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Spotlight on the Author – L.J. Cohen

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Remember a few weeks ago I posted about my imaginary friends, and how I finally got to meet one of them? Well, that very same friend has graciously consented to be the latest author under the spotlight and answer my impertinent questions about writing.

Lisa Cohen (who writes as L.J. Cohen) has a great web-presence, and you can find out more about her and her work in a number of ways. She’s active on G+(https://www.google.com/+LisaCohen ) and Twitter (@lisajanicecohen) as well as running her own website (http://www.ljcohen.net/ ) and blog ( http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/ ) . She can also be found over on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/ljcohen ) and Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5305326.L_J_Cohen ), but if you just want to skip straight to her book list, check out her Amazon Author page for the very latest available materials : http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B006QL6GA0

The Questions

1. When did you start writing?

Well, that depends on what you mean by start and writing. Apparently, I wrote my first short story when I was in early elementary school. My father had kept it in his wallet for years – some silly paragraph about a new gnu that I had written for homework during a unit on homonyms. The paper was the kind with wide lines and the dashes in the middle that teachers give students to help them write more legibly. (News flash: it didn’t really help. My handwriting has always been a mess.)

I’ve written poetry since my early teens and continuing to the present day. Poetry remains my home base for writing. But I completed my first novel between 2004 and 2005 as a result of a challenge from my husband. I’ve written a novel a year since then.

2. What was your path to publication?

A twisted and torturous one?

Not knowing any better, I revised and queried for that first novel in 2005. It wasn’t anywhere near ready for prime time and I’m slightly horrified that it actually got a few partial and full requests. Meanwhile, I was working on novel number two and getting better at craft. I queried for that one, and didn’t get a lot of traction. Then I wrote novel number three and one of my queries resulted in being picked up by an agent in 2009.

Over the next several years, we went out on submission for three different projects and
despite close calls, she was never able to sell any of them. In 2011, indie publishing was just starting to be an option and in many ways, it was still the ‘wild west’ of publishing. I consulted with my then-agent about indie publishing one of the manuscripts that had gotten a bunch of praise from the big six (when there were still six) publishers, but ultimately turned down. She and I thought it might be a way to show market interest in my work. So I created an imprint, gave myself a crash course in what-the- hell-does- a-publisher- do-anyway and published THE BETWEEN in January of 2012.

It sold modestly and got good reviews, but it didn’t break out in any way and didn’t help me break in to traditional publishing. A few years later, my agent and I parted ways when it became clear that I couldn’t write the kind of books she could sell and she couldn’t sell the kind of books I could write.

Since then, I’ve published four additional novels, a short story collection, and co-edited an
anthology and have never looked back. DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE is novel number
six.

3. Who was your biggest influence when you were starting out?

Starting out in publishing? Probably Lynn Viehl. She was a traditionally published midlist
writer of spec fic and romance. I found her through her blog, http://pbackwriter.blogspot.com/ and was immediately inspired by her work ethic and the way she interacted with her fans. She was always incredibly polite and respectful of her readers and so amazingly prolific. We became friends through her blog and continue to be friends to this day.

4. What is your favourite piece of writing advice?

Ditch the advice and do what works for you. (I just made that up!)

5. If you could send one Tweet back in time to your past self, what would it say? And would you listen?

Quit spending valuable resources worrying what people think. I probably wouldn’t have
listened. Past me could be an idiot. (Current me can be one, too.)

6. What’s the logline for your latest book?

Funny you should ask this! Writing pal Susan Spann just ran a twitter chat on creating
elevator pitches for your novels. It was really helpful for me in crafting that biggest of big
picture views. This is the elevator pitch for DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE, book 3 of
Halcyone Space and my next release:

When a materials science student gets kidnapped, she’s drawn into a conflict between the
young crew of a sentient spaceship, a weapons smuggling ring, and a Commonwealth-wide conspiracy and must escape before her usefulness as a hostage expires.

Or even shorter: MacGuyver in space.

7. Do you take part in a writing circle, either online or in real life?

I used to be part of formal workshops, both online and in physical space. I currently have
online support networks, both through Google+ and FB, but for writing critique, I now work with a lovely cadre of beta readers.

While I think workshops/crit groups can be extremely useful, they can also promote a kind of writing by committee that blunts a writer’s voice. Writers need to walk a fine line between being open to critique and holding to their creative vision.

8. Finally, what word do you always type incorrectly?

Word? How about lists? I have a form of dyslexia and there are certain words that visually
look identical to me. Through, though, thought ALWAYS give me trouble. For a lot of other
words, my brain moves faster than my fingers and I often leave a letter out or transpose
letters in a short word.

Leave a comment below and have a chance to win one of L.J. Cohen’s books! A lucky winner will be selected at random in a week’s time.

Graduation

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Seven years in Canada means there are now very few moments where we stop and say “Hey, that’s a bit different!”, but this week, there was a big one. Eldest Weasel has graduated High School.

*Puts on flat cap and lights pipe*

Back in my day, we didn’t graduate from High School. For a start, we didn’t GO to High School. Mandatory Secondary Education finished with the Fifth Year and G.C.S.E.s (I was in the first year to take these new-fangled replacements for the O levels). We spent May and June taking an assortment of exams (nine, in my case) and when you took your last exam, you were done. No more Secondary School. There was, I think, a final assembly, but I got sent out of that for talking, so I don’t know what happened in it.

As an avid consumer of North American film and TV, I’m familiar with the concept of High School graduation (though this one turned out very different from that Buffy Episode…). What I hadn’t realised was the ceremony is really worthwhile. Poor Eldest Weasel was consumed with nerves about the whole thing, which was a shame because this was a great way to mark the early years of education, the culmination of the time that this age group would spend together in school. From this point on, as was made clear by the statements read out for each graduate, they would be scattering to all kinds of different colleges, careers and ambitions.

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That’s not to say that the mood was entirely sombre. The Principal (who is also moving on to a new job) gave a speech that was upbeat and encouraging, inevitably quoting Dr Seuss, and making several jokes (some unintentional). There were catcalls and cheers for the students receiving scholarships, and many of the hats had been decorated by their owners, since they would be kept as souvenirs of the big day. It was a long ceremony, only broken twice by performances from the choir and the band, begun with “O, Canada” sung by one of the graduates and closed with “God Save the Queen” sung by another. The hats were thrown into the air after the Valedictorian’s speech (and you have to love Drama Students for stepping up when it comes to making a great speech) and the graduates filed out to meet the friends and relatives who had packed the arena.

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I had come to the event believing it to be overblown and unnecessary , just one more stress to drop on a group of young adults already being pressured to decide their futures. But I came away feeling it had been exactly right – a celebration of the time and effort these students had put into their school, an acknowledgement of what it will come to mean to them in the future, and a reminder that the friendships they have made here can be carried forward no matter how far apart they may travel.

After two months…

I finally got to put up the Star Wars Day display at the library.

It was fun to get everything together and write out some information cards for each helmet, trying to find links to specific books, as well as pointing out how Star Wars contributes to drawing new children into reading each year.

 

I was also proud to receive a card from the Commanding Officer of the local 501st Garrison, the Outer Rim Garrison. He left his card, so I’m hoping to catch up with him in the next week before the display comes down.

 

What are YOU doing for Star Wars Day?

My Imaginary Friends

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Sometimes, as parents, we ignore the advice we give our own children. We eat sugary foods after nine o’clock at night. We drink more than we should. We talk to strangers.

When Eldest Weasel was born, we were living in Wales, and though there were folks around us, none of them were long-term friends. I was home, raising a baby for the first time, and I didn’t have a peer-group. Lucky for me, we had an internet connection, and I began to explore the world of online communication. I had started writing, after all, and wanted to build a relationship with potential readers.

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At the time, Yahoo was running a social media site called “Yahoo 360”. It looked a lot like Facebook, and before too long I was “talking” daily with a bunch of people there. We talked about books, and tv programmes, and how our days were going. I didn’t know them as actual people – the picture above is the avatar I used, and most of the others had avatars that didn’t show their actual faces. Or species.

Sadly, 360 didn’t last much longer than our time in Wales, and I didn’t find a suitable replacement for many years. I still have some of the stories I was told by those people, and still think of them fondly – some had user names that crop up from time to time in other contexts. I don’t care what my kids tell me about Mario, for me Bowser will always be the name of a small dog wearing goggles.

These days, as I’ve often mentioned, I hang out at G+. It may not be popular with the media, who love to announce the demise of the platform every few months, but I have a healthy circle of friends on there, and they help me out with my stuff and vice versa. Recently one of my online friends let me know she was going to be in Vancouver, and could she drop by?

Me and Lisa

Lucky for me, her visit coincided with my break at work, so I got to show her the library where I work, and then we sat in the sun and chatted. Since Lisa’s husband’s work takes him on many trips, she’s recently begun meeting up with the folks she’s met online when the destinations coincide, and so far, she says “none of them have been axe murderers!”

It was great to meet Lisa, because she’s what I think of as a “proper” writer. She’s written five novels (with a sixth on the way) and she has two collections of short fiction available too: check out her website.

I picked up the audio copy of her Sci-Fi novel “Ithaka Rising”, the sequel to “Derelict”. It’s great stuff, and available at Audible. Lisa is a “proper” writer because she does the work, just like S.A. Hunt, who I wrote about recently. She produces a first draft then gets it professionally edited before going into re-writes. Her covers are gorgeous and produced in consultation with professional artists. Once she has the complete product, she works hard on the sales, the word of mouth, the reviews and the recommendations. She networks well, and the people who have met or spoken to her are happy to pass on a recommendation – she’s good at what she does!

It was great to meet Lisa and to be reminded that there are people behind those tiny square pictures. It’s nice to know that the conversations I have with my imaginary friends aren’t sailing off into the ether, but connecting me to real people, wherever they are int he world. So if you’re ever tempted to shut down Facebook and make some “genuine” connections, take a second to think what it is that’s making you think like that. You can choose what you communicate, no matter the medium, and it doesn’t matter how the message is delivered if it touches someone’s life.

Flash Fantasy part Six : Non epic tales of other worlds.

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This time, when the Norsemen retreated, the occupants of the village took some time before attempting to return to a normal life. The battered gates had to be repaired. The scorched sections of the perimeter wall needed assessing. The village Elders had a vigorous debate with the younger men about the tactics of keeping the Vikings out.

Some of the women, frustrated by weeks of siege and too much helpful advice from their own elders, set out to forage in the woods. It was they who found the boy.

Younger than ten years, with piercing blue eyes, he was dressed in rough fabric, clean enough but well-worn. He said nothing, but seemed to understand their language. He was uninjured, but his throat bore scars that were old, as if he had worn a collar or chain for many years. There was no debate among them – clearly, the boy must come with them to the village.

Upon his arrival and presentation to the Elders, all work stopped. Everyone had an opinion about the boy and what should be done with him. The boy himself sat cross-legged in front of the women who had found him, listening to everything, but saying nothing.

Finally, the only woman on the Elders’ Council pronounced that he must stay. She well remembered old tales of great heroes placed as children by the gods near those in need. No doubt this child, nurtured and protected by the village, would prove to be the village’s protector in time.

“All will care for him, feed him, teach him.” she said. “For it will take a village to raise this child.”

For all that he never spoke a word, the boy was bright, attentive ad charming. He was welcome in every home, sharing each meal of the day with a different family. He spent time at the blacksmith’s forge, strung the loom of the Weaver, sorted staves for the Cooper. He was good with the horses and calmed fractious babies without a sound.

One month after arriving in the village, when the moon had waned and the night was dark, the boy slipped from the house where he should be sleeping and lit a torch from the embers of the fire. He wound through the sleeping village, stroking his torch along the edge of every thatch. By the time the villagers were alerted to their danger, the fire was everywhere. Nothing could be done, but to run out of the gates of the village, lit from behind by the glow of their own burning homes. That same hellish light gleamed back at them from the waiting swords of the Norsemen.

Sometimes, it takes a child to raze a village.

 

It’s been nearly a month since I’ve posted anything here. At first I was just holding off until the excellent Chester Theatre Club had completed their run of “Merely Players

But then they got hit by the flu, and then I had family members in recovery too, Spring Break,

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and a birthday (not mine!)

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Plus, of course, the World’s Second Longest Bathroom Reno*.

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So, this is me, posting to say I have nothing to post, but life goes on…. and another Star Wars Helmet marches towards completion.

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*My friend Rob holds the title. For now.

How Learning to Juggle can make you a more successful novellist.

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  1. It can’t. Sorry.
  2. No, really. It’s a huge waste of your time and effort.

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3. Fine, look, it’s just an analogy. Juggling looks very difficult, but it can be learned progressively IF you are willing to put in the time and practice.

4. Some people take to it quickly, and others will find the basics a slog, but once you pass a certain level, then it’s no longer about innate talent, but your willingness to keep working and improving.

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5. Some people will crack a simple 3-ball cascade (above) and be happy. Others will go on beyond a 4-ball Mills’ Mess, and some will wonder how long it would take to break a few world records. People are different, and so are their goals. Don’t compare yourself to other jugglers unless you’re sure you share the same goal.

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So there you have it: Juggling might make a handy analogy, but it won’t make you a more successful novellist. It WILL make you more attractive to women.*

 

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*This is completely untrue. Sorry.