When not doing battle with her stubborn Jack Russell Terrier mix or hanging out with her lab/hound mix, LJ can be found writing, which looks a lot like daydreaming. She writes SF, Fantasy, and YA novels under the name LJ Cohen. Please welcome LJ to No Wasted Ink.
My name is Lisa Cohen, but I’ve gone by “LJ” for some years now, because of how common my name is. In fact, if someone calls out ‘Lisa’ in a public space, I’m likely not to answer, since it’s probably not me they are looking for. I’m a 50-something geek (raised on Star Trek, Doctor Who, and The Prisoner). I’m a physical therapist by training which means I can maim and injure my characters very realistically! 27 years ago, I married to my college sweetheart and we have two emerging adult sons. I’m also a poet, ceramics artist, and local foodie.
In addition, I have a habit of taking in strays – animals and people, included – which is how we’ve ended up with our shelter dogs and housing several international students over the years.
When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve been writing since I realized that the stories I loved were actually created by real people. I was one of those students who, when assigned to write vocabulary words in sentences, wrote them in complete stories instead. I’m certain my teachers were less than impressed by my efforts.
Most of what I wrote in my earlier life was poetry. Later, during my near-25 year stint as a physical therapist, I wrote research papers and textbook chapters. It wasn’t until I turned 40 that I tried my hand at long-form fiction.
And that was my husband’s fault. We are both huge readers of genre fiction and when we were on family holiday, he ended up getting disgusted by the book he was reading. He threw it (literally – this was before eReaders) across the bed and demanded that I write a book, since I could write better than that.
So I did. At the time, I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. Thank goodness it was well and truly trunked. 🙂 But I caught the novel bug and kept writing – a book a year over the next 11 years.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I was a senior in college, I entered several of my poems in the University’s annual writing contest. I did it because I knew I had no chance of winning and entered to placate a friend of mine who wouldn’t stop pestering me about it. One of my poems was chosen to win the Dean’s Prize. Knowing that something I wrote had the power to move a group of judges who selected it from all the blind admissions was fairly momentous.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
My most recent publication is ITHAKA RISING, book 2 in the Halcyone Space series of SF/Space Opera stories. While the series has an overarching narrative, each book is a complete and stand-alone story. I’m currently drafting book 3.
The quick and dirty version: Secrets from an old war risk the lives of Halcyone’s crew as they search for one of their own.
The slightly longer blurb:
A derelict ship and a splintered crew are not the rewards Ro had hoped for when she helped disrupt her father’s plans to start a war with smuggled weapons. But with the responsibilities of full citizenship and limited resources, she’s forced to take her father’s place working as an engineer on Daedalus station while she and Barre try to repair their damaged freighter, Halcyone. Barre’s brother, Jem, is struggling with the disabling effects of his head injury, unable to read or code. His only hope is to obtain a neural implant, but the specialists determine he’s too young and his brain damage too extensive.
When Jem disappears, Barre and Ro race to find him before he sells his future and risks his mind for a black market neural implant. But locating The Underworld along with its rogue planet Ithaka has political consequences far beyond what Halcyone’s crew imagine, pitting Jem’s life against deadly secrets from a war that should have ended forty years ago.
What inspired you to write this book?
I love ensemble pieces and some of my favorite SF series include Firefly and Farscape. Both shows inspired my desire to write a multiple POV space opera novel. The germ of the idea for book 1 DERELICT was something I had filed away a few years ago about a group of students on a space station, some of whom were the privileged children of diplomats, others the children of station employees. That idea changed significantly until the only thing left was a group of teens on a space station, all of whom wanted to be elsewhere.
While I was drafting DERELICT, it was pretty obvious that there was more to the story than a single novel, and the series was born.
Do you have a specific writing style?
Above all else, style-wise, I strive for clarity in my work. While I was a poet long before I wrote my first novel and use the skills and tools of poetry, I don’t consider my writing style to be ‘flowery’ at all. (My poetry also tends to be spare.) I work to be specific in word choices and choose/create metaphors and similes that come from the deep POV of each character. If I do my job right, readers won’t notice the writing style and simply become immersed in the story.
How did you come up with the title of this book?
Titles are hard. Honestly. I have a completed novel on my computer that’s named YAGSIP. Which stands for Young Adult Ghost Story in Progress. 3 years later, it still doesn’t have a name. DERELICT was easy. The story revolves around a derelict freighter that the characters resurrect. I struggled with finding a title for book 2 for months after the draft was finished. I had included a lot of references to Greek mythology in both books (in this story, one character uses his music to hack into The Underworld to rescue another – a nod to Orpheus, but with siblings), even naming one of the planets Ithaka, after Homer’s fictional Island home of Odysseus. After struggling with hundreds of potential titles that called to different elements in the Iliad and the Odyssey, ITHAKA RISING was the one that stuck. Now I can’t imagine any other name for it.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I tend not to set out to write any particular message in my work, but several themes seem to be consistent and persistent. Both books explore themes of trust and identity. If there are messages I’d like readers to take away, it’s that trust is the basic currency of all relationships, that all relationships begin with trusting yourself, and that you get to choose your own identity.
Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
While the story of a Commonwealth of Planets, wormhole space travel, AI controlled ships, and a hidden black market are products of my unrestrained imagination, the character of Ro is (very) loosely modeled after my college roommate. I gave Ro some of her prickly personality and her single-minded competency, as well as her deep desire to connect with others, despite her fear of it. Barre is even more loosely based on a composite of my two sons, one of whom is a musician.
What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?
The first author that rocked my world was Madeline L’Engle and the book was A Wrinkle in Time. I ended up reading all of her books for both children, and later adults. She never considered there to be any significant difference between her ‘juvenile’ books and her straight fiction or between her fantasy and realistic novels. It wasn’t until I was much older and writing my own novels that I realized how singular her attitude was. And she never talked down to younger readers, always believing that it was actually more difficult to write for them. I continue to be inspired by her large body of work and the fact that she wrote her entire life, right up until her death.
If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?
I have had many writing mentors in my life. Jeffrey A. Carver and Craig Shaw Gardner were both significantly influential in my maturity as a writer and I found their wisdom and their guidance through their “Ultimate Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshops” invaluable. Wen Spencer encouraged me to keep writing during the tough times and disabused me of any preciousness about the process. Lynn Viehl is my model for someone who is drop dead professional at all times and is incredibly respectful to her fans. She’s also enormously generous with her time and her support.
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
Chris Howard is the cover artist for both Halcyone Space books. He is a writer/artist I met in the writing workshop taught by Jeff and Craig. When I saw his work, there was no doubt in my mind that he would be the right artist to capture the heart of these stories. They both still make me catch my breath.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Surviving as an artist means riding the roller coaster between elation and despair. Finding ways to keep your perspective is essential. And there’s no substitute for creating a work schedule and process that gets you to ‘the end.’
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
A book isn’t complete until it’s read and takes its place in the reader’s imagination. I hope that I have created stories that will speak to you. And thank you for making room for my characters in your world.