the pie."
|I seated myself and opened another area.
"Someone mentioned you might be a crazy bastard. Why is
He grinned and nodded.
"You know how that shit goes." Taylor shifted uneasily and
shrugged. "I've heard it. I know it. Maybe I think it's because I
do what I want, when I want, how I want. Maybe they think it's
something else. I walked out of a great job at GE and started
building a boat. Maybe they think building the boat was crazy.
Maybe it was walking out of the job. My family was all pretty
straight and conservative. At the same time, I was riding
choppers and looked like the Unibomber. I raced motorcycles,
every way you could. I volunteered for Viet Nam. I fought, in the
ring, not just on the street. And you know that prettiest, most
|popular girl in school you never dared to talk to? I asked her out. She said "No." but, what the fuck? At least I asked. People damn
sure said I was crazy for that. I finished the boat and always sailed alone. I walked out of college in the middle of my last semester,
and my grades were great. Just didn't feel like doing it. Used all kinds of drugs and booze, including heroin. Finally got sober.
Maybe it's none of that, maybe all. I really don't give a shit."
He turned and met my eyes.
"I'm not crazy. You know. Bonkers, Bozo, whatever, but I'm damn sure not like most of the herd out there." He quickly grinned and
looked away. "But I can't argue with the 'crazy bastard' thing."
I smiled and indicated the trailer.
|"What is this about?"
"Funny thing about the sea," he said, "every road is water and they
all look the same. I'm looking forward to exploring countryside for a
while. Mountains, forests, State and National Parks, Canada."
"In this?" I pointed to the stark, windowless box.
"It'll be better when it's done. Windows, solar panels up top, plenty
of insulation, gas heat and range, good reefer," he looked at me
and smiled, "that's, 'refrigerator'. Good shower, lot's of storage,
and a spot to hold the scooter in the back. Take it right in and out
the rear ramp door. That'll be great for putting around the big parks
from campsite to campsite."
He pointed to a motorcycle in the garage.
"Put the camping gear on it and explore. Sleeping bag, tent, food,
camera, whatever, and go have fun."
|The conversation drifted back and forth, more about things not really about Taylor or the writing. I got the idea writing and
publishing were less important to him than just living life and enjoying it. He played around with a guitar, had golf clubs he hardly
ever used, studied programing and web development here and there, continually researched the going on at the Large Hadron
Collider in Switzerland, kept abreast of discoveries on the Hubble website, hated politics with a passion, and his pet peeve is
apparently stupid people. Mostly, he says, because he is so often one of them.
In conclusion, I have to say yes, Taylor Lee Cooper is indeed a crazy bastard, but the kind you like to spend time with, and enjoy
leaving as well. He just wore me out. I do think I understand why he likes to spend so much time alone. He is comfortable in his own
company and can only be comfortable in the company of others for just so long, at which point he begins to look for a way to
extricate himself. When I mentioned I'd not seen that aspect show in him, he smiled, and replied simply.
"I know this will end soon," he said, "and I've already decided it won't happen again."
Driving away I found myself captivated by the idea of getting a motor home, and a small motorcycle, and doing much the same
thing Taylor described; cruising America with a camera and a laptop. For me, it would be a way to free lance stories. For him, I
think, it's just a way to be free. For my part, I may be the only person ever to get an interview with Taylor Lee Cooper.