Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester, the little bookstore that’s “bigger on the inside” at 65 James Street, is happy to shine our author spotlight on L.J. Cohen, who spent the day with us on Small Business Saturday with Broad Universe. L.J. has multiple series of YA science fiction and contemporary fantasy, and we still have a few copies left after our event if you need something for the teen in your life who loves science fiction or fantasy.
Thank you very much for joining us, L.J.! Can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your writing?
I follow the gospel of curiosity. It’s been the guiding principle throughout my life, both in my first career as a physical therapist and in my second as a writer. I never want to be the smartest person in the room and I actively seek out situations where I can cultivate a beginner’s mindset. I hope that sense of exploration and curiosity comes through in my writing as well.
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from your newest releases?
My current work in progress (Book 3 in the Halcyone Space series) represents my 11th full novel. To date, five have been published, several are awaiting revision and editing, others will never emerge from deep inside my computer’s hard drive. And while I write across several speculative fiction genres, including fantasy and science fiction, I can see themes and motifs that span all of it. My stories involve ordinary protagonists shoved into circumstances for which they are not prepared and must find the resources to survive. I’m not a big fan of ‘chosen one’ narratives and I think flawed characters are the most interesting characters.
ITHAKA RISING is my newest release. Readers can expect a space opera adventure with an ensemble case featuring monkey wrenches and complications, conspiracies and politics, and technology behaving badly.
What kind of research went into writing this book? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
One of the first pieces of writing advice most people get is to ‘write what you know.’ I think it’s fair enough advice as far as it goes, and I’ve always taken it to mean play to your strengths. One of my strengths is physiology and neuroscience. When it came time to invent the dangers of wormhole travel, I thought about what it might mean to have to live slightly out of phase with normal cause and effect. The research shows us that there is a certain degree of latency that we can accommodate to, and beyond that, our brains just don’t cope.
For example, in radio, there is often a several second delay between the recording and playing back of ‘live’ commentary. Often, callers to local radio forget to turn off their own radios and they end up stuttering, unable to speak because of that latency. Similarly, it’s hard for viewers to accept a certain degree of split between the audio and visual track of a video. When I was digging around for research in this aspect of neuroscience, I found a study looking at the inability of individuals with schizophrenia to handle typical latencies between a stimulus and a response. The researchers theorized that, in fact, individuals with schizophrenia are simply hearing their own internal voices, but unable to link them to their thoughts because they experience them out of phase. That concept is essentially what I envisioned for jump-sickness. And I think only a sentence in passing made it into the novel.
What was the biggest challenge in writing and putting out your books? How did you overcome that challenge?
There’s the overall crisis I reach in each project and there’s the specific one I struggled with in this on.
For the overall crisis: I think I hit the same kind of wall in every story I write. It happens somewhere between the 40 and 60% marks when I’ve ‘fallen off’ the original sketch/outline/plan for the story and feel like I’m never going to get out of the woods. Nothing feels right. Every potential idea is terrible and I start to second-guess my entire book. That’s familiar enough that I can greet the fear like an old friend and just keep writing. It may take a few blind turns and detours, but ultimately, the process works and what I end up with is always better than what I had originally planned.
[ITHAKA RISING] did have a specific challenge, however. I was writing a second book of what had suddenly morphed from a stand-alone novel into a large 4-6 book series. It was important that each book function as a complete story and I wanted readers to have multiple points of entry into the series. Which meant balancing on the edge of too much/too little information. Ultimately, I chose to look at the events in book 1 as the back-story of book 2. Just as in any book, back-story is important to inform, but cannot overwhelm the current narrative. It made the writing and revising a tougher process that for a lone book, but I also think it was worth it.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
I’m on track to have DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE (Book 3 of Halcyone Space) in the world Summer of 2016. I’m also starting a first for me – a co-writing project with a writer I became friends with over on Google Plus. I describe it as “Jason Bourne meets Kill Bill”. Yes, it’s going to be quite the trip!
What is/are your passions when you’re not writing? How do you make time for your non-writing hobbies/things you love?
When I’m not writing, I’m spending time with my hands in clay. Part of my life is devoted to being a ceramics artist, and I make functional ware both on the wheel and by hand. It’s a very different discipline than writing and helps balance my tendency to over-think everything in my life. You can’t be distracted when you have a six pound ball of clay spinning around on a wheel. It’s also utterly non-verbal. I find that when I go too many days without the kinesthetic input of clay, I’m not as grounded and productive with my writing. And I find when I have a story problem to work out, I can free my subconscious to do so in the process of working with my hands.
Sometimes I use the studio (I work on my ceramics in an external, shared studio, where I’m with other clay artists) as a reward for writing done. Other times, it’s the needed distraction from writing not moving forward.
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
My work can always be found through my website – http://www.ljcohen.net – regardless of how the marketplace changes, the most up to date information will be there.
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
I spend a lot of my social media time on Google Plus, because there are a lot of really interesting people there, especially artists, writers, and scientists. https://plus.google.com/u/0/+LisaCohen/posts
You can also keep up to date with publication news and get the odd short story by subscribing to my very occasional newsletter. ( http://www.ljcohen.net/mailinglist/mail.cgi/list/bluemusings )
Thank you again, L.J., for coming out to our Small Business Saturday and for being interviewed in our Author Spotlight!