Saturday, June 27, 2015

Q&A with LJ Cohen

Today PBW is proud to host an interview with indy writer, publisher, poet and longtime blogpal LJ Cohen, the author of Derelict and Ithaka Rising:

Who or what first prompted you to write science fiction?

When you start writing as a young person, all these well meaning adults tell you to 'write what you know.' But what I knew at the time was a whole lot more limited than what I know now: I knew how to be at school, how to be the 'baby' in the family, how to play with the neighbor kids. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to read that, much less write it. What I did read was a whole lot of SF and fantasy books. It was what I knew. All those worlds and all those realities - Heinlein, L'Engle, Norton, Asimov - were my worlds and realities. So it was utterly natural to gravitate to those genres as a writer.

Name one book that you never tire of re-reading, and why.

Besides Stardoc? :) Seriously. And why? Because I love the character of Cherijo. She is intelligent, driven, talented, and resourceful. And I love the mixture of SF and medical technology you have woven together. As a medical professional myself (I have a masters degree in Physical Therapy and spent nearly 25 years in clinical practice), I appreciate how realistic the medical details and the injuries are. And it was nice to have a lead character who was not a military commander for a change. I also have a huge love for another SF series - Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan saga books. While I wish there were more female viewpoint characters in the stories, I appreciate how many fully realized women populate her world. And I love Miles Vorkosigan - the lead character in most of the books. He's a bundle of neruoses in 'Mission Impossible' situations. In space.

Along with being an author you're also a poet -- how does poetry influence your fiction writing?

I can think of at least two distinct ways poetry influences my fiction writing. The first is in the sound and feel of language. A writer makes word choices on any number of levels: connotation, denotation, cultural appropriateness, dialect, to name a few. I add the sound and feel of the language to that mix. Poetry is an auditory and kinesthetic experience. When I read poetry (and I love to read it aloud) there is a music to the flow of phrases, lines, and stanzas that can be used to good effect in prose. Do I want to ramp up the tension in a scene? Then I go to short, sharp words that have a staccato rhythm. Looking to slow the pace and create a more relaxed experience? Then I choose longer, more flowing kinds of words.

The second way poetry comes into my fiction is in the use of metaphor and simile - both types of comparison that are the heart and soul of poetry. (See what I did there?) One of the things I work toward, is creating apt comparisons that emerge organically from my characters' backgrounds and experiences. That will deepen reader immersion and world building, as well as add layers of meaning to the work.

If you could step into a time machine and visit any SF universe (including your own), what would you choose as your destination, and why?

That's easy. Doctor Who. Okay, I know there is debate as to whether or not this show is actually SF, but I'm sticking to my choice. I've been a fan since 1973. I was 10, and I couldn't find any saturday morning cartoons. Every station was playing some boring grown-up thing called the Watergate Hearings. So I channel flipped until I found a PBS station that showed this crazy dude in an Opera cloak who had this blue box that was supposed to move through time and space. Soon after, he got killed off (!) and this other guy with crazy hair and a long striped scarf became the Doctor. I was hooked. I made a scarf when I was in Jr High School that I still have (and wear) today. My office has a wall dedicated to all things Doctor Who. And when I was growing up, I wanted to be Sara Jane Smith, one of the Doctor's most famous companions.

When you return from your SF universe trip you can smuggle one thing back with you. So what's hiding in your luggage?

Why, the key to the TARDIS, of course!

What are you writing now, and when can we expect to get our hands on it?

Well, ITHAKA RISING is due out any minute now! So I guess that's the next thing readers will see. I'm brainstorming book 3 in the series. And I actually already have a title - which is exceedingly rare for me. I usually struggle with titles. (Seriously. I have a manuscript from 2011/12 that I call YAGSIP - Young Adult Ghost Story in Progress.) Book 3 of Halcyone Space will be DREADNAUGHT AND SHUTTLE, which is a reference from book 1, and is the local vernacular for 'cat and mouse'. And we'll come back to Micah Rotherwood (he had a very small role in ITHAKA RISING) and his quest to bring down the drug cartels that ruined his life. Based on my typical writing pace, my goal is to have it out one year from now.

I've also gotten myself tangled up in a co-writing project that emerged from a silly comment thread on Google Plus a few weeks ago. (Which is what happens when you let two writers brainstorm.) It's not quite SF, but close. A mafia hit man is contaminated by a virus during a hit that makes him utterly unmemorable. Which would be a huge boon to his line of work, except that it effects everyone, even his famly. Right now, it's in the 'way cool new shiny idea' phase. No deadline. No plans for the writing in any way, other than to be playful with it.

I take part in the #saturdayscenes project on Google Plus, so I'll likely be posting snippets from both works in progress starting later in the summer.

We're going to look in a crystal ball to see what you'll be doing in ten years. What do you think we'll see?

With any luck, we'll really be empty nesters by that point. . . living in a smaller house on a larger piece of land. The problem is where. Hubby is a country mouse. I am a city mouse. There aren't a lot of places that are funky and urban enough for me, yet quiet and rural enough for him. But the Amherst region in Western Massachusetts might fit the bill. I will definitely have a computer set up with kinesthetic controls like Ro. And room enough to build a life-sized TARDIS.


  1. Thank you so much for hosting me, Lynn. If any of your readers have other questions, I would be happy to answer them.

  2. I remember hiding behind the sofa when I was a kid with a cushion pressed into my face because of the Cybermen and the Daleks. I'm still a sci fi fan, and as I enjoyed Derelict so much I'll be popping over the Amazon to pick up Ithaka Rising in the next couple of days.

    1. Thank you so much, Fran! I hope you enjoy this one, too!


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