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Preview: Once in a Blue Muse: A poet's journal

Once in a Blue Muse

The blog of author LJ CohenAbout ~ Contact ~ Blogroll ~ Webpage

Updated: 2018-04-19T07:53:34.821-04:00


The Art of Halcyone Space


Original art by Chris HowardAbout a month ago, I revealed an earlier draft of this cover art for A STAR IN THE VOID for subscribers of my newsletter. Now, I'm sharing it widely in advance of the June 2018 publishing date of the novel.Chris Howard has created original art for all 5 of the Halcyone Space novels.Finally I can display all of these amazing covers together and talk about how each of the images captures the heart and soul of the novel it graces.DerelictWhile all of the stories center around an ensemble cast, each story has a single character whose arc stands out to me as primary. In DERELICT, that character was Rosalen Maldonado. At the start of the story, Ro is isolated. As a result of being moved from post to post by her emotionally abusive father, she doesn't have the emotional skills or experience in trusting other people.The plot revolves around a derelict space ship and its damaged AI, but the story revolves around Ro learning to trust herself and trust others.I love the way Chris depicts Ro as dwarfed by the cosmos, yet looking up and out as if hoping for a better future.Ithaka RisingThis is Barre Durbin. The story of ITHAKA RISING is the story of brothers, loyalty, and sacrifice. Children of the space station's physicians, Barre and his little brother Jem have always been under pressure to excel. But ever since Jem outstripped him academically, Barre has felt like a failure. His relationship is particularly strained with his mother who can't  appreciate Barre's musical genius.The main storyline borrows from the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Barre, like Orpheus, relies on his musical skills to enter the Underworld and rescue a loved one. I love the look of quiet determination on Barre's face in Chris's image. Dreadnought and ShuttleDevorah Martingale Morningstar (Dev, and she would be the first to mention how ridiculous her name is) enters the world of Halcyone Space in DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE. She is a character who emerged as simply a minor player but after her first scene, I bent to the wisdom of my subconscious and let her be who she needed to be for the story. She is a materials science student at the University Micah Rotherwood escapes to. She gets abducted in his stead and taken aboard a stolen ship by her captor. But she is far from a powerless pawn and uses her knowledge and skills to sabotage the ship. Chris created her with an intensity that matches her character. The image conveys her strength, capability, and focus.ParallaxIn the 4th novel, PARALLAX, the cover features Emmaline Gutierrez. In all the other covers, the character shown is a viewpoint character. While we never see Gutierrez's point of view, she is a major mover of the story and we see her interacting with almost all the other viewpoint characters. She is an old soldier whose loyalties are put to the test in this story. In a very real way, she is the last soldier standing from a conflict that she had already sacrificed body and soul to forty years earlier. While she appears a bit younger than I see her, Chris nailed her expression, her body language, and her prosthetic arm. There is both amazing strength and vulnerability here. She may be my favorite non-viewpoint character in the series.A Star in the VoidFor the 5th and final book in the Halcyone Space series, A STAR IN THE VOID, I asked Chris to use Ada May as the cover character.While she is only a viewpoint character for a brief epilogue in book 4, she is the character around whom the entire narrative of 5 novels centers around. She was there at the start of the hostilities over 40 years prior. It was her genius that created the first true AIs that made space travel possible. She created the hidden world of Ithaka and its quiet rebellion against the Commonwealth. And her actions at the end of book 4 are the catalyst for the entire plot of book 5.One of the strengths of Chris's work is that he understands that the power of a cover comes not from depicting a specific scene, but from bringing forth the heart of the story. It should be no surpri[...]

Saying goodbye to my imaginary friends


The final book; editing phaseHalcyone Space began in a moment of anger and frustration. I was getting very little traction with my prior books and decided to write a story with an ensemble cast that nobody would like. (Yes, I am not proud of my 5-year-old tantrum phase.)I created an unpleasant loner. A drug dealer. An obnoxious child prodigy. A stoner musician. In space.And these were the protagonists.Ultimately, my baseline good humor and equanimity returned and I was able to take the first premise, put forward during a fit of pique, and transform it into the story of a derelict space ship and its unwilling and accidental crew.DERELICT was completed in 2012 and was my 8th written novel. It was published in June of 2014 and at the time, I had no real intention of turning it into a series.But then something utterly unexpected and quite magical happened - it struck gold on Amazon and sold more copies than I could have dreamed of. And I realized there was more to tell about Ro Maldonado and her crew.Since the publication of DERELICT in 2014, every summer has seen a new Halcyone Space book. The characters have grown and changed. The politics have become increasingly complex and compelling. The stakes have ramped up, both on an individual and galactic level. These stories have taken me places I never would have anticipated, especially to a post-climate change earth even more divided into haves (highsiders) and have-nots (settlement 'deeps' - displaced persons) than our world is. Along the way, the characters have become quite real. Some writers describe it as the characters talking to them, or dictating the story. For me, it's more like the characters have taken up residence in my brain somewhere and when I'm fortunate, they allow me to eavesdrop.Their voices and personalities have become quite distinct.I have recently finished the major revision pass of A STAR IN THE VOID; the fifth and final book of the series. The characters are currently standing around looking puzzled. I'm feeling quite lost and more than a little lonely.In some ways, this was the most difficult book I've ever written. (For those of you keeping track, this is book number 14). It took me a long time to figure out why and when I finally did, I totally had the "V8" moment: It's a lot harder to finish a series than to start it.For each of the prior books, the world and the story expands. Have a problem as a writer? Throw a new issue at your characters. Now add a ticking clock. And someone or something in peril.Easiest way out of blocked creativity ever!But then came book 5.Finally, I was faced with the need to pull it all back together in a way that fit the series organically and would be satisfying to the reader, without throwing in new shiny distractions for the characters. And all while saying goodbye to my imaginary friends.The only thing that would have make it harder would have been to do it backwards and in high heels.Metaphorically speaking.Really, I'm a terrible dancer.But I digress.When I wrote the final chapters, there were moments when I cried. Studies have shown that what we imagine is as real as our experiences and I've been imagining these people and their world for a very long time. We've been together more than six years. As much as I've been the architect of their adventures, they've also changed me. I don't think you can create something without being altered by it.So I will take some time to mourn the loss of this world that has been as real to me as my day to day life and characters who have become dear friends.And now, as I prepare to ready this fifth and final installment of Halcyone Space, I understand that it is no longer my story. It belongs to the universe.A STAR IN THE VOID.Summer, 2018 email: Free eBookFree/DRM-free short fictionpublication news[...]

So you want to be an ally


This post emerged from my observations and experiences, especially over the past year and in response to the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements. This is by no means an authoritative or complete guide to allyship - that would be a pretty large ego-driven statement - but it is something that's been bouncing around my head and I thought I would start to lay it down in words.I welcome comments and suggestions.1. Examine and understand your motivationsYou don't get cookies or gold stars or a cool t-shirt for performing the role of ally. It's not something you can cross off your bucket list, like "Visit Iceland" or "Climb Mt. Everest."Being an ally is a position or identity you stake out in your life. An avocation, if you will. More like being an amateur painter or musician. And as such, it means committing to a lifetime of practice and learning.And if your motivation for being an ally is "so people think I'm a good person", stop. Just stop. You are making this all about you and your ego.2. You must be willing to risk your positionCongratulations - you have come to a point that many do not: you recognize that you have benefited from society's inherent biases. That while you may have worked hard for what you have, you started out at a more privileged position or easier difficulty level. And you want to do something about it. That's great. A level playing field seems like the right thing to fight for.There is no fight without risk.There is no change without loss.You may lose your standing in your family, your place of worship, your profession, your neighborhood.If you do your work well, you may see yourself be passed over for promotion or opportunity in favor of someone in a less privileged position. And that may hurt, because deep down, whatever our politics or outward actions, we believe we earn what we have achieved.Understand that in a more equitable world, you may not always get the winning lottery ticket. If you've always gotten them in the past, that will feel like a loss, instead of a correction to a rigged game.3. Amplify, don't shout overThe main jobs of an ally are to listen, educate, and amplify.Listen: make sure you really understand what the people you wish to ally with want. And this may be more difficult than you think. There is rarely complete consensus in any group and just as you cannot speak for all white people, you cannot think that anyone speaks for all people of color, or all women, or all people in the LGBTQ communities, or all Muslims, or, or, or. And that's not even acknowledging that individuals can and do belong to more than one marginalized group.Educate: Educate yourself and your fellow folks in privileged positions. Read foundational source texts from folks in marginalized groups. For all that is good and pure in the world, DO NOT MAKE THOSE YOU WISH TO ALLY WITH do the emotional labor of educating you.Amplify: Here's an example: Imagine you are an actor. Spend time actively promoting movies with actors from marginalized groups. Talk them up on social media. When someone praises your role in a specific show, thank them and recommend something from a group you wish to be an ally with. Same for artists, musicians, writers, etc. Use your platform to boost voices that wouldn't otherwise be heard.Frequent shops owned by people from marginalized groups. Use the power of your economic privilege to support them.Signal boost; don't obliterate with your voice. That's a callback to point #1: If you are talking OVER marginalized voices in your effort to be an ally, you aren't. That's ego. Examine your motivations._________I wrote this post as much as a reminder for myself as well as for my fellow white folks, both allies and potential allies. I know this is not a complete list and if I have make any errors or omissions, I apologize and will edit as needed. Know that this is hard work.Know that you will make mistakes.This is okay; learn from your mistakes.No change happens easily.Change can happen.It must. email: Free eBookFree/DRM-free short [...]

A lifetime of learning


Fred Rogers, image in the public domainFrom the outside, I pretty much look like a competent grown-up. Someone who has it all together. Well, I have been circling around the sun on this blue planet for over 5 decades, so I've had a long time to learn some stuff. But the reality is, I'm still learning and I'm still changing. And, no, I don't have all the answers.I have learned to think deeply about all sorts of things and especially to interrogate my own most closely held beliefs. Honestly? That's my definition of adulthood - being willing to examine your biases and change them. It's toddlers who hold to irrational beliefs and throw tantrums when they are challenged. Grown ups shouldn't do that.All too often they/we do.These are some of the things I've been thinking about/lessons I'm working to learn:1. Not everything is about me. Not everything is for me. Every space doesn't need to cater to me. Shutting up & listening without needing to offer my opinion is a useful skill.I'm a white, cis, het woman in her middle age. I have A perspective, but not THE perspective. And to be honest, my perspective is more widely understood and accepted than those of someone more marginalized than me. While in some contexts, I may be the marginalized voice, in so many more, I am privileged. My job, when I am privileged, is to clear the way for other perspectives. And not expect a cookie or a pat on the head for it.2. I have the responsibility to ask for what I want, not the guarantee that I will get it. I spent far too much time worrying about pleasing (or simply appeasing) people around me. Somehow, I was convinced that I was only likable if I catered to what everyone around me wanted and needed. This does a number of very unhealthy things: It made me believe that what I wanted was not important. It made me believe that I had to manage other people's emotions at the expense of my own. It made me believe that others - if they truly cared about me - would know what I wanted or needed. In short, it encouraged me to act in a passive aggressive way and to deny my own agency and personhood. 3. I have learned that empathy is not the same as subsuming my needs for someone else's. This is closely linked to the point above. I had to learn that I had the right to have preferences that differed from those of the people around me. This reverberates in small matters and large: the movie you want to watch, the way in which you and a partner express sexuality. 4. Disagreeing doesn't mean the end of a relationship. . . I used to believe I had to agree with/enjoy everything my friends did, or I was being troublesome or rude or disruptive. Somehow I was convinced that by saying "No, I don't want" or "I don't like" would end the friendship. It was *my* job to bend to the needs of those around me. What I've learned is that clearly having an opinion doesn't negate the opinions of others. We can like different things and still be friends. I know! Radical! 5. Except sometimes it does. Opinions about favorite Doctors (Doctor Who), or Star Trek franchises, or pie varieties are not fatal differences. (Though I will fight with all my strength if you tell me that canned pumpkin makes as good a pie as fresh.)I have given myself permission this year to distance myself from individuals in my life who hold political beliefs I feel are incompatible with empathy and democracy. If you make a joke in which you 'punch down' and when I try to talk to you about it, you tell me I have no sense of humor, I will walk away. If your facebook feed is full of memes that are actively hurtful to people in my life, I will walk away. If you continually act to bait me or my friends in arguments manufactured to make us justify our existence, I will walk away.  6. WWMRDFinally, I may indeed judge myself and others by Mr. Rogers's standards of decency. If he would have been disappointed, perhaps we need to rethink our actions. If you have lessons you'd l[...]

My Arisia Schedule


I'll probably be wearing my TARDIS sneakers. . . This coming weekend, I'll be attending Arisia, one of the Boston area Science Fiction and Fantasy conventions. It's one of my favorite cons - essentially a 4 day party with a hotel full of fellow geeks.Cosplayers and gamers and authors, oh my.In addition to several panels and a reading, I'll be hanging out in the dealer's room with the lovely ladies of Broad Universe.I'll have copies of my novels to autograph and look forward to chatting with readers, friends, and fans.I hope to see you there!Broad Universe Rapid-Fire Reading Adams Sat 10:00 AM Description Come discover your new favorite writer as members of Broad Universe read short excerpts from their work. Each writer has just a few minutes to show you what she’s capable of! We offer chocolate and the chance to win prizes. Broad Universe is an international organization that supports women writers, editors, and publishers.Kids and Families on the Autism Spectrum Burroughs Sat 11:30 AM Description In this open-ended discussion, we will explore a wide range of issues related to children, parenting, communication strategies, schooling, and family issues that often come up when someone in the family (or perhaps more than one person!) is on the autism spectrum. The goal is for everyone to come away with a better understanding of how to work with themselves and with the people around them, whether they identify as an Aspie or not. Bring your questions!Prospective participant information Panel participants can be people who identify as on the spectrum, those who are in close relationships with people who do, or professionals who have experience in this area.Technology's not a Cure: Disability in SFF Burroughs Sat 4:00 PM Description Uncanny Magazine's _Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction_ Kickstarter reached almost all of its stretch goals, and completed funding. _Defying Doomsday_, an anthology of post-apocalyptic survival fiction that focuses on disabled characters was published in 2016. The conversation around disability in SFF is growing, but there are still many problems and problematic tropes in common use. Where do we, as a genre, need to go to create a better genre for disability representation?Writing Series, Sequels, and Spin-Offs Douglas Sun 2:30 PM Description It's no secret that book series have a better chance of discoverability. What’s the secret to writing a successful series? How do you plan and develop multi-book series that sell? Create series arcs? And how do you keep track of multiple plotlines and characters across many books? How can you expand existing material to create a series? And when is it time to pull the plug and move onto other things?Oh, and I'll also be displaying my ceramics in the art show! email: Free eBookFree/DRM-free short fictionpublication news[...]

2017: A Year in this Writer's Life


I suspect most of you will understand when I say I won't be sorry to see the last of 2017. With a few notable exceptions, it was a difficult year, personally, professionally, and in the world at large.Still, I have been fortunate. I have good health care and our family has financial stability. Those two things alone make me an outlier.And, while I haven't written as much in 2017 as I had wanted or planned to,  it was still a full year of writing news and personal news.Writing LifeChris Howard knocks it out of the park again with this cover image.Publications 2017 saw the publication of PARALLAX, the 4th book of my space opera science fiction series Halcyone Space. I also contributed a new original short story to the anthology ORPHANS IN THE BLACK called "In the Clutch", unrelated to the universe of the Halcyone Space books. It's a bit of an homage to Earnest Shackleton and the Endurance mission. With reptilian aliens. Writing in ProgressThe drafting of book 5 (A STAR IN THE VOID) has been going more slowly than I had anticipated, but I'm still working within my original publication time frame of Summer 2018. After several false starts, I finished another short story for an upcoming themed anthology and am awaiting editorial notes. It's a bit more on the literary side than my novels and I'll be interested in seeing what readers make of it.In other new writing, the Vito Nonce project that I'm co-writing with Rick Wayne has taken a brief hiatus as both of us are working on finishing current series, but will be a focus in the new year. So between novels, short stories, blog posts, and poetry, I've probably eked out 50,000 new words in 2017. Considerably less output than I've managed in prior years, but I'll take it as a victory. Events and HonorsI addition to attending ARISIA (and garnering an invitation to participate in 2018) and participating in programs at BOSKONE and READERCON, this year marked a convention first: One of these days I'll learn to to take goofy photos.But not this day.I was invited to be a Guest of Honor at G.A.M.E. in Springfield, MO. They folks at G.A.M.E. were gracious and welcoming and I had a great time meeting old and new fans and talking about SF&F tropes that needed to die. This year also found me in Denver to attend MILE HIGH CON. The highlight was getting to meet Nathan Lowell in person for the first time since meeting him virtually 4 years ago.DERELICT picked up a new honor in 2017: It was chosen as the inaugural title for a new Feminist Book of the Month Club, featuring speculative fiction titles. It also had another run on Amazon as a best seller during a sale in the fall, introducing the series to a new group of readers. (Welcome!)This fall, I was able to spend a productive and wonderful week in the company of writing community friends from Writer Unboxed when we gathered for a retreat in the wilds of Vermont. And finally, in December I was interviewed by my fellow Broad Universe member Rona Gofstein along with Kevin Ross Emory on their show: Dragons & Unicorns & other creative creatures.  width="320" height="266" class="YOUTUBE-iframe-video" data-thumbnail-src="" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>So if you've ever been curious about my creative process, my stories, my ceramics work, or just what to hear my squeaky voice and watch me talk with my hands, have a look.  Personal Life Star Field Farm risesIn January of 2017, my husband and I closed on a home in Central Massachusetts on a 54 acre piece of property that is part farmland, part Rivendell. Ultimately, it will be where we retire to. In the meanwhile, it will be a personal and writing retreat space.In March of 2017, my gallbladder and I decided to part ways. It was less an amicable divorce than a forced separatio[...]

Darkness. Balance. Transformation.


There is beauty, too, in the starkness of winter. This isn't something I don't already know.It's not something that I haven't been through numerous times before.It's not even particularly revelatory or interesting.It just is.The ability to be sensitive to emotions and subtle changes around me is both a blessing and a curse. It's what fuels my creativity, but it also triggers anxiety and depression. That very sensitivity means that my filters are porous. It doesn't take a lot to bring me joy, but it also doesn't take a lot to bring me sorrow.I've had a hard time staying in balance vis à vis my emotions of late. It expresses itself in multiple ways including fatigue, isolating behavior, and difficulty writing. From the outside, it can look like depression and it probably has some of that in the mix, but it also doesn't feel particularly bad. What feels bad is the guilt and irritation I experience from not having gotten things done.There's a weird energy this time of year. All these subtle and not so subtle messages of Do! Buy! Engage! That kind of external mania turns me inward, as does the shorter days and the cold.I don't think cyclic shifts in our productivity and activity is bad or wrong. As with most things, it's complicated. It depends.Right now, I'm almost 2 months behind where I wanted and needed to be in drafting book 5 of the Halcyone Space series. And I'm trying to figure out how to keep on track while honoring my self and my mental and physical health. So bear with me here as I talk it out and work to make sense of it.*Creativity doesn't just happen; it's transformative. Both as its process and in its outcome.In order to create, we must collect elements from the world around us - sensory experiences, emotions, ideas, memories, objects - and change them, imbue them with layers of meaning to form something new. That is one meaning of transformation.The other is how that new creation, be it a painting, a poem, a novel, a song, or any other expression, changes the creator and the audience.So we transform to create and our creation has the potential to transform us.That's a lot of responsibility, along with a process that can seem messy or magical or just impenetrable.But it starts with that sensitivity. Those porous boundaries. And they don't discriminate in what they take in.*Like many folks, I've been following the news cycle. It's nearly impossible to avoid it. My social media feeds used to be full of dogs, recipes, travel, book news, and Doctor Who memes. Now it's overwhelmed by fear, calls to action, outrage. And yes, there's a lot to be feared, much work to do, and to be outraged over. I don't think I can isolate myself from everything. Nor would I want to even if I could. Even if I felt no personal responsibility to the world, my creativity cannot live outside of it. That porous filter between me and everything? It can't be set to only take in some things and not others. Not if I want to continue to transform and create. And yet, I'm tired. The amount of energy it takes to preserve my emotional safety is enormous. It feels like I've run short of resources for anything else. So my writing suffers. My organization suffers, my social connections suffer. *None of this is to imply I don't also have great joy in my life. While this year has brought incredible challenges, both to the world and to my small part of it, it has also given me much to be thankful for, not the least of which is StarField Farm and the beginning of a new adventure with my husband. Then there is the discovery of my extended family, found after a near 40 year search. (Another blog post for another day.)*I live in a part of the world where the days are getting shorter. Where creeping darkness is more than just a metaphor. It feels like the calendar year is accelerating to the end with all of its artificial marking of accomplishments that somehow need to happen i[...]

My over the top love of Halloween


Last year, right after Halloween, when the decorations went on sale, my husband got me another fog machine, a life sized poseable skeleton, and assorted ghosts.He gets me.He really gets me.I'm not an expensive jewelry or clothing type of gal and never, ever bring me roses. Want to see me swoon? Buy me a light projector that shows flying ghosts against my house and I'm a happy camper.This is my "Trick or Tree". (I wish I had made up that name, but it was one of my clever facebook friends.) Well, what else do you do when you have a giant trash bag full of skulls?Wait. Don't answer that. . .Our challenge every year is to put together a selection of our decorations in a fresh way to create something that is spooky and creative without being too terrifying for the little trick or treaters yet still cool enough for the teenagers.I may have struck the balance to the scary side this year, because I spooked a little girl dressed as Wonder Woman. I felt terrible!As I said, normally Neil waits until the post-Halloween sale to pick up new treats for me. But this year, he couldn't resist and these 2 hell-hounds were added to the stockpile. They are motion and touch sensitive and their eyes glow red and they bark and howl.So of course I created a tableaux of "good dog" and "bad dog".(No actual dogs were harmed in the making of this display.)When night falls, and we bring out the lights and the fog machines, it looks like this:It was a smaller display than in prior years. Partly because of the stormy weather we had in the run up to Halloween, party because Neil and I were out of town last week.We've had these bones for years. It's fun to watch the young kids work on reading the words. Just doin' my part for literacy!And who doesn't need spooky light up zombie hands?Yes, we fogged up the entire neighborhood. #sorrynotsorryToday is devoted to packing it all away and putting it back in the attic until next year. email: Free eBookFree/DRM-free short fictionpublication news[...]

Reclaiming ourselves


A moment of peace, for everyone who shared their #MeToo momentsWatching the flood of posts on social media yesterday with the tag #MeToo was painful and eye-opening. I have a lot of folks friended on Facebook and nearly all the women and some of the men openly proclaimed that they, too, were victims of sexual assault or harassment. Some people talked about the need to be outspoken in order to show the scope of the problem to so many men who disbelieve women, or worse, mock them. For me, it served a different purpose. It showed me how many strong, incredible people have also been sexually victimized. It showed me that I could examine my own experiences in a very different context. It showed me I wasn't alone or weak or to blame.Not if so many amazing women (and some men) on my timeline had their own #MeToo stories. I have no need or desire to recount the details of my assault. It doesn't matter how old I was or the circumstances. I don't need to parade my history for it to be important, relevant, formative. But I will tell you this: I was a child and my abusers were teenage boys from my neighborhood. And the questions we need to be asking as a society are why did they think they had any right to my body or my ensuing silence?*I was a child of the 60s and 70s. The cultural zeitgeist was the sexual revolution and perhaps it was a seismic change in how we viewed sexuality, but looking back from our current moment, it seems like it lacked a basic and vital component: We had no language for or concept of bodily autonomy.I was raised to 'be a good girl', to comply. The accepting and giving of hugs and kisses to relatives and family friends was compulsory. I remember being tickled to the point of nearly throwing up on many occasions. If I complained, I had no sense of humor. Does the fact that I see forced tickling as a violation of my bodily autonomy seem minor and petty to you? If it does, then I would ask you to examine why. Why should my personal experience and preferences mean less than your right to use my body how you want to? And if it sounds like I'm equating tickling with assault, I am, because it's a similar control issue. They are not the same, but they are analogous.If a child is raised that her body and her experiences are less important than those of her relatives and stronger peers, it is no surprise that she learns to discount her will and her perceptions. If she can't say no, or if her no isn't respected in small and frequent ways through her growing up, how can it be a surprise when she doesn't believe she has ownership of her own body? I was assaulted and I never even considered telling anyone. I had already internalized the message that my body wasn't really my own. That I was somehow to blame, so why bother reporting it? The teens who assaulted me were part of the fabric of my neighborhood. I had to see them through my entire childhood, so the only way I could manage was to pretend nothing happened.*I am the parent of 2 sons. From the time they were young, I worked hard to establish healthy boundaries and instill in them a sense of bodily autonomy. We were always a huggy/kissy family, but we never forced them to be physical with anyone (even us) if they didn't want to. No, "you have to give grandma a kiss". Rather it was presented as a choice. And their "no" was respected, even as we modeled appropriate physical affection with one another. And yes, I hugged and kissed and tickled my kids. But I made certain that stop meant stop. Full stop. No questions asked. *Teaching and modeling bodily autonomy is not the ultimate solution to sexual assault and harassment; it is only a starting point. Our culture is full of examples and messages of normalized sexual predation and harassment. We still have a society in which we shame and blame the abused and don't hold the[...]

Food, Words, Dogs


When I'm at a loss for what to do about the pain of the world, I turn to a few things that keep me centered: food, words, and the comfort of my dogs.Today is for chopping and freezing more tomatoes and canning applesauce. There is something about preparing food for the future that reminds me there is a future. There will be family meals and laughter and the reminder of a clear summer day or a cool autumn breeze.I put away the harvest in part because I want to hold to that imagined future day when we will gather with loved ones to feed more than hungry bellies; we will feed souls and nurture our whole beings.Food is definitely my love language.And I also turn to words, particularly poetry, during times of crisis and mourning. Sometimes that's reading others' work, sometimes it's writing my own. I can't count the number of times I've read Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese" and received comfort from her assurance:You do not have to be good.You do not have to walk on your kneesfor a hundred miles through the desert repenting.You only have to let the soft animal of your bodylove what it loves.This week, I was reminded of something I wrote right after hurricane Katrina tore through so much of the south. We were visiting our in-laws at their home by the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland - the home that they had lost and rebuilt several years earlier in a different hurricane.After the Levee is Breached Only the lightest puff of air stirs pennants along the dock. Telltales hang from luffing sails. In the stillness, bees stagger between the open throats of thirsty orchids. When wind and full moon forcedthe bay to rise, it scoured the eastern shore.This time, the great tidal surge gathers elsewhere. Camera crews rush to film other places more prosperous, newly drowned. Watermen haul their catch by hand, chanta guilty mantra--Hugo, Andrew, Isabel;new storms spin elsewhere. Tonight a front gathers force; it rends high, thin clouds. Stars pour through the rift like water.                                                                       LJ Cohen 2005The lines that keep running through my head today are these: This time, the great tidal  surge gathers/elsewhere. Camera crew rush to film/other places more prosperous, newly drowned.We seem to only crave the newest tragedy, the freshest disaster. And only until the next surge and the next.I envy my dogs, especially on days like this. They soak the world up through their senses, find happiness in a warm pool of sunshine and the sound of a familiar voice, the jingle of a car key, the promise of a treat.We are left to try to make sense of what cannot be understood, to carry heartache piled upon heartache. Is it no wonder I want to feed the world?May you find and hold to that which brings your comfort and may you be able to share that comfort with others. email: Free eBookFree/DRM-free short fictionpublication news[...]

Begin Again


I was talking with a friend the other day about feeling lost. I've not written consistently in more than a month and while it's not writer's block, exactly, it does feel like I'm blocked by something.

Deadlines are looming, I have story ideas, yet I'd rather do laundry or dust the floors than sit down and write.

Much of this is a resurgence of free-floating anxiety I've dealt with my whole life. It comes in waves, often tied to nothing tangible I can name. Sometimes it's external stressors that worm their way in past my boundaries and defenses. Certainly there are enough of them in the world right now to fill a endless well.

Like many artists and creative types, my emotional filters are quite porous. Most of the time, what gets in becomes part of my work. It gets processed and transformed. But sometimes, I feel like I'm mired in a stagnant pool of ugliness.

My friend pointed out that she's seen me move through these cycles before and I know she's right. That may be the only saving grace of all of this. I am not panicking about the stalled writing because I know that the words will return.

Part of that process is returning to more regular blogging and returning to journaling and poetry. These rituals are part of priming the pump for my other writing.

And while many writers will talk about the need to write every day, there's also the truth that creativity doesn't emerge from nothing. Humans are not machines that dispense creativity with inputs of food and rest (though those are important).

To live a creative life, I think we need to strike a balance between consistent practice and refilling the creative well. Sometimes we can do both at once. For me, right now, that's not the case.

But I've been here enough times to know this is my normal. 

If you're struggling out there (and goddess knows there's enough to struggle over), remember to breathe. If you write every day, that's great. If you take long breaks where you're not writing, that may be exactly what you need. One doesn't mean you've arrived at the pinnacle of professional writer; the other doesn't mean you're a slacker or hack.

Note to self: read the above paragraph again. This pertains to you, too!



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Losing Home


Along with the rest of the country, I've been heartsick looking at the damage in Texas from Harvey. Right now, people are in shock, but in the days and weeks to come, the reality that they've lost their homes, their belongings, and their communities will start to sink in.I know at least a little of what that feels like.In December of 2010, we were woken by the smoke detectors in our home screaming their alert. We fled a burning house at 5:30 am, in our pajamas and bare feet.Standing in the cold New England morning, watching our house burn, watching the firefighters smash windows and knock the fire down, I was numb. At that moment, all I could think of was how close I came to losing my family and that's what sent me into a spiral of anxiety and depression that lasted over a year.In that first week or so, I didn't have the time to fall apart. My husband had to go to work. Our sons had to go to school. I was consumed with the details of just surviving: finding a temporary apartment, getting us all a few days worth of clothing, finding winter coats and boots, dealing with the insurance company and getting the house boarded up so the winter weather wouldn't make the damage worse.Everyone remarked about how calm and in control I was. How amazing a job I was doing keeping it all together.Which was true as far as people could see.Whenever I was alone, I would start to cry. It took me about 15 minutes in the car before any errand just to put myself back together.And we had only lost our home - not our neighborhood or our support network. Our losses were covered by insurance and we knew we'd rebuild and move back. Our children had the structure of school and their friends. People around us were able to help.We were lucky.We were incredibly lucky. And I still struggled to get through every day.If I heard a siren or smelled smoke, I would have a full blown panic attack. It was almost a full year before that became manageable.The people displaced by Hurricane Harvey are not only dealing with enormous personal loss, but the loss of their communities, networks, and structure. Schools won't open soon. Or houses of worship. or local government services. Even if they have the financial resources, they can't just go shopping to replace clothes because all the stores are flooded and closed. If they had a car, it's now drowned. Hell, just getting food is going to be difficult for some time to come. Need medicine? Out of luck. Pharmacies are closed and their computer systems likely down.If you've never experienced a personal loss like this, it's hard to imagine the scope of the devastation and emotional gut-punch of it. I'm not sure how I would have gotten through our fire and its aftermath without the support of our community. It took almost 10 months, but we got back in our rebuilt home. For most of the people in the hurricane, even if they have homeowners insurance, it doesn't cover flood damage. Whatever disaster relief funds there are, they won't cover everything and many of the displaced won't be able to afford the loans available. Or will fall prey to scammers once the rebuilding starts.In the decade since Katrina, there are neighborhoods in Louisiana that have still not recovered.So if you can donate to the recovery, please do so. And know that what we're seeing now is nowhere near the worst of what's to come. The destruction of the flood waters is a very visible reminder of the disaster, but what is more devastating is the emotional cost of these losses and that cost will continue to be paid by the people in Texas for years to come.  email: Free eBookFree/DRM-free short fictionpublication news[...]

Bonus post: lazy peach butter


 Wash approx 8 lbs of ripe peaches.   Halve peaches and remove pit. Don't worry about removing the peel. It will dissolve in the crock pot during the long cooking time.   Load up your crock pot with chopped peaches. Add 3/4 to 1 cup of white or brown sugar and a few TB of lemon juice. Squish with a potato masher until you have a nice amount of liquid in the pot. You don't want these beauties to scorch!  Cook on high for an hour or so. Then cook on low for 6-10 hours. Keep the lid cracked so steam can escape and the peach slurry can thicken. Time really depends on the juiciness of the peaches and the ambient humidity. Blend with an immersion blender. (Yes, with the skins. They disappear. If you wanted, you could peel the peaches first, but that's too much work for me!)Cook on high until it thickens, stirring occasionally. (If you put a scoop of the peach butter on a spoon, it should hold its shape and not release water.)Add sugar to taste and other flavors as you desire. I usually pour in a few ounces of bourbon. It gives it a nice 'zing'.Can 1/2 pints or 4 oz jars in waterbath for 20 minutes. Or freeze in suitable containers.Use as a spread on toast, as a filling in crêpes, or swirled in plain yogurt.(Note: this works with any stone fruit or apples, though I would peel the apples. Mix fruits for different flavor profiles.) email: Free eBookFree/DRM-free short fictionpublication news[...]

So much time, so little to do. . .


Scratch that.Reverse it.Despite my best intentions of writing something for the blog consistently every week, I fail spectacularly in August. I just realized that it's been weeks since I added anything new here. I think this happens every August because of our summer routines. I also think this summer has been particularly difficult with the current political upheaval. But you didn't come here for politics - I talk about that more on Twitter and G+. So I'll simply talk about some of the lovely things that have been keeping me busy.We live this fiction that things slow down in summer, but for us, life has been quite hectic these past few weeks.   August is the time when we usually take our family vacation to visit my in laws in rural Maryland and this year was no exception.To be fair, it's hard not to do anything but stay in the moment with a view like this. And such was our view for a full week. There is something healing and centering about the ebb and flow of the water and the endless parade of clouds across a blue sky. The time we spend here is the soul's version of a field lying fallow for a bit. It recharges and reenergizes me.We came home to an overflowing garden, full of summer's bounty. This is the time of year I can barely keep up with what comes out of the 6 raised beds my husband plants and then we get a weekly farm share as well. Yikes.I've been chopping and freezing tomatoes and pickling cucumbers and zucchini in an old crock a friend gave me. We're on our 3rd or 4th pickling load and the fridge is full!And then there are the peaches.For the first time in my life, I have a property with fruit trees. In January, we bought what will ultimately be our retirement plan, but for now is a weekend/retreat space about 90 minutes from Boston in Central Massachusetts. As the seasons have changed, we've started to learn what lives on the property. And the most delightful discovery has been the 3 peach trees. After last year, where there was no stone fruit at all north of NJ, our trees are laden with sweet peaches.Today, I prepared a crockpot full of what will be peach bourbon butter, sliced and froze 3 quarts of peaches, and made 4 halfpints of peach syrup. And I still have most of the 3 boxes of peaches I picked this past weekend. There will be at least as many more ripe next week to pick.We've named the place StarField Farm and on a clear, dark night, the sky overhead is, indeed, full of stars.Right now, we're in the midst of construction, which is another claim on my time.When it's finished, this will be a large garage/workspace with a car lift on the ground floor. The upper floor will be a master suite with a living room/office/spare room.It's been a fascinating process to see something go from concept to drawn plans to hole in the ground to the shell of a building in just a few months.We're currently only able to spend 1-2 weekends a month there and wonder of wonders - this 'city mouse' has fallen hard in love with small town rural living.A few days ago, I attended the Hardwick Fair. They had a ceramics category in the arts and crafts judging, so I entered this handbuilt teapot.  Not only did it win first prize, but it was awarded a premium and I was given a rosette ribbon. Not too shabby for my first fair!It would be easy for me to mock the earnestness of the fair and its attendees. There's a lot that could be described as small town cliche - the tractor parade, the cow showing, the pit bbq, the canned goods judging, the yarn spinning demonstration, the live music. But I loved being there. Every part of it. It was a town wide block party and it showed off the best of people's hard work and hobbies. Also, I helped judge the Literary Contest. I susp[...]

And so it begins. . . Again


This is the start of Halcyone Space, book 5. After letting the characters incubate in the back of my head for a few months, it was time to figure out the major goals and issues for each of them. This will help me form the main plots and subplots that form the core of the book.I don't typically do a formal outline, though I will plan out several scenes ahead with one sentence 'blurbs' and once the story really starts cooking, I'll know where each character is and where they need to go. And I do know how the book will end. At some point, near the 75% mark, I typically go back and outline the entire project so I have a sense of its organization. I use this as a revision tool.I have colleagues that write complete and detailed outlines before starting a single word on the story. That's not my process, but it's no less useful and valid. Don't let anyone get away with saying there's only one way to write a novel. These beginning steps take some time. Once I find the flow, the story will move more quickly. Having done this a time or three already, I don't panic when I don't make my wordcounts for the day in these early stages.There is a huge advantage to having gone through the process of idea to beginning through middle and finishing. It's one of the reasons I think it's important not to rewrite your first book over and over again, but to move on to something new. You can always go back to the earlier project and you'll have grown as a writer when you do. (Though sometimes even experience cannot help - I went back and did 2 major rewrites of Heal Thyself and it's still not ready for prime time. I haven't given up hope. Yet.)I didn't know that when I started on my first novel in 2004. I thought if I kept at it, I could make it work. Four rewrites later and it's still trunked. I suspect no amount of poking at it will bring it to a publishable state. Trust me on this. It's 150,000 words of confused fantasy cliches and badly overwrought prose.Books 1 through 12 represent my finished novels. 13 and 14 are works in progress. The ones in bold have been published. 1. 2004-6 Wings of Winter (trunked)2. 2005-2006 MindBlind (trunked)3. 2006-2007 House of Many Doors 4. 2007-2008 Heal Thyself 5. 2008-2009 The Between   (pub 2012)6. 2009-2010 Future Tense  (pub 2014)7. 2011-2012 untitled ghost story 8. 2012  Derelict   (pub 2014)9. 2013-2014 Time and Tithe  (pub 2015)10. 2014-2105 Ithaka Rising  (pub 2015)11. 2015 - 2016 Dreadnought and Shuttle (pub 2016)12. 2016 - 2017 Parallax (pub 2017)13. 2017 Vito Nonce Project (in progress)14. 2017 Halcyone Space book 4 (in progress) That list comprises well over a million words of fiction. (And this doesn't count short stories.) Some of it unpublishable either for issues of quality, premise, or market. But each of the books I completed taught me invaluable lessons and made the next book better.  Halcyone Space, book 4, is my 14th novel.  (Not counting the 2 projects in the mid 2000's not listed here that I wrote about 30K each on and abandoned for various reasons.) Knowing what I know now about my process, (and barring any major catastrophe) I am confident that books 13 and 14 on this list will be finished, revised, polished, edited, and published.At some point, I'll feel comfortable to share snippets of the work in progress.Stay tuned!#SFWApro email: Free eBookFree/DRM-free short fictionpublication news[...]

DNA, Identity, Family


No surprises hereThis is a personal/philosophical post, so if you're reading my blog for writing or publication information, that's not what you'll find today.I've never made any secret of being an adoptee. It's not something I've ever been embarrassed or ashamed of, and for that, I credit my parents who were open about my birth story from my earliest memories.A brief aside: My family is my family. My parents adopted me as a 5 day old infant. The people who created me are my genetic parents. I know other adoptees who use adoptive parents and birth parents, but that never felt right to me. My father used to call me his "rice a roni" because I was the San Francisco treat. (That was the company's advertisement in the 1960s and 70s.) Dad was the one who flew out to California on his own to pick up his newborn daughter and bring her (me!) home.In the 1960's, adoption was typically a hush-hush thing, burdened by a lot of shame, and the record keeping was scattershot at best. My adoption was facilitated by a San Francisco lawyer whose pro-bono work was to help young women find homes for the babies they couldn't care for. When I was in my early 20s, my father gave me the contact information for the lawyer. I was fortunate in that he did keep some records and was willing to send them to me at my request.They are sparse: a physical description of my genetic mother and father, some basic ethnicity information, a little family history (emphasis on little). I know that at the time of my birth, my genetic parents and grandparents were alive and well. But that's about it.I let the file sit in my office for years and never did more than glance at it from time to time. After my first child was born, I wanted to know more. And I wanted my genetic family to know that I was fine. More than fine. I had had a very good life and I was married, working as a physical therapist, and starting a family of my own.So I steeled myself and called the phone number that was in the files from the lawyer on the long shot that 30 years later, the family would still be living there.The people who picked up the phone that day in 1993 were my genetic mother's parents and my conversation with them explained a lot about why I was given up for adoption: they were hostile and suspicious and couldn't believe I didn't want to extort them for money.(Second aside: seriously??? WTF??? That's the first thing you jump to when you get that call?)After asking for contact information for my genetic mother, they threatened me and hung up on me. I believe they never even told her I had called, which makes me very sad. Over the years, I'd poke search engines and look for her name. I look through facebook every now and then, but I haven't found her. Fast forward to 2017. I am in my 50s. My children are both adults. And I typically don't think about my being an adoptee except when I see a medical person. The question always comes up: What's your family medical history. And it hits me. I don't know.I want to have the information. While I understand the privacy issues and the fact that my genetic parents have gone on to have their own lives and may never have revealed that they had had a child, (They are likely living separate lives. It's possible my genetic father didn't even know he'd fathered me.) I also believe that having medical information is in essence a literal birthright.So I decided to do an Ancestry DNA test to see what my ethnic heritage was and if I had any relatives who had also registered with the site.My results came in today.There were no surprises. I knew my genetic mother was Jewish of Eastern European decent. I knew my genetic father was Scots/Irish.I did ha[...]

I made a thing


When I need to recharge, I do better when I have a project to work on, rather than deal with unstructured time. So when a friend posted an image of miniature books on Google Plus, I was determined to figure out how to make one.I'll be on program at Readercon later this month and I knew these would make eye-catching 'swag' to give away.First, I looked at sources to buy dollhouse supply mini books. They do exist, but they are expensive - with the shipping, probably $0.40 or $0.50 each. I figured there had to be a simple way to make them.Then I cracked my knuckles and fired up my search engine. I found this tutorial: allowfullscreen="" class="YOUTUBE-iframe-video" data-thumbnail-src="" frameborder="0" height="266" src="" width="320">I experimented with different sizes of paper, and ended up cutting down 8 1/2 x 11" printer paper to several 3x5 rectangles. I then 'shrunk' the full cover of DERELICT to 1.25" by .80", printed it out, cut it to size, and glued it on to the little blank book.This was my first proof of concept version:Then I printed the cover on photo paper and at a higher resolution. The books came out much, much better with a clearer cover image and a more substantial feel.Cute, right?In an effort to cut down on the work involved, I found 3x5 scratch pads at Staples with paper that was almost as thin as origami paper.  Next step included adding some information inside the little book so someone could find and buy the book if they were interested. Luckily, I found some peel and stick labels.And finally, I glued a bit of waxed twine to use as a loop for a pendant.Now I have an opening to have a conversation and offer someone my card (or their own miniature book!)My plan is to make a few dozen of each of the four book in the Halcyone Space series. It's a good project to have while I watch the Redsox play. :)If you're at Readercon, come find me at the Broad Universe table and you can have a tiny book! #SFWApro email: Free eBookFree/DRM-free short fictionpublication news[...]

Finding my way home, again


I'm sure there are a myriad of reasons why I have been feeling rootless and anxious over the past months. Ultimately the reasons matter less than my reactions to them and while I've made my writing and publishing deadlines this year, it hasn't been without difficulty.And it has been with the knowledge that I've wasted enormous amounts of time, lost to endless checking of FB, Twitter, and Google Plus.I've tried more organizational techniques than you can count. They all work to some extent, for a little while and then I'm back to losing time at the screen or looking productive while researching yet another organizational system.The other day, I pushed myself to go strawberry picking. I had had it on my to do list all week, and finally by Thursday, I had run out of excuses and knew that if I didn't do it that day, it wasn't going to happen this year at all. The season is short and doesn't care about my excuses.So I drove out to the self-pick farm and spent the morning gathering strawberries in the lovely sunshine, under an intensely blue sky.By that night, I had dehulled, chopped, and weighed out 3 pound portions of the 12+ pounds I'd picked and readied them to make jam. (One canner's worth is already done, the other packages are in the freezer waiting for their turn.)What I realized in sinking into the process of making jam is the thing I've missed this year has been simple immersion. Doing one thing with my full concentration and intent. It's what ceramics helps me achieve, and I've only been at the studio sporadically.Concentration is like a muscle. If it's not exercised, it atrophies. My ability to focus fully as been eroded by the coping strategies I turned to when I was under stress. In the end, they are maladaptive strategies and I need to build in more adaptive, more nurturing ones.But I have to do it in a way that doesn't feel punitive.Making endless to do lists haven't helped me in the past. It only makes me feel worse when I don't get to what I know will help.So I'm just going to use this to remind myself how much better I feel when I take regular walks with the dogs, make jam, spend 10 minutes meditating, read a poem, do a bit of yoga, spend time at the studio, free write. These are things that help me feel more like me. The doing of them is its own reward.Today I took a long walk with the dogs in the woods. Aside from the ticks, it was a wonderful day. I found myself breathing in a deep and easy rhythm while sun and shadow made patterns on the trees. As I relaxed more and more, I started thinking about an old writing project that has been stalled for more than a year and came up with a different way of looking at the problem.This is progress. This is self-care. This is coming home.#SFWApro email: Free eBookFree/DRM-free short fictionpublication news[...]

Happy Book Birthday


I have done everything I can to give PARALLAX its best chance for success. The rest is not up to me.So I have a book coming out tomorrow. It's a solid book. I'm proud of it. Now it's out of my hands & will have to find its readers. 1/— LJ Cohen (@lisajanicecohen) June 6, 2017 Last night on twitter, I posted a bit about this - how by the time a book is out, it no longer belongs to the author. And let me tell you, that lack of control is terrifying.Think about it: For the time it takes to draft a novel, the author is the Supreme Being On High. We create worlds out of our imaginations. We literally put words into our characters' mouths and thoughts into their heads.So forgive me if I find this phase of the process enormously nerve-wracking. I wrestle with the hope that PARALLAX will find its readership and be a big success along with the dread that it might not earn out its production expenses. Realistically, I understand that later books in a series never sell as many as the initial books. I just hope I'm in that sweet spot where it will sell enough to keep the series going and perhaps reignite interest in the first books.There are some wonderful opportunities on the horizon including a partnership with the folks who brought you HerStoryArc in their new F-BOM (Feminist Book of the Month) project.  I'm very excited at the prospect of bringing the Halcyone Space books to a new readership.But, still I worry. It's the natural habitat of the writer. I'll be anxious about PARALLAX for some time to come, through it's first few weeks of sales, its first reviews. I'll worry that someone doesn't like it. Then I'll worry that no one's talking about it.While I hate to say this part of it hasn't gotten any easier for me, despite the fact that PARALLAX is my 7th published novel, at least I'm in familiar territory. And that means I can acknowledge the intense emotions and keep moving forward.I'm already immersed in a new world with new characters on a new project. That's the only antidote I've found to writer's anxiety.And while I have your attention, let me remind you that PARALLAX is book 4 of Halcyone Space and all 4 books are available widely, wherever ebooks are sold. They are also available in trade paperback editions. You can find links to all purchase venues at novels of Halcyone SpaceDERELICT (Halcyone Space, book 1): A group of teens stranded on a sentient spaceship must work together or risk being killed when the ship's AI wakes believing it's still fighting the war that damaged it decades ago.ITHAKA RISING (Halcyone Space, book 2): A young computer genius struggling to function with a grievous head injury is willing to risk his life to get a black market neural implant, but what he finds is a planet that shouldn't exist and a rebellion that threatens the stability of the Commonwealth.DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE (Halcyone Space, book 3): 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. PARALLAX (Halcyone Space, book 4): Halcyone's crew is drawn into a conspiracy threatening to reignite a galactic war when they discover the hidden power brokers who have been quietly manipulating the Commonwealth for decades. #SFWApro email: Free eBookFree/DRM-free short fictionpublication news[...]

The process of Parallax


The novels of Halcyone SpaceOne of the questions I'm frequently asked by writers and non-writers alike is what does my process look like.So I thought I'd do a quick overview, using PARALLAX as an example. The way I do this is by no means the only way or the best way; it's what I've settled on after writing more than a million words of fiction over the past 13 years. As always, YMMV. (Your Mileage May Vary)July 2016:  Begin drafting during a week long retreat at a friend's summer home in Vermont.This is the phase where I take a cheap Staples brand single subject spiral bound notebook and start brainstorming. Since this is book 4 of an ongoing series, it also means creating a document that outlines who knows what when at the end of book 3. It also includes reviewing the private wiki I have for my series bible.August - December 2016 : Focus on drafting the story, including the goal of 1,000 words a day, for an average of 5,000 words a week. In any given week, I may not reach this goal, but I complete an approximate 100,000 word draft in 5 months.December 2016 : After a 2 week hiatus after completing the draft, return to the story and complete a rough outline of the 4 quartiles of the book( This step is roughly based on Larry Brooks' Story Engineering and is particularly helpful in assessing the pacing of the story) as well as a chapter by chapter precis of each separate storyline. (Ro & Nomi, Barre, Micah & Dev, Jem & Gutierrez) Because this book contains 4 storylines that must intersect, it is a more complex task than in other of my novels. I used a large white board. Across the top were the characters, down the side were the days, so I could see at a glance where everyone was at any given point in time as the story moved forward. Initial 'alpha' read feedback received from several intrepid readers. First revision completed incorporating their story-level (big picture) feedback. January 2017 : The completed 1st revision is sent to a cadre of beta readers, some who have read all of the series to this point, others for whom this is their first story in the series. This is a deliberate strategy because I want each story to be able to stand alone as well as work well together.At this point, I solicited a back cover blurb from a writer in my genre.February 2017 : Beta feedback comes in. It is read, assessed, and correlated. What I look for is patterns and consistency. If more than 1 reader has feedback on the same issue, it's flagged to review. If a single reader has a strong piece of feedback, it's flagged for review. Other issues - especially ones where it's what one reader has an issue with, but another notes it's what they love - are typically looked at as individual taste.Several readers give me fairly substantiate critical feedback which requires careful assessment and consideration. I make changes to the story as a result.March 2017 : As a result of the beta feedback, the 2nd revision is completed. After another few week hiatus, I print the manuscript out and do a 3rd revision.Cover artist provides the initial draft of what will by month's end become the final cover. Draft manuscript is sent (marked as such) to the author who agreed to read in order to provide a blurb. April 2017 : Manuscript is sent to the editor. Continuity edits, copyedits, and proofing is done. The manuscript is returned.May 2017 :  Editor's edits/suggestions are reviewed, considered, and incorporated in what is now the 4th and final revision. The manuscript enters the production phase.Front and back matter is generate[...]

For my parents on what would have been their 62nd anniversary


Hanford and Bea, circa 2007

Today would have been my parents 62nd wedding anniversary.

They married later in life than their peers: in 1955, they were both over 30, my mother considered an 'old maid' for her generation.

It wasn't until the end of my father's life that he opened up to me about his biggest regret: that he felt he was never able to make my mother happy. There was a core of sadness in her that nothing could fill. Not financial security, not material things, not experiences, and not even what she claimed to be her heart's desire: a second child.

My mother was unable to successfully carry a child to term after my older sister was born. After years of miscarriages, they turned to adoption, which in the late 1950s and early 1960s was a difficult and often secretive enterprise. They had been turned down by many agencies for being too old to be adoptive parents. (Remember, this was a very different time.)

My father told me the day he realized he couldn't make my mother happy was the day he flew home from California after they adopted me as a 5 day old infant: Even that didn't change her.

She died several years before my father did, after years of encroaching dementia. He was her main caregiver through that time and kept her safe in their home with the same devotion he applied to trying to make her happy their whole lives.

In a series of very frank discussions my father and I had in his last months, I hope I was able to show him that no one can make another person happy. That he had not failed as a partner. That she did love him and that her inability to be happy was a deep wound she must have carried her whole life.

I hope he was able to forgive himself for not being able to do the impossible.

I think of them both today, with deep gratitude for their love and support as well as a bittersweet sorrow for the sadness they both carried.


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Reality of a writing life


I have a friend who is struggling with the distance between where he'd hoped he'd be in his career and where his career stands.We've had a lengthy email conversation and I thought I'd pick up on some of the points and show them here.This is my experience and I have some sense from other personal stories that it's not atypical. Written Title Comments 2004-2005 Wings of Winter 150K mess. Trunked. 2005-2006 MindBlind Urban fantasy/thriller. Trunked. 2006-2007 House of Many Doors YA ghost story. The book that landed me an agent from queries. Agent unable to sell.I still believe it’s a salable project, on hold for the present time. 2007-2008 Heal Thyself Alternate world fantasy.Agent uninterested.Revised in 2012. Got a revise & resubmit from Angry Robot, but was dealing with personal/family matters and focused on writing Derelict by then.Was revised and resubmitted in 2016, rejected by Angry Robot in 2016.May be unsalvageable.Trunked. 2008-2009 The Between YA FantasyAgent came close with several really encouraging rejections with major publishers.Chose to self-publish in 2012 while still agented to see if I could gain some traction/audience to entice a publisher with a different project.Sold approx 500 copies, 1500 free downloads. 2009-2010 Future Tense YA Urban Fantasy.Agent declined to shop. Self published in 2014. Sold approx 350 copies, 600 free downloads. 2011-2012 Ghost Story YA horror/thriller. First draft only, never revised. 2012 Derelict (Halcyone Space series) SF/Space Opera Agent submitted, but unenthusiastically. We parted ways in 2013. Self published in 2014.Sold approx 13,000 copies to date. 2013-2014 Time and Tithe YA FantasySequel to The Between.Self published in 2015Sold under 100 copies, under 300 free downloads 2014-2105 Ithaka Rising (Halcyone Space series) SF/Space OperaSelf published in 2015Sold over 2,000 copies. 2015-2016 Dreadnought and Shuttle (Halcyone Space series) SF/ Space Opera Self-published in 2016Sold approx 1,500 copies. 2016-2017 Parallax (Halcyone Space series) SF/Space OperaTo be published in June of 2017 2017 Vito Nonce Project Cyberpunk thrillerIn process The novels listed here represent well over a million words of fiction, written over the course of 13 years.I have still yet to earn in a year of writing and publishing what I earned working as a physical therapist, even in the years in which I worked part time around the needs of parenting.By many metrics, I am a success. (One of the first indie members of SFWA, strong reviews in Publisher's Weekly, invitations to SF&F cons.) But I am unable to support myself on my creative earnings, much less pay for health care or support a family.My gross cumulative earnings since 2012 from my writing are $45,000, unevenly distributed across the years, with my most successful year being 2014. That's 5 1/2 years of income. Do the math: it's not a very lucrative business. I am able to focus on writing because I needed to leave my physical therapy practice for reasons relating to family and care-giving, not because I had any illusions of quitting my day job to make it big in publishing. It has continued to be possible for me to write because our family can be comfortable on one income - my husband's.If I didn't have his income to rely on, I would likely be working as a physical therapist and writi[...]

Poetry is everywhere


A few days ago, I was helping a friend move from the bottom floor to the top in a 2 family house. We had the doors open between the two apartments so we didn't need to set down boxes to open/close doors on every trip.

On a water break, we heard a strange noise from the upstairs and when we went to investigate, found this poor grackle trying to get out through the closed windows. 

Despite being released back outside he returned twice more.  This morning, I sat down to do my free-write pages, and this emerged.

For Bliss

When something gets inside, beats its wings
against the window of your room, you must
trap it, hold it with firm hands close to your chest.
No matter your heart drums a hummingbird's
tattoo, cup the frantic wings gently. Don't squeeze.
The creature needs to know panic
means the false clarity of glass. Don't think
like a captor: this is not your prisoner. The security
of your hands is not a cage, but a promise. Walk
toward the open sky. Use a lullaby voice. Sing
if you must. It's all right to be afraid. You are both
afraid. Once you have crossed the threshold
let your hands open like a pair of wings. Wait.
There will be a brush of feathers. A flash
of iridescent green catches your eye. The wind
strokes your hair and face like a lover, whispers
in your ear all the secret words for flight.

LJ Cohen
April 29, 2017


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Creativity, Frustration, and Burnout


It was the best of jobs, it was the worst of jobs. . . When people ask me what I do (which is the typical first encounter questions in the US, as if doing is more important than being. When I remember, I ask instead 'What do you enjoy?') I tend to reply with something like this:"I have the best job in the world. I get to make stuff* up for a living."And I'm not lying when I say that. I've done other things for work, most notably a 25 year career as a physical therapist. I truly loved being a PT. It was something that was both a job and a calling and in my long career, not only did I directly and positively impact the lives of thousands of patients, I also directly nurtured the careers of dozens of clinicians as well as helped shape the way chronic pain is managed throughout the profession.Still, being able to live a life of creativity through my writing is amazing. It's what I always dreamed of doing, since early childhood. It's hard to top that with any career, no matter how successful.There are days where going back to the routine of evaluating and treating a patient seems the simpler path. You know that famous opening line from A TALE OF TWO CITIES? Yeah. Turns out Dickens was right and was probably also talking about the life of a creator. Definitely a best of times/worst of times gig.Understand, I'm not complaining. No one is holding a gun to my head and forcing me to write for a living. And I went into this gig knowing how mercurial it would be: How long the odds of success. How having a day job or a patron went with the territory. How few writers made a full living from their writing. How much luck and timing counted, even when the hard work was done and I had a solid book, with solid editing, and a solid cover.Knowing all of that doesn't make it easier to understand why amazing books get overlooked. And I'm not even talking about my own work, here. Over the years I've been working this author/publisher gig, I've had the pleasure of reading some incredible novels and meeting (both virtually and in person) some incredible authors.  And we're all struggling with having our books discovered. This isn't an indie vs traditionally published dichotomy either. I personally know:a NYT bestselling genre author who, trapped in midlist hell, broke with her agent, stopped writing her own titles and now only ghostwrites; a traditionally published author with a 3 book deal, the novels have been well reviewed and well received, and she'd drowning in her day job, desperate to be able to leave it and afraid to do so;an indie writer whose work is simply astonishing and well-loved by his readership, but who can't seem to get that big break that causes the work to catch the attention of Amazon's algorithms;actually, that last point for at least a dozen writers I know and whose work I have recommended over the years. I'm not even sure what the point of this blogpost is, to be honest. My fellow writers already know this; they live it. I suspect that most of my blog readers are fellow writers, so we're all singing to the same choir.  Maybe it's simply to remind myself that this is the work that I love. As frustrating as it can be, I keep stringing words together to make sentences, turn those sentences into paragraphs. And somehow, those paragraphs stack up over and over and end up telling a story.I'm a storyteller. It's what I do, who I am, and what I love. *Depending on the audience, that gets changed to [...]

"And then they stay dead"


Selfie with my DadI've quoted these lines from Donald Hall's "Distressed Haiku" before, and they are no less relevant now."You think that theirdying is the worstthing that could happen. Then they stay dead."Today would have been my father's 96th birthday. He died 2 years ago, next month and I still miss him keenly.It's funny - for all that the characters in my novels have fraught relationships with their parents, I had a loving and nurturing family.  My relationship with my father, especially, deepened and strengthened in the last years of his life and for that I am utterly grateful.He died, on his own terms, after over 8 years on dialysis. He was able to die at home, with hospice support, surrounded by his children and grandchildren, after a long and fulfilling life. In those last months, he and I had many true conversations about life, mortality, love, disappointment, and joy. In the end, we left no unfinished business.All lives end. We know this. Yet, no matter how old someone you love is when they die, it is a shock. A loss that can hollow us out.In the first few months of this year, two friends lost their spouses to unexpected sudden death heart attacks. They are both reeling from their grief and struggling to live with profound loss.There is no security, no technology that protects us from this. I miss my dad.My mom died several years before him, of complications of dementia. My grief for her is a distant pain - my mother had vanished years before her death, her memories and personality warped by the disease. We had unfinished business that could not be reconciled before her death. I had to come to terms with that and her loss at the same time.My grief for my father is less complicated. Sharper. More present. My memories of him are sharper, too. I still think to pick up the phone to chat with him at the start of the baseball season, or in response to something I've heard on NPR. Perhaps that's a way our minds trick us into keeping the dead present.Today, my thoughts are filled with memories of my dad. They are bittersweet. email: Free eBookFree/DRM-free short fictionpublication news[...]