Interview with L.J. Cohen

Lisa CohenLJ Cohen is a novelist, poet, blogger, ceramics artist, and relentless optimist. After almost twenty-five years as a physical therapist, LJ now uses her anatomical knowledge and myriad clinical skills to injure characters in her science fiction and fantasy novels. She lives in the Boston area with her family, two dogs, and the occasional international student. DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE (book 3 of the SF/Space Opera series Halcyone Space), is her sixth novel. LJ is a member of SFWA, Broad Universe, and the Independent Publishers of New England.

1.      Is it more challenging to write for youth or adults?

Neither? The truth is, I’m not sure much about my work for young adults is that different than what I write for adults except on a very surface level in terms of language and overt sexuality. There are challenges unique to both.

In writing for a teen audience, it’s critical that the author doesn’t end up talking down to them in any way or deliberately injecting moral messages, or avoid dark issues. I spent a good chunk of the past decade raising teens – they are far more intelligent and thoughtful than many adults give them credit, they don’t want to be lectured, and they understand difficult emotions. Where I think the writer needs to exercise care is in making sure the characters are given agency and are allowed to be the heroes of their own stories.

If you were to force me to choose an age range for my books, I would say that for the most part, they are appropriate for most readers aged 13 and up, but there’s nothing in any of them inappropriate for your average grown up. 🙂

(Truly, most of my readers are adults.)

2.      Is writing for you a solitary thing? How do you connect with other writers?

The drafting process is a solitary one. I don’t tend to like to talk about what I’m writing in any detail while I’m in the beginning part of the work. It’s as if I need to protect that fragile incubation period. Once I get past the first 20 -25%, then I can start sharing the writing.

I connect with other writers primarily via the internet. Google+ is my ‘water cooler’ of choice, though I also have several groups of writers who exist outside of that. I have participated in local writing groups, but am not in one now, mainly because of logistics.

Bliss Morgan, Ilyanna Kreske, me, and Lisa Cohen last summer on Lake Champlain

Bliss Morgan, Ilyanna Kreske, me, and Lisa Cohen last summer on Lake Champlain

3.      Are you active in SFWA?

I was thrilled to qualify for full SFWA membership in the first wave of indies. I volunteered (or was drafted!) into a committee working on a mentor-ship project and I’ve very much enjoyed being involved. I hope to be more involved as time passes. Recently, at Balticon, I was able to attend a SFWA meeting and found out that the organization will support local SFWA events, so I’m going to see about a SF/F reading track at the 2017 Boston Book Fest.

4.      What is Broad Universe?

Broad Universe is a collective – just like the Borg and you will be assimilated – of individuals supporting women writing in SF/F/H genres. What I love about BU is the support and mentor-ship available. It is truly a pay-it-forward kind of organization and I’ve met some amazing writer friends through it. BU also sponsors tables in the dealers’ rooms of many of the major spec fic related conventions as well as a group reading.

5.      What is The Scriptors?

Wow – you’d think I was a social joiner, wouldn’t you! Yet another group I belong to, The Scriptors is a small collective of indie writers, primarily writing in genre fiction. We’re hoping to take over the world some day, but for now, we have a group blog and commiserate together about all things publishing.

cohen dragonbelly-pitcher6.      Do you ever intertwine your creativity with ceramics and your creativity with the written word?

Not directly, though I’d say that each is essential to the other. Writing is a cognitive-heavy process and it can be easy to completely disengage from my body. Which is not great for my spine or my health in general. Ceramics – either throwing on the wheel or hand building – is a fully kinesthetic process. It’s the one place where I can shut off the mind-chatter and create.

cohen starry-night-cupsWhen the words are being elusive, I go to the studio and get my hands messy. When the clay isn’t cooperating, I head back to my computer to write.

7.      What was your path to publication?

It had a lot of switchbacks.

I wrote my first novel on a dare from my husband in 2004/2005. With the ignorance of the newbie, I actually queried for it and looking back, I’m horrified that it actually got a few partial and full requests.

I kept writing. Finished novel number 2 in 2006. I queried for that one, but didn’t get a lot of traction. I kept writing.

Then I wrote novel number three and one of my queries resulted in being picked up by an agent in 2009.

When I tell this story, I see the scene from Monty Python’s Holy Grail . . .
“All the kings said I was daft to build a castle in a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show ’em. It sank into the swamp. So, I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third one. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp.”

Over the next several years, and despite close calls on three separate projects, she was never able to sell anything of mine. In 2011, indie publishing was the new thing and I consulted with my then-agent about self publishing one of the near-miss manuscripts

That was THE BETWEEN. It sold modestly and got good reviews. A few years later, my agent and I parted ways when it became clear that we weren’t a good match for one another.

Since then, I’ve published five additional novels, a short story collection, and co-edited an anthology and have never looked back.

8.      Are the Changeling’s Choice books a duology, or will there be more stories in the series?

When I wrote THE BETWEEN, I saw it as a complete story and hadn’t planned on writing a sequel. And then TIME AND TITHE came along. So while I see the two novels as a complete arc, I’ve learned to never say never. I’m working on a proposal for a text based choose your own adventure game set in the world of Changeling’s Choice, long before the events of book 1.

Cohen Derelict9.      How much techie goodness is crammed into the Halcyone Space series?


My background is in rehabilitation – I was a physical therapist for 25 years before I became a full time writer. I tend to include anatomy and neuroanatomy based science into my stories. In Halcyone Space, we have neural implants, which allow individuals who have them to directly communicate with their computers. I also have an AI that sustained significant damage to her personality during the war.

I also have a history of mucking about with computers, beginning in Junior High when I had the chance to join the computer club and learn how to program mainframes. I’ve been an early adopter of computer tech ever since and am primarily self-taught. So it was fun to extrapolate how we might program and interact with computers in the future.

Of course, I am the child of the space race generation and there is nothing cooler than space ships and space travel. We have wormholes and isotopes and space ships, oh my!

Cohen Ithaka10.  Will Dreadnought and Shuttle wrap up everything from Derelict and Ithaka Rising?

Nope. There will likely be two more novels to complete this story arc. However, the deeper I go into the writing, the more complex and rich the world becomes, so there might be other stories to tell.

11.  How much world-building went into each of your series?

I’m not one of those writers who spend a lot of time world building before the story starts. For me, the story always begins with the characters and the world happens when they begin to interact. Which is perhaps not the BEST way to work on a series. Though in my defense, I wasn’t sure it would become a series when I was writing DERELICT. (Hey, do you sense a theme here?)

I think I get so immersed in each book that I write, that I tend to see them as stand alone stories, which I think works for my process. What I had to do was create a series ‘bible’ with the relevant world building.

DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE may have had the most conscious world building, as one of the main characters (hi, Dev!) is from Earth and her history is quite a bit different than that of the rest of Halcyone’s crew. She was raised in what had been a refugee camp filled with people fleeing the rising floodwaters of the major seaboard cities. Her grandmother was one of the original climate refugees. By the time Dev was born, those camps had become shanty towns, then permanent cities.

Having that as part of the history of Earth dovetailed nicely into the diaspora off-Earth and the history of the space colonies.

dreadnought-cover12.  What makes a story Space Opera?

Well, nobody sings. . . except for Barre and he’s a musician, so that’s expected.

In my mind, Space Opera is character driven SF told on a grand scale. Not the SF of ideas of primarily tech, though it can contain both of those elements.

13.  What is your favorite electronic writing tool?

y-Writer. I use it to keep track of books with a large cast of characters and multiple points of view. It allows me to organize the manuscript through scenes and chapters and lets me drag and drop to reorder them, if needed. I’ve tried scrivener, but it has too many features and y-Writer is simpler, with the right tool set for me.

14.  What is your favorite non-electronic writing tool?

Single subject spiral bound notebooks. I get them on sale every Fall at Staples. And a box of sharpie fine tip pens.

15.  What is your greatest distraction from writing?

Sigh. Everything? The internet, for sure.

16.  If you could create the perfect environment for writing, what would it be like?

I think I pretty much already have that. I have a small office in my house with lots of windows and a big desk. It’s the one room in the house where no one but me is allowed to pile crap in!

17.  Does being a local-food-enthusiast equate to being a fantastic cook?

I’m a decent cook. A work-a-day cook. I make really good soups and stews and I can bake. My husband is the fantastic cook. He’s also the gardener and grows a ton of fresh veggies every year. Because we live in New England and have such a short growing season, I’ve learned to preserve food for the winter in an effort to eat as much local produce as possible.

18.  Is New-Who (Doctors 9, 10, 11, and 12) significantly different from the older shows? Do they keep the spirit of the show?

Given that Doctor Who is a show whose ‘cannon’ is eternally changing, I’d say the show is different from Doctor to Doctor and producer to producer. Yet, there is some consistency and I’m happy to see flashes of old Doctors in the new. I’m very much liking Peter Capaldi’s incarnation. There’s a lot of Tom Baker in him, as well as some Jon Pertwee. Matt Smith had a bit of Patrick Troughton. I wish we would have had more seasons with Christopher Eccleston. It would have been interesting to see where he was going to take the Doctor, but I did love David Tennant’s run.

I think the one major difference is that old-Who was more geared to children and new-Who is less so.

Cohen yurt19.  What is a Kyrgyz jaloo?

The Kyrgyz jailoo. 🙂 It’s the traditional summer pasture in the high plains of Kyrgyzstan, in Central Asia. Some years ago, we had an international student from Kyrgyzstan live with us for two years while she earned her master’s degree here. She quickly became family and when she got married, she invited all of us to her wedding. So we traveled through Kyrgyzstan for almost a month during the summer of 2009.

One of the highlights of the trip was to stay in a yurt and ride horses across the jailoo – essentially in the footsteps of Gengis Khan.

20.  Who shot first, Han or Greedo?

Is there any doubt? Han.

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About AmyBeth Inverness

A writer by birth, a redhead by choice.
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6 Responses to Interview with L.J. Cohen

  1. mirymom says:

    Reblogged this on Mirymom's Blog and commented:
    I’m happy to call Lisa a friend, and really enjoyed this interview about her writing life. I’ve read the first two of her Halcyone series and recommend them highly to readers with any science fiction interest! Ro is one of my favorite imaginary people.

  2. ljcohen says:

    Thank you so much for interviewing me! I had fun answering your questions!

  3. pelhamc11 says:

    Nice interview, Amy Beth Inverness. Thanks, Lisa for sharing your writing process and views on the Doctors.

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