Joining me today on the couch is author LJ Cohen. Thank you, LJ, for taking the time to chat to me. Please sit down, get comfortable and let’s begin.
About LJ Cohen
LJ Cohen is a poet, novelist, blogger, ceramics artist, local food enthusiast, Doctor Who fan, and relentless optimist. After almost twenty-five years as a physical therapist, she now uses her anatomical knowledge and myriad clinical skills to injure characters in her science fiction and fantasy novels. LJ lives just outside of Boston with her family, two dogs (only one of which actually ever listens to her) and the occasional international student. When not doing battle with a stubborn Jack Russell Terrier mix, Lisa can be found working on the next novel, which often looks a lot like daydreaming. text.
What’s the name of your new book?
Dreadnought And Shuttle, Halcyone Space book 3
Tell us a bit about your book
When a reckless young computer programmer resurrects the damaged AI on a long dormant freighter, she and her accidental crew expose explosive secrets from a war they were taught ended decades ago.
Welcome to the universe of Halcyone Space.
Charged with protecting Ithaka and its covert rebellion from discovery, Ro and the members of Halcyone’s crew learn to lead double lives within the Commonwealth. Their plans to hide in plain sight disintegrate when Alain Maldonado — Ro’s father — returns seeking revenge and takes a hostage to ensure their cooperation. As the former shipmates track Maldonado down, each course they plot endangers the life of his hostage, threatens to reveal Ithaka, and uncovers conspiracies that could brand them all traitors.
If you didn’t like writing books, or weren’t any good at it, what would you like to do for a living?
Well, I spent 25 years as a physical therapist. I left active practice not because I didn’t love being a clinician, but because of personal life stresses that required me to have greater flexibility. If I wasn’t currently writing, I’d likely return to PT, at least in some capacity. If we can do the ‘dream job’ thing, other than writing fiction, my ideal job would be to work for some kind of think tank. There is nothing I like better than to match people to ideas and to each other for creative endeavors. Anyone out there looking for a good ‘matchmaker’?
How long does it usually take you to write the first draft of a book?
Anywhere between 5 and 8 months. I’m fairly disciplined about my writing and set a goal of 1,000 words a day for an average of 5,000 words a week when I’m drafting.
What are you working on now?
I’m juggling several projects: brainstorming for book 4 of the Halcyone Space SF series, plotting/planning for a collaborative SF thriller with another writer, and working on a proposal for a choose your own text based adventure game based on the world of my fantasy series.
Can you give us a few tasty morsels from your work-in-progress?
This is a bit from what will probably be the opening chapter of book 4 of Halcyone Space, though it’s rough and still very much a draft.
By some unspoken agreement, after they had hidden their ‘borrowed’ ship in a private hanger paid for with Micah’s father’s blood money and after they’d returned to campus with cover stories both their advisers seemed to accept without comment, neither of them had talked about Dev’s abduction.
She knew damned well why she didn’t want to go there, but could only guess that Micah’s guilt was what kept him silent. Which may have explained the new micro and the gift of morning coffee. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“It it hadn’t been for me, he wouldn’t have come here and found you.”
He. Maldonado. An image of the man’s narrowed green eyes superimposed itself over Micah’s worried blue-eyed gaze for a moment and Dev’s hands shook. She set the cup down and glanced at his shoes, imagining the scarred feet they protected. Micah had more reason to hate the man that she did. “He can’t hurt you anymore.”
“I could say the same to you, but it wouldn’t matter. He left his mark on both of us.” Micah looked down. “Literally and figuratively.”
She covered the uncomfortable silence that followed with a clatter of dishes, dropping her empty cup into the sink.
“Dev.” Micah’s voice startled her.
“Have you talked to your brothers?”
She refused to meet his gaze. What was there to say to them? Hey, how’s things? Guess what, I was kidnapped and threatened and got someone killed who was trying to help me. There wasn’t anything any of her brothers could say that would ease the roiling mix of anger, guilt, and fear that she’d been battling since the trip back. It wasn’t like she could take a leave from Uni. Not and keep her position and her scholarship. Her brothers needed her to cope. Which is what she learned to do as a young child in Midlant. Cope.
“You should. Talk to them.”
“Thank’s for the family advice, now shut up.” Dev winced at how sarcastic she sounded. Micah had every right to call her on it, but the only thing he did was raise an eyebrow.
“You promised to take me there.”
Dev looked Micah up and down. He would fit in the settlement about as well as she had on a spaceship. His casual clothes were clearly customized, his stance showed both his spacer history and an ironic grace from years spent playing the role of the senator’s son. “My brothers would hate you.”
Damn. She hadn’t realized she’d said that aloud. “Look at you.”
He glanced down at himself, frowning. “What do you mean?”
Even his scowl looked posed. It was as if he was always ready for a holo. Always controlled. Composed. The only times she’d seen him unguarded were in the biodome during his panic attack and when he’d walked into the bridge on Charon’s small ship to find Dev alive. The naked relief on his face had unnerved her. “It’s just that . . . ” Dev shook her head. “Dressed like that? You’ll be pegged as either a spacer or a city boy for sure.”
Except that’s not what they’d call him. They’d mock him as a voidhopper which was definitely better than being pegged a highsider. Young highsiders still liked to take their chances slumming in the settlements. The ones that brought their own security details lived to brag about it.
“Then I’ll wear something else.”
Dev pushed past him and into the common room. “Why?”
“Why do you want to go to Midlant?”
Micah’s uneven footfalls sounded behind her. They both stared out the window to the campus below. The blue emergency lights paled as the sun rose and a few early risers were crossing the well-manicured paths. “Because you’re right. I don’t understand. All I know of the settlements was what I learned in school. And that was filtered through the Commonwealth.”
“It’s not my job to enlighten you.” Dev’s face heated up. It wasn’t Micah she was mad at. Not really. It was the way her adviser was surprised that she came back after disappearing. It was the way her teachers never expected her to work as hard as she did or do as well. It was the way her classmates avoided certain subjects when she was around, or were overly apologetic when they talked about anything related to the settlements. It didn’t take long for Dev to drop every vestage of the Midlant dialect at Uni. But she never got over the anger that would blaze inside when one of her fellow students would take great pains to say, “Not you, Dev. You’re not settlement at all.”
She thought for sure Micah would get angry and clomp away. Part of her even wanted him to. But the minutes passed and he stood next to her silently. Dev’s breathing slowed and the tension in her shoulders eased. “I’m sorry. That was out of line.”
“No, it wasn’t.” Micah retreated to the galley area and dragged over one of the high stools. He sighed quietly as he sat and Dev felt a pang of guilt. “Look, I spent most of my childhood having my life scripted for me for the sake of political expediency. Now both my parents are dead, I don’t know what it’s like to even have a family, and I never had much of a chance to make my own friends.
“Not until Halcyone. And not until you.” He shifted his micro from hand to hand. “You don’t want me to apologize anymore. Fine. I’ll stop apologizing. But what happened out there? On Maldonado’s ship? It links us, whether you like it or not. Besides, you made a promise.” He looked up, then, and smiled. There was both a warmth in Micah’s face and a practiced intensity.
How has your environment or upbringing impacted your writing?
Not really. I had to learn to write anywhere and under a variety of circumstances since I started writing when I had a physical therapy practice and young children.
Why should a potential reader buy your book(s)?
I write books for readers who like strong characters presented with high stakes choices in fantasy and SF settings. My stories always center around the characters.
What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research for your book?
I don’t know if it’s the strangest, but I do worry a bit about what my search history says about me. For the Halcyone Space books, I researched radioactive isotopes and nuclear explosions, neurologic control over prosthetics, and soldering in zero gee. For other projects, I’ve researched how to kill someone in hand to hand combat or with knives, undetectable poisons, and setting fires. Good thing I’m such a boring and mild mannered person in real life!
What’s something you’re really good at that few people know about?
I have great ‘google’-fu’. I can almost always find information or answers to questions that other people have trouble with. I think it’s because my job in graduate school was running Boolean searches for the med school staff and students before there was google, etc. I know how to ask the question and filter out irrelevant answers.
What’s an interesting fact about your book?
Barre Durbin communicates with the AI that runs the ship through his music. That’s based on research using music to help in the treatment of individuals with different kinds of neurological issues. The ship essentially has the machine equivalent of PTSD and the musical language Halcyone and Barre develop helps the ship understand.
Why did you choose to write in your genre? If you write in more than one, how do you balance them?
I love the possibilities of speculative fiction and how it allows for commenting on current society indirectly. It’s probably also because I ‘imprinted’ on SF and fantasy from an early age. Being a strong young reader in the 1970s meant reading through the children’s library and having little else to choose from. SF&F in those years were a great choice for me – compelling stories with appropriate emotional content, unlike a lot of other fiction for adult readers.
How long have you been writing?
My father says I wrote my first stories in grade school. I don’t really remember them, but I do remember gravitating to writing poetry in pre-adolescence. I still consider poetry to be my first writing ‘home’ and I return to it often. I started my first novel in the early 2000s. I’ve completed 11 novels since then. Six have been published. The others will remain buried in my hard drive.
Of all the characters you have created, which is your favourite and why?
That’s an impossible question! I can say that one of my favorites is Aeon from the Changeling’s Choice series. The mad gardener of Faerie, he was not a character I had planned in the story. He just showed up one day during the writing. I had written a line of internal dialogue for one of my characters – something along the lines of “who am i?’. And the next line on the screen emerged – ‘That’s an excellent question.’
I had to figure out who said it and why. Thus Aeon came to be. He’s also a fairly unpredictable character and that made him fun to write.
Are your characters based on real people, are they imaginary or a combination of both?
A combination of both. I use attributes of real people in different combinations as part of characterization. Barre Durbin from Halcyone Space has some elements of each of my sons, though he is not either of them. Ro Maldonado is roughly modeled on the 19-year-old self of my old college roommate. I’ve had people comment that Ada May is an older version of me, but I don’t see it.
Aeon from the Changeling’s Choice series is purely a product of my imagination. It’s not like I know anyone who is physically fused with his own garden and likes to create mischief for trespassers.
When you’re writing, do you listen to music or do you need silence?
I like to have music at times, but typically not with words. I have a collection of soundtracks from movies and videogames that I use to create mood. I also found ambient sound at tabletopaudio.com that can help get me into the mood of the story.
I find it helpful to have a story-based soundtrack, so that when I return to editing, I can use it as a cue for my subconscious.
If you’re an indie author, what’s the best thing about being an indie author?
I love the creative control and the way I can be involved in all parts of the process. After over a decade as a private PT practitioner, I’m comfortable with the role of entrepreneur.
Available formats: ebook and paperback