Please welcome author of Derelict and Ithaka Rising, Miss LJ Cohen!
Lisa Janice (LJ) Cohen is a poet, novelist, blogger, local food enthusiast, Doctor Who fan, and relentless optimist. Lisa 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 writing, which looks a lot like daydreaming. She writes SF, Fantasy, and YA novels under the name LJ Cohen.
LJ has published books of poetry, anthologies with other authors and five novels:
Derelict: Halcyone Space, book 1
Ithaka Rising: Halcyone Space, book 2
The Between (Changeling's Choice Book 1)
Time and Tithe (Changeling's Choice Book 2)
Pen-Ultimate: A Speculative Fiction Anthology
Stranger Worlds Than These: Short Stories
Poets Gone Wild
Thank you LJ for joining us here at ADDICTED TO WORDS we’re so happy to have you.
Of your work:
Of your five novels, who is your favorite fictional character and why?
I’ve always struggled with ‘favorite’ questions – even ones that should be as simple as what’s my favorite iced cream flavor! Aargh! If I had to pick a favorite, it would probably be Aeon from the Changeling’s Choice books (The Between and Time and Tithe) Why? Because he wasn’t even supposed to be in these stories. He wasn’t in my initial planning for The Between at all; he simply showed up one day as I was writing. I still remember it clearly, even though it was in 2009! I had been writing a scene from early on in the story where my main character, Lydia, has chosen to return to Faerie. She is utterly confused by the politics and what she needs to do to survive, so she goes for a run to clear her head, only to get lost in a bewitched maze. Stopping to reflect, she wonders who she has become and doesn’t realize she’s spoken aloud until a voice answers her.
That was Aeon, though at the time, I had no idea who was in the maze with her and why. Figuring out his connection to the story was a joy and creating a ‘trickster’ character made the story so much more interesting than it might have been. Furthermore, writing his dialogue was always fun, since he essentially had no ‘filters’.
Which of your books was your favorite to write?
Another ‘favorites’ question! Probably whatever book I’m currently writing. I’m a serial monogamist when it comes to my writing. I think I need to be totally in love with each project as I’m drafting it.
What is one of your characters most treasured possessions?
Matt Garrison from Future Tense is a 17 year old who has been in foster care since he was five. He saved up money from odd jobs until he was able to buy a basic used iPod. It’s the one thing he’s possessive of.
Which of your fictional characters do you love to hate and why?
I think the character who is the most irredeemable in all my stories is Alain Maldonado, Ro Maldonado’s (one of the main protagonists in the Halcyone Space series) father. I struggled to keep him from being a ‘mustache twirling’ bad guy even as he did reprehensible things in the story. I am almost ashamed to admit it was fun writing his scenes – it’s not often (ever?) I get the chance to act out utter, brutal self-interest in my day-to-day life!
If you could choose to be a character in one of your books, who would it be?
Wow – that’s a hard one. I put my characters through so much! I’m not sure I’d want to be in their positions. I’m probably more like Nomi Nakamura from the Halcyone Space books than any of my other characters. She’s pretty level headed and caring and while she doesn’t have the primary adventures, she is the emotional heart of the story, in many ways. That’s not such a bad thing to be.
How do you choose your character’s names? Which is your favorite?
I struggle with names. They have to feel right in relation to the setting of a novel and with all the other names. They also need to sound right. I page through baby name websites and look for names whose meaning reflect something in the character, or are from a particular culture, time and place. My favorite character name may be one that’s from a co-writing project I’m still in the planning stages of: Vito Nonce. He’s a Philadelphia-based hit man who was infected with a virus that renders him unremarkable and unable to be remembered. I like the play on words with the expression ‘for the nonce’ which means for right now, or for the present use.
Where do you get your greatest ideas for writing?
I’m pretty much a magpie when it comes to ideas. Shiny, shiny ideas are everywhere. NPR is a great incubator of ideas, as are overheard conversations. I keep a ‘plot bunny’ folder where I write down scraps of ideas. Some make it into stories, others have not yet.
Of other authors:
Which book have you read the most in your lifetime? Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time
What is your favorite fictional journey? The trip to Mount Doom with Sam and Frodo from The Lord of the Rings
Which fictional character would you most like to be friends with? I’m going to cheat here and pick a character from a TV show: Sarah Jane Smith from Doctor Who.
What qualities do you most admire in an author? Perseverance, respectfulness, and creativity.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors? Develop your ability to listen to feedback, but to objectively assess it before blindly making changes. Develop a work ethic and work flow that doesn’t require waiting for inspiration or specific circumstances.
What are your top 5 books?
Some old favorites:
The Riddle Master Trilogy by Patricia McKillip. (Fantasy) Amazing, original world building, characters that still manage to make me cry, and drop-dead beautiful prose.
Shockwave Rider by John Brunner. (SF) I re-read this book every few years and it stuns me just how prescient it feels in the way it depicts our internet-centric way of life. Biting social commentary wrapped in a future with an increasingly mobile and unrooted society with characters who are willing to risk everything to help chance it.
The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Not a genre book, per se, but one that uses time travel (and in an inventive way) as a metaphor for staying in relationship with someone. Also beautiful prose.
Some more recent reads that are on my favorite lists:
The Minus Faction – a serial novel by Rick Wayne. (SF/thriller/??) I’m pretty much salivating to get my hands on episode 4 after tearing my way through episodes 1-3. A different take on superheroes with a thriller/conspiracy story-line and characters that feel fully realized, fully human, despite the fantastical elements of their abilities. Great action, crisp writing, genre twisting goodness that is a roller coaster ride.
Crooks and Straights by Masha du Toit. (Magical realism/fantasy) I just finished this book a few weeks ago and now I want everyone I know to read it. I describe it as A Wrinkle in Time meets Pan’s Labyrinth. An original take on a ‘magical creatures live in our world story’ for many reasons – first and foremost in that it takes place in South Africa and is not a rehashing of European mythology. (The author is from SA). It is beautifully written and beautifully illustrated by the author. I kept having to stop reading for fear of what was going to happen next. It’s that painfully beautiful.
Of life and passion:
Besides being a beautiful poet and gifted author you’re also fantastic potter (I know this because I have the absolute best wonky Viking mug ever! Thank you!) How did you begin throwing pottery and does it correlate or contribute to your creativity as an author?
Thank you! I never, ever considered myself the least bit artistic growing up. Other than art class in elementary school, I never pursued drawing, painting, and the like. When my now college aged son was in middle school, he had wanted to sign up for a parent/teen ceramics class at a nearby studio, so I tagged along as his ‘plus one’. After that class, he got busy with his music and no longer had time for ceramics, but I had found that I really enjoyed it and kept taking classes. That was more than 7 years ago.
I find it a great counterpoint to the life of a writer. I spend so much time in my own thinking brain, that it’s a joy to spend time kinesthetically engaged in working with clay. It’s a very zen kind of task – first it takes your full attention. If the potter is not centered, neither will the clay be centered. Second, it is an immersive sensory experience where words aren’t the focus. And it’s taught me a lot about taking artistic risks, letting go of expectations, and impermanence. Plus it gives me a great excuse to give fun pieces to my writing friends! :)
May we see some of your latest pieces?
Thank you, LJ for joining us here at ADDICTED TO WORDS and sharing a behind-the-scenes glimpse into your literary addiction, we’ve loved having you!
Find LJ Cohen:
email LJ: email@example.com
Blog: Once in a Blue Muse